Bill McKibben / 350.org

(2014, USA)

…for mobilising growing popular support in the USA and around the world for strong action to counter the threat of global climate change.

About

Bill McKibben is one of the world’s leading environmentalists. He has been an influential author and educator for 30 years, and his 1989 book The End of Nature was one of the first-ever books written to inform a general audience about climate change. Over the last ten years he initiated and built the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement. With the organisation 350.org at its core, this movement has spread awareness and mobilised political support for urgent action to mitigate the climate crisis that is already unfolding.

Contact Details

Bill McKibben
c/o Times Books
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
USA
Website


350.org
20 Jay St
Suite 1010
Brooklyn, NY 11201
USA
Website

Biography

Career as environmental author

Bill McKibben was born on 8 December 1960 and graduated from Harvard University in 1982. McKibben worked as a staff writer for The New Yorker from 1982-87 and then went freelance. In 1989, he published The End of Nature, which has been considered to be the first book on global warming written for a general audience. The book became a bestseller and was published in more than 20 languages.

Wikipedia provides an overview of his subsequent writing: “His next book, The Age of Missing Information (…) is an account of an experiment in which McKibben collected everything that came across the 100 channels of cable TV (…) for a single day. He spent a year watching the 2,400 hours of videotape, and then compared it to a day spent on the mountaintop near his home. This book has been widely used in colleges and high schools. (…)

Subsequent books include Hope, Human and Wild, about Curitiba, Brazil and Kerala, India, which he cites as examples of people living more lightly on the earth; The Comforting Whirlwind: God, Job, and the Scale of Creation, which is about the Book of Job and the environment; Maybe One, about human population; Long Distance: A Year of Living Strenuously, about a year spent training for endurance events at an elite level; Enough, about what he sees as the existential dangers of genetic engineering and nanotechnology; and Wandering Home, about a long solo hiking trip. (…)

His book, Deep Economy: the Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future (…) addresses what the author sees as shortcomings of the growth economy and envisions a transition to more local-scale enterprise. In (…) 2007 he published (…) Fight Global Warming Now, a handbook for activists trying to organise their local communities. In 2008 came The Bill McKibben Reader: Pieces from an Active Life, a collection of essays spanning his career. Also in 2008, the Library of America published ‘American Earth’, an anthology of American environmental writing since Thoreau edited by McKibben. In 2010 he published another national bestseller, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, an account of the rapid onset of climate change. (…)

Some of his work has been extremely popular, an article in Rolling Stone in July 2012 received over 125,000 likes on Facebook, 14,000 tweets, and 5,000 comments.” Titled Global Warming's Terrifying New Math: Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe and that make clear who the real enemy is, the article shows that only a tiny fraction of the proven coal and oil and gas reserves that the fossil-fuel companies want to develop over the coming decades could be burnt to avoid global temperatures rising by more than 2°C.

From author to activist

In 2001, McKibben took a job as scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College in Vermont, where he now has an endowed position as Schumann Distinguished Scholar. The Boston Globe writes (22.1.2012): “After watching two decades of political inaction, McKibben began to lose patience. ‘I spent a long time thinking that I was doing my part by writing and speaking about this and that, since it wasn’t really my nature to be a political organiser; someone else would build a movement,’ he once told the Utne Reader. But when that didn’t happen, he realized he had to act.”

McKibben started a number of campaigns through the churches, e.g. a “Hundred Dollar Holiday” for a non-materialistic Christmas or “What would Jesus drive?” initiated by him for less polluting cars.

In 2006, with a group of Middlebury College students, he organised a 1,000 person 5-day March across Vermont to get a political commitment from state politicians to an 80% carbon emissions reduction by 2050. “Vermont’s politicians fell all over themselves to sign on. With a few days of sore feet, McKibben had achieved more concrete results than in 18 years of writing.” (article 17.9.2012, Outside Magazine).

In 2007, again with the Middlebury College students, McKibben set up Step It Up, which organised rallies in hundreds of American cities and towns to demand that Congress enact curbs on carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. McKibben remembers: “I had a couple of new insights of how you can organise, with the computer in a dispersed way. The thing succeeded beyond anything. There were 1,400 decentralised events on April 14 with hundreds of thousands people. The coverage we got was unbelievable. It was all over the place in the small papers. It was much more than we could have gotten if all these people had marched on DC. And it was not dull, but creative actions, some activists were diving, and others were marking the coastline in New York that we would get with global warming. (…) It worked: Obama and Hillary Clinton changed their platforms.”

350.org

In 2008, McKibben co-founded 350.org. The name reflects the atmospheric CO2 concentration (in parts per million, ppm) thought to be a threshold for unacceptable risk of dangerous climate change (the current concentration is already over 400 ppm).

In March 2009, McKibben co-organised, and participated – together with RLA Laureate Vandana Shiva and other activists – in an act of civil disobedience to block the US Congress’s own coal power plant.

The initial focus of 350.org was strongly on the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009. On 24 October 2009, 350.org coordinated more than 5,200 demonstrations in 181 countries in what was called “the largest ever coordinated rally of any kind” by Foreign Policy magazine and “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history” by CNN.

