Bill McKibben on US Bullying Climate Talks, COP16 and 350

Bill McKibben Portrait, Hi Res
Image by 350.org via Flickr

Broadcasting from Cancún, Mexico where the COP16 Climate Summit is taking place, Democracy Now caught up with author and  350.org co-founder Bill McKibben. Here is an excerpt from that interview (embedded above):

AMY GOODMAN: For more on the issue of the WikiLeaks cables and the international climate change talks, I spoke with the longtime environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben here in Cancún.

He’s the founder of 350.org and the winner of the 2010 Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship.Well, here in Cancún on Saturday night, just before he flew to New York, I asked Bill McKibben about his reaction to the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks showing how the U.S. manipulated last year’s climate talks in [Copenhagen].

BILL McKIBBEN: Some of the new data coming out today makes it clear that everyone’s suspicion that the U.S. was both bullying and buying countries into endorsing their do-little position on climate were even sort of worse than we had realized. You know, the sums that people were tossing around and the demands that they were making of small nations, in particular, to endorse their stand were pretty—were pretty gross, not because it comes as any great surprise that we toss our power around—that’s what we do—but because on this issue, above all else, you know, in the end, making some political agreement enforcing our particular set of interests is such a bad idea, because it’s physics and chemistry that are actually driving the tune. And we can, you know, win every fight because we’re powerful and wealthy and whatever, and we’re still going to lose the war just as badly as everybody else. So, I think it kind of undermines the bankruptcy of a lot of this COP process and the fact that we’re going to need, in civil society, to build a movement big enough to really exert some power. I don’t know whether we can do that. We haven’t done it yet. The oil industry and their friends in the U.S. government are, you know, winning most of the battles. But we’re going to keep trying. And this gives us kind of new impetus to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: And the reports that Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and other countries, the ALBA countries, are threatening to pull out of these talks if countries do not commit again to Kyoto, to mandatory caps on emissions?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, I mean, here’s one way to look at—sort of look at it the opposite way. The first people who threatened to kind of walk away from the talks were the Americans last week. “Unless everybody else signs up for targets, we’re going to walk out.” OK? In certain ways, that would be the best thing that could happen. This is what for 15 years now the dynamic of these talks has been. The U.S. comes and says, “Weaken the agreement, so we can get Congress to go along and do something about it.” Everybody weakens the agreement, first in Kyoto and then in Copenhagen. And then Congress doesn’t agree anyway. You know, you sort of—they sort of—it’s like a flirtation that never goes anywhere. And it’s wrecked the whole process, time after time after time.

And now the U.S. is doing it again. This time they’re saying, “You don’t get any climate aid, unless we weaken the agreement and do what we want,” and, you know, so on and so forth. Well, look, I’d say, if you’re really counting, if you’re a poor nation counting on some climate aid from the U.S., man, ask for a receipt, because I’m not convinced the new Senate and House is going to come across with anything anyway. Four U.S. senators on Thursday said—sent a letter to Secretary of State Clinton, saying, “Don’t give them any money at all for anything. This global warming is a hoax, and we don’t want American money wasted on those nasty poor countries,” you know? America has poisoned this process time and time again, and we really need to start standing up to that.

AMY GOODMAN: The fact that the House is saying the Republicans, when they take over the leadership, will get rid of the global warming—the Climate Change Commission?

BILL McKIBBEN: It’s as if they’re saying—I mean, literally as if they’re saying, “We’re going to stick our fingers in our ears, and the problem will go away. We’ll never have another hearing on it, so therefore it won’t be happening.” I’m afraid that’s about as unlikely a proposition—I mean, more power to them if you could make global warming disappear by simply not talking about it. It would be a hell of a good strategy. But my guess is that physics and chemistry will be remarkably unimpressed by this position, you know? I mean, Congress—the sort of delusions of grandeur within the Beltway are enormous. They think because they can change the tax code, they can change the laws of nature. But that’s not possible.

AMY GOODMAN: And when you say 350 parts per million, explain.

