Award-winning author and environmental activist Bill McKibben addressed a crowd in Woolsey Hall Tuesday afternoon about the quickening pace of climate change and the ways citizens can work together to fight back.
Timothy Dwight College invited McKibben as part of the college’s Chubb Fellowship program, which aims to foster an interest in public affairs within the undergraduate community. McKibben divided his talk into five segments and discussed both the history of renewable energy efforts and why these efforts have taken so long to integrate into policy.
“When it comes to climate change, winning slowly is a different way of losing because that is what we are doing now,” he said.
McKibben opened the talk by describing the pace of the unfolding climate change crisis to date, noting that scientists in the 1980s already understood the planet was “in trouble,” but that the scientific community and the general public had yet to realize the accelerated pace or consequences of climate change. He pointed to the recent hurricanes that have swept through the Caribbean and the wildfires raging across Northern California as examples of the effects of exacerbated climate change.
Next, he predicted the likely pace of future damage, even if all the countries did abide by the directives set out in the 2015 Paris Climate Accords. The regulations are “small enough and slow enough that temperatures will continue to rise,” he said, adding that already, rising sea levels, floods and wildfires have caused there to be “climate refugees.”
“We are in the middle of the sixth great mass extinction event of the planet,” McKibben said. “The other five have been driven by mass quantities of carbon dioxide forced into the atmosphere, and we are doing that more quickly than ever.”
McKibben then discussed the future growth rate of renewable energy as an industry. He spoke about approaches various societies have taken to move toward a higher reliance on renewable energy, mentioning Denmark’s multifaceted use of wind energy and North African villages’ adoption of solar panel technology.
In examining why some governments have been slow to champion renewable energy sources, McKibben explained that there is not a lack of scientific data, but rather that fossil fuel businesses have enough money and power “to win the fight.”
“[The fossil fuel industry] is willing to extend their business plan for two to three decades even at the cost of breaking the only planet we have,” he said.
To conclude, McKibben stressed the important and decisive role the individual can play in encouraging the switch to renewable energy sources. He said that under President Donald Trump, whom he called a climate change denier, citizens now have to play larger roles in activism, as “there is no fallback plan for inaction.”
“The planet is now way, way outside its comfort zone,” McKibben said. “So we need to be outside our comfort zones too.”
Following the talk, he attended a reception with college fellows in Timothy Dwight and a dinner with undergraduates.
Many students agreed with McKibben’s message, especially noting the tone he struck — not trying to convince the audience of the effects of climate change, but rather underscoring the activism needed to mitigate those effects.
Noah Macey ’19 said he was impressed by the way McKibben excited and engaged an audience that already supported renewable energy efforts.
“Most people will talk about climate change and not ways to fight it, and he was showing us how to combat it,” Anusha Manglik ’21 said. “And he was very funny.”
School of Forestry and Environmental Studies professor Mary Evelyn Tucker introduced McKibben as “one of the most creative thinkers I know,” adding that he effectively communicates with audiences of all ages. McKibben, who founded 350.org — the first global grassroots climate change movement — said the venture connects communities across generations.
The Chubb Fellowship began inviting speakers to talk at Yale in 1949.
Chloé Glass | firstname.lastname@example.org