Six weeks later, 350.org took 350 young people to the Copenhagen Climate Conference and by the end of it 117 countries had endorsed the 350 ppm target (however, as McKibben acknowledged, these were not the big polluters).

In 2010, 350.org organised the Global Work Party, bringing together 7,200 communities in 188 countries to work together on local climate solutions. Other campaigns have included 350 eARTh, the world's first planetary art show large enough to be seen from space, and the Great Power Race, a student clean energy competition for over 1,000 universities in China, India, and the United States. In 2011, 350.org merged with 1Sky and held a rally in Washington, DC with thousands of people protesting big polluters as part of the 10,000 person Power Shift 2011 conference.

In the fall of 2011, 350.org started campaigning against the Keystone XL pipeline that would take oil from Canada’s tar sands in Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. At a rally in front of the White House, McKibben was arrested together with over 1,000 people. This contributed to the Keystone project being put on hold indefinitely.

The Climate Impacts Day in May 2012 encouraged the media to “connect the dots” between extreme weather and climate change. Also in 2012, 350.org organised a 22-city Do the Math tour, which focused on the factor-five difference in the amount of carbon that could still be emitted within the 2°C limit, and the amount in the proven reserves of the fossil fuel companies (see Rolling Stone article mentioned above).

In June 2013, the Global Power Shift conference brought together 500 young leaders from 135 countries. And on 21 September 2014, 350.org and many partner organisations organised a large demonstration in New York and other marches around the world attracting some 400,000 people to underline climate concerns at Ban Ki-Moon’s climate summit.

350.org is a 501(c)3 non-profit organisation with some 70 staff members. The Executive Director of 350.org is May Boeve, and McKibben is its Board President.

Recognitions

McKibben has received a number of awards and honorary degrees. In 2010, Utne Reader magazine listed McKibben as one of the “25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World” and Foreign Policy magazine named him to its inaugural list of the 100 most important global thinkers in 2009. In 2010, the Boston Globe called him “probably the nation's leading environmentalist” and Time magazine book reviewer Bryan Walsh described him as “the world's best green journalist”. In 2013, he won the Gandhi Peace Award. McKibben has honorary degrees from 18 colleges and universities, and in 2014 a newly discovered insect – a woodland gnat – was named in his honour: Megophthalmidia mckibbeni.

Personal life

Bill McKibben is married to Sue Halpern, a writer. They have a daughter, Sophie McKibben, who is currently a student at Brown University.

Speeches

Award Acceptance Speech by Bill McKibben

1 December 2014

Sue and I are very grateful to join you here today, and very grateful indeed for this award. I accept it on behalf of the burgeoning movement to fight climate change, and in particular my colleagues at 350.org, working in 188 countries to try and limit the damage to our home planet from global warming. I am so thankful not only to the RLA, but also to my fellow honourees for all that their work has meant for the progress of human rights and human potential. As an American, let me give a special note of gratitude to Mr. Snowden, whose remarkable bravery helped all of us understand the forces at work in my nation.

As we meet here today the world is almost done with what will be the hottest calendar year in its recent history. 2014 saw the warmest temperatures – by far – ever recorded in the northern Pacific. It also was the year when we learned, tragically, that the melt of the West Antarctic ice sheet is now irreversible. Twenty five years ago, when I wrote the first book-length account of this crisis, none of these wounds could have been predicted. But scientists are conservative; the damage has outpaced their forecasts. Every ocean, including the one outside these doors, is now 30% more acidic than a generation ago. Every continent now sees drought and flood on an unprecedented scale. Every scientific body now urges upon us, with ever more desperate rhetoric, the need for action. You will find in your packet, as one concise reminder of the relevant points, a recent publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, outlining once more the grim and by now very plain facts of climate change.

And yet so little action has come. The world will meet again a year from today in Paris to try and reach a treaty – a replay of the meeting that five years ago ended in fiasco in Copenhagen. So far the fossil fuel industry has been powerful enough to block substantial action in most nations, especially the United States, historically the biggest source of the carbon now overheating the earth.

We in the climate movement have long since concluded that that fountain of fossil fuel money – which buys politicians and spreads disinformation – can only be met if we coin our own currency: in this case, the currency of movements. Passion, spirit, creativity. Sometimes we need to spend the currency of our bodies and head to jail. And so here’s the good news to temper that bleak weather forecast: all over the world that movement is finally rising. In late September, 400,000 people filled the streets of New York to demand the UN take action on climate; that was the largest demonstration about anything in the U.S. for some years, and those people were joined by protesters in 2,600 other cities around the world. The world’s first truly global problem is seeing the world’s first truly global movement.

