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Excerpt: "Having written the first book about global warming 23 long years ago, I've watched the issue unfold across decades, continents, and ideologies ... My solution is: get outraged."

(photo: Neil White/Guardian UK)
(photo: Neil White/Guardian UK)

Time for Outrage on Behalf of the Planet

By Bill McKibben, The Indypendent

07 June 12


y solution is: get outraged.

Having written the first book about global warming 23 long years ago, I’ve watched the issue unfold across decades, continents, and ideologies. I’ve come to earth summits and conferences of the parties from Rio to Kyoto to Copenhagen, and many places in between.

All along, two things have been clear.

One, the scientists who warned us about climate change were absolutely correct - their only mistake, common among scientists, was in being too conservative. So far we’ve raised the temperature of the earth about one degree Celsius, and two decades ago it was hard to believe this would be enough to cause huge damage. But it was. We’ve clearly come out of the Holocene and into something else. Forty percent of the summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone; the ocean is 30 percent more acidic. There’s nothing theoretical about any of this any more. Since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere is about 4 percent wetter than it used to be, which has loaded the dice for drought and flood. In my home country, 2011 smashed the record for multibillion-dollar weather disasters - and we were hit nowhere near as badly as some. Thailand’s record flooding late in the year did damage equivalent to 18 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). That’s almost unbelievable. But it’s not just scientists who have been warning us. Insurance companies - the people in our economy who we ask to analyze risk - have been bellowing in their quiet, actuarial way for years. Here’s Munich Re, the world’s largest insurer, in their 2010 annual report: “The reinsurer has built up the world’s most comprehensive natural catastrophe database, which shows a marked increase in the number of weather-related events. For instance, globally, loss-related floods have more than tripled since 1980, and windstorm natural catastrophes more than doubled, with particularly heavy losses from Atlantic hurricanes. This rise cannot be explained without global warming.”

Two, we have much of the technological know-how we need to make the leap past fossil fuel. Munich Re again: “Whilst climate change cannot be stopped, it can be kept within manageable proportions, thus avoiding the possibility that climate change tipping points will be reached.”

What does this mean in practice? Go to China where, yes, they’re emulating the West by putting up lots of coal-fired power plants. But they’re also busy building, say, solar hot-water heaters: 60 million arrays, providing hot water for 250 million Chinese, almost a quarter of the country - compared with less than 1 percent in America. I could list here a long tally of solutions (wind, geothermal, conservation, bicycles, trains, hybrid cars, tidal power, local food) and I could list an equally long tally of policies that everyone knows would help bring them quickly to pass: most important, of course, putting a stiff price on carbon to reflect the damage it does to the environment. That price signal would put markets to work in a serious way. It wouldn’t guarantee that we could head off climate change, because we’ve waited a very long time to get started, but it’s clearly our best chance.

So, if we have an emergency, and we have the tools to fight it, the only question is why we’re not doing so. And the answer, I think, is clear: it’s in the interest of some of the most powerful players on earth to prolong the status quo. Some of those players are countries, the ones with huge fossil-fuel reserves: recent research has demonstrated that the nations with the most coal, gas, and oil are the most recalcitrant in international negotiations. And some of those players are companies: the fossil fuel industry is the most profitable enterprise in history, and it has proven more than willing to use its financial clout to block political action in the capitals that count.

If we are going to impose a stiff-enough price on carbon to keep those reserves in the ground (which we simply must do - physics and chemistry don’t allow us any other out) then we have to overcome the resistance of those companies and countries. We can’t outspend them, so we have to find different currencies in which to work: creativity, spirit, and passion. In other words, we have to build movements - creative, hopeful movements that can summon our love for the planet, but also angry, realistic movements willing to point out the ultimate rip-off under way, as a tiny number of people enrich themselves at the expense not only of the rest of us, but also at the expense of every generation yet to come, not to mention every other species.

As it happens, such movements are possible. We built one in the last year around the Keystone Pipeline, which would have run from the tar sands of Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico. The pipeline was a certifiably bad idea - burning the world’s tar sands alone would raise the planet’s temperature almost a half degree Celsius. (Burning all the coal will add, wait for it, 15 degrees.) And so people came together in huge numbers - we had the largest civil disobedience action in America in 30 years with 1,253 people arrested. We ringed the White House with people standing shoulder-to-shoulder, five deep. We inundated the Senate with 800,000 messages in 24 hours, the most concentrated burst of environmental activity in many years. And it kind of worked - though the battle rages on, the president at least decided to deny the permit for the pipeline.

