Bill McKibben

American environmentalist and writer

Bill McKibben (born December 8, 1960) is an American environmentalist and writer who frequently writes about global warming and alternative energy and advocates for more localized economies.

We believe that we live in the 'age of information,' that there has been an information 'explosion,' an information 'revolution.' While in a certain narrow sense that is the case, in many more important ways just the opposite is true. We also live at a moment of deep ignorance, when vital knowledge that humans have always possessed about who we are and where we live seems beyond our reach. An unenlightenment. An age of missing information.

Quotes edit

Tsunami travel time Valdivia
2004 Indonesia Tsunami
"{T}he cost of clean energy has dropped [rapidly for] more than a decade. . . . There are plenty of other technologies we’re [currently] spending money on [that] seem unlikely to make much difference anytime soon. [So, for] the next few years . . . it’s sun, wind, and batteries that matter. They’re cheap, and they’re ready." - From an article inThe New Yorker. (Dec. 12, 2023) (This photo shows solar panels, wind turbines, and components of the electrical grid that carry the electricity generated to consumers.)

1980s edit

The End of Nature (1989) edit

  • Our comforting sense of the permanence of our natural world, our confidence that it will change gradually and imperceptibly if at all, is the result of a subtly warped perspective. Changes that can affect us can happen in our lifetime in our world—not just changes like wars but bigger and more sweeping events. I believe that without recognizing it we have already stepped over the threshold of such a change; that we are at the end of nature. By the end of nature I do not mean the end of the world. The rain will still fall and the sun shine, though differently than before. When I say 'nature,' I mean a certain set of human ideas about the world and our place in it.
    • p. 7
  • An idea, a relationship, can go extinct, just like an animal or a plant. The idea in this case is 'nature,' the separate and wild province, the world apart from man to which he adapted, under whose rules he was born and died. In the past, we spoiled and polluted parts of that nature, inflicted environmental 'damage.' But that was like stabbing a man with toothpicks: though it hurt, annoyed, degraded, it did not touch vital organs, block the path of lymph or blood. We never thought that we had wrecked nature. Deep down, we never really thought we could: it was too big and too old; its forces—the wind, the rain, the sun—were too strong, too elemental. But, quite by accident, it turned out that the carbon dioxide and other gases we were producing in our pursuit of a better life... could alter the power of the sun, could increase its heat. And that increase could change the patterns of moisture and dryness, breed storms in new places, breed deserts...We have produced the carbon dioxide—we are ending nature.
    • p. 41
  • The greenhouse effect is a more apt name than those who coined it imagined. The carbon dioxide and trace gases act like the panes of glass on a greenhouse—the analogy is accurate. But it's more than that. We have built a greenhouse, 'a human creation' where once there bloomed a sweet and wild garden.
    • p. 78
  • The expected effects of a sea-level rise typify the many consequences of a global warming. On the one hand, they are so big we literally can't understand them. If there is a significant polar melting, the Earth's center of gravity will shift, tipping the globe in such a way that the sea level might actually drop at Cape Horn and along the coast of Iceland—I read this in a recent EPA report and found that I didn't really understand what it meant to tip the Earth, through I was awed by the idea. On the other hand, the changes ultimately acquire a quite personal dimension: Should I put in a wall in front of my house? Does this taste salty to you? And, most telling of all, the human response to the problems, the utterly natural human attempt to preserve the old natural way of life in this postnatural world, creates entirely new consequences. The ocean rises; I build a wall; the marsh dies, and, with it, the fish.
    • p. 117-118

1990s edit

The Age of Missing Information (1992) edit

  • We believe that we live in the 'age of information,' that there has been an information 'explosion,' an information 'revolution.' While in a certain narrow sense that is the case, in many more important ways just the opposite is true. We also live at a moment of deep ignorance, when vital knowledge that humans have always possessed about who we are and where we live seems beyond our reach. An unenlightenment. An age of missing information.
    • p. 9
  • It worries me because it alters perception. TV, and the culture it anchors, and drowns out the subtle and vital information contact with the real world once provided.
    • p. 22
  • Human beings—any one of us, and our species as a whole—are not all-important, not at the center of the world. That is the one essential piece of information, the one great secret, offered by any encounter with the woods or the mountains or the ocean or any wilderness or chunk of nature or patch of night sky.
    • p. 228

