Duty Dodgers

I DON’T THINK of myself as especially hard working. I started my career at The New Yorker as a young staff writer — and in those days in New York publishing circles, the day began at ten a.m. That’s when the receptionist arrived, the switchboard opened. As a result, twenty-five years later, if I’m sitting at my computer by nine-thirty I still think to myself, “I’m early!” (Not only that, but twenty-five years later every place else I’ve ever lived still seems cheap by comparison.) Still, even with that laggardly start, I’ve managed to get done most of what I set out to do, and I’ve never spent a lot of time whining about how hard it all is. If Americans are supposed to be good at anything, it’s hard work.

Which is why it’s so depressing to work on climate change. Year after year, for more than two decades now, the hard work essentially goes undone. Our political class holds conferences, takes testimony, considers scientific reports, gathers in enormous international conclaves like last year’s Copenhagen session – and from it all, nothing happens. In this country, our twenty-year bipartisan record of doing absolutely nothing at the national level is unblemished. In 1988, running for his first term as president, the old George Bush said, “I’m going to fight the greenhouse effect with the White House effect.” Good line.

This was all supposed to actually change when Barack Obama took over, and indeed, he’s done more to fight climate change than all the presidents before him combined. Also, I’ve drunk more beer than my twelve-year-old niece. And anyway, before anything really big can happen, it has to work its way through Congress, and right now the signs are not especially good. In a fit of hard work, the House managed to pass a giant pork-laden “cap-and-trade” bill last summer, only a few months behind schedule. But then the bill headed to the Senate, where it ended up circling the runway behind the health-care jumbo jet that just refused to land. And now that, several decades late, the Senate has finally done something about health care, its members appear to be completely exhausted.

Here’s a Democrat, Claire McCaskill of Missouri: “After you do one really, really big, really, really hard thing that makes everybody mad, I don’t think anybody’s excited about doing another really, really big thing that’s really, really hard that makes everybody mad. Climate fits that category.”

And here’s a Republican, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, describing some of his colleagues: “Go talk to Blanche Lincoln. ‘Hey, you want to do energy and climate? You want to do immigration?’ Go talk to [Jon] Tester, to Ben Nelson, give them a shout-out,” he said. “I just think the idea of doing hard things has been tainted because the blowback they are getting on health care has made them risk averse.”

And here’s an Independent – no, a member of the wonderfully named Connecticut for Lieberman party. It’s Joe Lieberman: “I don’t think the Senate has an appetite for another such epic, polarized legislative war this session.”

I think we can all sympathize. Most people’s work doesn’t involve doing more than one hard thing every couple of years – no, wait. Most people get up and do something relatively difficult every single day. If we didn’t, no one would pay us, because doing relatively difficult things is pretty much the definition of work. If you’re a senator, it would seem as if dealing with the Largest Problem Humans Have Ever Faced would fall within your job description – maybe not ahead of Hosting a Reception, or Going on TV in a Red Necktie, but still.

Which is why a bunch of us around the country and around the world are organizing a slightly different kind of political protest. October 10, 2010, will be a day of Global Work Parties; 350.org is coordinating with the UK 10:10 campaign to host thousands upon thousands of events on that Sunday afternoon. People will be up on roofs putting in solar panels; they’ll be down in the dirt digging community gardens; they’ll be out in the road painting bike paths. On and on.

We’re not doing it from a conviction that we can prevent climate change one community project at a time. We surely can’t. It will take national and global legislation to do that – legislation that finally puts a price on carbon, so that we start using less of it. The only places that can happen are Washington, and Beijing, and Delhi, and the UN.

But if a whole lot of us get out there and get our hands dirty, we’ll most certainly do some good – there’s no such thing as a useless community garden. And more to the point, maybe we’ll be able to shame a senator or premier or two. I mean, we’ll have millions of people able to say to their putative leaders: “If I can get up on the roof of my kid’s school with a hammer and put in some solar panels, maybe you can get up on the floor of the Senate and do some Senate-ing. If I can get down on my hands and knees and pull rocks out of the dirt, then maybe you can pull your head out of your  – ” No, that’s not constructive. These people are hurting. They’ve been doing some serious heavy lifting. It’s going to be very difficult for them to undertake “another really, really big thing that’s really, really hard.” So we need to be encouraging. “It’s not so hard,” we need to say. “Working together can be kind of fun. One of us brings the shovel, and another one brings the two-by-fours, and someone else makes sure there are cold drinks. Really, you can do this.”

I’m not actually certain what it will take to get useful legislation out of our Congress. I’m not completely sure they’re actually capable of it. It’s possible that the lifting really is too heavy – that the combination of vested interest and inertia will forever smother serious action on climate. Or it’s possible that they’ll make the load so light, by crafting a bill so filled with giveaways to the coal companies and the electric utilities, that passing it won’t actually make any difference.

