Year 4, Month 11, Day 21: Just A Closer Walk With Thee

The Rutland Herald reminds us that, as usual, Bill McKibben is ahead of the curve:

Watching changing weather patterns from his window, McKibben felt compelled to organize students and then neighbors into, now a worldwide grass-roots organization campaigning to stop the proposed cross-country Keystone oil pipeline and encourage financial divestment from fossil fuel companies.

During a summer and fall bookended by two headline-grabbing White House protests in 2011, McKibben spent more nights in jail than at home. Read his new book, “Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist,” and you’ll learn such efforts are having an impact — on him.

“Shaky. Unnerved by it all. Overwhelmed. Frustrated and a little resentful,” he reveals in the 272-page hardcover by New York publisher Times Books. “A writer, if you think about it, is someone who has decided their nature requires them to hole up in a room and type. You can violate your nature for a while, but eventually it takes a toll.”

A hero of our times. November 11:

Bill McKibben is exemplifying in his own life something that all of us are going to find out within our lifetimes: our version of “normal life” is one that takes a stable climate for granted. What we can all anticipate for ourselves, our children, and their descendants in turn is that as the greenhouse effect’s consequences intensify, the routines, privileges and perquisites of civilization will come increasingly under threat.

When he talks wistfully of how his life as a climate activist has “violated his nature” as a writer, Bill speaks for any of us who can see beyond the immediate future. The threats looming over the coming centuries are going to force us to abandon the people we’ve worked so hard to become, instead focusing our energies on the single massive global struggle to halt the next great extinction before it halts us.

Like Mr. McKibben, we’re all going to have to put aside many things we love doing if we are to save our species and the web of life in which we are embedded.

The world doesn’t owe us a living — but we owe the world our lives.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 10: That’s The Song Of Songs

More on the Energy Exodus heroes, from Cape Cod Online:

HYANNIS – Dr. Turner Bledsoe, 79, said walking 70 miles over the past six days hurt.

“Every step was painful,” said the Hingham resident.

But, he added, “It’s the most important hike of my life.”

Bledsoe was the oldest member of a core group of around 50 hikers who participated in the Energy Exodus, walking from the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset and arriving in Hyannis Monday.

“The idea of the Energy Exodus march was to show a departure from fossil fuel addiction,” explained Varshini Prakash, a student organizer and staff member of the Better Future Project, a nonprofit supporting grass roots efforts to address climate change.

The march began at the Brayton Point Power Station, which is described on the station’s Website as, “one of New England’s largest fossil-fueled generating facilities.

FSM bless them, every one. No kidding. September 3:

It was two hundred and thirty-eight years ago that a few courageous patriots responded to a midnight call and became an indelible part of our nation’s history. The Minutemen of Middlesex also make a convincing argument as to why it’s a good idea to heed early-warning systems. The world’s climatologists are the Paul Reveres of today, and they’ve been sounding the alarm for far longer than most of us know, in the face of a lazy media and a political establishment that has been co-opted when it hasn’t simply been purchased outright.

Today’s Minutemen, of course, are the ones who recognize the gravity of the crisis and the need for action. People like those in Energy Exodus, who joined a 70-mile walk in the hopes of spurring a genuine response to a genuine emergency.

When America’s eyes are fixed on pop stars and the vacuous talking heads of television news, environmental activists strive towards a world where our consumption of energy no longer endangers humanity’s future. These brave men and women are the true patriots of the age.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 9, Day 2: Remember That Stuff We Had Back In The Old Days? That Was Good Stuff, Man.

South Coast Today (MA) talks about these excellent specimens of humanity:

NEW BEDFORD — Eighty people rallied for green jobs and wind energy Thursday as the six-day long Energy Exodus march from Brayton Point Power Station stopped in both New Bedford and Fairhaven on the way to a Hyannis rally for Cape Wind.

“Today we’re celebrating the construction of (South Terminal) behind us here, showing that there are already jobs coming to the SouthCoast because of the wind industry,” said Craig Altemose, executive director of Better Future Project, which is organizing the 66-mile march to build momentum for clean energy.

