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Overdue Action on Climate Change

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Bill McKibben

I’m pretty sure that there’s only one issue I’ll be judged on — we’ll all be judged on — in a few decades, and that’s how we dealt with the crisis of climate change. The other troubles we face are the normal, hard troubles that have affected civilization since the start, from poverty to crime to inequality, and we have to deal with them. But this is something new and different, a challenge so large it threatens to render meaningless everything else we do. So we’ll put it at the top of our agenda: I’m going to try and block every new source of fossil fuels I can find (the Keystone pipeline, the coalfields of the Powder River basin, and so on) and I’m going to put the full power of the federal government behind a crash program to insulate homes, scale up energy efficiency and move us toward renewable energy far faster than markets can do it alone. And above all I’m instructing my secretaries of state and defense to make this the focus of our diplomacy going forward, for no issue between states matters as much as reaching a powerful consensus on climate.


Bill McKibben explained the catastrophic new math of climate change in a Q&A with us in July. He  is the author of a dozen books about the environment, beginning with The End of Nature in 1989, regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change. He is a founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jack.wolf.7106 Jack Wolf

    About 10 years ago, I began to notice that most climate change reports and scientific papers use less than realistic emission scenarios in their calculations. Since these emissions are long lived, this has led to a deepening concern about the climate situation and its impacts, in my lifetime, and in your lifetime.

    This important talk by Dr. Anderson, link below, at the 2012 Cabot Lecture clearly points the finger at scientists and governments for not accurately reporting how bad the climate situation is. He also explains why we cannot meet the 2 degree C (3.8 F) target set by the world’s governments, and its impacts on us today. His talk is
    timely in light of the recent report from the World Bank that found:

    “Even with the current mitigation pledges fully implemented, there is roughly a 20% likelihood of exceeding 4°C by 2100. If they are not met, warming of 4°C could occur as early as the 2060s.”

    Globally, we are nowhere close to meeting our mitigation pledges and long lived CO2 emissions continue to accumulate in the atmosphere at an accelerating rate. Dr. Anderson is very animated and I think you will find it enlightening.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RInrvSjW90U

  • Anonymous

    So how are those massive storms hitting your area. Mr. President? You riding them out pretty good? Unfortunately a lot of people don’t have a sturdy White House to live in, and things are getting dicey for them. Hate to tell you but you look like quite the hypocrite when you talk a good game on this problem and then do every thing you can to push the likes of that God awful pipeline back at the ole office. No economy will survive what is to come if this problem is not dealt with. How about less talk and a lot more action on this one sir?!

  • chemengr2

    What about fracking Mr. McKibben? Do you still believe NG to be the bridge to our sustainable enegry future?

  • http://twitter.com/newlin83 James Newlin

    We need to build more walkable cities, increase the fuel tax by at least 400%, and maybe even reduce the number of hours we work. We also need to stop eating so damn much livestock in the developed world; the UN reported in 2006 eating livestock is 18% of our emissions right there. While it’s good to have tech fixes like testing the air barrier of our buildings and lightweight electric vehicles, it’s also important to change our habits so we’re living to ensure this planet will be able to support people who will be living here 200 years from now.

  • Hoping to heal/leave the 47%

    Why not bring something back like the CCC to put people to work doing things like reforestation, cleaning up waterways, cities, whatever? Give developers credit for building homes less than 1500 or 1200 sq. feet. Put solar energy on schools — most are ideally situated for that.

  • Elizabeth Giannini

    Watch Part 3 of David ” Life Stories” PBS Nature & you’ll understand how imperative it is to take action against climate change.

  • Steve Woodward

    If we had the leadership Mr Mckibbon visualizes, we could be carbon free in ten years. And make a profit while employing millions getting there.

  • Anonymous

    McKibben is right. This IS the issue on which we’ll be judged — Obama and all the rest of us. We should have started taxing carbon long ago; 34 other industrialized nations already do that. See CitizensClimateLobby.org for proposed legislation. Find out whether your legislators have even looked at the recent reports from NASA and the NOAA. Write, call, sign petitions like the one at signon.org/sign/tax-carbon-now
    We are all in this together.