- Bill McKibben
co-founder of 350.org. In 2014, McKibben was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes called the “alternative Nobel,” for his work in environmental activism. He’s the author of several books, including Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
In the Caribbean, at least 10 people have died as the historic Category 5 Hurricane Irma barrels across the Atlantic Ocean and toward the U.S. coast. Hurricane Irma is the most powerful storm ever recorded over the Atlantic Ocean. On Barbuda, 90 percent of all structures were destroyed. The prime minister, Gaston Browne, has declared Barbuda is “practically uninhabitable.” This comes as Houston, the fourth-largest city in the U.S., is beginning to rebuild from Hurricane Harvey, one of the most powerful hurricanes in U.S. history. Wide swaths of the Pacific Northwest are also on fire, as uncontrollable wildfires burn hundreds of thousands of acres across Oregon, Montana and Washington state. For more on climate change and extreme weather, we’re joined by Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, from his home in Vermont. He’s the author of several books, including “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.”
NERMEEN SHAIKH: In the Caribbean, at least 10 people have died as the historic Category 5 Hurricane Irma barrels across the Atlantic Ocean and towards the U.S. coast. Hurricane Irma is the most powerful storm ever recorded over the Atlantic Ocean. On Wednesday, eight people died on the Island of Saint Martin, one person died on Anguilla, and a 2-year-old child died on Barbuda. Barbuda and Saint Martin were devastated by the 185-mile-an-hour winds. On Barbuda, 90 percent of all structures were destroyed. The prime minister, Gaston Browne, has declared Barbuda is “practically uninhabitable,” and warns the entire island may need to be evacuated as another storm approaches.
PRIME MINISTER GASTON BROWNE: You know that we are threatened now potentially by yet another storm, Hurricane Jose.
ABS INTERVIEWER: Jose, right.
PRIME MINISTER GASTON BROWNE: And if that is the case, and it’s coming our way, then, clearly, we will have to evacuate the residents of Barbuda.
AMY GOODMAN: In Puerto Rico, more than a million people have lost power, as authorities warn some areas could be without electricity for up to six months, partly because the island’s electrical infrastructure has gone neglected due to Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.
The death toll from Hurricane Irma is expected to rise in the coming days as the storm moves toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti, then on to the U.S. southern coast in Florida. More than 100,000 people have been told to evacuate their homes in Miami-Dade County, as Irma is predicted to be one of the worst storms to ever hit Miami.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: All this comes as the Trump administration, and the state of Florida, continues to deny the existence of climate change. In 2015, Florida Governor Rick Scott banned agencies from using the term “climate change.” On Wednesday, President Trump traveled to Mandan, North Dakota, and celebrated his decision to pull out of the landmark 2015 climate deal, while speaking outside an oil refinery.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: In order to protect American industry and workers, we withdrew the United States from the job-killing Paris climate accord. Job killer. People have no idea. Many people have no idea how bad that was. And right here in North Dakota, the Dakota Access pipeline is finally open for business. … I also did Keystone. You know about Keystone, another one, big one. Big. First couple of days in office, those two. Forty-eight thousand jobs. Tremendous, tremendous thing. I think environmentally better. I really believe that. Environmentally better.
AMY GOODMAN: President Trump was speaking in Mandan, the North Dakota town where hundreds of Native Americans and their allies have been jailed and strip-searched during the months-long resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline.
All this comes as Houston, the fourth-largest city in the country, is beginning to rebuild from Hurricane Harvey, one of the most powerful hurricanes in U.S. history. The death toll has now risen to 70 people. And while Houston, the Petro Metro, was underwater, wide swaths of the Pacific Northwest continue to be on fire as uncontrollable wildfires burn hundreds of thousands of acres across Oregon, Montana and Washington state. Well over a thousand more people have died in historic flooding in South Asia, as well as parts of Africa, in recent weeks. A third of Bangladesh is underwater.
For more on climate change, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Harvey and the extreme weather sweeping the globe, we’re joined by Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, from his home in Vermont, author of a number of books, including Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
Bill, welcome back to Democracy Now! As Irma—
BILL McKIBBEN: Hello, Amy. Hello, Nermeen.
AMY GOODMAN: As Irma is barreling through the Caribbean, and at least 10 people have been killed, as Houston is digging out from being underwater, President Trump was in Mandan, North Dakota, celebrating that he pulled out of the Paris climate accord and greenlighted the Dakota Access pipeline and Keystone XL. Your response?
BILL McKIBBEN: Well, I was interested to hear President Trump saying people had no idea how bad it was, the Paris climate accord. I have a feeling that’s a phrase that a lot of Houstonians have been using in the last week, and a lot of people in the Caribbean today, and what people will be saying up and down the southeast coast of the United States and over in Washington and Oregon. People who aren’t in the middle of these disasters have no idea how bad they are. In fact, really, Americans can’t have any idea how bad they are, because we’ve never had anything quite like them. I mean, Harvey, in Houston, which we’re on the edge of forgetting about as Irma pulls into the Southeast, Harvey was the largest rainstorm event in U.S. history—51 inches of rain in some places. That’s the kind of storm that’s only possible now that we’ve remarkably affected the climate.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Bill McKibben, can you also talk about—I mean, last week saw virtually unprecedented floods across South Asia, as Bangladesh is one-third submerged underwater. Talk about how this has affected—these kinds of events have affected South Asia, other parts of the developing world and small island developing states.
BILL McKIBBEN: Look, the way that water moves around the planet is now dramatically different. And the places that are going to feel it most often and worst and hardest are the poorest and most vulnerable places on the planet, a list that begins with Bangladesh and with the low-lying island states.
