tv [untitled] December 30, 2011 11:01pm-11:31pm EST
breaking work when it comes to confronting the dangers of climate change. in the last few weeks we've learned that this is been one of the costliest years on record in terms of climate disasters but the keystone x.l. pipeline isn't going away anytime soon and that another un climate summit in durban ended without any significant reforms to combat global warming that's why it's important that we once again listen to bill mckibben on these numerous environmental challenges and the best ways for us to be healing our planet. earth rise conversations of great minds i'm joined by bill mckibben bill is an author environmentalist and activist in one thousand nine hundred eighty eight he wrote the end of nature in my opinion the heir to rachel carlson carson's silent spring and since then gone on to write more than a dozen notable books about the environment and our human impact on it he's the
co-founder and chairman of the board of the grassroots organization climate change organization three fifty dot org which is coordinating fifteen thousand rallies in one hundred eighty nine countries since two thousand and nine and two thousand and ten the boston globe called in the nation's leading environmentalist and time magazine described him as the world's best green journalist and recently he was elected a fellow of the american academy of arts and sciences his latest book earth the double a making a life on a tough new planet is a guide to living on our fundamentally altered planet bill welcome tom good to be with you as always thank you great to have you with us first off you're in d.c. this week for a very special event or we've been perhaps a special odd way to send anyone and we've we've been coordinating this week and next the largest civil disobedience demonstration in the environmental movement in a generation. as of sit ins at the white house trying to persuade the president to
walk this pipeline running from the tar sands of northern alberta if we open those up for exploitation or at least according to jim hansen the nasa climate scientist it's essentially game over for the climate that's how he put it and hence people have come from all fifty states and are conducting this very civil disobedience very polite but very firm in front of the white house in an effort to persuade the president to do the right thing and we're showing the role of this or at behind us or you can see the the demonstrations and and on your wrist here what is this these that's the first group of us that went to protest last saturday the police decided they wanted to make an example of us and the way they did it was to take us to. for three days and two nights in what's called central cell block here in the district of columbia this is the basic muggers rapists and thieves kind of place it's exactly as much fun as you might expect. no. no bad sort of metal
slabs to lie on without sheet or mattress or pillow or blanket to bologna sandwiches a day twelve hours apart three am and three pm it's quite a regiment but it didn't intimidate us and the next wave of people came in the next wave and pretty soon the police decided that they would instead just arrest and book people they put them in the paddy wagon but give them a fine of one hundred dollars and send them on their way which is probably about the appropriate i mean still not easy for a good middle class americans to go get arrested it's still a hard thing but thousand or more people will have gone through this process before these two weeks are over it's quite a story to see every day this is the. to peace a pinnacle or end point or in the like that would be hyperbolic and wong but this is this is perhaps the natural progression of a lifetime of work that you've been doing around the environment and around issues
about the relationship of human beings to to the world around us you've written about. our relationship with ecology with planet earth with our culture. where you go all this start for building kit. you know it's odd i probably wasn't quite destined to be an environmentalist though i. always enjoyed the outdoors i thought of myself as a very urban person my first job when i left college was writing the talk of the town section for the new yorker magazine. bark of twenty one or twenty two it's about the most urban joggers and yeah i did it for five years when so i knew how to spot the new yorker i quit that because he fired mr shawn who'd been the editor forever. and i moved up to the adirondack mountains the last great wilderness of the american east and fell in love with that wilderness and not long afterwards
and began reading the early papers about climate science and climate change and somehow it struck me almost sort of out of the blue that that this walled place that i had fallen in love with that i was deep in love with wasn't going to be as wild as i wanted it to be. that human beings by changing the temperature of the earth were changing you know the floor in the font and everything about even the most. remote places throw once said i can walk a half hour from my house and come to a place where no man stands from one year's end to another and there consequently politics are not for politics or put the cigar smoke of a man well i mean i can walk five minutes from my house in and around next night get to a place where no one had ever been i don't think and yet human beings wherever they were our habits and our economies were changing that place in fundamental ways and
so it was it was out of that that i wrote this book the end of nature which was the first book about climate change it gives you some idea of how relatively short of period of time we've really known about it it was twenty two years ago. it was a strange book in that half of it was the sort of reporting first real reporting in a kind of book length about what climate change was all about and the second half was this sort of philosophical essay more out of. sadness really than fear at what we were doing since then i've learned many more reasons for worrying about climate change some of them better i've been to bangladesh and watched people having to flee their farms or road and i've watched people die of dengue a fever as mosquitoes spread and i've seen the effects in severe weather and drought and flooding and things but at some rate for me at the beginning it was
that sense of loss as much as anything else that drove me started me down this path the beginning of elizabeth kubler ross is five stages perhaps and it is so and of course you know. talk about naive i mean my theory of political change then and you'll recall i was twenty seven or twenty eight when i was writing this my theory of political change basically boiled down to i will write a book everyone will read it and then they'll change right up and you know i mean i did write the book and you know in comparison to terms everybody read it it came out in twenty four languages it was a bestseller all over the place but it turns out that as i've sort of learned slowly painfully that's not quite how political change exactly happens and. you you have also written about. you've you've written about human impact your book about one you've written you wrote
