Bill McKibben: To Confront the Climate Crisis, We Need Human Solidarity, Not Walls & Cages

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Bill McKibben, the longtime journalist and co-founder of, talks about climate migration, the 2020 Democratic candidates, the Green New Deal and more. McKibben’s latest piece for The New Yorker is titled “Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns,” and his cover piece for Time magazine is headlined “Hello from the Year 2050. We Avoided the Worst of Climate Change — But Everything Is Different.”

BILL McKIBBEN: It was so much fun to get to back up Fridays for the Future and all the youth organizers here who were doing this, just to be able to watch how good they are at doing this and to really try and build a multigenerational climate movement, which is precisely what we need.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we are here, yes, right after the Climate Action Summit, though there are protests around climate that are happening all over in the next weeks, but also in a presidential primary season. Some eyes might glaze over. How is it possible that for more than a year now we’re going to go through this primary season with these candidates? But others might say, and I think you’re among them, who say, “No, no, no. This is an incredible opportunity.” Candidates are often senators or governors, politicians who are very insulated, in fact, in between times when they have to run. And now there’s this window where they have to respond to the public. And you are certainly using this moment. So I’d like to ask you, of the, what, 20 presidential Democratic presidential candidates that are still out there, the kind of work you’re doing, pressing these candidates to formulate their positions on the climate crisis.

BILL McKIBBEN: Sure. So, 350 Action, which is the (c)(4) political part of our operation, has been doing its best to turn them all into climate candidates. We set up the kind of original climate scoreboard for the various presidential candidates. And there have been young people out bird-dogging every event, every rope line, or making sure that these guys understand what the bottom line for the climate movement is.

And the bottom line is not having someone say, “I care about climate change. It represents an existential risk.” The bottom line is: Are you signing on to something that looks like the Green New Deal? Are you signing on because it’s within your power as president to do it to announce that there will be no mining and drilling on public lands? And are you saying we’re going to stop fracking around the country?

It’s been incredibly impressive to watch how far this field has moved. Look, four years ago, Bernie broke down this door, you know? He started talking in really serious terms about climate change. You’ll recall in the 2016 debates, in the primaries, at one point they asked, “What’s the most important issue facing the planet?” And Bernie just looked up and said, “Well, I mean, that’s obvious. It’s climate change.” That was something that no American politician really had enunciated before in quite that way.

As with many things, it’s spread across the field now, and so we’re getting remarkable commitments from everyone, pretty much everyone, down the line. Elizabeth Warren, the week before last, said she would stop fracking across America. That’s big deal. It’s all big deal. And it’s all because people are out there making this demand.

We’re not — I mean, assuming that a Democrat wins this time, an assumption on which my future mental health is entirely predicated, because I cannot — I don’t know about the planet, but I can’t take another four years of Trump, OK? Assuming a Democrat wins, we’re not really going to have an open primary next time, you know. There will be an incumbent and whatever. This is our chance in the political system for the next eight years to get these guys fully on the line and as committed as it’s possible to be.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you said making sure they sign on to the Green New Deal. Explain what that is?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, it’s not at this point a solid, fully fleshed-out piece of legislation, but everybody knows what it means now. It means a commitment to systemic change in order to cut in half the emissions that we’re producing over the course of the next decade. That requires things like a federal jobs guarantee, to allow anybody who wants to be part of this transition to do it. You know, it requires real commitments to environmental justice and climate justice in the most hard-hit communities. It requires a hell of a lot of work.

And so, the people who are saying, “Yeah, we’ll do it,” are, I think, signing up for that. At least they’re saying it in public, so we can hold them responsible once they’re in office. It’s worth remembering that politics doesn’t end on Election Day. In fact, that’s just the beginning. After that, it’s the job of — and you’ll recall, I mean, I worked hard for Barack Obama to get elected, and then we organized the largest demonstrations outside the White House during the whole Obama administration in order to make him live up to his words around things like the Keystone pipeline. MORE

While global leaders messed around, Greta Thunberg and 15 kids got down to business

Thunberg at the UN climate action summit
Thunberg at the UN climate action summit

The United Nations’ secretary-general António Guterres wanted international leaders to bring plans, not speeches to the Climate Action Summit being held in New York today. Greta Thunberg and 15 other young people don’t seem to have much faith in these plans. On Monday, hours after Thunberg addressed assembled leaders at the summit’s opening ceremony, the group of activists announced they were suing five of the biggest carbon polluters in the world—Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey—for violating their rights as children by failing to adequately reduce emissions.

“You are failing us,” Thunberg said, gazing at the crowd with fury. “We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line.” Together with 15 international young people, each of whom have been affected by climate change, she filed a lawsuit arguing the carbon-polluting countries are violating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states children have the right to life, health, and peace. The United States is the only country not to have ratified this convention, and so is not included in the lawsuit, despite its high levels of pollution.

As the children filed a lawsuit, global leaders dutifully presented their plans to address the climate crisis. Though most acknowledged the need for specific action over platitudes—”We believe an ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of preaching,” said India’s prime minister Narendra Modi—their plans varied in substance. Modi, for example, said India plans to increase its renewable energy capacity to 450 gigawatts. But he did not mention coal, India’s largest energy source, or attempts to reduce national emissions.

There were a few specific new plans from those mentioned in the lawsuit: Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, said the country plans to phase out coal by 2038 (a goal first announced earlier this year) and pledged Germany would achieve net zero emissions by 2050. And France’s president Emmanuel Macron called on the European Union to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 55% before 2030, up from its current commitment of 40%.

But, collectively, the proposed plans aren’t strong enough. “The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 degrees and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control,” said Thunberg. Just ask her partners in the lawsuit.

Ranton Anjain, 17, from Ebeye, the Marshall Island, faces the threat of his country being swallowed by rising sea levels, and diseases from climate change. The heat has created outbreaks of dengue, a mosquito-borne viral disease, which were severe enough to create a state of emergency in the summers of 2018 and 2019. Ayakha Melithafa, 17, who lives on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, has reckoned with her city running out of water. And Deborah Adegbile, a 12-year-old from Lagos, Nigeria, now lives with an increasingly long rainy season, encountering frequent flooding that forces her parents to carry her to school. “A 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us,” says Thunberg, “we who have to live with the consequences.” SOURCE