But we’ve got no choice. We’ve got to keep pushing. Because physics and chemistry are pushing every single day – as I write this, news comes of a giant chunk of a Peruvian glacier that broke off and fell into a lake, setting off a seventy-five-foot-high wave that swept people downstream and wrecked the region’s only water-processing plant. Something like that happens pretty much every day now someplace around the world. The climate blogger Joe Romm, one of the capital’s most careful Congress-watchers, said recently: “If we don’t get something done this year, I don’t see it happening before 2013,” when the electoral cycle might next give environmentalists an opening. Twenty thirteen. It’s a good thing it’s not anything crucial they’re working on.

Bill McKibben is an author and environmentalist who in 2014 was awarded the Right Livelihood Prize, sometimes called the ‘alternative Nobel.’ His 1989 book The End of Nature is regarded as the first book for a general audience about climate change, and has appeared in 24 languages; he’s gone on to write a dozen more books. He is a founder of 350.org, the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement, which has organized twenty  thousand rallies around the world in every country save North Korea, spearheaded the resistance to the Keystone Pipeline, and launched the fast-growing fossil fuel divestment movement.


  1. How about the most important race in the country this year, Virginia’s 5th district? Tom Perriello, who barely defeated the longtime conservative favorite Virgil Goode, works harder than anyone I know, in Congress and at getting re-elected. Green jobs for SW Virginia might overcome reactionary ‘government takeover’ talk, but has intelligent hard work ever trumped tea-party race-baiting and the like?

  2. Bill, you’ve missed the reality of the situation…the best thing that the current congress and admin can do is …nothing!

  3. Mr. McKibben makes an excellent point. Perhaps our lawmakers are not like us in that they cannot envision working “really, really hard” more than once a year or so. It IS really, really had to face the sort of opposition your garden-variety environmentalist does – even if few Congresspeople might be characterized as such. It IS really, really hard to do battle with people you won’t be able to get away from unless you do something really, really bad and are booted out. And it is REALLY, really hard for an elected official to roll up his sleeves continuously because of all the dry-cleaning that will ultimately involve.

    As a result, we’ll have to the heavy lifting Mr. McKibben describes. We’ll have to bring our spades and our shovels and our cooperative spirits; we’ll have to hammer in solar panels; and we’ll have to crawl around in the dirt hoping the best from a world that rarely delivers it.

    Does it matter whether a thousand molehills does not a mountain make? Possibly not. Will it make any difference if more community gardens are planted, solar panels heat small livingrooms, formerly denuded streetscapes bloom with trees? To assorted individuals, yes. And what possible impact can thousands of rock-moving, spade-wielding, hammer-ready people have on the juggernaut that is our anti-climate infrastructure? Possibly none at all.

    The issue at hand is not really whether we do these things, but how such activities will influence a growing number of people who might think – and possibly even say: “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore!” loudly enough for the work-averse people who manage our fates to hear. And they must learn to hear before everybody else loses heart and voice.

  4. “the best thing that the current congress and admin can do is …nothing! “This is such a sad comment;I refuse to say this job cannot be done,or will not be done,it is a job which must be done and as I see it the best step is to place a price on carbon in the form of a tax.We pay money to have food,shelter and safety,why should we not pay to shift our energy source-that is as crucial in the long term as any of the above.Just do it like any other job,one small bit at a time.Start now.I’ll be out there on 10/10/10 too-what about you?

  5. Bill… with all due respect, and I mean that with sincerity, I’ve really lost faith that congress or the president or any elected official can do a blasted thing about anything as long as we continue to live in a Corporatocracy. Somewhere along the way, this country shifted. Those elected men and women are owned by a much wealthier and more powerful voice than ours. It’s why we did not get Universal Health Care (and why, today, I am paying even more for meds and co-pays and why my mother can’t see her doctors anymore). It is why we will not see the kind of meaningful regulations placed on coal mining, oil drilling, or the over fishing of our seas and the like. It is why we will not see the government supporting small, local farming practices so that we can move away from oil dependency. Every elected official is in Washington because of corporate interests and donations. They have a job to go to because of big ag, big oil, big com, big auto, and Wall Street.

    The Republican-Democrat- Independent-Libertarian horse and pony show is merely there as fodder and entertainment for the masses. Yes, they “debate” the issues (and get caught doing all kinds of “amoral” things -yet another diversion-), but ever since I became old enough to understand the issues, I’ve been hearing the same lyrics to the same tired songs… it’s like listening to Top 40 hits… nothing new.