BILL McKIBBEN: Three-fifty is the most important number in the world. Three years ago, our best scientists at NASA said any amount of carbon in the atmosphere greater than 350 parts per million is not compatible with the planet on which civilization developed or to which life on earth is adapted. OK? The trouble is, because we’ve burned so much coal and gas and oil already, the atmosphere here in Cancún and every place else in the world is 390 parts per million CO2. That’s why the Arctic is melting. It’s why Russia is on fire. It’s why Pakistan is drowning. It’s why we’ve got to work way faster than we thought we did even a few years ago.

And so, at 350.org, we’ve rallied people. You know, we held, this fall, this global work party with 7,400 events in 188 countries, what CNN called the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history. And we’re beginning to build this movement. It’s not anywhere near big enough yet. I don’t know if it’ll get there. But we’re trying as hard as we can.

AMY GOODMAN: And Cancún? You’re already talking about Johannesburg, South Africa, next year.

BILL McKIBBEN: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: But Cancún isn’t done.

BILL McKIBBEN: Cancún, I mean, it’s like watching—I mean, this process, this U.N. process, has been going on forever, and it’s getting nowhere, and it’s not going to get anywhere substantive, until we have some power from the outside to push it.

AMY GOODMAN: I saw some young people with T-shirts that said, “You have been negotiating all my life.”

BILL McKIBBEN: It’s a—somebody, some friend of mine, said, who I saw the other day drawing on the street, who I hadn’t seen since the last one of these, said, “It’s just like a family reunion aboard the Titanic, you know?” And that’s sort of what it feels like. We can’t keep doing this. Until we can build some power outside of these arenas to actually push these guys, you know, this is—in the end, it’s not about how well people are communicating or how great the policy papers are. It’s on who has the power. And at the moment, that power rests in the hands of the fossil fuel industry and their allies in governments around the world. And until we build some independent outside movement power to push back, then we’re never going to get—we’re going to get scraps from the table, at the very best.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see the fossil fuel industry here in Cancún?

BILL McKIBBEN: You see their fingerprints on every single thing that happens. When, you know, Saudi Arabia stands up to say something, when the U.S. stands up to say something, it’s on limitations—you know, they’re limitations imposed by the fossil fuel industry. That’s who’s speaking. That’s where the power lies.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, winner of the 2010 Puffin Prize. He was speaking to us in Cancún. He’s founder of 350.org.

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10/10/10 -7347 Global Work Parties in 188 Countries- the Biggest Event Ever on Planet Earth

“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it, And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

And there was a whole lot of work going on yesterday. According to 350.org‘s co-founder, Bill McKibben “it was the most widespread day of political engagement in the planet’s history, and a real chance for people across the world to say the same thing: We’re fed up with the inaction of our leaders on climate, and we want them to work half as hard as we’re working. Now!”

I participated in two Global Work Parties. The first one was at my son’s school and involved getting our organic edible schoolyard garden ready for fall planting and painting a fence. The second event was on Fort Lauderdale Beach where there was a Critical Mass bike ride and beach clean-up. It was an extraordinary day and the fact that my family and I were taking part in an event that was repeating itself simultaneously around the globe, made it even more impactful.

So, rather than talking about the political movement here (there’s time for that later), I encourage you to go to the 350.org flickr photostream and let the photos tell the story. The people united, can never be defeated.

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What will you be doing on 10/10/10?

Christchurch, New Zealand

Participating in a  Global Work Party to celebrate climate solutions, we hope.

On 10/10/10, people from all over the world will be coming together to implement solutions to the climate crisis. From tree plantings to beach clean-ups, from community gardens to bike rides, from solar panels to wind turbines, we’ll collectively begin changing our world from the bottom up. At all of these events, we’ll be taking photos with a call to action for our political leaders. We’ll tell them, “we’re getting to work, what about you?”

The number of events registered at 350.org this year has even surpassed last year’s October 24th Climate Action Day total of 5248.

