Organizational Capacity Building

Candace LaRue and Associates

Evening keynote: Money and Climate – Can Both Exxon and the Planet be Healthy

on June 9, 2012

Bill McKibben was introduced as a key environmental activist and an accomplished author. The Deep Economy: the Wealth of Communities and a Durable Economy is his book from 2007. He is also the founder of 350.org. He is also an activist in campaign finance reform, citing that Congress has an approval rating of 9%.

This is a summary of Bill McKibben’s talk.

The work that you all are about this weekend is all about the idea of a localized, more sensible, and more durable economy. This is what neighbors in Vermont are doing when they work together, and it is remarkable what has happened in the last 10 years. In a Gourmet article a number of years ago, there was an article about about the experiment to eat local for a year – now this is almost a cliche. Last year, the USDA announced that for the first time in 150 years, there are more farms than in the previous year. This is all the good news here first….for the first time on Saturday, the country of Germany generated more than half of its electricity with solar panels. Our challenge is not technological, it is sociological and political. This work will continue not only because of its ecological work, but because local economy is a different social construct that appeals to who really are. The economic project to identify us as consumers, not people or neighbors, has had many devastating result ecological and socially. People are not, statistically, as satisfied as 50 years, the average American of today has half as many close friends as 50 years ago. The real appear of the local economy is its social superiority.

When sociologists follow shoppers around the supermarkets compared to the farmers market, people had on average 10 times more conversations per visit. That is why this idea will win out. It is who we are. That is how all human beings have shopped for food for 10,000 years. This virtual cycle will carry the day. But, it faces one overwhelming obstacle, which will derail everything if we do not address the problem. That is the remarkable degradation of the planet.

We knew many years ago how greenhouse gasses affected sunlight, but we did not know how much it would change things. The temperature has raised only by 1 degree, but it has led to tremendous changes all over the world. The thing we notice most of all are what has happened to the planets hydrology around the world. The atmosphere is about 4% more humid than before climate change, under-riding the climatic stability that allowed for the expanse of human society. This leads to loading the dice in favor of drought and flooding. All around the world, people have shared through 350.org how they have been affected by both drought and flooding. In Vermont, the hurricane in August caused tremendous amount of destruction – 200-year old bridges washed away. This anecdotal evidence is mirrored in the statistical evidence. Old 1 day rainfall records in Vermont were broken by 25 and 30%. statistically, that shouldn’t be possible. Except that the rain was not falling on the same planet as all those years ago.

We are just at the beginning. We have raised the planet by 1 degree, but the same scientists are saying that the rise will be 4 and 5 degrees by the end of the century. It is already hard, and we do not know if society can adapt to changes this big. It is even hard for vibrant local economies. In Vermont, for example, many of those organic farms people have been building for 15 and 20 years were covered in a foot of sand. There is a 120 acre farm in Burlington where young farmers come to learn – they did not harvest anything last fall.

We cannot rescue our things just by doing what we need to do at home. If we do not take care of the large global crisis, we wont be able to realize the future to which we are all working. The good news is that the most of what we need to do will also help the transition to a new economy enormously. One of the most important things we could do is to put accurate prices on carbon. No one else except for the fossil fuel industry can pass off all the environmental costs of their indurstry onto others. Restaurants are not allowed to dump garbage into the street for free because we know it will lead to bad results. Pricing carbon will lead to other changes. For example, industrial agriculture relies on cheap fossil fuel. If we accurately priced carbon, many people who never considered being a locavores would all of a sudden try it out and find how wonderful it can be.

But we are not doing this, instead careening down a path of ever greater use of fossil fuels. The world summits have been disasters, and we cannot afford any more of this. We need to turn this tide. It is important o figure out why they have been disasters, and how we can turn this tide. We are better at recognizing immediate threats, but this is not the central problem. The central obstacle is the incredible grip of the fossil fuel industry here and around the world. It is about the concentration of resources and wealth in very few hands. Exxon made more money last year than any company in the history of money. These companies have used their money and power to stall, delay, and block any changes that would address climate change.

For a long time we thought that it would be enough to have our leaders sit down and speak with scientists. But it did not work because the fossil fuel industry would be bellowing a toxic mix of threats and lies in the other world. Their business model is the problem. We need to either change their business model or ruin the planet.