    I’ve been an activist ever since college. I’ve worked for The League of Conservation Voters. I’ve gone to protest march after protest march. I teach middle school. I don’t own or drive a car. I’ve always done my part and it’s all I can do. Until the fat cats start subsidizing small local farms (not to mention so many other changes) and this country begins to understand that it’s, frankly, too late, then all the community gardens are going to do is make us feel good psychologically as we watch the news reels telling us about another politician spending money on another sex toy, trying to forget about that big donation he just got from con-agra.

  6. I’m amazed how Bill is right on point, the gardens and everything else are very important, I’m very sad at this point, extremely so, it breacks my heart, they haven’t pass this energy bill yet, a decent one. Please everyone don’t give up, thank goodness for Public Citizen’s Allison Fisher, organizer, working relentlessly, day and night, on climate change. We need direct action acts, as ususal, but with the economy, people are scared of losing their jobs, and more people are becoming homeless, and living in a tent. Tent cties have grown across this country, it makes my heart bleed. And the gulf, with the major oil barons, it makes me want to throw up, and I feel for the people there. BP, should be ashame of itself, for all this calamity, and the mammmals dead. I pray things will get better, and we must alol pull together like Bill said.

  7. How about we all take to the streets – marching to our delinquent senator’s offices, singing this little ditty:

    “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!

    We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!

    We’re mad as hell
    ’cause there ain’t no climate bill

    We’re mad as hell
    ’cause there ain’t no climate bill

    So if you don’t pass one soon ______
    you’re OUT fo sure!

  8. You’re so right, Gail. It’s all about WE ALL. When WE ALL make a stand, then things will shift.

    Organize in our community, organize in your neighborhood, organize in your precinct. Call townhall meetings, find a common ground with your neighbors, stand up for the 95% of us who aren’t fat cats. Skinny cats, unite!

  9. Hammering solar panels is not advisable. They usually bolt or screw to brackets that then bolt or screw to a frame of some kind, but anyway, Bill brings up an important point: There is more and more evidence every day demanding that we humans change our ways and we can’t rely on the traditional and ineffective political system to make it possible for us to change.

    Is our only HOPE FOR CHANGE that Mother Nature (or some other pseudo-natural force) will turn our current socioeconomic political structure upside down in an Armageddon sort of way?

    Or, will there be a more grassrooty eventually leading to a hundredth monkey type change?

    Or, will the uncompromisable (American) way of life continue in perpetuity?

    Hey, does anybody know when the iPhone 5 is due out?

  10. If Bill Mckibben & 350.org had spent more time over the past three years actually formulating a sane energy policy and agenda for congress, and had worked with other groups and people in a united front, and had trampled the corridors of congress like NRDC did, and had exposed the fraudulent Democrats’ energy positions and their sell-out to the coal and oil gangs, we might have had a fighting chance for something real. But instead Bill and 350 just chanted; they took no positions for or against the energy bill, offered no alternatives, and had nothing to tell their supporters except homilies like “we want to stop global warming” and pick up shovels. This article is more of same, thoughts but no focused strategy, no purpose, no objectives, which adds up to: No Leadership. Our congress is the body that is deciding the fate of the earth. Anything that detracts from this fact and from the hard work that needs to be done in the halls of congress helps the coal and oil industries.
    Emails telling people to plant gardens are just distractions at best and subversion at worst.

  11. Hi Bill,
    AGW is but a symptom of the really big issue: population growth.

    The simple* mathematical fact is that population will stop growing… we have a chance to affect the conditions when it stops.

    Keep up the good work.

    *simple, in the sense that you don’t even need calculus to show that a quantity which is ever-increasing will eventually exceed any level you care to name.

  12. I dread the day my five year old nature loving grandson realizes what is coming. I recently quit my job and am living on savings (too young for social security) while I try to figure out how to put all my energies and remaining years of life toward preventing the worst of the climate change catastrophe–and support myself minimally at the same time. Is there an activist cell I can join? I’ve cut my carbon footprint to the bone, and am glad I’m at least not paying income tax! Now to stop betting my life savings on global business as usual. Is there alternative?

  13. Yes, Trillium, try http://transitionus.org/welcome-transition-us

    This is a great movement. Full of passion and truth. You couldn’t do better than this. Check it out.

    We are going to have to transition to the new reality one way or the other. Learning to live simply and grow your own food isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    Good for you for the changes you have made so far! You will find you are in good company.

