Bill McKibben in 2016
|Born||William Ernest McKibben|
December 8, 1960
Palo Alto, California, U.S.
|Residence||Ripton, Vermont, U.S.|
|Alma mater||Harvard College (A.B., 1982)|
|Genre||Global warming, alternative energy, risks associated with human genetic engineering|
|Notable awards||Gandhi Peace Award, 2013, Right Livelihood Award|
William Ernest "Bill" McKibben (born December 8, 1960) is an American environmentalist, author, and journalist who has written extensively on the impact of global warming. He is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and leader of the climate campaign group 350.org. He has authored a dozen books about the environment, including his first, The End of Nature (1989), about climate change.
In 2009, he led 350.org's organization of 5,200 simultaneous demonstrations in 181 countries. In 2010, McKibben and 350.org conceived the 10/10/10 Global Work Party, which convened more than 7,000 events in 188 countries, as he had told a large gathering at Warren Wilson College shortly before the event. In December 2010, 350.org coordinated a planet-scale art project, with many of the 20 works visible from satellites. In 2011 and 2012 he led the environmental campaign against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project and spent three days in jail in Washington, D.C. Two weeks later he was inducted into the literature section of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
He was awarded the Gandhi Peace Award in 2013. Foreign Policy magazine named him to its inaugural list of the 100 most important global thinkers in 2009 and MSN named him one of the dozen most influential men of 2009. In 2010, the Boston Globe called him "probably the nation's leading environmentalist" and Time magazine book reviewer Bryan Walsh described him as "the world's best green journalist". In 2014, he was awarded the Right Livelihood Award for "mobilising growing popular support in the USA and around the world for strong action to counter the threat of global climate change." He has been mentioned as a possible future Secretary of the Interior or Secretary of Energy should a progressive be elected President.
McKibben was born in Palo Alto, California. His family later moved to the Boston suburb of Lexington, Massachusetts, where he attended high school. His father, who once, in 1971, had been arrested during a protest in support of Vietnam veterans against the war, wrote for Business Week, before becoming business editor at The Boston Globe, in 1980. As a high school student, McKibben wrote for the local paper and participated in statewide debate competitions. Entering Harvard College in 1978, he became an editor of The Harvard Crimson and was chosen president of the paper for the calendar year 1981.
Graduating in 1982, he worked for five years for The New Yorker as a staff writer writing much of the Talk of the Town column from 1982 to early 1987. He shared an apartment with David Edelstein, the film critic, and found solace in the Gospel of Matthew. He became an advocate of nonviolent resistance. While doing a story on the homeless he lived on the streets; there he met his wife, Sue Halpern, who was working as a homeless advocate. In 1987 McKibben quit The New Yorker after longtime editor William Shawn was forced out of his job. He and his family shortly after moved to a remote spot in the Southeastern Adirondacks of upstate New York, where he began to work as a freelance writer.
McKibben began his freelance writing career at about the same time that climate change appeared on the public agenda following the hot summer and fires of 1988 and testimony by James Hansen before the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in June of that year. His first contribution to the debate was a brief list of literature on the subject and commentary published December 1988 in The New York Review of Books and a question, "Is the World Getting Hotter?"
He became and remains a frequent contributor to various publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, Harper's, Orion, Mother Jones, The American Prospect, The New York Review of Books, Granta, National Geographic, Rolling Stone, Adbusters, and Outside. He is also a board member at and contributor to Grist.
His first book, The End of Nature, was published in 1989 by Random House after being serialized in The New Yorker. Described by Ray Murphy of the Boston Globe as a "righteous jeremiad," the book excited much critical comment, pro and con; was for many people their first introduction to the question of climate change; and the inspiration for a great deal of writing and publishing by others. It has been printed in more than 20 languages. Several editions have come out in the United States, including an updated version published in 2006.
In 1992 The Age of Missing Information was published. It is an account of an experiment in which McKibben collected everything that came across the 100 channels of cable TV on the Fairfax, Virginia, system (at the time among the nation's largest) for a single day. He spent a year watching the 2,400 hours of programming, and then compared it to a day spent on the mountaintop near his home. This book has been widely used in colleges and high schools and was reissued in a new edition in 2006.
Subsequent books include Hope, Human and Wild, about Curitiba, Brazil, and Kerala, India, which he cites as examples of people living more lightly on the earth; The Comforting Whirlwind: God, Job, and the Scale of Creation, which is about the Book of Job and the environment; Maybe One, about human population; Long Distance: A Year of Living Strenuously, about a year spent training for endurance events at an elite level; and Enough, about what he sees as the existential dangers of genetic engineering and nanotechnology. Speaking about Long Distance at the Cambridge Forum, McKibben cited the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi's idea of "flow" relative to feelings McKibben had had—"taking a break from saving the world", he joked—as he immersed himself in cross-country skiing competitions.