“This is not some idealistic dream — there are real, good jobs and there’s a lot more where those came.”

With the hurricane barrier on one side, old mill buildings behind and the Fairhaven turbines off in the distance, the crew of marchers stood at South Terminal cheering New Bedford for its move towards green energy.

No sarcasm here. Only admiration. Wish I was out there with ’em. August 29:

Almost two hundred and forty years ago, courageous patriots responded to a midnight call, and their actions are not only an indelible part of our nation’s history, but an eloquent argument for heeding early-warning systems.

Today’s Paul Reveres are the world’s climatologists, who have been sounding the alarm for decades, in the face of a complacent citizenry and a complaisant political establishment. And today’s “Minutemen”? They’re the people who recognize the urgency of the warning, and the need for action, whether it’s “positive” (pressing for new sources of renewable energy instead of carbon-polluting fossil fuels) or “negative” (working to block destructive initiatives like the disastrous Keystone XL pipeline).

In a media environment where the majority of the world’s eyes are focused on the latest pop-tart’s scandal du jour, environmentalists face marginalization, hostility, and ridicule as they strive to make possible a world in which our energy consumption no longer imperils our species’ future. The members of the Energy Exodus march are the true patriots of our time.

Warren Senders


Year 3, Month 12, Day 13: Get Up, Stand Up / Stand Up For Your Rights

Bill McKibben and have been pushing hard for divestiture from fossil fuels – and taking aim at college endowments as an easy and significant target. The New York Times:

SWARTHMORE, Pa. — A group of Swarthmore College students is asking the school administration to take a seemingly simple step to combat pollution and climate change: sell off the endowment’s holdings in large fossil fuel companies. For months, they have been getting a simple answer: no.

As they consider how to ratchet up their campaign, the students suddenly find themselves at the vanguard of a national movement.

In recent weeks, college students on dozens of campuses have demanded that university endowment funds rid themselves of coal, oil and gas stocks. The students see it as a tactic that could force climate change, barely discussed in the presidential campaign, back onto the national political agenda.

“We’ve reached this point of intense urgency that we need to act on climate change now, but the situation is bleaker than it’s ever been from a political perspective,” said William Lawrence, a Swarthmore senior from East Lansing, Mich.

It’s a very unequal struggle. But the alternative is giving up. Nope. Can’t do that. Sent December 5:

Throughout the course of’s “Do The Math” tour, founder Bill McKibben over and over compared the movement to divest from the fossil fuel industry with the mid-80’s campaign to end financial ties with firms doing business in apartheid South Africa. These earlier actions were driven by college students possessed by the moral urgency to end the injustices perpetrated by institutionalized racism. Modern climate activists are equally motivated by their keen awareness of injustice — today perpetrated not by governments, but by a set of unimaginably powerful and irresponsible economic actors. The similarities are profound. But there is one important set of differences.

In the 1980s, the victims of apartheid lived in one state, on one continent — and at one memorable point in time. Climate chaos, by contrast, will disrupt lives everywhere on Earth for generations to come — a fact which dramatically reinforces the ethical imperative of divestiture.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 18: Figures Don’t Lie, And Liars Can’t Figure

USA Today says that “Climate change worries have had a high profile in New York, post-Hurricane Sandy.” Gee, ya think?

Climate change is suddenly a hot topic again. The issue is resurfacing in talks about a once radical idea: a possible carbon tax.

On Tuesday, a conservative think tank held discussions about it while a more liberal think tank released a paper on it. And the Congressional Budget Office issued a 19-page report on the different ways to make a carbon tax less burdensome on lower income people.

A carbon tax works by making people pay more for using fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas that produce heat-trapping carbon dioxide.