  14. The concept of climate “work parties” is, as evidenced in the comments here, an easy target for mockery for people who are legitimately disenchanted, confused, and terrified by the political stalemate that is preventing us from making life-saving policy change to combat climate change. Yet, as others suggest, working together to make our individual communities more sustainable — and train ourselves how to live another way — can be so much more than a cute political demonstration. I’d wager that folks who suggest that community gardens are merely decorative or symbolic have never harvested overflowing bushels of fresh, nutritious produce from one, or seen a walk-in pantry full from floor to ceiling with preserved food from one. Millions of people on this planet live entirely off of food-growing operations on the scale of some of our better urban community gardens, and if we achieve what we seemt to want — dismantling agribusiness, creating the policy infrastructure for a sustainable society — then a lot of us would and should be more or less living off such gardens too! So work parties have incredible value — if properly executed — for two reasons: (1) to start learning and teaching the skills we will all need to be nourished and productive in the scaled-down future we are seeking, and (2) to demonstrate to ourselves, our neighbors, and our local leaders that we are not all planning to idle in our cynicism until Congress rides in on a white horse and saves the day.
    If you are really so convinced that Congress will not make the requisite change, and you want a healthy, joyful future for yourself and your family, well, I’d suggest you grab that shovel.

  15. Hey everyone–thanks for useful comments and ideas. If you’re looking for something a little more political to do, you might consider bird-dogging your Senator over August recess. Here’s a little guide we put out yesterday, and you’ll be glad to know that 1100 people signed up in the first couple of hours to get involved in this way.
    As to Lorna’s idea that I’m not a good leader, she’s doubtless right. It’s not what I grew up knowing how to do. That 350 has turned into the biggest grassroots global climate campaign is entirely due to the hard work of people all over the world–and boy it’s fun to see a few of those names on this list. You know who you are, and as always a million thanks.

  16. Bill McKibben claims 350.org is a worldwide movement. Yes indeed, it is, but what we need in the USA, the country where energy policy and global warming issues will live or die, is an AMERICAN movement unified behind a specific agenda and willing to challenge, at election time, those in either party who do not support it. For years I pleaded with American groups and activists to unify behind a shared energy agenda,
    focus on congress, and form a national Eco-Pac , to get support from congressional candidates (including incumbents), and also to oppose those who do NOT support this. This Eco-Pac can be both an on=line petition and a printed one that people can circulate and bring to their candidates at election time. If everyone in this country who supports 350.org vowed to vote for ONLY those candidates who support the agenda, and vowed to oppose those who do not, we might have a real movement with teeth in it. But come next November, the same crooks will be elected again, to do the same thing again: Nothing. I can provide the EcoPac platform if people want to contact me. Time to get serious.

  17. Here is my EcoPAC petition:


    Credible scientists and climate studies are urging a reduction in CO2 emissions by 80% over the coming decade in order to prevent the “tipping point” – a 2 degree Celsius increase in average global temperature which could throw the planet into a new climate regime, with catastrophic consequences for humans and global ecosystems. Unless we stabilize energy use immediately and cut it sufficiently to reduce the average global CO2 concentration to 350 ppm as urged by the science community, we face dire social and economic chaos.

    Therefore, we undersigned citizens urge our government to embark on a massive “Manhattan Project” to curb energy use rapidly and substantially through various means:

    ending tax breaks and subsidies to fossil fuels, including corn-based ethanol;

    taxing all fossil fuels and rebating revenues to citizens

    accelerating renewable energy technologies and incentives;

    rejecting cap and trade;

    imposing a national gasoline tax so price equals that of western Europe;

    mandatory energy efficiency standards for vehicles, buildings, appliances, and industry;

    ban construction of new fossil fuel plants unless 100% carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is achieved; phase out existing coal plants within ten years.

    prohibit direct and indirect support for fossil fuel plants abroad;

    fund and expand public transportation (Amtrak, regional and local light rail)

    international sanctions and wood tariffs to prevent deforestation;

    impose Border Tax Adjustment (BTA) to place tariffs on high carbon-footprint imports;

  18. One must realize that getting climate change legislation passed in the Senate is like the myth of Sisyphus where trying to roll the boulder up the incline is futile. The Senate is malapportioned: voters in Wyoming have seventy times the voting power than those in California. Thus, it only takes votes representing 12 percent of the population to block any legislation. The monied aristocracy in the US makes use of the Senate in a similar fashion to the manner the hereditary aristocracy in the UK has used the House of Lords. Its composition gives them an effective veto. Things won’t change until the Senate embodies the principle of one person, one vote upheld by the US Supreme Court in Reynolds vs. Sims. Given the state of America’s democratic institutions, it will fall to the EPA to do the heavy lifting.