So where will you be on 10/10/10? Hopefully sharing that positive energy with the rest of the planet and getting to work. If you don’t yet know how you’re plugging into 10/10/10, there’s still lots of time to join or start an event in your community.

View Actions at 350.org

10/10/10 Event Highlights from 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben

Funniest: Sumo wrestlers cycling to practice in downtown Tokyo.

Most remote: An education center in the Namib Desert in Namibia installing six solar panels.


Smallest country taking part:
Divers on the smallest island nation of the world, Nauru (8.1 square miles) will plunge into their coral reefs for an underwater clean-up.

Jensen Beac<br /> <strong><strong>Most presidential:</strong> President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives is installing solar panels on his roof.</strong></p> <p><strong><strong>Most tipsy:</strong> Partiers in Edinburgh will be throwing a

Most presidential: President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives is installing solar panels on his roof.

Most tipsy: Partiers in Edinburgh will be throwing a “Joycott” (a reverse boycott) at a local bar that agreed to put 20% of its extra revenues on 10/10/10 to making the bar more energy efficient. Attendees will try and drink as much as possible to raise money. Cheers!

Most poignant: In San Pedro Garza Garcia, Mexico, students will hand out solar-powered lights to families who are still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Alex this June, 2010.

Most cross-cultural: Over 100 cyclists from Jordan, Israel and Palestine taking part in a 3-day bicycle relay to carry water from the Yarmouk River and the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea to symbolize the need for cooperation to stop climate change and save precious water resources.

Most educational: 850 universities in China, India, and the United States are joining 10/10/10 as part of the Great Power Race campaign, a clean energy competition.
this popular Facebook post.

PS: Thanks to your help, there are only 14 countries currently missing from the wonderfully crowded map of 10/10/10 events!

Do you have any friends in: Cape Verde, Dominica, East Timor, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Grenada, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Micronesia, Monaco, Myanmar/Burma, Sao Tome and Principe, San Marino, or Suriname?

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Global Warning, Our Oil Addiction and Living on a New Planet

Narrated by Leo DiCaprio, this clip is based on the book by Thom Hartmann, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: The Fate of the World and What We Can Do Before It’s Too Late.

“Picture this, a blue planet protected by a thin layer of atmosphere that keeps temperature, air and water in perfect balance to maintain life. In the cold depths of space, this planet is a virtual paradise, the only one know of its kind. And, it is our planet, Earth. But something is wrong…human civilization and our relentless consumption has brought this planet to the brink. But specifically, our addiction to one single resource may push us over the edge. And, that resource is Oil.”

“So get educated, stay educated, so we can think for ourselves and join the fight to save this unique blue planet for future generations,” DiCaprio closes. But, this problem of climate change is not really just a problem for future generations. As author Bill McKibben argues in his new book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, we no longer live on the planet Earth where the climate has allowed human civilization to flourish over the past 10,000 years, but on a new planet with more erratic and extreme weather. McKibben calls the planet Eaarth. We are now living with human-induced climate change. While  hoping we can still return the concentration  of CO2 in our atmosphere to 350ppm (someday because even if we cut emissions to zero, we’ve already committed the planet to further warming), we must focus our efforts to adapt to that change. McKibben suggests lightly, carefully, gracefully with a focus on local systems.

350.org activity photo climate day 2009
Image via Wikipedia

We also must engage our political system. We’ve seen no seriousness or urgency out of the Senate as the Clean Energy and Climate Change bill languished. As McKibben writes in the Huffington Post (linked below), “Political time is in short supply, too. So far, of course, Washington has done nothing—the Senate is currently considering a watered-down version of a watered-down bill, one that would only apply to electric utilities and only cause the slowest of changes, and even that has not persuaded President Obama to knock heads. He’ll go after BP, but not the GOP—the bill’s great champion, John Kerry, summed up the prevailing strategy for winning votes: “We believe we have compromised significantly, and we’re prepared to compromise further.” “

We can still bring change through grassroots efforts, like those of 350.org, 1Sky and Repower America (links below) and also through the efforts of many individuals calling their Senators to tell them that we need a bill that addresses climate change, carbon pollution and clean energy now. Get educated, stay educated and get active. Your future is now.

