Hot Fight, Hot World: Environmentalist Bill McKibben at U-M


Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben believes the Great Lakes deserve and need better environmental stewardship.

Bill McKibben has long been sounding the alarm about our changing climate.

The renowned environmentalist and author (including the landmark The End of Nature) founded 350.org, a worldwide organization dedicated to climate-change issues. He will speak at Hill Auditorium on Thursday, Oct. 5, on the topic “Down to the Wire: A Hot Fight in a Hot World.”

If it seems like the fight has gotten more difficult lately, given the current federal administration’s refusal to even acknowledge the problem, McKibben isn’t about to give up. He says it’s still possible to take significant action.

“In the absence of working on the national and international level -- which obviously has the most leverage -- everything helps on a local basis,” he said via email. “The most useful thing is for localities to commit to 100% renewable energy; cities and towns across the country and doing it, and the more that join in, the stronger this ‘sub-national’ attack on climate change will be.”

McKibben believes that climate scientists at universities like Michigan can play an important role in educating the general public. “It's important for scientists to speak simply, clearly, and often on climate issues,” he said. And the nation’s universities and other scientific institutions should be taking direct action as well, he added: “People will pay more attention to them if they take the step that so many have taken around the world and divest from fossil fuels.”

Some experts argue that nuclear power will continue to play a significant part in a sustainable future, but McKibben isn’t so sure. “My guess is, its expense above all will limit its role in the future -- it's a really pricey way of generating electricity, above and beyond the other complications,” he said. “Every day it gets easier to see a sun/wind/water future, as the price of solar and wind power keeps plummeting. That's my best guess about where we're going.”
One aspect of the climate-change debate is the continuing controversies over new pipeline projects such as the Keystone XL. McKibben has been active here as well, including the continuing concerns over the condition of the Enbridge pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac. And he believes the Great Lakes in general deserve and need better environmental stewardship.

“I got to speak at the first big protest at the Mackinac Bridge in 2013 -- it was an amazing day,” he said. “This is where we live. ... Let's continue the patient work that's been underway for decades on the Great Lakes.”

McKibben argues that pipelines are not even needed as the country continues to transition away from fossil fuels. “The best way to move oil is not to run it in corroding pipes under some of the purest water on the planet. The best way is to use way, way less of it -- something that's now possible, since the electric car revolution should speed up remarkably the transition off oil.”

And while climate change remains McKibben’s primary focus, he’s well aware of the critical nature of other environmental concerns. “One of the problems with climate change is that it's so overpowering an issue -- if we don't solve it, all else is moot -- that we tend to triage lots of other issues. I know I do,” he said. “But what we can't triage is justice. Flint is a constant reminder of just how monumentally screwed up we've managed to get on this issue.”


Bob Needham is a freelance writer; the former arts & entertainment editor of The Ann Arbor News and AnnArbor.com.


Bill McKibben will deliver a talk titled “Down to the Wire: A Hot Fight in a Hot World” as the 2017 Wege Lecture from 5-6:30 pm on Thursday, Oct. 5, at the University of Michigan’s Hill Auditorium. Register for free tickets here.