A letter with actual numbers in it! Sent November 14:

Hurricane Sandy definitely brought climate change back into the national spotlight by making the consequences of a runaway greenhouse effect exponentially harder to ignore. But another recent storm should also help bring global warming back to the policy table. On November 6, Hurricane Arithmetic made landfall on the coast of Republican self-delusion, as nerds and statisticians predicted election results far more accurately than any conservative pundits had ever imagined. Not only was the President re-elected, but math was vindicated.

As Mr. Obama heads into his second term, he and his administration must call America’s attention to two numbers: 350 and 400. The first describes the level (in parts per million) of atmospheric CO2 consistent with the survival of our civilization. The second is the level of CO2 in our atmosphere today. While political posturing over the “fiscal cliff” may make for good headlines, the imminent “climate cliff” is far, far more permanent.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 11: We Are The Great Four Hundred

The Columbus (IA) Republic, on hitting 400:

For more than 60 years, readings have been in the 300s, except in urban areas, where levels are skewed. The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal for electricity and oil for gasoline, has caused the overwhelming bulk of the man-made increase in carbon in the air, scientists say.

It’s been at least 800,000 years — probably more — since Earth saw carbon dioxide levels in the 400s, Butler and other climate scientists said.

Until now.

Readings are coming in at 400 and higher all over the Arctic. They’ve been recorded in Alaska, Greenland, Norway, Iceland and even Mongolia. But levels change with the seasons and will drop a bit in the summer, when plants suck up carbon dioxide, NOAA scientists said.

So the yearly average for those northern stations likely will be lower and so will the global number.

Globally, the average carbon dioxide level is about 395 parts per million but will pass the 400 mark within a few years, scientists said.

The Arctic is the leading indicator in global warming, both in carbon dioxide in the air and effects, said Pieter Tans, a senior NOAA scientist.

“This is the first time the entire Arctic is that high,” he said.

A rehash of yesterday’s letter. Sent June 1:

I vividly remember the excitement we experienced as kids when our station wagon’s odometer turned over; on the day we passed 100,000 miles, Dad decelerated a bit and my brother and I called off the tenths of a mile until all the zeroes lined up on the dashboard and the family broke out in cheers. We did a lot of driving in those days — unwittingly, it turns out, making our contribution to a far more ominous numerical landmark.

400 parts per million of atmospheric CO2 is nothing to celebrate. We long ago passed the critical level of 350 ppm, the concentration climatologists consider the maximum level consistent with the continued survival of our civilization, and even if we stopped burning fossil fuels completely, things would still keep getting hotter for decades. The next few centuries are going to be a rough ride for life on Earth. Why are the climate-change denialists in media and politics working hard to keep us from buckling up our seat belts?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 5, Day 15: The Biggest Bankruptcy…

The Barre/Montpelier Times-Argus (VT) writes about “Connecting The Dots”:

Thus, volunteers in Waitsfield will be cleaning up debris along the Mad River left by Tropical Storm Irene. It is part of what is calling Climate Impacts Day. At the same time, villagers in Pakistan have participated in demonstrations showing their understanding that cataclysmic floods that destroyed vast regions in Pakistan over the past two years are also a manifestation of the changing climate.

The climate change movement is focusing broadly on fossil fuel industries and new projects for expanded exploitation of fossil fuels. It is the burning of fossil fuels, after all, that has heated up the atmosphere to a degree that extreme weather events are spreading devastation across the globe. Drought in Texas and Mexico, floods in Vermont and Pakistan, hurricanes, tornadoes, rising ocean levels, destruction of habitats — Climate Impacts Day has much to consider.

The climate crisis cannot be addressed without confronting the fossil fuel industry, which has billions of dollars at stake in the coal they hope to mine and the oil they hope to extract. Many current controversies grow out of industry’s determination to make use of new sources of hydrocarbons, including oil from tar sands in Alberta, coal from the American West and natural gas from shale formations underground in Pennsylvania, New York, Wyoming and elsewhere.

This is a fairly generic better-get-our-shit-together-soon type of letter. Sent May 5:

Industrialized civilization’s gleeful consumption of fossil fuels over the past century or so is turning out to be more expensive than any of us anticipated. Like teenagers turned loose with our parents’ credit cards, we’ve racked up enormous bills with no thought of paying them.

