Bill McKibben – A Movement Leader

October 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

This weekend was the Global Work Party – with over 7000 events in just about every country except for San Marino, Equatorial Guinea and North Korea. (Although it looks like there was plenty of fun to be had in Pyonyang over the last couple of days..) Bill McKibben is the author and co-founder of 350 – along with a great team who you’ll meet in another update soon. He’s both extremely tall and surprisingly frank – so it was great to spend some time with him as I took him from one TV studio to the other as we criss-crossed the media outlets of Washington DC.

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Direct action

Bill co-authored a recent article calling for more civil disobedience in the US as it became clear that the climate bill wasn’t going to pass through the Senate. It’s been interesting to see how little direct action takes place in the US at the moment – especially compared to the lively NVDA culture in Blighty. (I hope you’re all excited about the Crude Awakening action on Saturday by the way…) We talked about what could be learnt from previous social movements that used civil disobedience, and he pointed out that who takes part and how they are presented has an enormous influence in how the action is perceived. Priests and nuns getting arrested in their professional garb as they demonstrated against the Vietnam war, women and men (and particularly elderly people) who marched for civil rights – always in their Sunday best; these images convey not only dignity in struggle, but also gravitas and a certain self-confidence. Perhaps this is why being part of Climate Rush is such an emotive experience – and definitely something I think we can learn from.

What we’re up against

Understanding the political reality that US environmentalists are facing is enormously depressing. Most people just can’t see how the necessary policy is going to be implemented in the short necessary time-frame. I commented to Bill on how quickly the Tea Party here had managed to build power, and asked whether we could somehow copy that. I was put to rights when he pointed out that it’s pretty easy to gain political power when your agenda is to help the powerful. Ouch.

The fossil fuel industry’s business model – their enormous profits – rely on our efforts failing. Bill made it clear that he thinks that they will stop at nothing to beat us. And hearing the questions interviewers put to him today (some scientists say global warming isn’t happening etc), it’s clear that there’s a lot of fighting to do.

What next?

He doesn’t know yet. But he + crew are thinking of focusing on the US – where a breakthrough would have an disproportionate impact on the global UN process. I have to say, part of me is relieved to come back to the UK where our political debate is somewhat measured, and where we have national legislation that approaches the scientific reality.


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