Last evening, I had the privilege of attending a free talk by Bill McKibben, a leading experts on climate change. He authored one of the first books on the topic to be written for a lay audience. The End of Nature was published in 1989. McKibben is also one of the founders of 350.org. Click the link to see what they’re about.
I want to share my take-aways from what I heard last night.
- Time is short. Our window of opportunity to act is closing. We have to make big changes as quickly as possible.
- The silver lining to the above point is that scientists have figured out what we need to do. (Mostly, stop using fossil fuels.) It’s a matter of actually doing it.
- Oil companies knew about climate change and how bad it would be back in the 1970s and 80s, but they kept it quiet while redesigning all of their offshore rigs to withstand changes in sea level and sea chemistry. (Steam is still coming out my ears.)
- McKibben believes we need to focus more on policy change than on personal lifestyle changes. If you can’t influence the federal government, then work on your state or city government. Urge universities and retirement funds to divest from oil companies. I get his point that the changes we need to make are so large and the time so short that we can’t reach our goal with only personal lifestyle changes done one person at a time. But I believe he downplayed the importance of it a little too much. One person can influence others and show them it’s possible to live differently, to help overcome resistance to change. One example — many folks in my neighborhood have planted milkweed in the past few years and I saw many more monarchs this summer than I have in recent years.
- Organize! McKibben gave many examples of average citizens from many countries, races and economic strata joining together to stop environmental destruction. He showed us a photo of a group of kayakers preventing an oil tanker from leaving dock, as one example.
- Older people should take risks to save the future for the next generations. If you’ve already got a successful career behind you, be the one willing to go to jail instead of a younger person who has more to lose by it. He practices what he preaches, by the way, having been arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience.
- Don’t spend too much time and energy arguing with climate change skeptics. “Don’t ruin Thanksgiving dinner” because some folks are resistant to information and will never change their minds. McKibben said he has two standard responses to climate change skeptics. “I hope you’re right” or “You may not believe in climate change, but it believes in you.”
- 70% of people do believe in climate change and the need to reverse it. Focus your energies on spurring the believers to action.
I’ve spent the last 24 hours or so thinking about what else I can do. I decided my next step will be adding my name to those calling for our local university to divest from fossil fuel companies. Let’s hurry and save the world, y’all!