While we’ve long been aware of the health and environmental impacts of coal and oil extraction (factors never included in price calculations), the long-term costs of carbon-based fuel are only now becoming apparent. As human-caused global climate change emerges as an imminent threat to agriculture, infrastructure, and regional environments everywhere on the planet, we are faced with the necessity of transforming our energy economy, mitigating the damage we cannot prevent, and finding ways to restore equilibrium to the planetary climate system. It’s going to be expensive and inconvenient — but we have no choice if we are to bequeath a livable Earth to our posterity.

Warren Senders


…performing Thomas Simpson’s “Bonnie Sweet Robin.”

So beautiful.

They’re performing at “Flutes Against Climate Change” on May 19 — don’t miss it.

Year 2, Month 10, Day 14: Actually, He’d Rather Be Wrong

Deborah Erdley writes sympathetically in the Pittsburgh Tribune about a recent visit from Bill McKibben:

McKibben, who penned “The End of Nature” in 1989, one of the first books on the threat of climate change, acknowledged his growing fears and hopes for the future as he spoke to a group of several hundred college activists from across the nation at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s national conference on Sunday in Pittsburgh.

Ticking off events ranging from summer’s Texas wildfires to a 129-degree daytime temperature record in Pakistan to floods that devastated New England following record rainfall last month, McKibben told the group gathered in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, that climate change is “pinching harder and faster” than anyone imagined 20 years ago.

“You guys are incredibly important. … You may be more important than you know,” McKibben said, noting that seven college students helped him start, which has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009.

It’s fun to skewer morons. It’s also fun to give praise where and when it’s due. Sent October 10:

Bill McKibben’s long advocacy on behalf of our collective future has never been as relevant as it is today. As global climate change continues to trigger new extremes in weather all over the planet, the necessity for our civilization to reduce atmospheric CO2 can no longer be denied.

And yet constructive approaches to this emergency are rejected and mocked by a substantial portion of our citizenship; even the existence of the climate crisis is disputed by professional denialists in the pay of the oil and coal industries. Their voices, amplified by the mass media, have given cover to politicians who wish to avoid disturbing a lucrative status quo.

Our government’s inability to respond points to a systemic failure: the political system is prevented from focusing on genuine problems by the short-sightedness of its corporate masters. Bill McKibben is one of the few contemporary thinkers to make these connections explicit. Thank you for a carefully crafted and sympathetic article on a man whom future generations will regard as a hero of our times.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 9, Day 30: “The Ideology Of The Cancer Cell”

The Iowa City Press-Citizen discusses “Moving Planet,” in the wake of Saturday’s planet-wide action:

The event was held in conjunction with the nearly 2,000 other Moving Planet rallies around the world over the weekend, including eight in Iowa, sponsored by the global environmental organization

Carsner urged rally goers to call upon local business to invest in renewable energy, and demand that their elected officials initiate better energy standards and make it more conducive for homeowners and small businesses to generate clean energy through wind and solar power.

“We think there is plenty we can do on a local level,” said Carsner, the head of the Iowa City Sierra Club group. “… We think it’s important to take action, it’s important to gain information and it’s important to be part of a movement.”

I’m continuing with the “let’s reform capitalism” theme. Heh heh heh. Sent September 26:

The people all over the globe who joined Saturday’s “Moving Planet” action are giving voice to the most urgent need of our times. It’s not just that we must address climate change — the greenhouse effect is a symptom of a deeper problem that we have barely begun to think about.

Our economic thinking is based on the idea that continuous growth is both possible and desirable. It is neither. When almost seven billion humans spend environmental capital far faster than it can be replenished, it is time to change our ways.

If humanity is to survive and prosper in the coming centuries, we need to stop consuming the Earth’s resources and start renewing them — which can only happen when our economic models are based on sustainability, not growth. This is the ultimate message of “Moving Planet,” and it’s one the world needs to hear — now, more than ever.

Warren Senders