2000s edit

Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age (2003) edit

  • They'll lead us bit by bit toward the revolutionary idea that we've grown about as powerful as it's wise to grow; that the rush of technological innovation that's marked the last five hundred years can finally slow, and spread out to water the whole delta of human possibility. But those decisions will only emerge if people understand the time for what it is: the moment when we stand precariously on the sharp ridge between the human past and the posthuman future, the moment when meaning might evaporate in a tangle of genes or chips.
    • p. 198
  • These new technologies are not yet inevitable. But if they blossom fully into being, freedom may irrevocably perish. This is a fight not only for the meaning of our individual lives, but for the meaning of our life together.
    • p. 199
  • Right now, plenty of people feel the peacefulness of their lives degraded by sprawl, or worry about the way consumerism has eroded the quality of our communities. For them, the idea of enough is not completely alien or distasteful, though it remains difficult to embrace. We've been told that it's impossible – that some force like evolution drives us on to More and Faster and Bigger. 'You can't stop progress.' But that's not true. We could choose to mature. That could be the new trick we share with each other, a trick as revolutionary as fire. Or even the computer.
    • p. 220

2010s edit

  • If it is wrong to wreck the planet, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage.
    • Do The Math (2013)
  • early as 1977, Exxon (now ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil companies) knew that its main product would heat up the planet disastrously. This did not prevent the company from then spending decades helping to organize the campaigns of disinformation and denial that have slowed—perhaps fatally—the planet’s response to global warming....Exxon responded, instead, by helping to set up or fund extreme climate-denial campaigns....The company worked with veterans of the tobacco industry to try and infuse the climate debate with doubt.
  • Year after year throughout the last two decades they’ve made more money than any company in the history of money. But poor people around the world are already paying for those profits, and every generation that follows us now will pay as well, because the “Exxon position” has helped take us over one tipping point after another. Their sins of emission, like so many other firms and individuals, are bad. But their sins of omission are truly inexcusable.
  • Consider this: as ice sheets melt, they take weight off land, and that can trigger earthquakes — seismic activity is already increasing in Greenland and Alaska. Meanwhile, the added weight of the new seawater starts to bend the Earth’s crust. “That will give you a massive increase in volcanic activity. It’ll activate faults to create earthquakes, submarine landslides, tsunamis, the whole lot,” explained the director of University College London’s Hazard Centre.  Such a landslide happened in Scandinavia about eight thousand years ago, as the last Ice Age retreated and a Kentucky-size section of Norway’s continental shelf gave way, “plummeting down to the abyssal plain and creating a series of titanic waves that roared forth with a vengeance,” wiping all signs of life from coastal Norway to Greenland and “drowning the Wales-sized landmass that once connected Britain to the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany.” When the waves hit the Shetlands, they were sixty-five feet high.
  • A team of British researchers released a study demonstrating that even if you can grow plenty of food, the transportation system that distributes it runs through just fourteen major choke-points, and those are vulnerable to — you guessed it — massive disruption from climate change. For instance, U.S. rivers and canals carry a third of the world’s corn and soy, and they’ve been frequently shut down or crimped by flooding and drought in recent years... “It’s the glide path to a perfect storm,” said one of the report’s authors.
  • But in August 2018, a massive new study found something just as frightening: crop pests were thriving in the new heat. “It gets better and better for them,” said one University of Colorado researcher. Even if we hit the UN target of limiting temperature rise to two degrees Celsius, pests should cut wheat yields by 46 percent, corn by 31 percent, and rice by 19 percent. “Warmer temperatures accelerate the metabolism of insect pests like aphids and corn borers at a predictable rate,” the researchers found. “That makes them hungrier[,] and warmer temperatures also speed up their reproduction.”
  • The dramatic uncertainty that lies ahead may be the most frightening development of all... the most likely scenarios...are more than disturbing enough. Long before we get to tidal waves or smallpox, long before we choke to death or stop thinking clearly, we will need to concentrate on the most mundane and basic facts: everyone needs to eat every day, and an awful lot of us live near the ocean... Where I live, it’s the seasons: winter doesn’t reliably mean winter anymore, and so the way we’ve always viscerally told time has begun to break down...
  • The longer I think about @DNC insisting no-one hold a climate debate, the sillier it seems. We've literally never talked about this issue in a presidential debate, and we literally have to deal with it immediately. I don't understand why we shouldn't devote a night to it.
  • What do Ben and Jerry’s, an 800,000-member South African trade union, countless college professors, a big chunk of Amazon’s Seattle workforce, and more high school students than you can imagine have in common? They’re all joining in a massive climate strike this coming Friday, September 20 — a strike that will likely register as the biggest day of climate action in the planet’s history.
  • On May 23, at the end of the last massive school strike, Thunberg and 46 other youth activists released an open letter to The Guardian urging adults to join in next time. Because, as they pointed out, there are limits to what young people can do on their own. If you can’t vote, and if you don’t own stocks, then your ability to pull the main levers of power is limited. They wrote: “Sorry if this is inconvenient for you. But this is not a single-generation job. It’s humanity’s job.”