  19. I am really sad to see the cynicism and pessimism about congress and legislation. If you assume defeat you will never strive for victory, much less improvement. The purpose of an EcoPAC is to build a movement around a unified agenda to send a message to congress that we want them to do what WE want and need, not what is politically acceptable for them and their re-election campaigns, and to put them on notice that we will carry out our campaign at election time and retire them if necessary or elect others in their place. This is a political message and an organizing tool above all and should not be shunned just because we lack assurances of our victory. Ralph Nader didn’t run because he thought he would defeat Al Gore or George Bush.He ran as a matter of principle, on an agenda that he believed in. We should follow his example instead of following the cynical advice of Democrats to dilute our demands to the point of (presumed) acceptability. No one ever won their prize by watering down their efforts.

  20. Thanks, Ms. Salsman, for raising this critical and constructive criticism of the 350 brand. For years, I’ve been a member of 350 and have urged the ‘leadership’ to add substance to our feel-good efforts. McKibben has been taking the high-profile easy way out of challenging inadequate climate policy coming out of the US Congress. While rallying people and speaking on CNN, he has refused to name a single sponsor of legislation which clearly aimed for stabilization targets much much greater than 350 parts per million. Why? Is he a weakling? Are his Rockerfeller Brothers sponsors telling him not to make too much (effective) noise but to spin wheels as much as he wants? Is he too chicken to unmask the grossly deficient pork barrel climate bills known as Waxman-Markey, Kerry-Boxer, Kerry-Lieberman-Graham, and Cantwell’s CLEAR by naming those legislators and thereby having an effect on them? Why is he willing to ignore the many members of 350.org who give such recommendations and who come away from a march with unfocused demands for ‘fair, ambitious, and binding’climate action feeling unsatisfied, frightened, and a bit silly with the way that such calls are immediately coopted by Senators pushing nukes, clean coal, more offshore drilling more hydrocarbon extraction and carbon markets?

  21. It is dismaying to discover Rockefeller Brothers Fund money supporting 350.org but not surprising. The history of American grant making is a sordid one that has studiously avoided funding any group that might contradict the purpose of these foundations: to fend off serious challenges to the status quo or serious critiques of crucial societal issues like global warming. Small wonder that they would open their purses to 350.org. which has yet to address thedominant paradigm of endless, mindless economic growth and consumption. It is discouraging to see nonprofit groups taking money from those whose interests lie in perpetuating the precise problems they are supposed to be addressing and solving. This is not the first time nor, tragically, the last that leadership in the environmental community has been prevented from initiating any meaningful action. It is time for the rest of us to look elsewhere for the principled independent leadership we deserve. We can’t find it in congress and we can’t even find it among our ranks. Isn’t it time to get mad and not take it any more?

  22. Lorna Salzman speaks with the passion and knowledge needed to stir people up to realize the biosphere is in extreme danger.She should be a regular writer for Orion!!

  23. Ms. Salzberg,

    Mr. McKibben’s putative failure to formulate effective policy seems a strange basis for criticism given his more fundamental (and, I would think, more preliminary) efforts of creating awareness, political heft, and momentum in the needed general direction.

    Moreover, I hope for the sake of readers here (if not for your own – – the reflection on you is not flattering) you’ll put straight the matter of innuendos of any funding impropriety by either elaborating more concretely in detail, or retracting, as the case may be.

  24. Lorna Salzman is right on target. Throwing pebbles at tanks is great heart-warming theater, but it is totally inadequate to stop a powerful force like the corporate/military industrial/energy monopoly/ fascist government complex that rules the United States. If you are still dreaming that your colorful kumbaya demonstrations are more than futile exercises waisting what could be energies mobilized to stop the Goliath that bestrides our world, then your first task should be to wake up and get real about what it will take to change our world from its current death march to extinction.

    It is hard to criticize a love-able, sincere man like Bill McKibben, but this kind of clear opposition needs to be brought to bear on such a waste of precious possibilities. “Solutions” that are nothing more than a toothless charade should be abandoned in favor of a movement that speaks and acts the only language our enemies understand: power. Thank you Lorna Salzman for speaking truth to power, and pointing out a more realistic direction for our efforts.

  25. So, we are to pick up our shovels and hit people over the head with them?

  26. AE — If you have a better solution to our problems than shovel bashing, why not share that with us?

  27. If all the “mainstream” environmenal groups had a “Let Lorna Speak” column it would encourage budding activists to hump in,feeling it is ok to be politically “inncorrect”bec the danger is so great that if you do nothing there goes the biosphere..No violence ..

  28. I would encourage you, Lorna, to write an article expressing your ideas for Orion. That’s an article a lot of us would like to read!

  29. If shovel bashing is the answer, then how do we determine whom to bash?

    As Rik said in one of the early comments, the climate issue is a mere symptom of a larger problem: population.

    Maybe the question is not “whom” to bash, but “how many” do we bash?

    Seriously, we can’t euthanize billions of people and we can’t (at least not without inhumane force) tell the developing world that they can’t exploit resources in their pursuit for the uncompromisable (American) way of life.

