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News :: Environment
Mercy Mercy Me: Bill McKibben at Bikes Not Bombs Event, Jamaiaca Plain 5/28
31 May 2009
McKibben discusses Original, with links, graphics, and video, at http://www/
Oh, Mercy, Mercy Me: Bill McKibben in Jamaica Plain

…And the fourth [angel] poured out his bowl upon the sun, and he was allowed to scorch mankind with fire. And mankind was scorched with great heat… And the sixth poured out his bowl upon the great river Euphrates, and dried up its waters… (Apocalypse 2:8-9, 12.)

Huh. Looking up something of a rather different nature, I stumbled upon this line in the Book of Apocalypse not two hours after returning from a talk tonight delievered by Bill McKibben, who, as turned out, described pretty much the same thing albeit with somewhat less flamboyant imagery. But McKibben, whose books might, among weaker constitutions, lend themselves to depression and despair, is operating in a wholly inspirational mode these days. Over the past two decades he’s written on nature; on the nature of humanity; and on the systemic and systematic disruption of the natural order and accelerating destruction of “the environment”; but following an epiphany in Bangladesh, the writer, who lives in the wilds of Vermont, and the avowed Methodist, who teaches Sunday school, and the academic, who’s on the Middlebury faculty, decided that he had no option but to turn environmental activist, and to wrench apathy and despair into action by dint of his own capacity to inspire. Affable, unprepossessing, and direct, McKibben offered some wry assessments of his own naivete when he woke up to find himself an organizer, but also noted, to his continued surprise, the concrete, demonstrable successes of his initial small-scale, state-focused campaigns.

Now he’s operating on the international level, promoting the work of, a popular front serving as an umbrella for the organizations, communities, and individuals globally who want—who need—to have a say in the upcoming United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen later this year. And what that say is: we need to immediately reduce our CO2 emissions so that they constitute no more than 350 parts per million in the atmosphere. We’re currently at 388. And that number ain’t going down. McKibben noted that the multinational industrial complex is shooting for 450 ppm–with the attendant consequences, freely admitted by the proponents themselves, described in some detail below–and that for some thirty years in the future.

These are serious times. We’ve allowed an awful lot of people to take all kinds of liberties with our air, our water, our soil, with other sentient creatures, and with relatively powerless human beings both here and abroad; and to implicitly turn what remains over to them for one last ferocious orgy of plunder will make what’s transpired till today look like Romper Room. Remember the classic cartoons featuring the white robed guy carrying a sign–”The End is Near!?” Well: turns out his time has come.

“Environmentalism” used to be something of a luxury. It was to some degree a matter of aesthetics. The Native American shedding a single tear at litter and all that. Well: those were the good old days. We’re talking about a whole ‘nother level here. Ecological awareness isn’t just something for the Cambridge ladies who live in painted rooms no more. And while changing your light bulbs and recycling your newspapers makes for a nice contribution, your individual contributions in that vein aren’t going to add up to much. (Do it anyway: we may lose the planet, but you may yet save your soul, and that’s important too.) But what will add is up is your participation in a concerted international effort to change the political will of elected–and non-elected, for that matter–leaders around the globe.

From "As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial," a graphic novel by Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan (Seven Stories Press, 2007; for Stephanies work, see

[see http://www.nosuppertonight for the graphic]

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Hence McKibben’s current pet project, To whom I’ll leave the science; so when you’re done here, read up on the scenarios. It’s for real. Nearly everyone’s acknowledged the fact of “global warming” and the role played by a growth economy in spurring it on. There’s plenty of argument about what, precisely, to do about it, but aside from a few far-right cranks and their jabbering mouthpieces on FOX News, the idea is no more open to debate than is, say, evolution. Adam and Eve did not frolic with the dinosaurs. The earth is getting warmer. It ain’t good. We are responsible. And we can stop it.

All you’re being asked to do is: Spend some time on Educate yourself. Disseminate the site as far and as wide and often as you can–use the Net for something more than Facebook quizzes! Talk it up. Keep breast of plans in your area for the 24th. If you can, join a group doing something that day. Ot start one. It’s that simple, and it’s risk free. It’s almost as though all you gotta do is show up. With your kids, your families, yur friends. Which doesn’t sound very strategic … but if tens of millions of us do; and hundreds of millions do worldwide, we’re going to be hard to ignore. It’s a numbers game. And there’s enough horsepower behind that you’re going to be hearing about it again and again. Whether there’s going to be enough firepower behind this movement to seriously challenge the forces arrayed against us … well, that’s up to you, isn’t it?