2020s edit

  • So now we have some sense of what it’s like: a full-on global-scale crisis, one that disrupts everything. Normal life—shopping for food, holding a wedding, going to work, seeing your parents—shifts dramatically. The world feels different, with every assumption about safety and predictability upended. Will you have a job? Will you die? Will you ever ride a subway again, or take a plane? It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen. The upheaval that has been caused by Covid-19 is also very much a harbinger of global warming. Because humans have fundamentally altered the physical workings of planet Earth, this is going to be a century of crises, many of them more dangerous than what we’re living through now. The main question is whether we’ll be able to hold the rise in temperature to a point where we can, at great expense and suffering, deal with those crises coherently, or whether they will overwhelm the coping abilities of our civilization... The pandemic provides some useful sense of scale—some sense of how much we’re going to have to change to meet the climate challenge.

Quotes about Bill McKibben edit

  • Think about what your town is doing about environmental pollution before you go to Washington with radical environmentalist Bill McKibben to get arrested. I mean no lack of deference to McKibben or his followers. But there is plenty of work to go around, as all the movements that came after 1963 - women's, anti-war, and LGBTQ -- and gained power from the example that was set during the 1963 March on Washington, still show us.
  • Bill McKibben wrote, ‘We live in a post-natural world.’ But did ‘Nature’ in this sense ever exist? Or was it rather the deification of the human that gave it an illusory apartness from ourselves? Now that non-human agencies have dispelled that illusion, we are confronted suddenly with a new task: that of finding other ways in which to imagine the unthinkable beings and events of this era.
    • Amitav Ghosh The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2016)
  • "We had no money and no organization, so we figured we'd be doing well if we could organize a hundred of these things by April 14. And that would have been about a hundred more global warming rallies than there had been," he told Democracy Now! Instead, McKibben tapped a rich vein of discontent around the United States. "People were really eager to finally be able to take action about this," said the amazed activist, "and the thing has just kinda exploded." More than fourteen hundred Step It Up rallies took place in all fifty states in April 2007. McKibben followed with another Step It Up Day seven months later, which involved hundreds of thousands of people around the country, including eighty members of Congress.
    • Amy Goodman Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times (2008)
  • McKibben understands that a central goal of movement leadership is to create more leaders, not more followers.
  • Bill McKibben, a leading champion in the fight against climate change
  • Bill McKibben has long said, when people ask him what's the most significant thing you can do for the climate, "Stop being an individual; join something."
    • Rebecca Solnit Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility (2023)

See also edit

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