    Politically-determined laws, rules, and agreements that attempt to limit resource exploitation on a global scale will, at best, not work. Worse: lead to a new kind of cold war. Even worse: lead to a hot war.

    Any real solutions will have to address the population issue. Solutions that don’t, will only create opportunity for more population and we’ll never get anywhere.

  30. AE — Check out Steve Salmony’s ideas about population control on the “Calling all fanatics” thread on Orion. Also, Lorna might consider making population management an item on her EcoPAC preamble agenda. One way or another, you are going to have to push the powers that be to move on this. If you can persuade them that it is in their economic interest to do so, that would be a golden key….

  31. What is wrong with these people, that they cannot see what is coming with the bad weather, we have had, over the years. This is a wake up call, for sure, I would think so. We know that some of Bush’s policies have continued, when the government said, we will have more transparency. Not according to PEER, they do not want us to kbiw about some of the forestry issues. And I for one, want to know the truth.

  32. Linda — The truth is that we are stripping the Earth of trees all over the world as fast as we can. Nobody wants to look at this. The story of Easter Island seems to have provoked a mechanism of denial and avoidance, rather than being the wake up call it should be. Take a look at Derrick Jensen’s moving and enlightening book, “Strangely Like War”, which chronicles our assault on the world’s forests. When the last tree goes, we will be gone….

  33. Thanks, Ms. Salsman, for raising this critical and constructive criticism of the 350 brand. For years, I’ve been a member of 350 and have urged the ‘leadership’ to add substance to our feel-good efforts. McKibben has been taking the easy way out of challenging inadequate climate policy coming out of the US Congress: as Jean B says, he’s ‘raising awareness’. But of what!? Not of the false solutions and shortcomings of legislation on the table in the US Congress (where most 350.org members live and have responsibilities to act)!

    While rallying people and speaking on CNN, he has refused to name a single sponsor of legislation which clearly aimed for stabilization targets much much greater than 350 parts per million. Why? Is he a weakling? Are his Rockerfeller Brothers sponsors telling him not to make too much (effective) noise but to spin wheels as much as he wants? Is he too chicken to unmask the grossly deficient pork barrel climate bills known as Waxman-Markey, Kerry-Boxer, Kerry-Lieberman-Graham, and Cantwell’s CLEAR by naming those legislators and thereby having an effect on them? Why is he willing to ignore the many members of 350.org who give such recommendations and who come away from a march with unfocused demands for ‘fair, ambitious, and binding’ climate action feeling unsatisfied, frightened, and a bit silly with the way that such calls are immediately co-opted by Senators pushing nukes, clean coal, more offshore drilling more hydrocarbon extraction and carbon markets?

    Anyhow, would be interesting to learn more on how Rockefeller Brother Foundation funding might influence this non-threatening posture towards the political establishment (Kerry et al). But even without that, points well taken.


  34. Grinding the population axe:
    There are some easy steps towards turning the corner which we have not yet taken.
    -Make family planning info and technoloogy available to anyone willing to use it.
    -Education, esp. of girls.
    Those will pay dividends almost immediately.

    There are places in the world and even pockets in the USA where education is not valued. If ever there is a place to apply hegemony, that’s it. Assuring that every child is wanted, loved, fed, and educated could be the greatest charitable effort ever.

    We should push the issue where someone argues against mathematical certainty. This can be politically hard, partly because our politics runs on a cycle too short to pay attention to long-term effects.
    In our current system, the incentives are perverse: in a growth-is-all-important economy and political system, sustainable population planning renders your group less powerful. If some state becomes grossly overpopulated, they will receive more representatives in congress.
    The “tragedy of the commons” also provides perverse economic incentives.

  35. If we changed the terms for elected officials to 20+ years, would we begin to bring about positive change with regards to the varied, plentiful, and interrelated crises?

  36. @AE: haha!
    20 years? What Senator would vote for such stringent term limits?

    I don’t have an easy answer for how to structure government so that long-range issues get due attention.

    Some benvolent kings have done really well, but then their descendants have really screwed up.

    Few people seem to like dictators-for-life.

    Matrilineal council with peace pipes? 😎
    The seventh-generation concept seems to get some people thinking long-range.

  37. I agree that we need widespread education about the realities of the population crisis. However I feel that the wake up call we need to instigate goes a lot deeper than just scientific information, as valuable as that is.

    You know from my previous posts that I think our ignorance about the world crisis goes a lot wider and deeper than any single issue focus. In fact, in order to really understand any particular area or problem we need to be able to put it into the context of the overall problem(s) of civilization itself. I am on the same page as Derrick Jensen on that. Those who are asleep and in denial about war, pollution, capitalist exploitation, etc, etc, will not be awake with regard to population either. We need a general, systemic awakening! The question is how to foment it?

