environmentalist and writer who frequently writes about global warming and alternative energy. He is author of eight books; his latest, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future.
The group Step It Up is spearheading the National Day of Climate Action on Saturday. Tens of thousands of Americans are gathering across the country in the largest-ever demonstration against global warming. Over 1,300 rallies, demonstrations and actions are being held in all 50 states to call on Congress to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. We speak with Step It Up organizer Bill McKibben. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: This weekend, tens of thousands of Americans are gathering across the country in the largest-ever demonstration against global warming. Over 1,300 rallies, demonstrations and actions are being held in all 50 states to call on Congress to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. The actions range from a rally of thousands in New York City to a handful of scuba divers off the coast of Key West, to several hundred pounds of ice being left melting on the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. April 14th is being billed as the National Day of Climate Action. It is being spearheaded by a group called Step It Up.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben is one of the organizers of Step It Up. In 1989, he wrote the book The End of Nature, one of the first books to describe global warming as an emerging environmental crisis. He writes frequently about global warming and alternative energy, is author of eight book books. His latest is Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. Bill McKibben joins us in the firehouse studio now.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Tell us about the span of actions that’s taking place tomorrow and what sparked April 14th?
BILL McKIBBEN: What sparked it was, after sort of 20 years of writing about this, my sense of growing despair that we were doing nothing. I mean, Hurricane Katrina and Al Gore had educated us about the problem. The polling showed that most Americans understood it. And still, the 20-year bipartisan effort to accomplish nothing in Washington was succeeding all too well.
In January, we—and by that, I mean me and six students, recent graduates at Middlebury College, where I work—launched a website, StepItUp07.org, and we started encouraging people around the country to hold rallies tomorrow, on April 14th. We had no money and no organization, so we figured we’d be doing well if we could organize a hundred of these things by April 14th. And that would have been about a hundred more global warming rallies than there had been. Instead, because people were really eager to finally be able to take action about this, the thing has just kind of exploded. We have 1,350 rallies that will be taking place tomorrow. They’re in every corner of the country. And the creativity that people have brought to bear is as amazing as the numbers.
I mean, in Jacksonville, Florida, people are going to descend on the parking lot of the Jacksonville Jaguars football stadium, and they’ve hired a crane to lift a yacht 20 feet into the air so they can show people where the sea level is going to be some day, and they’re going to have a big gathering underneath. Down in the Battery, midday, in Manhattan, there are going to be thousands of people in blue shirts crowding into Lower Manhattan to show where the new tide line will be, a kind of sea of people down there to demonstrate where the ocean will come not too far from now. Out in the Rockies there will be people descending in—skiers descending in formation down those dwindling glaciers. You know, every corner of the country and every kind of person, evangelical churches and environmental groups and you name it, are all joining this StepItUp07.org thing.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Bill, given the enormous crisis that continues to mount over the environment and climate change, why do you think that the environmental movement became so quiet for so long, so unable to go into the streets and be able to put the kind of pressure necessary on government? Obviously, Earth Day was co-opted long ago by the corporations. But what has happened to the activists?
BILL McKIBBEN: You know, the environmental movement that we have was built to fight a different problem. I mean, the sets of problems that it was built to fight—air pollution in the cities or toxic pollution and things—it’s done a pretty darn good job of fighting. Our air is cleaner. We have more clean lakes and rivers, and that kind of thing. It’s too much to ask that environmental community alone to take on something as central as global warming, which means dealing with the most fundamental parts of our economy. We need a much larger movement than that. In fact, there’s no question: We need a movement as morally urgent, as committed, as passionate as the civil rights movement, if we’re going to have any chance of turning this around. And that’s what we’re trying to build, and that’s what we’re seeing the first real glimpses of this weekend.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, you’ve written the book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. You talk about happiness through history.
BILL McKIBBEN: You know, one of the questions—the only question we ask about the economy in our society is: How can we make it bigger? That question is running out of steam, for two reasons: one, the environmental damage that we’re now seeing on a global scale; two, as economists and others are beginning to realize, with new research, endless expansion isn’t making us as happy as it’s supposed to. In fact, if anything, just the opposite.
If you poll Americans, as people have done since the end of World War II, asking them are they happy with their lives, the number who say that they’re very happy peaks in 1956 and goes downhill ever since. Now, that was before I was born, so I missed what was ever was going on in 1956. But the tragedy of it is that that downward curve coincides with an upward curve of about three—we’re about three times as rich as we were in the late '50s. We have three times as much stuff. If what we think we know about the economy was true, those two curves, satisfaction and prosperity, should move in somewhat the same direction. That they're moving in opposite directions really should lead us to ask some pretty stiff questions and should lead us also not to fear the kind of world that we’re going to need to create to deal with the environmental problems that are at hand, a world with much more localized economies and much stronger communities, much more emphasis on belonging and much less on belongings.
JUAN GONZALEZ: You talk about the need for an 80 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2050. George Monbiot, in his new book, talks about a 90 percent cut. How will that be possible, given the current political climate and domination of government policy by major corporations?
BILL McKIBBEN: The first thing to be said is, there’s no study that says 81 percent reductions would be too much and 79 percent too little. What we need is, very quickly, a strong, sharp signal from Washington about what future policy about energy is going to be. And it has to be strong enough and sharp enough to send a real message into the financial markets, to send a real price signal to anyone planning any kind of investment.
You know, 12 weeks ago, when we launched stepitup07.org, people said, "80 percent by 2050? That’s unrealistic. It’s too big," and whatever. Even in those 12 weeks, partly thanks to us, but partly thanks to all kinds of other things that have been going on, like the Supreme Court decision and the new scientific data from the U.N., the ground is shifting. A week ago, John Edwards, the first of the Democratic candidates to issue his big energy and environmental plan, people called us up the day before it came out and said, "Take a look at it. I think you’ll like it." And indeed, the first thing on it said cut carbon 80 percent by 2050. We’re beginning to get some momentum finally.
Now, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. We’re up against the biggest adversaries on Earth. ExxonMobil made $40 billion last year. That’s more profit than anybody has ever made in the history of profits, OK? We could take probably almost everyone listening to Democracy Now! today and pool all our spare change, and we’d still come up slightly shy of 40 billion bucks. We’re not going to beat them that way. But if we can get into the streets, if we can be creative, if we can build a broad coalition across all kinds of people who understand that this is increasingly not a partisan issue, it’s a survival issue, then we have some chance of getting that going.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, I want to thank you for being with us. And on that issue of oil companies and auto companies, we’re going to be talking about Who Killed the Electric Car? next. Bill McKibben is one of the founders or organizers of Step It Up, around the country on Saturday. We’ll report on it on Monday. And his new book is called Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. Coming up, Who Killed the Electric Car? Stay with us.