Last week at Green Builder® Media’s thought leadership summit, we were joined by Bill McKibben, internationally renowned sustainability activist, author, and founder of www.350.org. McKibben imparted a shrewd message that was simultaneously inspirational and downright frightening.
McKibben verified that carbon emissions from human activity has contributed to a 5% increase in atmospheric moisture, which leads to climate instability and extreme weather events. If we maintain our status quo, he predicts that the global temperature will increase 4-5 degrees, which would “almost certainly take down our civilization.”
“We can release only 500 more gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere before we cross the barrier that irreversibly changes life as we know it,” says McKibben. At our current rate of energy use, it would take only 14 years before the planet hits its maximum carbon intake potential.
McKibben is vehement that incremental change is no longer enough (we could have taken incremental steps if we had started combating climate change in the 1970’s, but that window has long since closed.) He vigorously asserts that the only way out of our titanic crisis is through bold structural changes that will dramatically increase the cost of oil and put a price on carbon emissions. While he understands that it will require a sizable amount of money to transform our economic system, he asserts that we simply can’t afford not to change. “The costs of dealing with climate change repercussions will unquestionably tank our economy,” he says.
In order to create meaningful change within our system, McKibben advocates for a revenue-neutral fee and dividend model that places a price on carbon emissions. Very simply, in a fee and dividend model, polluters pay a hefty fee for emissions, and that fee is then returned to citizens. This mechanism is designed to simultaneously encourage economic activity, spur the adoption of renewable energy, and reduce carbon emissions.
McKibben believes that “the climate battle will be decided politically.” However, he laments that “argument and reason don’t play a role in DC. Oil and gas have the money and the silent acquiescence of politicians. The most interesting test for our President and political system will be the Keystone Pipeline—it’s a ‘make it or break it’ factor for the environment. Our politicians, as well as our citizens, have to stop being silently acquiescent. Being neutral is the same as doing nothing, which is no longer acceptable.”
In his crusade to save our planet, McKibben has coordinated with activist groups and colleges across the globe to solve the climate crisis and push for appropriate public policy through his organization www.350.org (350 is the parts per million of carbon in our atmosphere at which we can preserve our living world—we’re currently over 400 PPM). In addition to banding together impassioned citizens, McKibben spends his time encouraging individuals, companies, municipalities, and governments to divest from investments in fossil fuel.
From McKibben’s perspective, the rest of the world—including China (which is installing widespread renewables and providing solar thermal for water heating to 250 million people)—is making more progress than the US when it comes to climate action and policy.
“Mother Nature has provided an endless series of lessons, and she will continue to do so,” says McKibben. “The Federal government spent more money last year on Hurricane Sandy relief than it did on education. It’s our duty to mobilize ourselves, our companies, and our communities to set policy in the US that will not only combat climate change, but will also set an example for the world.”
McKibben believes that this is the last chance we have. He implores us to act with our votes, our purchasing dollars, our corporate power, and our individual voices.
When it comes to transformation, McKibben says “there is no comfortable way to create change, and the push needs to be hard. If you’re serious about sustainability, you can’t be neutral. You have to take a stand before it’s too late. This is the greatest moral and political dilemma of our time.”
Interested in participating in grassroots climate action? Write to me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @SaraGBM.
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Posted: 7/26/2013 9:50:21 AM by
Mary Kestner | with 1 comments