We're All in This Together: Bill McKibben Speaks About our Planet in Crisis


Last weekend was reunion weekend at Middlebury College.  We were hosting good friends so we decided to attend many of the programs even though it was not an official reunion year for either Ashley or me.  On Saturday morning, Bill McKibben, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, spoke to a large crowd of Middlebury graduates of all ages.  (This post references comments made at that talk given Saturday, June 7th, and an article from the Newsroom link on the Middlebury College website that covers a talk given by Bill McKibben on April 4th, 2019, also at Middlebury College.)

Bill McKibben published the first book on climate change for a lay audience, The End of Nature, 30 years ago when he was 28 years old.  Since then he has published 11 other books and worked tirelessly to wake people up to the science of what continuing to burn fossil fuels is doing to planet earth.  Together with seven Middlebury College young alumni, he founded 350.org, a global grassroots movement to address climate change. He’s been on the frontline of environmental activism in the United States and globally.

One thing I learned at the talk, which was new to me, is that fossil fuel companies with their team of scientists have understood the reality of climate change since the 1980’s, and yet have had the money and power to perpetuate what McKibben calls “the most consequential lie in human history, given the stakes.” 

The other thing that I learned is that we have the technology to power the planet with sun and wind and battery storage.  That solar panels are built ever more affordably and with smarter and smarter technology.

“This is a timed test, and time is passing really, really quickly,” said McKibben. “It’s a test human beings may not pass. Climate change isn’t a negotiation of the usual sort, in which politicians or activists might work toward compromise. Physics don’t compromise.”

We can be inspired and moved to action ourselves by the youth all over the world who are becoming leaders in this movement and this fight because they see that adults have failed and because they dearly want a future. The youth movement, inspired by the actions of 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, span more than 100 countries and 1,500 cities, and organized students to gather in the streets and at their state capitols to call for action on March 15, 2019.

The president of Middlebury College, Laurie Patton, has likened McKibben to a “quiet prophet” at work on behalf of the planet. “Being a prophet means waking people in a single sentence,” said Patton. “Bill does that, again and again, and he wakes us up through love.”

Despite the long odds, despite the changes already under way and inevitable as the planet warms, McKibben isn’t giving up the fight.

“We are messy creatures, often selfish, prone to short-sightedness, susceptible to greed,” McKibben writes in the closing pages of his latest book, Falter. “In a Trumpian moment with racism and nationalism resurgent, you could argue that our disappearance would be no great loss. And yet, most of us, most of the time, are pretty wonderful, funny, and kind. Another name for human solidarity is love, and when I think about our world in its present form, that is what overwhelms me.”

We left this powerful talk thinking, “Now what?” What do we do? Bill praised Middlebury College numerous times in his talk for being an international leader in moving the campus toward net zero energy consumption. Also for divesting from any investments in fossil fuels.  The movements of protest and calling for divestment are making progress.  Bill McKibben told us that globally 3 trillion dollars have been divested from fossil fuel companies. 

For the future, for our children, for our grandchildren, we must speak up and take the actions that we can, living on the planet ever more lightly and gracefully. We are reading Falter and encourage you to as well.  We just joined 350.org. (It’s easy, just go to the website and sign up and you will be informed.) We can all continue to join the swell of people of all generations nationally and internationally who understand what we must do to save our one wild and precious planet.