a book about. other cultures. how. to what extent do you think that the sickness. excuse me that we're confronting is not our technology necessarily or even our politics but our culture i think that culture and our technologies as it were very closely intertwined i think the thing the most important thing that happened in our world was the discovery of the a bit. what are you to use fossil fuel in the early really in the sort of seventy's eighteenth century and the beginning of the kind of industrial age. it made us a mentally more powerful than we've ever been before gave us the ability to read in essence each have thousands of slaves there were certain parts of that that were obviously very useful and there were other parts that weren't and i don't mean just the environmental impacts though this is climate change is by far the biggest thing
that humans have ever done you can also mean that it allowed us in a certain sense to become. deeply deeply deeply kind of hyper individual wise in a way that humans hadn't before and i think that that too under a wise much of the problem that we've kind of wandered into well remember once looking at a set of data of starting a book called deep economy and i was looking at a set of data and it asked americans how happy they were with their lives one of the big point firms has done this every year since the end of world war two and it turns out that the percentage of americans who say i'm very happy with my life peaks in one nine hundred fifty six and goes downhill since at the moment barely a quarter of americans will make the claim i'm very happy with my life despite the fact that our standard of living has troubled since the one nine hundred fifty s.
now if you start to think about what we've done since then so i think that the reason it's become a little clearer certainly the data suggests that what was the great american economic project of the last sixty years essentially building a bigger house is farther apart from each other that's what we spend most of our fortune on in the post-war years and the effect of that is not only environmentally problematic you've got a huge lease big houses and drive between a. it's also socially problematic in the fifty's was the era of the beginning of the suburbs exactly that's that's the process that we've gone through the result is that the average american has half as many close friends as the average american and fifty years ago we've substituted an awful lot of consumption for a different set of pleasures but frankly i don't think there's enough you know i pods on earth to keep up with that decline in france that was also pretty much the
peak of unionization in the united states you know it's have hardly been passed in forty seven which started in kneecap the process but that's community that work you know churches i mean you name it name your thing. and so that's you know that's in the completely tied to in many ways to our ability to use fossil fuel in ways that we hadn't before to drive between vast places to you know distances to these vast power with these things like that the good news is that if we make some of the changes we need to make in the right direction even technological changes we'll start seeing those things shift again give you an example. if you look one of find the best trend in america right now the best number in the country i think it's this the number of farmers markets has doubled and doubled again then doubled again in the last fifteen years it's the fastest growing part of our food economy ok it's
good for environmental reasons. because you know five mile tomato is better than a five thousand mile one it's good for coal unary reasons i mean i traveled five thousand miles in the last week i know how i feel that's how the tomato feels to you know it but mostly it's good for social reasons appears sociologist followed shoppers a few years ago first around the supermarket then around the farmers' market minute a supermarket i mean you know how it works you walk in and you fall into the light . fluorescent trance you visit the stations of the cross around the supermarket. when they followed people around the farmers market they found that on average they were having ten times more conversations per visit sure so it's a different beginning than it back together and of course the funny part is that you know sheet of eric and we decided that we've invented this great new thing the farmer's market this is how all the world shop for food until fifty years ago and how seventy percent of the world still does you know course we like it i mean we're
socially of all the animals you know. that's the that's the really promising hope i think so if we know the words if we if we take the advice. if we if we look at this crisis this climate crisis as a as in part a crisis of stupid use of fossil fuels of carbon based fuels to get to it in ways that have split us apart and and some would say reduce our standard of living but it's not very at all in fact if anything it's the opposite come back together look what comes next so let's say we have a farmer's market as it were in electrons you know instead of a few huge power plants spewing carbon into the air what if we had and i think we will have time with the engineers call distributed generation millions of rooftop i mean i have all their job journals i have solar panels all over my roof on a sunny day and they're tied to the grid so on a sunny day i'm
a little utility you know i'm firing electrons down the grid my neighbor is keeping his beer cold before the red sox game with the sunshine falling on my roof and that's in so many ways superior system to the one that we have with the moment. only get there however if we get serious about making this transition happen the trouble with global warming the reason that you know i spent the weekend in jail the trouble with global warming is it's not giving us time to make an easy one hundred year transition to something else. the physics and the chemistry of this situation are demanding that we act much more quickly than really any government or economy would like to act and and we have to kind of force that spring as it were and that's what you know my we're going izing work over the last five or six years has been a let's let's continue our conversation just a moment on the topics of that and the organizing and and to that information i'd
like to get to you at the book that you wrote about how information travels in our economy it's really remarkable our conversation tonight with bill mckibben author environmentalist and activists. our conversations with great minds will continue in just a few moments. what drives the world the fear mongering used by politicians who makes decisions come to the breakthrough it's already been made who can you trust no one who is imbue it with a global missionary see where we had a state controlled capitalism is called satchels when nobody dares to ask we do our t. question more.
