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Guest: Bill McKibben

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Listen Now

Danger and hope both drive Bill McKibben, a world-famous environmentalist. Concentrations of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere are past the point of safety and rising, while people worldwide are embracing our biological need for community and its power.
“The task for civilization in the 21st century is to scramble back out of the danger zone to something that resembles safety. The best science tells us we may still have a window open. But not a really big window, and it’s closing pretty fast. So we darn well better get to work.”
How does a ‘durable future’ look?
“Don’t look at Houston. Don’t look at Atlanta. Look at Copenhagen and Paris and Frankfurter and say, ‘Here’s how you build a city.’ Because the average Western European uses half as much energy as the average American. Half is a big number.
“The scientists now tell us that the new ‘magic number’ for CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million (ppm). We’re at 385. Already too far. We've got to cut down a lot on our burning of coal and gas and oil so that the earth can start to process that carbon and reduce the amount in the atmosphere back down to at least 350 parts per million. No more than that.
“We've started this group 350.org and we're getting people all around the world to figure out ways to tell their neighbors about that number. We've got to tattoo that ‘350’ number into everybody's brain, so that they know that that's the number on this world that represents safety.”
In 1989, Mr. McKibben helped generate wider public awareness of global climate change with his book, The End of Nature He’s now added to his many books, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. What’s changed?
“There's something different in the air. Part of it is the desperation of knowing that we don't have much choice or much longer to make things different. But partly it’s the deeply human idea that we have the big brain and the big heart for some reason. And if we're wise and if we're kind, it will be enough to overcome the difficulties we find ourselves in, especially the environmental ones. It will be very daunting, very tough. But the movement that is starting to grow is very beautiful.”
The idea that the whole world is going to get just as rich as the United States and consume accordingly -- “Plan A” -- is not physically possible, he documents.
“Let’s turn to ‘Plan B’ and figure out something more interesting, especially since’ Plan A’ isn’t even working very well for us in terms of happiness. Humans are built for connection. That's what we like. The trouble is we've been hyper-individual.
“The economists have been consistent in looking around the world and saying that once people get past about $10,000 per capita income per year -- for an American family 40 grand a year -- there's no longer any correlation between more money and more satisfaction. One of the great shames of our society is we have way more than enough money for every family in America at that level. Instead, we have people with way too much and we have people with way too little. I once wrote a book called Enough. It’s the most un-American of words, but I think that's starting to change.”
Where does he find his hope? “
All sorts of things. Moves back towards some kind of community. The fastest growing part of the music industry is live performance -- music festivals, travelling jam bands. We're used to the idea that food should come from a big distance and a central source. Eat locally and you use less energy, get better food, but you also have a different experience and that's the real kicker.
“Think about energy itself. Our idea is it comes from a long ways away and we consume it. But it doesn't need to be that way. We have new technologies. My house’s roof (in Vermont) is all covered with solar panels tied into the electric grid. It’s great fun to watch my electric meter turn the wrong way, to realize that I'm a utility on a sunny day, to realize that my neighbor is cooling his beer with the sunlight that's falling on my shingles.
“That sense of connectedness and network is a good metaphor for what we need to do. It’s environmentally benign, it’s much more on a human scale, and that scale is what we’ve got to get back to.”

Acknowledgments

 
We applaud Mr. McKibben thrice over. First, for his early and vitally important role in bringing to public attention the crisis of global climate change in his 1989 book The End of Nature. Secondly, for a love of life so monumental he’s willing to take his stay-at-home writerly self out into the world with this critically important “Alert!” to our present danger. And finally, for his willingness to do “one more thing” in an impossibly full schedule in order to join us for this Conversation.
Thanks also to Georgia Interfaith Power & Light for sharing Mr. McKibben with us.
 

Related Links

 
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future is published by Henry Holt and Company. The End of Nature was published by Random House.
Find more about and from Bill McKibben at his website.
Mr. McKibben and his collaborers have a dynamic interactive website focused on “Global Warming. Global Action. Global Future.” They call it 350.org. What’s with the “350”? In order to sustain life as we’ve known it on earth for the past 12 thousand years, 350 parts per million [ppm] concentration of atmospheric CO2 is at the top end of the “safe zone”. We passed that mark in the year 1990. Currently, we’re already in the “danger zone” at 387 ppm and rising. Here’s a centralized place where you can join others around the world in addressing the climate crisis already painfully upon us.
Because of human-generated threats to our species and many others, we've had several substantive conversations over the last decade with people whose work and passion focus on human ecologies, the environment and global climate change. Included are:  David Orr, Paul Hawken, Richard Leakey, Sy Montgomery, Edward O. Wilson, Amory Lovins, David Suzuki, Denis Hayes, William Calvin, Riki Ott, Karl-Henrik Robèrt, Robert Kennedy and Mike Tidwell. 
... and, here's a little background information on Paula Gordon and Bill Russell, the Program co-hosts.
 

This Program was recorded on Tuesday, March 11, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia, US

Tags: aesthetics axiology constructivists ethics kalogenesis PMPO polymythic personalistic organicism post-modern reductionism reductionists Whitehead Whiteheadian