Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben is founder of and Schumann Distinguished Professor at Middlebury College in Vermont. He was recently honored with the Gandhi Peace Award for his work coordinating the civil disobedience actions around the Keystone XL pipeline in June 2011. He serves on Grist's Board of Directors.

Kicking Congress' ash

Snow doesn't dampen turnout for anti-coal rally in D.C.

The day's scorecard: 1) Largest anti-coal action yet in the United States: Thousands and thousands of people flooding the streets around the Capitol Hill power plant. 2) Largest demonstration in many years where everyone was wearing dress clothes: The point was to stress that there's nothing radical about shutting down coal-fired power. In fact, there's everything radical about continuing to pour carbon into the air just to see what happens. 3) Smallest counter-protest in world's history: By my count, the Competitive Enterprise Institute managed to muster four demonstrators for its "celebration of coal" rally, which is about the right size. (But they were kind of sweet; they had signs that said: "Al Gore, Not Evil, Just Wrong.") 4) Number of arrests: None, zip, zilch, nada. The police said so many demonstrators showed up that they had no hope of jailing them all. So we merrily violated the law all afternoon, blocking roads and incommoding sidewalks and other desperate stuff, all without a permit or a say so. We shut down the power plant for the day. And we'd pre-won our main victory anyhow, when Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid preemptively cried uncle last week and announced they were'nt going to burn coal in their plant any more. 5) Quantity of broad smiles afterwards: Almost unlimited. And in the air, there was the strong sense that we can do this. Really. What fun. Bill McKibben, a Grist board member, is co-founder of, and author most recently of Deep Economy.

Power for the people

Anti-coal campaign gets some good news, but battle is far from won

We'll still be protesting on Monday in D.C., but it looks like the protest may be half victory party too! Late Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter off to the Capitol Architect -- the guy in charge of buildings and grounds, as well as the century-old, mainly-coal-fired power plant that Congress owns and which is located just a few blocks from the fancy dome and the National Mall. The two leaders told him to stop shoveling coal into the power plant's boiler and finish the switch to natural gas. Now, it just so happens that this is the same coal plant targeted for the first mass civil disobedience in the history of the American climate movement. When Wendell Berry and I sent out one of many invitations to this gathering last fall, we stressed that it was going to be a Very Serious Event; among other things, everyone was supposed to wear dress clothes. That was mostly, I think, because we wanted the home viewing audience to be reminded of something important: the crazies and loons and nutballs are not the people in the streets demanding an end to the carbon age. We're the sane ones, the conservatives seeking to preserve a planet something like the one we were born on to. The radicals are the guys who want to double the carbon content of the atmosphere and see what happens. But now our sobriety will be sorely tested. It didn't take much of a push to convince Congress that the time for change had come. It's an almost giddy feeling -- sort of like what most of America felt on election night when the voters actually chose to elect the smart guy. It feels like the system is working (sort of) the way it's supposed to. Not, of course, that Reid's and Pelosi's decision accomplishes all that much by itself. This is one small power plant. We need to start shutting down the whole vast coal archipelago that provides half the nation's electricity. That's going to be a tough, grinding job that requires a huge movement. And it's somehow going to have to stretch around the world, to China and India and everywhere else where coal is commonplace. (That's why we've got up and running; we're not going to solve this one city at a time). But hey, starting Opening Day with a no-hitter is pretty darned good. Shutting down a coal-fired power plant before you even have a protest should give us some momentum to build on. Come on down Monday for the party; it's going to be a good one. Bill McKibben is co-founder of, and author most recently of Deep Economy.

Eight years of Bush inaction leave Obama with a near-impossible challenge

Given the sheer number of candidates for “worst legacy of the Bush years,” it may seem perverse to pick the hundreds of coal-fired power plants that have opened across China during his administration. But given their cumulative effect — quite possibly the concrete block that broke the climate-camel’s already straining back — I think they may be what history someday seizes on. And they are emblematic of George W. Bush’s utter failure to help the world rein in carbon emissions at what may have been the last possible moment. When Bush first took office, China (and really India as well) …

It's time to aim low

After Poland talks, a new reality starts to set in, says McKibben; 350 ppm must be the goal

I spent the last few nights of the recent Poznan climate conference sleeping in the By the Way youth hostel, an excellent accommodation filled with excellent young people who had done excellent work at the negotiations. After the final day of deliberations, many of these young people visited the doubtless excellent discotheques of Poznan, returning home beginning about 4 a.m. in various states of excited giddiness. This allowed those of us (well, the one of us) of a more elderly persuasion an excellent opportunity to lie awake, thinking over the events of the days just past. And what I kept …

Changing climate targets in Poland

Poznan: Least-developed countries present CO2 targets of 350 ppm

The big international climate conferences, at least the ones I’ve been to in Kyoto, the Hague, and elsewhere, are pretty much the same: caffeinated, adrenalized, endless, chaotic, and incredibly hard to read. Much goes on behind closed doors, and small signals from the big players at the last minute generally make the most difference. I’m not going to Poznan until next week, for the last few days of this conference. And in an odd way, it’s been easier to figure out the proceedings from a distance to make out the forest for the trees. The biggest news so far, I …

Above average

Savvy citizen asks the right question about climate change at debate

Thank heavens for the “average citizen.” After approximately 4 million debates over the past year, someone finally asked the right and real question about climate change. Ingrid Jackson, over in Section C of the audience in Tuesday night’s debate, didn’t ask if the candidates thought global warming was real, and she didn’t even ask what they would do to fight it. “[W]e saw that Congress moved pretty fast in the face of an economic crisis,” she said. “I want to know what you would do within the first two years to make sure that Congress moves fast as far as …

The world at 350

A last chance for civilization

This essay was originally published at TomDispatch, and is reprinted here with Tom’s kind permission. —– Even for Americans, constitutionally convinced that there will always be a second act, and a third, and a do-over after that, and, if necessary, a little public repentance and forgiveness and a Brand New Start — even for us, the world looks a little Terminal right now. It’s not just the economy. We’ve gone through swoons before. It’s that gas at $4 a gallon means we’re running out, at least of the cheap stuff that built our sprawling society. It’s that when we try …

350 sense

McKibben kicks off, a new international grassroots climate campaign

If only atmospheric chemistry gave you points for trying. A year ago this week, we were celebrating. I and six college-age colleagues of mine, joined by thousands of organizers across the country, had managed to pull off 1,400 simultaneous demonstrations against global warming in all 50 states. Though we didn’t have much in the way of resources, Step It Up day was a success — and within a week, both the Obama and Clinton campaigns had endorsed our call for 80 percent cuts in carbon emissions by 2050. The glow, shall we say, faded. Within a matter of weeks, the …

Are you brave enough to say no to a high-stress holiday?

The problem with Christmas is not the batteries. The problem isn’t even really the stuff. The problem with Christmas is that no one much likes it anymore. Start thinking outside the cart. Photo: iStockphoto If you poll Americans this time of year, far more of them regard the approaching holidays with dread than anticipation. It has long since become too busy, too expensive, too centered around acquiring that which we do not need. In fact, it’s the perfect crystallization of the American economy — the American consumer experience squeezed into a manic week, a week that people find themselves hoping …

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