The planet is changing drastically, and Bill McKibben knows we have no time to waste.
His first book, The End of Nature (1989), warned of rising seas, destructive storms and other environmental chaos unless a humans adopted a more "humble way of living," consuming less, conserving more.
As those prophecies have come to pass, McKibben has written 11 more books, each in their own way pleading for a radical shift in the way we approach energy consumption, food sourcing, technology and science.
In 2008 he launched 350.org, a tapestry of groups from Brazil to Afghanistan to Mali to the U.S. working to "connect the dots" between climate change and the disastrous effects of extreme weather. Last year the organization introduced a global campaign to divest from companies that produce fossil fuels and it seems to be working: The campaign has achieved more success in less time than the famously influential divestment efforts against Apartheid, tobacco and pornography.
In spite of his high-profile career as what TIME heralds as the world's best environmental journalist, McKibben calls himself an "unlikely activist" in his latest book, Oil and Honey, a chronicle of the 2010 protest against the Keystone XL pipeline he led in DC. This act of civil disobedience—one of the largest since the 60s—landed him in jail and has only invigorated the movement to develop clean, sustainable energy.
Tirelessly crisscrossing the country to mobilize ordinary people against the oil companies that hold our economy and environment hostage, McKibben makes a stop in Bluffton, SC this Friday, Oct. 18.
How does the American attitude towards fossil fuel usage differ from the rest of the world?
Bill McKibben: We're more deeply addicted than almost anyone else, so change seems harder to us. The average European uses half as much energy as the average American. They're not as scared of change.
Is too late for politics at this point? Does it come down to economics?
Bill McKibben: Economics and politics are closely related here. We badly need a price on carbon so that markets can go to work on the problem—but we can't get that price on carbon with the fossil fuel companies blocking legislative action in Washington. That's why we need to take them on.
Has the divestment strategy of 350.org worked?
Bill McKibben: The answer is in a study released this week by Oxford University: It's the fastest spreading divestment campaign ever, and the most powerful challenge yet to this rogue industry. [Read the entire study at cleantechnica.com.]
What sinister projects need the most attention from activists?
Bill McKibben: There's a long list of places we have to play defense: the Keystone Pipeline, mountaintop removal in the Appalachians, new coal ports planned for the Pacific coast, Arctic offshore drilling. And that's just the U.S.—350.org works in 181 countries.
What is the role of local food in an overall sustainable solution?
Bill McKibben: It's an important part. We need resilient and well-adapted food systems. Unfortunately, if we don't manage to slow down climate change it won't matter too much. In Vermont, we watched in 2011 as the greatest rainstorms in our history washed away many of our fine small farms.
How do you envision human life in 10, 20, 50 years?
Bill McKibben: If we're smart, it will be ever more decentralized and local, as we replace distant sources of energy with sun and wind.
You've said that "being green" won't solve the problem. What can ordinary people to do?
Bill McKibben: We should all be green, but it won't solve the problem by itself. For that we need to come together and build a movement. Join in the fight!