Bill McKibben Lecture: The Education of an Unlikely Activist

Professor McKibben’s words during his lecture Wednesday April 8 nights in Hall Auditorium at Miami University were informative, humorous, and mesmerizing to a packed hall of environmentally-intrigued audience members. The number “350” may not seem like much, but to Professor McKibben and Earth-lovers everywhere, “350” is the most important number in the world – its value possesses the power of protecting the future of our Earth and of mankind.

bc1Who is Bill McKibben exactly? In the simplest of terms, he is a writer, a global activist, and an inspiration to environmentalists everywhere.

Responsible for the publication of The End of Nature, in 1989, his book is widely known as the first book to introduce the greenhouse effect as well as bring awareness to global climate change, and has since then appeared in 24 languages. He is a founder of, (the first international grassroots climate change movement and organization), a 2013 winner of the Gandhi Prize as well as the Thomas Merton Prize; Boston Globe said he was “probably America’s most important environmentalist,” and Foreign Policy enacted him to their inaugural list of the world’s 100 most important global thinkers.

Why McKibben is called an unlikely activist? He started life as a researcher and an introverted writer, but he said at a certain point after writing about climate change, he was surprised the effort to prevent global warming was moving so slowly. He decided writing another book wasn’t the only step needed to make more people rise up to the green movement, and he instead started campaigning and gaining power from the bottom to compete with the financial and political power fossil fuel companies possess.

What is McKibben started the organization about 7 years ago with several undergraduates, and after realizing climate change is the first truly global problem, the goal was to spread the word around the world about the increasing levels of carbon dioxide, as well as inspire others to take action toward preserving a livable planet.

350 is the amount of carbon that we can safely have in the atmosphere, in which it is measured in parts per million. Unfortunately today, we happen to be at 400 parts per million, which is why areas of the arctic have melted temperatures have spiked all across the globe.

In the beginning of his lecture, McKibben comments on the beauty of Miami University and Oxford as well as notes its historic significance of honeybee hives and calls it “….The most beautiful agriculture invention”. In the 1850s, Congregationalist Reverend Lorenzo L. Langstroth discovered bee-space and invention of the bee- hive that would ultimately revolutionize the beekeeping industry, and earn Langstroth the title, “Father of American Beekeeping.” In a humorous addition, McKibben adds he normally doesn’t take selfies, but he made an exception in front of the house of Reverend Lanfstroth.

McKibben continues to speak about the truth of climate change, and tries to explain how we as citizens can be “on the same page” and understand the severity of climate crisis to discover why no clear solution has been established yet in our nation.

The debacle of climate change has transformed into a global crisis, and compared to 25 years ago when global warming was an abstract idea, it has now become a huge proven concept that will change future generations depending on how we care for our Earth as its inhabitants. McKibben introduces a side-note about his book, The End of Nature, and how he ended up evaluating the long-term and short-term effects of our Earth, and these effects are mostly based on how we monitor our choices with energy usage.

“…Suppose we’ve raised temperature one degree. Right now we’re headed for two degrees even if we do everything right. The trouble is we’re not doing everything right. So at the moment we’re headed to an increase of three or four degrees Celsius, eight to ten degrees Fahrenheit this century. If we keep letting this happen, we can’t have civilizations like we’re used to. We are beyond the point of having civilizations,”

In an interview back in September 19th, 2014, Huffington Post reports on how McKibben would describe the best ways to ensure climate disaster will not occur any time soon. In his response, he states the action of preventing global warming and protecting our Earth from the nasty effects of fossil fuels should’ve started years ago – about 25 years ago, he estimates. A degree difference in temperature may not seem like much, but on a global and timely comparison scale the consequences eventually become brutal.


Continuing his lecture in Hall Auditorium, McKibben states, “…It’s very clear from this point on, we can expect to see about a 10 percent decrease in grain yield for each degree we increase in temperature. You all know enough about the world! We’re all that sophisticated enough to do that math your head! If we raise the temperature three degrees, and drop the number of calories on earth by 30%, you can figure out what happens to the development of public health, war, and peace, to any kind of stability to all the things that we theoretically care about on this earth, and this is by far the biggest thing that human beings have ignored. We can’t let it happen,”

So what’s the problem? We’ve had the proven data; we know the math of what’s to come if change doesn’t occur, so how come our earth is still in danger?

“Scientists have done their job and provided us with well reasoned and well presented warning by 1995… Engineers by large have done amazingly with their job too. The reason is no one can get rich… Fossil fuel is the single most profitable enterprise that human beings have engaged in. That has purchased enough political power to make sure we’ve done nothing about the greatest problem that we have ever faced! That’s what I’m talking about tonight,” McKibben said.

In an interview before the lecture with Miami Television News, McKibben dissects the issue even deeper and gives more reason as to why the green movement is not blossoming fast enough and what we can do to establish a change.

“Yes, the polling data makes it clear that most Americans are concerned and understand it’s a problem. The difficulty is that most of us feel too small to do anything about this huge problem… The most important thing an individual can do is not be an individual, and join together with other people to build the other kinds of movement that might change those power balances. That’s why we started 350.”

Toward the end of his lecture McKibben shows off vibrant, cultural, and happy pictures of advocates around the world supporting the 350 movement with signs, posters, and large works of aerial art – more than 40,000 pictures obtained from groups of diverse citizens. He admits his sense of appreciation and happiness for receiving photos like these daily, and expresses his gratitude that he and others around the world have committed to making a difference, and encourages everyone to take their part and see that every little change we make can ultimately go a long way.

After hearing such an eye-opening lecture from an “unlikely” activist, it ultimately gave me a sense of duty to spread the word of 350, as well as spread these facts McKibben strongly presents that will soon haunt our generation if we do not revolutionize the way we consume energy. Currently multiple students from universities across the nation are demanding renewable energy sources, and demanding action on climate change from their own presidents. We as students need to stand up and join this movement as well, we need to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, we need to organize, and spread the word through social media as well as within firm connections. It’s our future that’s at stake from the severity of increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, and we have voices that morally need to be heard. People power can and will bring the environmental crisis down, and according to McKibben we need to fight for the future we want for not only us, but generations after us.

Inspiring, intriguing, and factually eye-opening, it was an honor to see and hear Bill McKibben’s discussion of how our environment is effected, and how it will eventually affect us. Thank you Miami University Lecture Series for an amazing Altman Program Lecture, and I hope McKibben’s words moved you to take action as much as they motivated me!

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