Wandering Home is about a long solo hiking trip from his home in the mountains east of Lake Champlain in Ripton, Vermont, back to his longtime neighborhood of the Adirondacks. His book Deep Economy: the Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, published in March 2007, was a national bestseller. It addresses what he sees as shortcomings of the growth economy and envisions a transition to more local-scale enterprise.
In fall 2007 he published, with the other members of his Step It Up team, Fight Global Warming Now, a handbook for activists trying to organize their local communities. In 2008 came The Bill McKibben Reader: Pieces from an Active Life, a collection of essays spanning his career. Also in 2008 the Library of America published "American Earth," an anthology of American environmental writing since Thoreau edited by McKibben. In 2010 he published another national bestseller, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, an account of the rapid onset of climate change. It was excerpted in Scientific American.
In late summer 2006 he helped lead a five-day walk across Vermont to call for action on global warming. Beginning in January 2007, he founded Step It Up 2007, which organized rallies in hundreds of American cities and towns on April 14, 2007, to demand that Congress enact curbs on carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The campaign quickly won widespread support from a wide variety of environmental, student, and religious groups.
In August 2007 McKibben announced Step It Up 2, to take place November 3, 2007. In addition to the 80% by 2050 slogan from the first campaign, the second adds "10% [reduction of emissions] in three years ("Hit the Ground Running"), a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, and a Green Jobs Corps to help fix homes and businesses so those targets can be met" (called "Green Jobs Now, and No New Coal").
In the wake of Step It Up's achievements, the same team announced a new campaign in March 2008 called 350.org. The organizing effort, aimed at the entire globe, drew its name from climate scientist James E. Hansen's contention earlier that winter that any atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) above 350 parts per million was unsafe. "If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm, but likely less than that." Hansen et al. stated in the Abstract to their paper.
350.org, which has offices and organizers in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, attempted to spread that 350 number in advance of international climate meetings in December 2009 in Copenhagen. It was widely covered in the media. On Oct. 24, 2009, it coordinated more than 5,200 demonstrations in 181 countries, and was widely lauded for its creative use of internet tools, with the website Critical Mass declaring that it was "one of the strongest examples of social media optimization the world has ever seen." Foreign Policy magazine called it "the largest ever global coordinated rally of any kind."
McKibben has been quoted as saying that he personally believes increased use of nuclear power is necessary to reduce carbon emissions, yet he is reluctant to publicly promote nuclear energy because such a position “would split this movement in half”.
Subsequently, the organization continued its work, with the Global Work Party on 10/10/10 (10 October 2010).
On May 21, 2014, McKibben published an article on the website of Rolling Stone magazine (later appearing in the magazine's print issue of June 5), titled "A Call to Arms", which invited readers to a major climate march (later dubbed the People's Climate March) in New York City on the weekend of September 20–21, as part of the People's Climate Movement.[note 1] In the article, McKibben calls climate change "the biggest crisis our civilization has ever faced", and predicts that the march will be "the largest demonstration yet of human resolve in the face of climate change".
On Sunday, July 5, 2015, McKibben led a similar climate march in Toronto, Ontario, with the support of various celebrities.
During the 2016 Democratic presidential primary campaigns, McKibben served as a political surrogate for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders appointed him to the committee charged with writing the Democratic Party's platform for 2016. After Sanders' defeat by Hillary Clinton, McKibben endorsed her and spoke at their first joint event in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He has been mentioned as a potential future Cabinet member should Sanders win the presidency.
McKibben resides in Ripton, Vermont, with his wife, writer Sue Halpern. Their only child, a daughter named Sophie, was born in 1993 in Glens Falls, New York. He is a Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, where he also directs the Middlebury Fellowships in Environmental Journalism. McKibben is also a fellow at the Post Carbon Institute. He is a long-time Methodist.
In 2016, McKibben wrote in The New York Times that he is "under surveillance" by "right-wing stalkers" who photograph, pursue, and inquire about him and members of his family in search of ostensible instances of environmental hypocrisy. "I'm being watched," he reported. Two years later, he wrote in the Times that he has been receiving death threats since the 1990s.
... Dr. James E. Hansen of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration told a Congressional committee that it was 99 percent certain that the warming trend was not a natural variation but was caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide and other artificial gases in the atmosphere.
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