Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and author most recently of Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance, is initiator of Tar Sands Action. He is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont and one of the Sojourners contributing editors. 

Posts By This Author

Empowering the World

by Bill McKibben 06-08-2015
Fifteen million Bangladeshis already live in solar-powered houses. 

(Gti / Shutterstock)

ONE OF THE most destabilizing facts of the last five years is this: The price of a solar panel has fallen 75 percent. The engineers have done their job, and that offers many possibilities.

We usually look at what the developed countries are doing with renewable energy, such as the fact that there were days during summer 2014 when Germany was generating three quarters of its power from solar panels (Germany!). But the most amazing miracles—and it doesn’t really stretch the word “miracle”—are happening in the poorest places, where for the very first time lights are blazing on.

Take rural Bangladesh, where fossil fuel has barely penetrated  in the 200 years of its ascendancy in the West. There’s no grid—at night it just goes dark. Until the last few years, when low-cost solar panels and innovative financing arranged by groups such as the Grameen Bank have allowed the very rapid spread of solar panels. How rapid? As many as 80,000 new connections a month, which is far more than in the United States. Fifteen million Bangladeshis live in solar-powered houses already, and the government is hoping to have the entire nation hooked up by 2020.

Despair is Optional

by Bill McKibben 04-01-2015
We're like the bad babysitter who takes the 2-year-old out for a tattoo and some piercings

(Gajus / Shutterstock)

AS POPE FRANCIS prepares to release his encyclical on climate change, it’s worth remembering exactly how far the conversation on religion and the environment has come in the past quarter-century.

When I wrote The End of Nature back in the late 1980s, there was very little religious environmentalism. Liberal churches believed that ecology was a subject to be addressed once you’d finished with war and poverty; conservative churches viewed it as a way station on the road to paganism. And Christians in general still reeled under the idea, propounded by Lynn White in an influential essay in Science magazine, that the Genesis call for dominion had led directly to the destruction we saw around us.

In those early days, there were a few wayfarers on this path. Thomas Berry, for instance, and even more important a pair of academics—Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim—who picked up his clues and sweated blood to assemble theologians from around the world and search every tradition for the roots of ecological thinking. Episcopal Power and Light—now Interfaith Power and Light—was an early and successful effort at congregational action; Shomrei Adamah (Guardians of the Earth) was an early effort in the Jewish community that has blossomed into many flowers.

Every Time I Look Into the Holy Book

by Bill McKibben 02-05-2015
Churches are profiting from desecration like this—and every time they look into the account books they should tremble

(PRUSSIA ART / Shutterstock)

I HAVE SOMETIMES been dismayed by the lack of speed that some churches and denominations have shown when it came to tackling environmental issues. On the question of divestment from fossil fuels, for instance, the Unitarians have been forthrightly in favor, and the United Church of Christ as well (and the Rockefellers!). But the Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Anglicans are, by and large, dragging their feet as usual.

Sometimes I confess to imagining that God herself might be getting a bit impatient, too—how else to explain the name of the site for the next great fossil-fuel battle?

It will happen in Australia’s Galilee Valley, a remote basin many hours from the continent’s cities. At the moment it’s basically untouched, but plans call for it to become The Biggest Coal Mine on Earth. There is enough coal beneath its soil to provide 6 percent of the carbon that would take us past the two-degree rise in temperature scientists have given as the ultimate red line. That is to say, one valley in one nation (a nation with one-third of 1 percent of the planet’s population) can do 6 percent of the job of wrecking the planet. One valley!

An End to the Fossil-Fuel Era?

by Bill McKibben 12-09-2014
Now that the Rockefellers have divested, what excuse does anyone else have? 

THE MOOD ALONG Central Park West couldn’t have been sweeter: As block after block after block of scientists and students and clerics strolled by on the People’s Climate March, everyone was smiling. Serious, yes—but calm. Determined, but hopeful. It was a coming out party, and everyone was reassured to see how big and broad this movement actually was.

And everyone was relieved, I think, not to have to listen to speeches. Without politicians explaining what the day was all about, the march was able to speak for itself, with a mix of anger and inspiration exemplified by the front- line communities and Indigenous nations that filled out the first ranks of the procession.

That night, though, there were a couple of speeches worth listening to. They came further up the West Side, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where religious leaders had gathered for a series of meetings and services. At the reception following those talks, Stephen Heintz, the head of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, cued up a video address from Desmond Tutu, calling for “an end to the fossil-fuel era.” Dressed in his scarlet robes, Tutu saluted activists, saying “the destruction of the Earth’s environment is the human rights challenge of our time,” and demanded that institutions around the planet end their investments in fossil-fuel companies.

The Problem of Big and Small

by Bill McKibben 10-10-2014
Hunkering down is deeply attractive, but we have work to do first

(Tupungato / Shutterstock)

IT'S REASONABLY clear to me that the natural tendency of our society at this moment is toward smallness, localness, and intimacy. After several centuries of constantly extending our supply lines around the world so that our food and our energy and our capital came from every corner of the planet, we find it increasingly pleasing and increasingly necessary to hunker down.

Local food is the best example. Our best restaurants and our sharpest cooks are no longer concerned with copying French recipes; for a generation now it’s been all about what’s close to home. Farmers’ markets have been the fastest growing part of our food economy, and suddenly there are more breweries than there were before Prohibition. It tastes good; it feels neighborly.

Next on the agenda: local energy. All of a sudden it seems weird to be piping stuff in from Saudi Arabia, or even Texas, when there’s plenty of good sunshine to be had close to home, when the wind blows over your house more days than not. In the wake of the financial crisis, there’s even a move toward Slow Money and local banking. It’s possible to imagine how it might all fit together into something quite beautiful—a new/old world that actually kind of works, instead of the careening one we’re used to.