In his recent book, The Uprising, David Sirota chronicles a wide spectrum of populist trends in postmillennial America, claiming that they’re evidence of a burgeoning holistic people’s Movement. McKibben wants to tap into that, and recognizes the need to create not merely a real and pressing sense of urgency, but an equal sense of commitment, even passion, leading up to a grand international display of solidarity with the ideals of on October 24. And it’s gonna take a lotta people in a lotta places—McKibben made it clear that we are up against some seriously powerful entrenched interests with some very deep pockets. He cited Exxon as just one example, a company that made more money last year than any company ever had in human history.

But … c’mon. Sure, Exxon’s a behemoth, but when you get right down it, these corporations are run by good ol’ Americans. Folks like your next door neighbor. Except of course for the gold plated toilets, the moat, stuff like that. So how malevolent, really, are these supposedly nefarious corporations?

Answer: extremely. By their rapacity shall ye know them, and by their numbness to the self-acknowledged consequences of the same.

McKibben noted that the poorer countries of the world are the most likely to get screwed—as he indicated with reference to New Orleans. I’m as cynical as anyone, but even I was stunned when, googling my way through the morass of councils and consortiums and clubs intent on having their say in Copenhagen, I turned tonight to the web site of the Combat Climate Change organization. These are the heavyweights. As the site boasts, “At present 66 global companies including General Electric, Uniliver, Citigroup, BP, Siemens, DTEK, Rusal, Reuters, Duke Energy, China Oil & Offshore Company, Volvo, Tata Power, HP and Vattenfall have joined our initiative!” Which should provide some hint as to just what “changes” are involved here. But as I said, even I was shocked to see, buried within the council’s “Roadmap to a Low Emitting Society,” a slide under the rubric “Adaptation.” Which reads:

“The international climate effort aims to limit climate change, but some change is inevitable. The impact of this will be most severe in the least developed countries (see figure 9 and 10), those least able to tackle the challenge. This will be a global problem and all nations must be committed to provide their share of the resources required for adaptation.”

This is bureaucratese for “since actually addressing the problem in any halfway sane, responsible way means lower shareholder earnings–and I think you know what means for guys like you and me, Bob, when they blame us for screwing up their grandkids’ inheritance–well, seems to me the wretched of the earth are just gonna hafta get a hell of a lot wretcheder, so plan on some heavy duty investment down the road.” I can’t think of a better illustration of what Naomi Klein has termed “disaster capitalism” than this.

As for that neutral term “impact”—well, just have a look at the Combat Climate Change’s own coldblooded–and to their minds wholly acceptable–scenario:

[see http://www.nosuppertonight for the graphic]

Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night…

I began this with a quote from the Bible knowing full well how much the learned enjoy smirking at the fundamentalists who look earnestly to the Rapture. But the fact is, we educated folks rely as much on faith as we do on our native intelligence and learning. How many of you can know enough, are ever going to know enough, to make impartial judgments on these matters? There’s a whole lot of chemistry, physics, geology, astronomy and similar arcana to be mastered. You’re not going to manage that while keeping an eye out on Ortiz’s batting slump and the state of your 401K. So you cast your lot with the people you believe, the people you can believe in. It’s a matter of faith, faith and trust.

So. You have a choice.

You can trust people like Yankee Methodist McKibben, and partners of his like Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, with whom he’s just composed a letter to America’s farmers asking their support, and The Rev. Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr, a leader of the Hip-Hop Caucus and the co-creator of the Vote Or Die! Campaign in 2004. And Vandana Shiva. Bishop Desmond Tutu. Dr James Hansen.

Or you can, uh, trust Exxon. Repeat after me, and with a straight face: “I trust Exxon to do the right thing.”

McKibben and his allies are numerous, and they are damn smart, and they have nothing to gain playing Cassandra (Oklahoma’s Senator James “we have no homosexuality in our family” Inhofe, leader of the antiwarming sect in the Senate, claims the climate change folks are “only in it for the money.” McKibben came down and gave his talk at no charge–the nominal admission fees served to benefit the good people at Bikes not Bombs). They’ve looked at the science and said that the price is too high—that we have to cut emissions back to 350 ppm NOW. Right now. The world’s corporate leaders have looked at identical evidence and drawn similar conclusions, predicting, as their own slide showed, flooding, heat waves, drought, decreased freshwater availability, coastal flooding, reduced agricultural output, declining production from forestry and agriculture, biodiversity loss, and up to 220 million people—in Africa, mind you,–suffering from a lack of freshwater. But these upstanding civic leaders have determined that, hey, South America and Africa, and the indonesian archipelago will simply have to …”adapt.” “Adapt!” to what? Adapt to the conditions that we are imposing upon you in the name of profit. For once, yes, it IS actually that simple. The price for continued consumption, says Exxon—and great many other well known and equally reprehensible megacorporations—is worth it. (The Copenhagen Climate Council, a “partner” of Combat Climate Change, is looking not to reduce, but to set a target of 450 ppm by … 2050. See their “Manifesto, p. 4, downloadable here [PDF] .)