welcome back to conversations with great minds tonight i'm joined by environmentalist activist and author bill mckibben who was also the founder of the grassroots climate campaign three fifty dot org and the shoeman distinguished scholar at middlebury college in vermont bill welcome back just you know we've been talking about some of the actions that you've been taking with regard to how you got to the this whole issue of climate change and the books that you've written about what is you know just a static picture here where you are it's two thousand and eleven ever so little
what is the nature of nature so here's the here's the deal when i wrote the end of nature in one thousand nine hundred nine i mean we basically knew most of what we needed to know you burn coal and gas and oil you put carbon in the atmosphere the molecular structure of carbon traps heat that would otherwise radiate back out to space the planet warms the only thing we didn't know how fast and how hard will this pinch the story of the last twenty years unfortunately is that it's pinching harder and faster than we thought and to understand that just look at the last year ok twenty ten was the warmest year for which we have records on this planet one thousand nations set new all time temperature records itself record by a large margin some of them were unbelievable i was on the phone one day with our three fifty dot org organizing crew in pakistan and one of them said very hot here today i was surprised to hear him say it it's always hot in pakistan in the summer why would you say that he said no it's really hot we just hit the new all time asia
temperature record today at one hundred twenty nine degrees. ok that's hot that's really. when when that happens when you get heat like that all kinds of things you know literally mean pretty much literally yes all hell breaks loose i mean it may not be hell but it's roughly the same temperature. the arctic is melting and it's. great if you go look at those pictures from apollo eight or whatever it was that came back of our beautiful earth there is out of date as my high school yearbook picture i mean there's like forty percent less ice up there in the summer if you. eat if you look at the atmosphere itself since warm air holds more water vapor than cold basic physical fact. it's about four percent wetter than it was forty years ago which is a huge change in a basic physical parameter that loads the dice for drought because you're getting more evaporation and then flooded de lucia and downpour with those dice loaded you
know place after place is throwing snake eyes so last year for instance it was pakistan it's an area up in the khyber pass that gets three feet of rain in the normal year we've got twelve feet of rain in a week last summer and that meant that eventually is that worked its way down the in this river a quarter of the country was under water right there still millions of people without homes in pakistan as a result. we think of you know been watching this killing that's the biggest thing that happened in pakistan in the last year but that's not what the pakistanis think you know it was the fact that they were all forced out of their homes. now we've seen the same kind of flooding. this year in our own country more water came down the mississippi and the missouri than it ever come down before i mean it was epic meanwhile you know move a few hundred miles west and texas and oklahoma or walked in a deeper drought then the dust bowl. and the rick perry is asking people to pray
for rain rick perry is asking everyone to pray for rain and i gotta say since i'm a methodist sunday school teacher i'm completely right there with prayer you know it's a good idea but most theologians would hold that it would work better if you want the same time doing every damn thing you could think of to pour more carbon into the atmosphere and you know rick perry. is doing one thing in church and another on the job and it may be a problem at any rate. the earth has moved out of the holocene. this period of ten thousand years that underwrote the rise of human civilization the temperature is now about a degree warmer than it was during that period the question is how far how much farther we're going to go we can't stop global warming some of it's already happened there's probably about another degree in the pipeline from carbon we've already admitted the trouble is unless we get our act together very soon. the
momentum of our fossil fuel use is going to carious deep deep deep into whatever comes after the hall is seen. the climate scientists say unless we get off fossil fuel far faster than any government's planning to at the moment we're looking at four or five degrees before the century is out. there's no one who studies this stuff. carefully who thinks that civilization can deal with that kind of rise the agronomist are telling us that from this point in every degree rise we see in temperature is likely to reduce grain yields ten percent something like that try to imagine a world a crowded world with a lot of guns and ten or twenty or thirty percent less calories on. developments not a possibility peace is a possibility. the ocean is already thirty percent more acid than it was forty years ago as the seawater tree absorbs all this pardon out of the air. you know.
