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Environmentalist analyzes threat of climate change

| Wednesday, April 13, 2016

1460515028-ff85630d5718161Wei Cao | The Observer

“This is by far the biggest thing humans have ever done, and by far the biggest task human beings have ever had is to stop it, and to stop it cold,” environmentalist Bill McKibben said of global warming in the 22nd annual Hesburgh Lecture on Tuesday. The lecture was sponsored by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

McKibben is considered to be one of America’s most important environmentalists and is the founder of 350.org, a planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement.

When he wrote his first book on global warming,”The End of Nature,” in 1989, he had no idea the situation would become as dire as he said it is today.

“The idea that we would have reached this point within barely a quarter century would have seemed preposterous, even to those scientists who most worried about climate change,” he said. “We knew that trouble was coming. We knew when you burned coal and gas and oil, you put carbon into the atmosphere. We knew the molecular structure of CO2 trapped heat that would otherwise radiate back out into space. But we didn’t know how fast and how hard it was going to pinch.”

According to McKibben, 2015 broke the record for the hottest year — previously 2014 — by “more than a 10th of a degree Celsius.”

“Think about how large a physical system the Earth is, and then imagine how much extra energy it takes to heat a system that large a full 10th of a degree Celsius within 12 months,” he said.

McKibben’s movement has organized 20 thousand rallies around the world, holding them in every country except for North Korea. These rallies are dedicated to resisting climate change; protests have been against the Keystone Pipeline, while rallies have been in support of the fossil fuel divestment movement.

350.org began with McKibben and seven undergraduate students at Middlebury College, where he is a professor.

“There were seven undergraduates, there are seven continents — each one took one,” he said. “Our work was to find other people like ourselves. Everywhere, there’s someone worried about the world and they were our natural allies in this work. We didn’t really organize; it was more like throwing a potluck supper. That’s what we did. We said here’s the date, and we need everyone to do their part.”

That date was November 2010 and the event was an art exhibit called 350 eARTh, where participants from around the world coordinated human sculptures that were photographed with satellites.

“I had heard, always, that environmentalism was something rich white people did,” McKibben said. “It took about half an hour of watching these videos flood in to realize that was just nonsense. Most of the people leading this work around the planet were poor and black and brown and Asian and young because that’s what most of the world is made up of. They’re just as concerned as anyone else, maybe more so, because the future bears down hard when you’re in those places.”

One of the pictures McKibben showed during his lecture was of Haitian children participating in his movement, holding signs that said, “Your actions affect me.”

“As always with climate change, all of these things affect most the people who have done the least to cause the problem,” he said. “The perverse inverse justice of climate change is an enormous challenge, not least of all to those of us with a faith commitment that would be loving our neighbors.

“There’s really nothing anyone in Haiti is going to do to fix this. They can’t use less fossil fuel, they use none now. They can’t get to the White House or any other seat of power to get people to pay attention to them.”

When McKibben and 350.org were organizing a protest of the Keystone Pipeline in Washington, D.C., he said he told protesters to dress well.

“I said, ‘If you want to come get arrested, will you put on a necktie or a dress?’ I wanted people to do that because I wanted the pictures from that day to send the same sort of message I’m telling you today, which is that there’s nothing radical at all about what we’re talking about. All we’re asking for is a world something like the one humans have always known,” he said. 

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About Megan Valley

Megan Valley was Assistant Managing Editor for The Observer. She majored in English and the Program of Liberal Studies and hailed from Flushing, Michigan.

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