Blogs > Sara Gutterman > July 2013 > 14 Years

14 Years

Last week at Green Builder® Media’s thought leadership summit, we were joined by Bill McKibben, internationally renowned sustainability activist, author, and founder of 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 (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 or follow me on Twitter @SaraGBM.

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Posted: 7/26/2013 9:50:21 AM by Mary Kestner | with 1 comments

CR Herro
The issue with valuing Carbon Credits is that a) it creates a new economic exchange and b) parity.

These two issue are coupled together in the same way every vehicle of international commerce is: how to we equate two sovereign countries metrics (valuation) and how does the whole thing not get destroyed by a rogue player not following the rules. Without strict policies to only trade OR ANY OTHER INTERACTION among 100% adherents to the adopted carbon standards could allow the system to progress.

Once we all play by the rules, the real issue becomes who owns the credits initially. Given no one currently owns anything, and the false economy of today’s carbon credits is already corrupted by people who have claimed they own their pollution and it has cash equivalents that some random citizen who isn’t actively polluting doesn’t have (yeah, that is really the current way it is being handled)

A new economy may necessarily start with the recognition that every human on the planet has 1/7.1billionth share to get the atmosphere at 350 ppm and it’s trade process to allow it to be consumed.

Yeah, there’s the rub … there are a lot of people that will exert their believe ownership or not want to purchase these credits from the populace… oh yeah, what happens when you sell you share for $2 to producers and next year, it cost you $5,000 to consume carbon in the marketplace. Oye. It can be done, but it will take a firmer hand than most world leaders possess.

I am considering a worldwide dictatorship run in 2015 …
7/26/2013 2:05:41 PM

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