Our campaign preceded, and then was dwarfed by, the wonderful Occupy movement, which raised specific issues, like the Keystone Pipeline, but mostly concentrated on larger questions of fairness. It showed a great depth of concern about inequality and corporate power, the very set of arrangements that have produced climate change. And it offered a number of solutions - getting money out of politics, above all - that would really help.

But talking endlessly about these solutions at international conferences is not going to produce them. They go against the power of the status quo, and hence they will be enacted only if we build movements strong enough to force them. We need politicians more afraid of voter outrage than they are of corporate retribution. And so - at, and many other places - we’ll go on trying to build that movement. We’ll focus on pipelines and coal mines, and on subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. We’ll demand fee-and-dividend systems that tax fossil fuel and give the proceeds to citizens. We’ll write and march and, when necessary, we’ll go to jail. And we need those who spend too much of their time at international conclaves to join us, when you can. We’ll never get the solutions we need - the solutions everyone has known about for two decades - unless we build the movement first. your social media marketing partner


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+2 # politicaleconomist 2012-06-07 22:05
"Having written the first book about global warming 23 years ago." WHOA. I read about global warming 33 years ago. It wasn't a book but the concept and prediction of global warming has been around for over 100 years.
+10 # Helen 2012-06-08 00:57
Bravo! Bill McKibben is my hero. We must demand, and keep demanding, that our politicians crack down on the "status quo" that threatens our planet. We also must keep learning and teaching others, through publications such as YES! magazine, what each person can do, as an individual.
+1 # alg0rhythm 2012-06-08 01:12
I saw Bill Mckibben today at Netroots Nation, and he framed it perfect like always... This is some Amish type troglodyte I dont know about it, I use coal instead of the sun, or oil instead of wind, waves. We havent even made an earnest attempt, in the richest country on earth.

We can cut down on use, nationally easily, 50 percent.. 2 years, but probably need to do it sooner...

if we need some extra juice, there is probably a national years worth in extra nukes...
we would still have enough to utterly destroy every major city, even if we cut from 1600 to 800 nukes...

The Republicans actually deny that man can change the climate. Walk around... man lives in his own world, and changes what he wants, but inefficently, and it is costing the world, and him (them).

They are more like a lobby group for the arms dealers, the oil sellers, the bankers. And they tell you we need to go do something, like cut taxes or go to war, or something blew up, because, it makes them money, or their friends who share, when they get out of office...

I hold to my heart dear the Declaration, the Constitution and and government out of day to day lives, but good government.
+4 # futhark 2012-06-08 03:55
As long as Wall Street, including Big Oil and Big Coal, have the United States government, including the Congress, the Courts, and the Presidency, in their pockets and people vote only on the basis of the "D" or "R" after a candidate's name, we will continue to have ineffective leadership on environmental issues, with inevitably catastrophic results.
+4 # dovelane1 2012-06-08 04:39
So many politicians, leaders, and people seem to be basing their decisions on their intentions, not on the consequences of their decisions. I think that's why they can rationalize their decisions. I had "good intentions."

Well, as has been said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

On top of that, most of the peopl who have become rich off fossil fuels, and just about everything esle that is unhealthy, suffer no IMMEDIATE conequences for their decisions. The money keeps rolling in, so why should they change. I believer their rationalization s have allowed them to disconnect their consciences.

I believe the same is true for corporations like Monsanto. There are, as yet, no immediate consequences for their producing Round-Up. Perhaps they should be forced to eat a hamburger with Round Up on it instead of ketchup.

I like using the idea of the people who manufactured and sold land mines. If they had to bury some of the land mines in their backyards, and they and their family had to live there, not knowing where they were, would they build land mines? If they had to pay all the costs for hospitalization and death for the people affected by land mines, would they build land mines. Again, there are no immediate consequences, and they got rich. Why change?