Now, once again: who am I gonna trust? And what the hell kind of world do Iwant to live in? Sheesh, reading that “plan”–endorsed by the top multinational companies–I can only ask, “what the hell kind of world do I live in?”

You’ll find no more clear-cut distinction between putting people or profits first. The sheer callousness of the “Combat Climate Change” consortium’s “solutions” is downright Stalinist—read that list again and consider the potential death toll. Right–“Stalinist” may be an understatement. That slide is the banality of evil incarnate, a heartless analysis of a genuine freaking apocalypse about to be wreaked upon what are already the most woebegone peoples on the earth by the angels with the seven bowls who sit atop the world’s largest corporations, created by some dessicated wonk whose spiritual ancestors did similar work for Vyacheslav Molotov–and an apocalypse that can be forestalled, but which is in their own eyes simply part of the cost of doing business. This is freaking horrible. This should cause jaw-dropping outrage on the part of anyone with even a shred of humanity left to them. This says: nothing, but nothing, shall come betwixt us and our profits.

And you know what? Nothing will without you.

Nothing is Written

There’s a disturbing connection between the stances of Biblical fundamentalists, for whom the apocalypse is an unquestionable matter of faith, and the megacorporations, for whom it’s a foregone conclusion. I almost prefer the fundamentalist option, because the multinationals’ willing acceptance is grounded in greed. Greed, and cynicism, in their clear belief that the rest of humanity won’t step up and say: this will not stand; we’re not going to turn the planet into a living hell for hundreds of millions of people that you might continue to reap profits that are already obscene by any rational standard. Fortunately, there’s another option, one that eludes both eschatologies, the fundamentalist bang and the corporations” whimper. Recall David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia–when Lawrence sets off to rescue a lost colleague, Omar Sharif’s character Sharif Ali admonishes him: it’s a lost cause: their compadre’s fate, his death, “is written,” he says. Lawrence undertakes a seemingly futile rescue, succeeds, and upon his return Ali can only say: ” Truly, for some men nothing is written unless THEY write it.”

An awful lot of people are counting on you. You’re Americans. The people for whom nothing is written, remember? Your country calls the shots. And you are citizens in a democratic America. YOU call the damn shots. For once in your life, you have the chance to—well, not to put too fine a point on it, but to save the world. Like, literally. That’s not really the kind of opportunity you want to squander, is it? Especially considering the alternatives.

One again: silence, willy nilly, really does equal complicity. Show a little faith: this a cause to get on board with. Go to the web site, subscribe for updates, stay abreast of locally planned activities. McKibben himself admits that we may fail. But look at it this way: we failed to stop a war that everyone now agrees was a tragic mistake. Because there weren’t enough of us out in the streets. If you knew then what you knew now, you would have been out there, right? Had millions and millions joined us … ehhh. We might have written a different history. Just by showing up. Well: get to, educate yourself–and this time around, fully aware of the implications, stop the apocalypse.

The beauty of this crusade is that it transcends ideology (despite the noisy quibbling out there on the fringes of sanity). It goes beyond politics. You’re going to see churches, youth clubs, senior citizens organizations behind this movement. Think of it as akin to one of those science fiction movies in which humanity joins together to defeat the aliens. It’s also as non-hierchical as you can get–no one ’s directing anything: this is grassroots at its finest–this is DIY. We’re going to have to make an awful lot of noise on October 24 to get the coverage we’ll need to display the political power we need to challange the multinationals. But showing up, showing some small spark of creative energy, that ain’t so hard. And unlike antiwar marches and anarchist parades and antiglobalist riots, this won’t make you any enemies; quite the opposite in fact–as McKibben said, “no is going to scream at you for fighting climate change.


Nothing is written unless YOU write it.

Tonight’s talk, delivered at The English High School in Jamaica Plain, was sponsored by BikesNotBombs, a grassroots organization located in Jamaica Plain who’ve done terrific work since 1984. Check out their web site; they’re conducting their 22nd Annual Bike-a-thon June 7th, culminating with a Green Roots Festival in JP’s Southwest Corridor Park, Stony Brook T station on the Orange Line from 12-5. See the web site for details. Will be fun. And electricity free. The two New Orleans style brass bands playing are first rate and play irresistably infectious stuff.

Here’s a short clip I shot at the talk. You may have to boost the volume–the mikes weren’t working well. Which was actually appropriate.
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