Author educates

  Author and environmentalist Bill McKibben visited campus Feb. 2 to deliver two talks that focused on the political and educational constraints on environmental advocacy.    A student-dominated crowd of about 200 people packed a lecture hall in the newly renovated George D. Aiken Center for the first event, “Educational Priorities of the 21st Century.”   McKibben said the complexity, scale and high stakes of global warming necessitate a change in the way we approach higher education to foster a strong grounding in the practical world.    Addressing the issue also demands a high level of engagement in political and social life, which he said has waned dramatically in recent decades.   McKibben said leadership in these realms must come from young people, as conditions are only bound to get worse over time and will thus have the greatest impact on youth and future generations.   “It is in your interest to figure out how to keep things from going to hell,” he said.   The audience filled every seat and even stood in the aisles of the Billings Lecture Hall to listen to McKibben’s second talk, “Report from the Front Lines of the Climate Fight: Some Jailhouse Notes on the Moral Fight of Our Time.”   The name of the event — derived from the famed “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote while incarcerated for his participation in a nonviolent protest — refers to McKibben’s recent arrest for protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline outside of the White House in Washington, D.C.   The protest, organized by McKibben, lasted two weeks and ultimately resulted in President Obama’s decision to delay construction on the pipeline pending further investigation.   In all, 1,253 people were arrested in what was the largest action of civil disobedience in the United States in 30 years, he said.   McKibben said that protestors were encouraged to dress in neckties and dresses in an attempt to reform the negative social stigma toward environmentalists.   “[We were] determined to show people we’re serious and that, in fact, we’re the opposite of radicals,” he said. “Radicals work for Exxon.”   McKibben, though admittedly not an activist, has been at the forefront of environmental activism in the United States.    He coordinated a five-day march across Vermont in 2006 that was the largest demonstration on global warming in the United States to date, accumulating about 1,000 people upon reaching Burlington, he said.   Despite the success of the event, McKibben said he became inspired to take the message global.   In 2008, he and seven students at Middlebury College founded 350.org, a grassroots environmental movement, with the hope of calling to action the entire planet.   “We were willing to think on the scale we needed to,” he said. “Almost on a ludicrous scale.”   McKibben scrolled through photos taken on 350.org’s first planned day of global activism, which CNN deemed as the largest climate action day ever. Participants from 192 countries submitted images that incorporated the website’s message in one way or another.   One slide that evoked gasps from the crowd came from the politically volatile Middle East.   People from Jordan, Palestine and Israel had arranged themselves to represent the numbers three, five and zero, respectively, representing McKibben’s fundamental message that the fight for climate justice must be superior to political and cultural hostility.   Crossing these lines requires that we replace the dominant monetary currency with one of passion, spirit and creativity, he said.   Although a self-proclaimed “professional bummer-outer,” McKibben urged attendees to lead not by addition but by multiplication, which he suggested can be done using three steps: organize, organize and organize.