it's a it's a finite planet there are a number of you know finite number of huge physical features so we're melting arctic sea ice that's one of the biggest we're destroying at a very rapid rate the planet's coral reefs that's you know the great barrier reef the biggest the biggest biological feature you can see from space you know and it's disappearing we're drying out the amazon as temperatures rise around it the parts we're not cutting down we've got to back off in a serious way because we're moving into really dangerous territory how. how do we do that the only the only way to do it is to get off fossil fuel and that's easy to say but hard to do doesn't it as much mean getting on to alternatives to the scenes getting some of each but the problem is i mean this would be hard enough to do in any event i mean it's fossil fuels the center of the economy and it would be
a rapid transition more rapid than our economies can easily deal with it be like what we did at the beginning of world war two to cure up for that what are hard enough to do but harder to do in our political era because the power of the fossil fuel industry is so large that it blocks even so. all obvious sensible changes so if you look at the last election the biggest election players were people like the u.s. chamber of commerce and the koch brothers they were the ones channeling money into this election. the chamber of commerce was the biggest donor and they gave ninety four percent of their money to climate deniers to people who have some alternative physics and chemistry. that they've arrived at shared not by scientists just by maybe a logs you know a kind of life cinco wisdom that sort of creeping through our political culture.
so you know i suppose that's one reason we're you know out there lying down in front of the white house you know we have to figure out some other currency to work in because we're never going to enough money for the moment that currencies our bodies our books our spirit our creativity all that we can muster in the in the four five minutes we have left here i'd like to get into the kind of how we got here i i think that your book the age of missing information is is in many ways met all of this underlies it and over wraps it and talk to us it was a very odd book to i found the largest cable t.v. system in the world at the time of the early nineties this was fairfax virginia they had one hundred channels which now so you know a mere bagatelle but then oh i got people in fairfax to tape for me on the old fashioned video tape everything that came across them for twenty four hours so i
had twenty four hundred hours worth of videotape i took it back with me to the country and i went to sears and bought a recliner and settled in and spent a year watching television trying to figure out i think what the world would look like if this was your main window onto it and of course the books filled with a thousand different ideas about history and. if you boil it all down if you you know boil off the. sap the way we do in new england in the spring and come down to nice sugar. the basic message that. t.v. and indeed before consumer society gives you hour after hour day after day is you're the most important thing in the world you're the center of the universe. that's a dangerous message it's dangerous in terms of our own happiness as we talked about earlier it's dangerous i suppose theologically you know. it's clearly become a great danger just practically that kind of high consumption.
self-centered life that we've been living. producing a planet that can't continue to support us and so we're going to have to figure out some other ways and doesn't doesn't it almost become fractal it's you know the i mean the main message of all advertising is you are the most important person in the world but then your family is the most important family the world your communities your country all the way yeah absolutely and it all of it makes it hard the good news i will say is that in the last few years of trying to build these global organizations these three fifty dot org which has become the biggest. climate change certainly the biggest environmental campaign ever you know we work in one hundred that we work in every country on earth except north korea we've got as it were only seven demonstration where that you know it's crazy but we found people all over the world desperate to go to work to do these things in take great
joy in being in partnership in communication one of the few wild cards that we have and it's a good wild card by and large is the rise of the internet remember we talked about farmer's market in food and electronics or we've got a farmer's market in ideas now two people can bring their ideas take ideas away it's not a few centralized. points telling us things we're mixing it up and we've used that technology at three fifty dot org pretty well to try and make make a movement whether we can make a movement big enough and strong enough and fast enough to outdo the fossil fuel companies. that i'm not of out of the prediction business it's it's it's a tough wager if you were a betting man you might well bet that we were going to lose but you're not allowed to make that bet the only moral course of action is to get up in the morning and
figure out how to change the odds of that wager so and we're doing that whether we'll change it went off i couldn't tell you but but change you are. in the thirty seconds we have left literally bill your message to our viewers. you know what it's it's it's time it really is time. inertia is a big force in human affairs it's hard to overcome it's hard for any of us to break out of our conventional ways of doing things but the moments come and it's the biggest moment human beings have ever faced if we can't figure out how to change we're not we're at a walk if we do well you know we'll see it could be quite remarkable quite remarkable bill mckibben thanks so much thank you voice of great awakening and great hope thank you it's an honor to have you. to watch this conversation again as well as our other conversations of the great minds go to our website of conversations with great minds dot com.
what drives the world the fear mongering used by politicians who makes decisions to breakthrough had thirty been made who can you trust no one who is imbue it with a global missionary zeal where we had a state controlled capitalism is called sasha's when nobody dares to ask we do our t. question more.