What I Wished I Said to Bill McKibben

April 21.  I drove Bill McKibben a few days ago to the hall where he received the Gandhi Peace Award from Promoting Enduring Peace.  It was just a few minutes drive and I didn’t want to get into anything that might cause an argument before he was about receive his big and well deserved honor.

If I did have some significant time alone with him I would say these things:

1. Start planning a furious march on the White House to take place if the president gives the final OK to Keystone XL.  The February climate rally was awesome in its size and in its message of how desperate conditions are becoming, but the politics of “We got your back, Mr. President” was a mistake.  The idea that Obama is our secret ally just wanting massive support to “do the right thing” is plain wrong.  Your people in February should have let former Green Party candidate Jill Stein speak from the stage.  She would have said that she was there protesting  the Administrations climate policy.  That message should have been heard loud and clear.

Nearly every sign is showing that Obama will approve the Keystone XL pipeline: the State Department report on the pipeline whitewashed dangers to the climate, Bill Clinton said we should “embrace” the pipeline, 62 Senators passed a statement of support for Keystone and the cowardly AFL-CIO leadership refused to oppose it.  The only forces that I see in opposition besides climate activists are the New York Times and that of three mid-sized national unions.

The idea that “making nice” is the way to go won’t cut it. That’s been the strategy since Obama has taken office and it hasn’t worked.  Since ’08 following his lead climate defense organizations have been calling for “green jobs” rather than talking about growing climate catastrophe.  And what has it got us, wasted years when the public could have been told how serious things were.  What did we get for holding our tongue, some solar power subsidies?   I’m sure you’ve seen his new budget.  He just got reelected, the Republicans are in disarray, but in the face of the warmest year on record he thinks the biggest thing to do is make the U.S. “energy independent”.

Even if Obama is really considering cancelling the pipeline, planning for a White House rally can do nothing but good.  Give him a taste of fear that climate activists might really break with the Democrats and it could work wonders.

And if he does give his blessings to the pipeline, that should tear it once and for all.  As you yourself said in the speech you made after getting the award on Thursday, “There’s been a bipartisan effort for the last 25 years to do nothing on the climate…and it’s been a success.”  Give up on the Democrats and take to the streets and the workplaces.

2. The climate movement needs the anti-war movement.  The number #1 climate polluter in the world is the Pentagon from all the fuel it burns in war and training for war.  Yet on the website of 350.org there’s no mention at all of this, no mention that war is the enemy of climate, no mention of the millions who turned out in 2003 to protest the coming invasion of Iraq who could be climate allies.

3. Climate activists talk about how green jobs could be better and more plentiful than awful jobs like coal mining and driving trucks with the chemicals to frack for gas, but this needs to be spelled out in great detail.  The climate movement needs to come up with a plan for millions of climate jobs and publicize it from flyers to computer animations.  The 20 million without full time work would be delighted as would the hundreds of thousands whose “carbon dirty” jobs will have to be eliminated.

4. I did ask you in Washington DC in February if it wasn’t time to announce that there was an international climate emergency and that the energy industry should be taken over by the government.  You disagreed saying there was no support in Congress for it.   But truth be told there is no support in Congress for any climate measures strong enough to avoid the coming catastrophe.  Would it really be easier to ask capitalist corporations to voluntarily leave 20 trillion dollars worth of fuel in the ground than to use the power of the people to take over those corporations in this time of extreme peril?  Which is more a fantasy, an ecosocialist future with a planned green and fully employed workforce or a time when corporations who every day fight a dog eat dog war for profits will see the light, restrain their every natural impulse and cooperate for the good of humanity?

Bill, you’ve done an amazing job in explaining the problem and organizing thousands of demonstrations, but it’s time to realize that the “art of the possible” is not going to stop the stampede off the carbon cliff.






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