Drastic climate change may have become unavoidable by the time the freshman class graduates, famed environmentalist Bill McKibben told an audience in the Ryan Family Auditorium on Thursday.
“There’s not much use in waiting to get out of college before doing something about global warming,” said McKibben, the guest speaker of Students for Ecological and Environmental Development (SEED). “The time we have available to answer these questions is short.”
McKibben, a writer who contributes frequently to various magazines including The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, and Harper’s, began his work in global climate change nearly 20 years ago. His first book, The End of Nature, was published in 1989 and is regarded by some as the first book for a general audience on the subject.
New calculations predict that by 2012, the changes made by global warming will be completely irreversible and future changes potentially unstoppable, he said.
“I’m a journalist, and I thought this would prove to be the biggest story there ever was, as indeed it has,” he said.
In 2006, McKibben organized a march of more than 1,000 people across Vermont to demanding action on global climate change. The next year, he and senior students at Middlebury founded Step It Up 2007, a campaign challenging Congress to endeavor to cut carbon emissions to 80 percent by 2050. On April 14, 2007, there were 1,400 demonstrations in all 50 states under the banner of global warming awareness.
Environmental activism has taken McKibben around the globe. While travelling in Bangladesh, McKibben contracted dengue fever from a mosquito bite. Like many tropical countries, Bangladesh has seen an increase in mosquito-borne diseases in the last few years because of higher temperatures.
While in a packed hospital ward “larger than this room,” McKibben contemplated the fact that while Bangladesh’s carbon emissions were not even quantifiable, the United States produces 25 percent of the world’s carbon emissions.
“It was worth it to get bite to realize something viscerally I had understood before intellectually,” said McKibben. “Every fourth bed I was looking at was on us. That was our contribution to the plight of those people. I think it’s one of the reasons that when I came home from that trip I started doing this kind of organizing.”
McKibben’s new campaign, 350.org, is currently spreading awareness in preparation of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009. He asked the 200 people in the audience to get out their phones and text “invite” to 69866 in order to invite either Barack Obama or John McCain to that conference.
In addition to global climate awareness, McKibben also talked about the necessity of localizing economies such as food and energy.
“Bill McKibben is one of our assigned readings in Sociology of the Environment with Susan Thistle,” SESP sophomore Nathalie Rayter said. “His book [Deep Economy] is really gripping and so eye-opening.”
McKibben told the audience not to worry about driving a Taurus instead of a Prius.
“You can’t make the math add up fast enough by changing light bulbs,” he said. “It’s useless unless combined with political action. Symbolic action is more practical now than practical action.”