  38. In addition to the criticisms of 350.org put forth here, let me ask: who really believes that 350 ppm will solve the problem? And who really finds that goal to be particularly compelling? I sure don’t.

    We could get down to 350 ppm without fundamentally changing a single thing other than which products we consume and how they are produced, distributed and then recycled. The horrors of the profit motive will continue unabated. It’s just a dumb, uncompelling goal, in my opinion, one that is oriented toward a symptom of a larger problem and which offers no solution to that larger problem.

    And I also don’t get McKibben’s rhetoric; the whole “largest problem humanity has ever faced” line is tired. It isn’t even the largest problem. There are plenty of others (starting with capitalism itself, which goes unquestioned, as always; that is the nature we should worry about: the “second nature” of capitalism which we accept as if it were natural, inevitable, unavoidable.

    And on an ad hominem note: I’ve never been inspired by environmentalists with two homes (like Mr. McKibben; though maybe he sold his country house in the Adirondacks?) who go around asking us to work hard and be honorable. If you ask that, you gotta walk the walk. Come on Bill, take one for the planet! Sell that extra house!

  39. The media is always telling people how to look,and filled with violence.One thing,we should all be promoters of “Democracy Now”.Amy Goodman reporting from Bolivia..below the melting glacier,about how to save Mother Earth and the resolutions made there should be spread around the USA.Boycott Fox and its advertisers.Bill Mckibben,or someone who knows where he lives could be Gandhi and have a chat with Rupert Murdock about what is happening right now w the planet..

  40. 1. its really really hard to pass a climate bill because a healthy portion of voters know what we don’t know about climate change (pretty much everything).
    2. The “problem” is solving itself. Write about that. Calculate how much GHG electric cars will save. An electric car that gets its electricity from a coal power plant is responsible for much less GHG than a Prius Hybrid burning gasoline, and cheaper too. And solar is going to make a bigger dent than people think, it just needs another 10 years of development to gain share (same as electric cars). Innovation will solve these problems, not big brother taxes or regs. Write about the progress that China is making on GHG.
    3. Find a couple of win/win ideas and advocate them on a stand alone basis. Smart meters and time-of-day pricing for electricity should be everywhere. We don’t need a 2000 page bill to encourage smart meters. Same goes for Nuclear plants. We are losing to the chinese a whole hi-tech industry because of laws that prevent nukes from being built. Fixing the nuke power plant laws is a win/win that requires no sacrifice for anyone and results in higher GDP and lower GHG. Just pass that one law that reduces the regulatory time needed to build a plant from 10 years to 3 years and we all win – no 2000 pages needed!
    4. pls don’t submit glacier breakoffs as evidence. That’s the worst kind of political journalism.

  41. Jean, I am with you. Democracy Now should be required viewing for us folks seeking a better world. Their program is on the web for those who can’t get it on TV.

  42. In some ways 350.0rg reminds of the people who recommended various forms of “gradualism” to the African American community prior to the civil rights uprising.

  43. Brad Shoup — Your pie in the sky by and by optimism reminds me that there are still folks who believe that the uber-capitalist God of technology will somehow fish us out of the planet destroying spree we are on. Wonder how the citizens of Chinese cities who are dying from the smog produced from the gazillion coal fired power plants feel about their country’s supposed progress in lowering GHG-s? Check out past issues of the Archdruid Report for the real physics underlying solar, nuclear, etc. You could possibly get a job as an ad-flack with some coal company or other hi-tech moonshiner, but your pitch here is just too incredible to fly. The “problem” is solving itself. Indeed?!

  44. I start my day w “Democracy Now”.Then I read email,looking for a study from “Climate Progress” or “Climate Crisis Coalition'”.I cut and paste tibits I think my fellow citizens would be glad to know and I put that info, on line in 5 newspapers,all locations, I have in the past called ” home”.I write letters to the editor.I have given copies of Lester Brown’s book to legislators..Right now we are trying to stop the Keystone XL Pileline call the Dept of State and theWhite House and say No to dirty Tar Sands oil

  45. It seems to me that Brad’s “gradualism” is likelier to get results than screaming about the evils of capitalism. For one thing, casting out devils is unending work, because the enemy is us. And if, as Th Berry and M Buber say, science (abetted by capitalism, of course) turns our awareness from Thou to It, thus fomenting warring economies, the need is not for a strategy that merely reproduces the war. We need a We mentality, no? Can we speak “thou,” in respect and love, even in “the severe contentions of friendship,” to capitalist polluters?

  46. Jean — You are doing a lot of good work. We certainly need more concerned citizens like you in this fight for survival. No effort is ever wasted, and everything furthers our cause for a better world.

