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BILL MCKIBBEN Printer Friendly Page

Fossil-Fuel Divestment: Our Free-Enterprise System is Facing a Legitimacy Crisis, Especially Among the Young
By Stanley Kurtz
March 4, 2013

Fossil-Fuel Divestment — Part 2: The Target Is Fossil Fuels, but the Goal Is an End to Economic Growth
By Stanley Kurtz
March 5, 2013


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  • Founder and head of the global environmentalist campaign 350.org
  •  Believes that American “hyper-individualism” and consumerism corrupt both the environment and humanity
  • Promotes the notion that anthropogenic global warming will result in environmental catastrophe

See also:  350.org

Born in 1960 and raised in Lexington, Massachusetts, Bill McKibben is arguably the most influential environmental activist in America today. Although he does not have a scientific academic background, McKibben has written extensively, and predominantly, on environmentalism. In addition to having authored numerous books predicated on global-warming alarmism, McKibben is also the founder and leader of 350.org, a campaign dedicated to achieving intergovernmental regulation of carbon emissions. Contending that Christian ethical teachings are coextensive with left-wing politics, McKibben has, in particular, embraced radical Biblical interpretations which construe environmentalism as a Christian mandate.

McKibben is a graduate of Harvard University, where he was president of the student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson. Upon graduation, he became a writer for The New Yorker and remained there until 1987. After leaving that publication, McKibben spent several years in the Adirondack Mountains of New York and later moved to Vermont, where he became a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College.

Before devoting himself to environmental activism, McKibben produced a series of books on the subject. In 1989, for example, he published The End of Nature, which had a significant impact on the radical environmentalist movement and is considered the first book for a general audience about climate change (which at that time was commonly referred to as the "greenhouse effect"). Emphasizing the threat of an imminent global-warming catastrophe, the book suggests that the earth is headed for environmental destruction as a result of human industrial activity. The only hope for preventing such calamity, says the book, is to implement far-reaching intergovernmental regulations and to dramatically alter the allegedly polluting lifestyles of Western cultures.

Among McKibben's more controversial works is his 1999 book Maybe One: A Case for Smaller Families, in which he argues that one-child families are ethically superior to their larger counterparts because the existing rate of human population growth is detrimental to the environment.

Much of McKibben’s writing extols the virtues of “de-development.” In the author's view, mankind's ever-increasing technological and industrial progress corrupts both human nature and the natural environment. For instance, in his 2003 book Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, Mckibben writes:

“They’ll lead us ... 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 ... 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[.]”

In 2007 McKibben led the "Step It Up" campaign, an anti-global-warming initiative that was funded, in part, by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Rockefeller Family Fund. Demanding that Congress place restrictions on carbon emissions -- with the aim of reducing global warming pollution 80% by the year 2050 -- "Step It Up" later went international and adopted the name 350.org.

McKibben's 2007 book Deep Economy, and his 2010 book Eaarth: A Guide to Living on a Fundamentally Altered Planet, deliver the author's characteristically anti-technology message advocating the "controlled decline" of modern industry. Mckibben writes in Eaarth that when he published The End of Nature in 1989, “It was [still] too early to see the practical effects of climate change[.]”

Author Stanley Kurtz distills McKibben's core objective down to its essence:

"He is arguing for a return to relatively self-sufficient local communities, especially when it comes to food. Modern agriculture feeds huge numbers of people at a very low price. Yet industrial farming is carbon-intensive, from the fertilizers, to the combines, to the planes and ships that transport all that produce around the globe. McKibben wants to undo this system with a large-scale return to the land. Labor-intensive (rather than carbon-intensive) agriculture would form the nucleus of a new, quasi-peasant society. Relatively self-sufficient local farming communities would be protected not only from global warming, but from capitalism’s cycles of boom and bust.... Americans would consume pretty much only locally grown food."

In this same spirit, McKibben has praised the agricultural sector of Cuba -- a politically isolated country whose agriculture is organic and localized, as McKibben prefers, chiefly because it has had little access to pesticides and external markets.

When Deep Economy and Eaarth were published, McKibben routinely supplemented his warnings about climate change with claims that the world was rapidly "running out of oil." But soon thereafter, hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and other technologies for accessing oil and gas reserves ushered in a new era where it became evident that fossil fuels were present in great abundance in the United States. Quickly assimilating this newfound information, McKibben discontinued his previous warnings about a dwindling supply of oil, even as he held fast to his position that oil was toxic to the environment.

According to McKibben, people who doubt that anthropogenic global warming poses a grave and imminent threat to life on earth suffer from "climate change denialism." He also has claimed that such disparate events as Hurricane Katrina (in 2005) and the severe snowstorms that struck Washinton, DC in 2010 were uniformly the consequences of climate change.

McKibben identifies the United States as the world's chief polluter. By his reckoning, a combination of American "materialism" and “hyperindividualism” -- i.e., people's desire to live in large houses situated far from densely populated areas -- are largely to blame for this. In McKibben's view, European-style collectivization is not only more environmentally friendly than capitalism, but is also more conducive to human happiness.

In recent years, McKibben, who ejoys a mass following among young adults, has been a leading figure in a nationwide campus movement to pressure colleges and universities to divest whatever assets they may have invested in oil companies -- which he depicts as “reckless like no other force on Earth.” McKibben himself launched the divestment movement with a July 2012 article he wrote for Rolling Stone, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” which quickly went viral on the Internet. In that piece, McKibben stated that the earth's environment could only be saved by holding average temperatures worldwide to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above where they had stood at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. This goal, said McKibben, could only be achieved by leaving 80% of the planet's known oil, coal, and gas reserves permanently buried and untapped. This, in turn, would require governments to impose steeply escalating carbon taxes designed to make it prohibitively expensive for anyone to deal in fossil fuels. Emphasizing that the implementation of such measures is a matter of great urgency, McKibben warns that "our whole civilization stands on the edge of collapse."

A noteworthy ally to McKibben in his environmentalist endeavors is the author Naomi Klein.

For additional information on Bill McKibben, click here.



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