Mr. McKibbon is correct - we need more outrage, and we need to keep cool heads about it.
+2 # handmjones 2012-06-08 05:33
The last peak in fuel prices lead to food riots in numerous cities around the globe. I fear we are like the rats depicted in the Nova video
They now we find a vast new source of food and multiply instantly only to find they (we) have used it all up.
The Green revolution in India and much other of our food supply are fossil fuel dependant. Can anyone imagine 10,000 acres of solar cells behind an ammonia plant instead of one little gas well?
India didn't use the expanded food production of the 'Green Revolution' to aleviate hunger, instead they used it to quickly double the population and maintain the level of malnutrition.
+3 # fredboy 2012-06-08 06:27
Yes, we need to face the future if we are to have a future.
+6 # BeeHears 2012-06-08 06:43
Nice try, but it goes much deeper than organizing people to get on board to implement alternative means for energy. As it stands right now, the mega-corporatio ns that sell us natural/gas and oil, play by house rules that favor their profit not the environment. This problem is now systemic, meaning it is built so deeply into our politics and economy that it is impossible to turn the tide.
We would have to stop driving, flying, shipping, and moving air craft carriers and the supportive military industrial complex. That is not going to happen for many years to come, and by that time we will have destroyed so much of our ecosystem that it will be a miracle if our grandchildren have anything that resembles a healthy ecosystem to live in.
We certainly have the know-how to create a culture that is not dependent on fossil fuels, but the habits we have become accustomed to far override the sane choices we need to make. The use of fossil fuels for our everyday lives can be likened to heroine addiction, and we don't even have a comparable substitute like methadone.
+6 # nirmalandhas 2012-06-08 08:45
The movement will take off with a bang when the people start dying in large enough numbers because of climate change and weather related volatility. That's when the real crisis will begin.Governmen ts fleeing and a power vacuum be filled guess who???
+3 # Glen 2012-06-08 08:57
There will be major die offs, including ocean and land, not just human beings. Predictions have already been made concerning resources and world war and famine, not to mention diseases.

nirmalandhas' comments do reflect those future possibilities. Chaos will reign prior to there being a downfall of governments. Are those governments now preparing for that chaos? Do citizens really have any say in this?
+5 # panhead49 2012-06-08 09:06
About 23 years ago I WAS outraged. Wrote vociferously to all local publications, spoke at every governmental meeting I could get to that accepted public input. I was outraged then because I believed that to be the tipping point.

We've tipped folks - and there is no putting that genie back in the bottle (the genie took one look around and had the sense to get the hell out of here).
+5 # Glen 2012-06-08 11:39
Yeah, panhead, I've lost my rage about a lot of things, also. Waste of energy. Now is the time to prepare for the future, rather than wishing for that future to correct itself. Or for any so-called government to cooperate with the planet.
+4 # Bigfella 2012-06-08 20:24
China is preparing for the "end game"
Interestingly Germany has now cracked the 50% mark for solar energy supply only last weekend with the Nuclear plants now closed 50% of last weekend energy came from solar panels and Germany England have less sun then Australia which only gets 15% of it energy from wind and solar...thanks to the oil lobby paying folls to debunk glopal warming..intere stingly we now have a carbon tax but the oppossition party believes that unless the USA joins in it will stop the carbon tax once in office...I am sick of the debate it time for action. (I own a carbon sink of 100 acres and have carbon storage 30,000 units which store 1 tonne of carbon each some call hem trees...1 tone of carbon storage is worth now [once registered and certificates issued] $25Aus per year.
Yes you can make money from growing trees and just leaving them to grow.
I personally gave up on Goverments in 1998 when we reached the tipping point with nothing done.
Just do what you can and get on with it your self as the 1% think they can profit from doing nothing.
+3 # Glen 2012-06-09 08:09
Agreed, Bigfella. Individual preparation is extremely important. Fortunately I live in a forest that we protect, and do little to damage the local environment. Plenty of room for a garden and so forth. Not everyone has that great fortune, and it could happen that as the population grows worldwide and in the U.S. land will be extremely valuable for spreading the growing numbers of citizens, or growing enough food.

I do not expect any government to assist in future preparations for U.S. citizens. Switching to solar is a start, but will not feed everyone or prevent further pollution.

There is no way to stop a government such as the U.S. in ruining much of the planet.
+4 # Bigfella 2012-06-08 20:12
One of the thing that has got right up my nose is ALUMINIUN (Sorry no spell check)world wide the smelter have been able to get electricity and energy very cheap. One it was worth more then gold.
If it had carbon foot print costs included it would now be worth more then Paladium. It true cost to the planet is staggering and out does oil in it destructive production.
0 # shraeve 2012-06-10 15:28
Why don't we re-forest the Earth?

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