  47. Henry: If you think speaking a quaint olde thou to greedy capitalist polluters will stop them in their tracks, you must have an overdeveloped belief in magic. It is clear that in order to support Brad’s position you would have to put in a plug for capitalism, however disguised. Dragging Martin Buber into it, really makes your comment even weirder. Begging your pardon Sir, if I should offend thee.

  48. Mike, thanks for the response. Buber’s “Thou” is not quaint; it may even be accusatory. But it is a stepping into relation with another, not a rejection of him. Before dismissing Buber, you must read “I and Thou,” and more if you are able. As a Jew, Buber knew something about confronting demons; it’s the nature of the confrontation that matters.

    What is the opposite of capitalism; what is its successor to be? I have a sense that you may have a ready answer, and I’d like to know it. And what is the opposite of magic? Science as we’ve been practicing it?

  49. Hello Henry — It is true that I have not read Buber, but I have some idea of what he means. Rather than treat others as “things” we should remember that each person however flawed is ultimately a manifestation of God. Similar to the Hindu greeting “namaskar”, or I salute the divinity in you. Good enough, but it won’t be sufficient to stop greedy short sighted capitalists from building incredibly expensive (if one includes the externalized costs) nuclear plants (that Brad was blithely recommending). A little politeness is interpreted by these types as a weakness to be exploited.

    In your eagerness to defend what Brad was putting out, you wandered into what I consider to be an irrelevant debating tactic of characterizing his critic (me) as heartless and unspiritual. Nice try. If you can’t attack the substantive arguments, on to the ad hominem stratagems. Why not launch into a full on defense of capitalism? Because it won’t hold water, and you know it. I fully expect now to hear from you in the wounded voice of one who has been cruelly and unjustly misunderstood. What a waste of time.

    As a veteran of college bull session debates, I am also familiar with the tactic of throwing your opponent on the defensive with shots like “define your terms”. The discussion we are hoping for in these pages is more important than a sophomoric ego game of one-upmanship. Next time try to come up with ideas relating directly to the real issues we are trying to explore here. BTW I am not mad at you, just a little disappointed.

  50. Mike: Again, thanks for engaging with me. I certainly wouldn’t characterize you as “heartless and unspiritual” — you’ve clearly got heart and passion for this fight, recognize the stakes for human and humane life, and are willing to spend the time in colloquy for it.

    You’ve still missed the point Buber and I are trying to make, though. It is not politeness or spirituality, and certainly not passive acceptance of the oncoming disaster, that I’m recommending, though I can see why I might appear to be in that camp. I am not “eager to defend” what Brad was saying, though I confess I reacted a bit defensively to your aggressive repudiation of his possibly thoughtful and helpful comment. I am trying to get us beyond the kind of fight that brought us the Iraq war, the declaration “If you’re not for us, you’re against us,” and on and on. (Have you seen, anywhere, anything else than Us Versus Them?)

    Did you, in college, ever get a chance to read Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”? His idea of paradigm shift is sort of like what’s needed. You surely have seen the perceptual demonstrations of gestalt shift. The problems we created at one level of thinking cannot be solved at that same level. As you said on Aug 2, “we need a general, systemic awakening! The question is how to foment it?” But you seemed, in the later posts, to be participating in, and thereby supporting, the very level of thinking that got us into the environmental predicament, for it is the same one that got us into the current political impasse. It is why there are greedy shortsighted capitalists. That is the direct relationship between my ideas and the issues being discussed here.

    If you try answers to my questions – what is the preferred form of social /economic organization; and what is the opposite of “magic”— there might arise between us an awareness of ways to shift out of Us Versus Them. I’m not asking you to define your terms; I’m asking us to notice the system of ideas we are all trapped in, the camps (“these types”) that we are forced into by the hegemonic conversation, which will replicate itself in almost every interaction we have. Are the only alternatives for me “full-on defense of capitalism” or “ad hominem stratagems”?

    If you are willing to continue to engage with me in a real game-changing exploration, I welcome the opportunity. I do have an idea for a program. BTW, the hindu greeting is namaste. Namaskar is the name of the series of yoga poses that comprise the Sun Salutation. Am I one up yet? Are you mad yet?

  51. Peak Oil may be our best hope for reducing C02 simply because costs will force conservation. Expensive shale oil is being fracked out of desperation and it’s part of the global peak. Conventional oil peaked around 2005/2006 per the IEA. Once people truly realize we aren’t owed cheap fossil fuels, things may change.

    Birth control remains critical to alleviating all environmental problems via less numerical demand on nature. Peak Oil has already caused birth rates to drop. Most people are money zombies and DO react to high prices with restrained consumption, even if they think high consumption is a positive thing.

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