Eaarth

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We need to find a way to surmount their power, because they will not change voluntarily – they are making too much money. We don’t have more money than Exxon, so we must fight them with other currency – like the currency of movements.

Here are a few stories. Mosquitos really like the warm, wet world we are creating. In Bangladesh, many people are dying of Dengi fever. How unfair is it that the people of Bangladesh are suffering to this extent when the people of Bangladesh are not producing carbon – many people do not drive cars, and are not corrected to the grid. This is a moral problem, and there needs to be a movement.

We have the super structure of a movement, but the only thing we forgot was the movement itself. If 1,000 people is the largest protest for climate change, there must be more done. They created http://www.350.org – anything greater than 350 parts per million is incompatible with the development of human society. Arabic numerals were a way to cross linguistic boundaries. They set out to find other people like themselves throughout the world – people worried about environmentalism, women’s issues, development, jobs, public health. They developed training camps around the world and started with a day of action in October 2009. Two days before, the leader in Ethiopia called in tears because the government had taken away their permit, and they were going to do it 2 days early. She did not want to jump the gun, or ruin it for everyone else – and she had 15,000 young people in the street. Environmentalism is not something for rich white people. Most people working with 350.org are young and black and brown – because that is who the most people in the world are. There were religious leaders – including in South African and evangelical colleges in the US. The picture in Maldives is symbolic because their archipelago is only about 1 meter above sea level.

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The Us is the most recalcitrant, skeptical, and difficult because we are the most addicted to fossil fuel – and that is how addiction goes.

The Tar Sands in Canada are the second largest source of carbon in the world. To protest the Keystone pipeline, people engaged in civil disobedience. They did actions at the capital for two weeks. The first day 80 people showed up. The first batch of people spent three days in the central cell block in DC. Gus Peth was in the next cell, and gave a half hour lecture about his new book. Gus’s son is a lawyer, and Gus smuggled out a note to the press. He said “I’ve held an important positions, but none seem as important as the one I am in right now.”. A number of people in the room were also arrested in the same action. Suddenly people knew about the issue of the keystone pipeline. People followed the President chanting “Yes we Can. Stop the Pipeline.”. They carried signs that had Barak Obama quotes on them. The President agreed to stop the pipeline for a year and study it.

Mitt Romney said his first action if elected would be to approve the pipeline.

This civil disobedience shows that you can take an issue and use a movement to put it at the forefront of people’s mind.

Social media and the Internet helps us get the word out, but it is no substitute for getting people out in the flesh. We need to use the tool in conjunction with people getting together. People can be linked up all over the world using the Internet.

The other lesson is that we are not going to best global warming one pipeline at a time. We need to go deeper into the center of the fossil fuel economy.

This summer the project is to end the direct subsidy given to the
fossil fuel industry each year.

This is the richest industry in the world, and there is no reason to provide them with a subsidy. This is like giving someone a grant to get their 40th bachelor’s degree. There is a bill in the Senate to end subsidies and reclaim more than $1 billion.

70% of republicans, independents, and democrats are all against fossil fuel subsidies. This fight is one we can win. Action is being organized through http://www.350.org. There is a scoreboard with every member of congress in order to keep track of their positions. You can use your cell phone to get local politicians and leaders to take videos and upload them to the scoreboard to pin people down with their position. Then we will try to change the minds of people who are against ending the subsidies.

The power of this economy we have built to reck the planet demands that we are willing to take strong action to change things. We may have waited too long to get started, and there may be too much money on the other side. The arc of the physical universe is not long the way Dr. MLK said about the moral universe. This has been the warmest and most volatile spring. In Saudi Arabia there was the hottest rain storm ever, at 109 degrees. We don’t know I’d we can stop it.

But if we can, and if we can build a new economy, it requires getting one thing across. We are not radicals, or extremist, or militants.. All we are asking for is a world that works the way the one we were born in works. That is if anything conservative, not radical. If you are willing to make your fortune by changing the way the planet works at all costs, that is the most “radical” thing you can do. Building sustainable economies draws on traditional economies, uses the tools we have now, and works based on who we are.

The Chamber of Commerce filed a brief telling the EPA not to act on climate change because mans would adapt our behavior and physiology to a changing climate – not that its members would change their business models.

(standing ovation)

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