If you want one physical fact to understand the century we’re now in, it’s that warm air holds more water vapor than cold. And so we have the possibility for storms that are of a different magnitude and scale than we have seen before. The extra warmth in the atmosphere does all kinds of other things, too.
So, right now, in the High Plains of the U.S., in North Dakota and Montana, in the biggest wheat-growing belt of the country, we’ve got what scientists are describing as a flash drought. It’s been so hot and so arid that in the course of a month or two without rain and with that heavy evaporation, farm fields have just dried up. Many farmers have nothing to harvest. That’s what’s helping trigger this ridiculous spate of wildfires across the Western United States, a fire so big yesterday that it managed to jump the Columbia River from Oregon into Washington. People in Oregon and Washington are reporting ash fall from the forest fires on a scale comparable to that what happened when Mount St. Helens erupted. You know, California had the largest—last week, the largest wildfire in Los Angeles history, which really isn’t a big surprise, because it’s been the hottest year in California history. So, from Nepal—
AMY GOODMAN: Bill, we’re going break and come back to this discussion. Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, speaking to us from Vermont, as we talk about extreme weather events, from South Asia, where more than 1,200 people have died, to the fires of the Northwest to the hurricanes Irma and Harvey, Jose not far behind. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Acoustic guitar cover by Pauk Si, a Burmese musician. We will later be talking about whether a genocide is being committed against the Rohingya by the Burmese military. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we continue our conversation with 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben. Let’s turn back to President Trump speaking in Mandan, North Dakota, on Wednesday.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I want to take a moment to send our thoughts and prayers to the people of Texas and Louisiana, who have truly suffered through a catastrophic hurricane, one of the worst hurricanes in our country’s history. And guess what. We have another one coming. … The one that’s coming now, Irma, they’re saying, is largest one in recorded history in the Atlantic Ocean, coming out of the Atlantic, which gets big ones. … I also want to tell the people of North Dakota and the Western states, who are feeling the pain of the devastating drought, that we are with you 100 percent. One hundred percent. … I just said to the governor, “I didn’t know you had droughts this far north.” Guess what. You have them. But we’re working hard on it, and it’ll disappear. It’ll all go away.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Trump speaking in Mandan, North Dakota, as he also talked about pulling out of the Paris climate accord and greenlighting the Dakota Access pipeline, as well as the Keystone XL. Bill McKibben, Houston, the Petro Metro, home to so many of U.S. oil refineries, some of the largest in the country, like the ExxonMobil facility in Baytown, the second-largest refinery in the country, the effects of the pollution there now, the EPA providing waivers during the hurricane for these refineries, as they close down, to emit even more toxins than they already do, and the people living on the fenceline of these refineries, so often poor communities of color. Can you talk about the disparate effects? While everyone talks about, you know, these hurricanes affecting everyone, rich and poor, equally, in fact, it is not the case, ultimately, who is most affected. And with the $8 billion now that Congress has just approved to start to help to deal with the recovery in Houston, the question is: Where will that money go? Who will be helped in rebuilding? Will this money be going to refineries? And what does the whole fossil fuel industry have to do with the kind of severe weather we’re experiencing now around the world?
BILL McKIBBEN: Well, so, first of all, you know, as usual, poorest people and most vulnerable people get hit first. Frontline communities in South Texas are a perfect example. Places like Port Arthur, that were just absolutely trashed by Harvey, are difficult places to live in, at best, in the best of times, because of the incredible daily pollution that comes from the fossil fuel industry.
What makes Houston so interesting, as you point out, is that it’s sort of the nerve center of the world hydrocarbon industry. It means that—and I think this is unlikely, but it means that if Houstonians really received a wake-up call from Harvey, more than most places in the world, their rebuilding could help the whole planet. If they seize the moment to say, “We’re going to start getting off oil, and we’re going to start reorienting our industries toward renewable energy,” it would make a huge difference. And it’s not a, you know, impossible ideal. Last week, while all this was going on, Denmark announced that it had sold off its last remaining oil company and was going to use the cash to build more wind turbines. They’re looking where the future is going.
We, of course, are looking backwards. And no better example of that than Trump in North Dakota, the obscene party about the Dakota Access pipeline, as archaic and dangerous a piece of technology as we’ve seen in this nation in a long time, coupled with his absurd promise that he’s going to make the drought disappear in North Dakota. Look, the unreason that stems straight from the fossil fuel industry and its inability to deal with the fact that its business model has to change, that’s what’s at the bottom of an enormous amount of what we see around us right now.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, where the climate movement is now, speaking out and connecting these issues, like your group, 350.org?
BILL McKIBBEN: So, the two important—I think we’re basically in an endgame now. And the two points that we’re trying to make, and will make over and over and over again all over the world, with increasing success in most places except the United States, are, one, we got to have it all, in terms of renewable energy. We have to go to 100 percent renewable energy, and we have to do it fast. That’s why Senator Sanders has introduced that bill at a national level, along with Senator Merkley. That’s why dozens of cities, from Atlanta to Salt Lake to San Diego, have adopted 100 percent renewable policies.
Along with that all, we also have to say nothing. We have to say there will be no more fossil fuel infrastructure development. And that’s why we’re fighting so hard every single pipeline, every single new coal mine. For the moment, of course, Trump is ascendant with the fossil fuel industry. They’re getting their wishes in this country. But like many things that Trump touches, I think that this is a last gasp. People will come to associate, are coming to associate, the insanity of going full speed ahead into this greenhouse future with the most reckless and crazy president that we’ve ever had.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, I want to thank you for being with us, co-founder of 350.org. A number of his books out, including the last one, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.