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Climate activist Bill McKibben talks ‘disrupting business as usual’ to fight climate change

KAYLEE BEAM / The Stanford Daily

Pioneering environmentalist, climate activist and Palo Alto native Bill McKibben spoke at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park on Sunday to promote his newest book, “Falter.” The work discusses the convergence of several existential threats to humanity –– artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and climate change –– and how humankind might address these self-inflicted crises.

“Here, near the center of the biggest companies in the world, we need them [to be] engaged in the biggest fight in the world,” McKibben said, highlighting the particular importance of Silicon Valley in the fight against climate change.

McKibben, who was the first to write about global warming for the general public in his 1989 book “The End of Nature,” released “Falter” on April 16. In his newest work, he paints a bleak picture of the planet’s current state, but also offers ways that humankind can take a stand against it.

McKibben discussed “Falter” and the issue of climate change in conversation with local environmental advocate Michael Closson.

In the dialogue, McKibben emphasized that action wasn’t always his MO. He spent the early stages of his career writing books and attending symposiums because he believed that education was the key to climate change mitigation.

“It dawned on me slowly –– too slowly –– that we won the argument,” McKibben said. “Science was very clear about what was going on. We were just losing the fight because the fight was about money and power.”

This realization spurred him toward more action-oriented work, such as the creation of 350.org, a global climate organization dedicated to confronting climate change and reducing carbon dioxide.

Since the release of “The End of Nature,” McKibben has dedicated his life to raising awareness of global warming and encouraging public action. In 2007, he founded 350.org. Just five years later in 2012, he helped launch 350.org’s divestment campaign, which now has $8 trillion worth of endowments in portfolios that have divested from fossil fuels.

McKibben also discussed the history of climate change research and what he believes to be “the most consequential lie in human history”: In 1982, multinational oil and gas company ExxonMobil withheld studies conducted by its scientists that supported the reality of global warming from the public, instead adjusting the height of their drilling rigs to account for sea level rise and planning the best places to drill in the Arctic once sea ice had melted. Though NASA climate scientists were investigating the warming of the planet simultaneously, it took them six years to find empirical proof for the phenomenon.

McKibben discussed the ways in which this lie prevented the world from taking small actions –– like enacting a carbon tax –– to address global warming in the 90s, and has instead forced the world toward drastic emissions reduction goals that need to be achieved within the next decade.

The talk concluded with a brief question and answer session. Audience questions ranged from “How do we get our liberal friends off of the couch?” with regards to protests and rallies, to “Do you think it’s possible to get to where we need to go without a dramatic reduction in the human population?”

These questions led to discussions about the importance of empowering and educating women in fighting climate change and the need to appeal to different ideologies, instead of relying on pure facts, in convincing climate change deniers.

Above all, McKibben emphasized that the time for humanity to take action is now.

“The planet is way outside its comfort zone now,” he said. “So we need to be way outside our comfort zones.”


Contact Kaylee Beam at kbeam97 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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