And it is beginning to have an effect. That same night in New York, the heirs to the Rockefeller fortune announced they were divesting their holdings in fossil fuel companies – the first family of fossil fuel was selling its oil stock. In so doing, they joined institutions from Stanford University to the Church of Sweden. (And hopefully soon the City of Stockholm, and many others in this green-minded nation.) Just as 30 years ago, when the question was apartheid in South Africa, the world’s people are coming together to withdraw their money from the companies that simply refuse to change their practices. Those companies – Exxon, Shell, Chevron, Gazprom, China Coal, BP, and all the rest – have in their combined reserves far more carbon than the world’s scientists say we can safely burn. And yet those companies have told their shareholders and their banks that they will dig up that coal and oil and gas and burn it. If they carry out those business plans, there is no mystery how the story ends: the planet breaks.

And so we must fight, peacefully but firmly. We must build green cities – and like so many others I have visited Stockholm’s green neighborhood, Hammarby Sjostad. It is a model of what the future could look like, as congenial as it is ecological. But beautiful as that vision is, we can’t be taking one step forward and another back. In this city, for instance, planning continues on a massive highway, the Forbifart Stockholm; ask yourself whether in a decade or two that is the legacy this planet needs, or whether a sharp and dramatic move towards public transit and car sharing, the kind of clever public transport that Helsinki now envisions, might not be better.

And ask yourself sharp questions about trying to make every possible penny off the current situation: if Vattenfall, for instance, simply sells its stake in German lignite mines, there is no question that that coal will eventually be dug up and burned. Is not the really responsible course – for a nation that grew wealthy in part by burning fossil fuel – to make the small economic sacrifice and keep that coal forever underground where it can do no harm? Is that any different than what, for instance, we’ve asked of the Brazilians when it comes to the Amazon?

And we very badly need Sweden’s cities and national governments to follow the lead of the Church of Sweden and divest from fossil fuel holdings: We simply must defeat those forces that want to delay large-scale change so they can have a decade or two more profit. There’s no ducking that fight: If you invest in fossil fuel companies, you profit from the destruction of the earth. That’s the definition of dirty money. Those who invest in fossil fuel companies are making a wager that the world will do nothing to combat climate change. That’s an immoral wager.

And it’s an unwise one as well, because civil society really is rising up. I am reminded of the iconic scene earlier this autumn, when our 350.org colleagues in the endangered islands of the Pacific took their traditional canoes to the largest coal port in the world, Newcastle in Australia, and used them to block some of the largest ships in the world. Their slogan was, “We’re Not Drowning, We’re Fighting.” I am reminded of the scenes in North America, where cattle ranchers and Native Americans formed an unprecedented Cowboy-Indian Alliance to block the Keystone Pipeline and its cargo of filthy oil from the tarsands of Canada. We stand in solidarity with Andean activists losing the glaciers that supply their drinking water, and with Bangladeshi activists watching the seas rise in the Bay of Bengal. We learn from African leaders like Desmond Tutu who recently called climate change the greatest human rights challenge of our time, and from Sami leaders from the top of the world who are watching berserk winter weather wreck time-honored ways of life. We struggle alongside residents of Delhi and Beijing and the other smog-choked metropolises of our planet, for we know that their children die from the same fossil fuel combustion that endangers the whole earth.

Global warming is a test for all of us – the test, in our time on earth. It’s a test, in a sense, of whether the big brain is a good adaptation after all. Clearly it can get us in a lot of trouble – but maybe, just maybe, it’s attached to a big enough heart go get us out of some of that trouble too. I can’t promise you we will win this struggle – we’ve waited a long time to get started, and the science is quite dark. But I can promise you that in every corner of the world we will fight, and fight hard. Thank you so much for helping spread word of that struggle with this great honour.

  Pictures
 Videos

Bill McKibben's reaction to RLA2014

Do the Math - the trailer

Do The Math is currently being broadcasted to millions of homes all across the USA on Al Jazeera America. To watch the movie, check the 350.org webpage.

Bill McKibben talks climate change with Bill Maher

More videos from 350.org can be accessed on their YouTube channel.

Interviews

The People's Climate March: An Interview with Bill McKibben" - The New Yorker - 20 September 2014. Available here.

"Bill McKibben to Obama: Say No to Big Oil" - BillMoyers.com - 7 February 2014. Available here.

"Bill McKibben interview - time for the climate movement to get on the front foot" by Adam Ramsay and Bill McKibben - OpenDemocracy - 30 October 2013. Available here.

"Breaking the Growth Habit: A Q&A with Bill McKibben" - Scientific American - 18 March 2010. Available here.

Publications

Articles

Bill McKibben's articles can be accessed on his website.
Some recent key articles include the following:
 

A Call to Arms: An Invitation to Demand Action on Climate Change - Rolling Stone - 21 May 2014. Available here.

It's time to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry - The Guardian - 30 May 2013. Available here

Global Warming's Terrifying New Math - Rolling Stone - 19 July 2012. Available here.

The Great Carbon Bubble - Huffington Post - 2 July 2012. Available here.

Books

A list of all books written by Bill McKibben can be found on his website.

Contact

Right Livelihood Award Foundation

Head office:
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Phone: +46 (0)8 70 20 340
Fax: +46 (0)8 70 20 338

Geneva office:
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