Bill McKibben’s climate change


The crowd at Boulder’s First United Methodist Church on April 27 came to hear a missionary, but his exhortation was to put the change in “climate change.”

And there was a whiff of hellfire as well.

Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben says global warming has accelerated to the point that it’s no longer about stopping it, but about slowing it down and mitigating it as much as possible. And about adapting to its consequences, a “transition” to a future so different from what we now know that “it will be as if we all got on a space ship and went to a different planet.”

The urgency of his message has propelled McKibben out of his seat as scholar-in-residence at Vermont’s Middlebury College and away from home and family, with whom he’s spent only 70 days of the last year.

Before it was a catch-phrase, McKibben wrote a series of articles about climate change for The New Yorker that grew into a book published in 1989 called, The End of Nature. It has been called the first book in layman’s language to inform the public about what scientists were discussing. It was translated into 20 languages, embraced by Al Gore, and reprinted in 2006.

McKibben went on to produce more books and magazine articles that reflect his eclectic interests. In 2007, he helped create Step It Up, a global campaign to cut carbon emissions by 2040. It morphed into an organization called (

So, yes, he’s a serious voice and no mere wild-eyed prophet of doom. But McKibben also has a message that is “not exciting, but comforting. Think ‘husband,’ rather than ‘boy friend’.”

As with financial systems reaching the unhealthy size of being “too big to fail,” societies will have to downsize. It will be about “hunkering down,” rather than measuring progress in “leaps and bounds,” he says.

“We are going to have to figure out a way to live on a planet where ‘growth’ isn’t the answer. It will have to be life on a different scale. Can we think smaller?” he asks.

To do that, McKibben says, means to think local. To reduce dependence on long-distance, fossilfueled delivery of our goods, from utilities to food. To build strong communities that can cope with the friction of more difficult conditions and endangered resources worldwide.

Besides adapting to the future, it’s about making that future livable — something that will depend on building a global movement to overcome the vested interests that keep governments from effecting necessary change.

One way McKibben sees that happening is to call on a “global work party” to take place Oct. 10 — installing solar panels, creating community gardens and bike paths, etc.

— all things needed for that transition to a very different world.

This planetary day of action, McKibben says, will send “a very pointed, political message to our leaders. If we can get to work, perhaps you can get to work, too.”

His audience said Amen with a standing ovation.

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