Time for Confession—and Action

by Bill McKibben 07-09-2014
We stood by as our addiction to fossil fuel ran Genesis in reverse.

THE NEWS IN mid-May was grim: Scientists announced that melt across the West Antarctic was proceeding much faster than before. In fact, they said that at this point the melt of the six great glaciers fronting Amundsen Bay was “unstoppable,” and that over a number of decades it would raise sea levels by 10 feet or more.

This is another way of saying: Given dominion over the earth, we’ve failed. We’ve taken one after another of the planet’s great physical features and wrecked them. The Arctic? Summer sea ice is reduced by 80 percent, and it’s an every-year affair now to boat through the Northwest Passage, impassably choked by ice until this millennium began. The seven seas? Thirty percent more acidic than they were in the past—and the acidity could double or triple by the end of the century. The Antarctic? It’s not just warming rapidly, but its wind patterns have been changed by the ozone hole in ways that amplify the heating. Storms are stormier, droughts are deeper, fires last longer, rain falls harder.

And all because it was a little easier and a little cheaper not to change off fossil fuels. When scientists sounded the alarm about all this in the late 1980s, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide was about 350 parts per million—or what we now consider the upper bound of safety. If we’d heeded their fervent warnings, we’d have moved with great speed to convert to solar and wind power. We’d have parked our SUVs. We’d have insulated every home in the world. It would have cost money and it would have been inconvenient; on the other hand, it could have bred solidarity in much the same way that preparing for World War II transformed the U.S.

The Fateful Year Ahead

by Bill McKibben 05-12-2014
We need to show that the zeitgeist is changing, and that there's a steep price for fooling us.

(Feng Yu / Shutterstock)

BAN KI MOON has summoned the world's leaders to New York in September to talk about the climate—and in the process he's also summoned all of us who care about the planet's future. We'll be there in record numbers, for the largest demonstrations about global warming yet—and there will be, I think, an unavoidable edge of anger. Because calling these guys "leaders," at least on this issue, is by now a joke.

Take President Barack Obama, for instance. He ran for office promising, in almost biblical terms, that during his administration "the rise of the oceans would begin to slow." Installed in office, he summoned environmentalists to the White House where his staff informed them that he wouldn't be talking about climate change: "Green jobs" tested better in focus groups.

And President Obama was true to his word. He hardly ever talked about climate change: He summoned no political muscle to back attempts at a climate bill in the Senate, and he watched as the Copenhagen climate talks collapsed, the biggest foreign policy failure in many years. 

When Obama run for president in 2012, he made it through the whole campaign—during the hottest year in U.S. history—without even mentioning global warming. And while he delayed half of the Keystone pipeline, he "expedited" approval of the southern section, boasting that his administration had built enough new pipelines to wrap around the equator. He has modest decreases in carbon emissions to herald—and massive increases in oil and gas drilling. On his watch the United States will pass Russia and Saudi Arabia as a hydrocarbon source.

Obama's Energy Fail

by Bill McKibben 03-05-2014

An "all of the above" policy is in fact no policy at all.

Obama's Two Faces on Climate Change

by Bill McKibben 01-05-2014

The president has sought to placate the rich, powerful fossil fuel industry.

Your Turn, Harvard

by Bill McKibben 11-05-2013

This kind of neutrality is like defending the right of poor and rich alike to sleep beneath bridges.

A Step Toward Healing

by Bill McKibben 08-02-2013

Walkers approach the Syncrude tar sands mine in Alberta, Canada.

You can't hide this kind of debacle forever—people are finding out.

Turning Up the Heat

by Bill McKibben 06-05-2013

Climate Justice Now! supporter

No one wants to spend summer vacation in the clink, but that's where a lot us are going to find ourselves.

The Battle is Joined

by Bill McKibben 04-03-2013

In February, more than 30,000 demonstrated in Washington, D.C., against the Keystone XL pipeline. Photo by Rick Reinhard.

We can see in our mind's eye all the generations to come, and so we know why we fight.

Top-Notch Theology (or Not)

by Bill McKibben 02-11-2013

Rev. Bryan Fischer, American Family Association

Who speaks for God? Must be this guy...

Come Hell and High Water

by Bill McKibben 11-27-2012

Superstorm Sandy left behind an indelible image of the future.

Divest from Fossil Fuels. Now.

by Bill McKibben 10-03-2012

You can have a healthy fossil-fuel industry or a healthy planet, but you can't have both.

Big Brain. Big Heart?

by Bill McKibben 08-01-2012

Climate change background, B. Calkins / Shutterstock.com

What explains our moral leaders' mealy-mouthed silence on climate change?

The Global Warming Hoax

by Bill McKibben 07-05-2012

Please don’t sweat the 2,132 new high temperature marks in June — remember, climate change is a hoax.

The first to figure this out was Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, who in fact called it “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” apparently topping even the staged moon landing.

But others have been catching on. Speaker of the House John Boehner pointed out that the idea that carbon dioxide is “harmful to the environment is almost comical.” The always cautious Mitt Romney scoffed at any damage too: “Scientists will figure that out 10, 20, 50 years from now,” he said during the primaries.

Still, you have to admit: for a hoax, it’s got excellent production values.

Welfare for (Very Rich) Oil Companies

by Bill McKibben 05-01-2012

Subsidizing coal is like finding that beer-drinking college student and paying him to sit in a bar all day and night—it’s not just unnecessary, it’s ludicrous.

'And God Created ... Corporations'

by Bill McKibben 04-01-2012

Corporations want to store up treasure on earth — that's their whole, entire, complete, and utter point.