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Bill McKibben of Even Industry-Funded Climate Change Deniers Can’t Ignore Planet’s Warming

StoryAugust 02, 2012
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Hundreds of new U.S. counties were declared disaster areas on Wednesday amidst the country’s worst drought in decades. We’re joined by famed environmental activist and founder Bill McKibben, whose new article for Rolling Stone magazine is called “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math: Three Simple Numbers that Add Up to Global Catastrophe — And that Make Clear Who the Real Enemy Is.” Responding to climate skeptic Richard Muller’s reversal on global warming, McKibben says: “It’s scientifically not very interesting, because most scientists figured it out 20 years ago, and all [Muller] has done is confirm their work. Politically, it’s interesting because we’re reaching the point where even the kind of industry-funded deniers can’t, with a straight face, say that [the earth] is not warming.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” That’s the name of a Rolling Stone piece that’s written by Bill McKibben. He is the co-founder and director of He joins us now from Vermont.

Bill, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about global warming, where it stands today, what needs to be done.

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, look, we’re really seeing this summer, around the world, despite what Dr. Muller was peddling a minute ago, what climate change looks like in its early stages. And it’s been a pretty scary summer, not just here in this country, where we’re seeing epic heat and drought, but up on Greenland, maybe the most important place in the world where the science and the actualities of what’s going on are sort of clearer day by day by day. We’re seeing record melt. We’re seeing snow turning to water and soaking up more of the sun’s heat. It’s been a ragged summer.

And the point of this piece in Rolling Stone, which, oddly enough, though it’s fairly mathematical, has gone kind of viral, the point of it is we now know enough to know what the future holds unless we change fast. The piece points out that scientists have long told us that if we want to stay below two degrees warming, which is what the—every government in the world, even the most conservative, have adopted as the bottom line, we can only burn 565 more gigatons of carbon. Unfortunately, a new analysis by a bunch of U.K. financial analysts showed that the fossil fuel industry and those countries that kind of operate like the fossil fuel industry—you know, Venezuela or Kuwait—have in their reserves 2,795 gigatons of carbon in their coal and gas and oil. That’s still below ground, but economically it’s essentially above ground. They’re borrowing money against it. Their share prices are based on it. Unless we change things very dramatically, it’s going to get burned, and we are going to overwhelm the climate system. And so—

AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, your—

BILL McKIBBEN: —we’re going to need to stand up to that industry. I mean, that’s the bottom line.

AMY GOODMAN: Your assessment of Dr. Muller’s “conversion,” as he describes it, now saying that global warming is human-caused, and what he said?

BILL McKIBBEN: It’s scientifically not very interesting, because, you know, most scientists figured it out 20 years ago, and all he’s done is confirm their work. Politically, it’s interesting because we’re reaching the point where even the kind of industry-funded deniers can’t, with a straight face, say that it’s not warming. In fact, CEO—Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, two weeks ago, probably more importantly, said, “Yes, forget all the things that my predecessors have said about how global warming was a hoax. Global warming is real, and we’re causing it.”

He then went on to say, “But it’s an engineering problem with engineering solutions.” And the example that he gave was, if we need to move our crop production areas, we will. By crop production areas, I think he means what the rest of us call farms. And if you look at an atlas, there’s really not a lot of room to move them. You can’t take an Iowa cornfield, where we’re not going to grow any corn this year because of the heat and drought, and somehow transplant it up to the melting Arctic tundra, because when you get up there, there is no soil. What needs to be adapted is not our crop production areas. What needs to be adapted are the business plans of the fossil fuel industry. They need to stop exploring for more hydrocarbons. They need to stop warping our democracy by buying off the House and the Senate. And instead, we need to put a—I mean, the most obvious thing to do, what every economist now for 20 years has been saying—

AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.

BILL McKIBBEN: —is put a stiff price on carbon to reflect the damage that it does. And that’s one of the things we work on at

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much, Bill McKibben, for being with us. We’ll link to your piece at Rolling Stone.

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