Links to Help You Get Active on this Issue:

Where to Find my U.S. Senators Contact Info

Repower America: Together, We Can Solve It

350.org

1Sky

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350.org Founder, Author Bill McKibben on “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet”

Ahead of Earth Day and Cochabamba, Bolivia’s indigenous summit on climate change along with the anticipated unveiling of a Senate climate bill this coming week, Democracy Now spoke with someone who sounded one of the earliest alarms about global warming. In 1989, Author Bill McKibben wrote The End of Nature but his warnings were largely ignored. Below are some excerpts from that interview.

BILL McKIBBEN: On his new book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet:  Look, the planet that we live on now is different, and in fundamental ways, from the one that we were born onto. The atmospheres holds about five percent more water vapor than it did forty years ago. That’s an incredible change in one of the basic physical parameters of the planet, and it explains all those deluges and downpours. The ocean is 30 percent more acidic, as it absorbs all that carbon from the atmosphere. NASA said yesterday that we’ve just come through the warmest January, February, March on record, that 2010 is going to be the warmest year that we’ve ever seen.

And we begin to see just in every day in the newspaper the practical effects of all this. Last week it was Rio de Janeiro with absolutely record rainfalls, causing landslides that killed thousands. Today, in the run-up to the summit in Bolivia, in Peru an enormous chunk of glacier fell off a mountainside into a lake, set up a seventy-five-foot-high wave that killed some people and destroyed the one water processing plant in the whole area. These sort of things happen now someplace around the world every single day, because we’ve undermined the basic physical stability of this planet.

On solutions and limits on growth: Well, reversing the trend is hard—impossible, in fact. We’re not going to stop global warming. We can keep it from getting worse than it has to get. For that to happen, Juan, we need things to happen at two levels. One is the governmental, national and global. We need a stiff price on carbon, one that reflects the damage it does in the atmosphere, that will reorient our economy in the direction of renewable energy instead of fossil fuel. But we’re also going to need, because we have a new planet, a new set of habits for inhabiting it successfully.

Our fundamental habit for the last couple of hundred years has been to assume that growth is going to solve every problem that we face. I think now we’ve fundamentally reached the limits to growth that people started talking about fifty years ago. When you melt the Arctic, that’s not a good sign. So we’re going to need, instead, to start focusing on security, on stability, on resilience, on figuring out how to allow communities to thrive, even on a tough planet. And I think that that has a lot to do with decentralization, with scaling down, with spreading out, with building food systems and energy systems that aren’t too big to fail, that are small enough and stable enough to succeed.

On Coal: Coal is the most dangerous substance on the planet, in almost every way—I mean, for the people who have to mine it and for the landscapes where it exists, like across southern Appalachia, for the people who have to breathe the smoke around power plants, mostly in our inner cities, but most fundamentally for the climate. Coal produces more carbon per BTU than anything else you can burn. And as a result, more than anything, it’s what’s driving our climate problem.

We’re not going to have, in the time that we require it, anything that really resembles clean coal. What we need to do is make that transition away from coal, and make it as fast as we can. Job one is putting a really significant price on carbon, so that coal begins to pay for some of the incredible damage that it does to the environment.

On 350.org: Three-fifty is the most important number in the world. NASA scientists have said that any value for carbon in the atmosphere greater than 350 parts per million is not compatible with the planet on which civilization developed and to which life on earth has adapted. That’s strong language, and it’s stronger still, because we’re past it already. We’re at 390 parts per million or so today and rising about two parts per million a year. That’s why the Arctic is melting. It’s why the oceans are acidifying. And it’s why we need a movement around the world to force political action sooner rather than later. We’re running out of time.

For the full interview, click on the video below:

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Additional readings:

Words of Power: Do You Understand the Power of the Pebble People? For Benazir Bhutto on Earth Day, with Help from Alice Walker, Yoko Ono and Bill McKibben