Vermont Conversation: Bill McKibben on ‘a moment of extraordinary opportunity’

Bill McKibben. File photo by Steve Liptay

The Vermont Conversation with David Goodman is a VTDigger podcast that features in-depth interviews on local and national issues with politicians, activists, artists, changemakers and citizens who are making a difference. Listen below, and subscribe on Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts or Spotify to hear more.

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For this 10th anniversary Vermont Conversation, we invited back our first guest. Bill McKibben was on the inaugural broadcast of the Vermont Conversation on Jan. 16, 2013. As a journalist, he has eloquently chronicled the impact of the climate crisis across the globe and put a human face on what too often is cast as a political or scientific problem.

He is the author of some 20 books, including “The End of Nature,” which was the first book to warn the general public about the climate crisis. He writes regularly for the New Yorker and his Substack site, The Crucial Years. His latest book is a memoir, “The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened.”

McKibben acknowledges that most of his dire predictions about climate change have come true since he first started writing about it three decades ago. And yet he insists “we are actually at a moment of extraordinary opportunity — the convergence of this big mobilization of people around the world.”

McKibben has been a key figure in that grassroots mobilization. He founded the global grassroots climate campaign 350.org, and is the recipient of the Gandhi Peace Award, and the Right Livelihood Award, known as “the alternative Nobel.” He is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College. His latest project is Third Act, which is organizing people older than 60 for progressive change.

“The remarkable fall in the price of renewable energy has left us in a place where it's possible to imagine, for the first time, really rapid change. Now, whether it'll come or not will depend on how hard we push. But there's nothing far fetched about it. In fact, it's very clear that 40 years from now, we'll run the world on clean energy, because it's cheap.”

Reflecting on key developments of the past decade, McKibben singles out the role of Sen. Bernie Sanders. 

“I just want Vermonters to be aware and proud of the fact that Bernie (Sanders) played an absolutely pivotal role in the transformation of how this country or large parts of it thinks about itself,” he said

McKibben believes that the failure of a “red tsunami” of Republican electoral victories last fall is an important signal. 

“It feels to me like there's people standing up for common sense, for the idea that science is a useful tool, that vaccines were a good development of the 20th century,” he said.

He concedes, "Yes, we're living in a country that still is riven, where there's people constantly trying to foment unpleasantness at all times. But that election result was kind of a quiet testimony to the quiet sanity of a fair number of people in this country. So one takes hope where one can find it.”

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David Goodman

About David

David Goodman is an award-winning journalist and the author of a dozen books, including four New York Times bestsellers that he co-authored with his sister, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman. His work has appeared in Mother Jones, New York Times, Outside, Boston Globe and other publications. He is the host of The Vermont Conversation, a VTDigger podcast featuring in-depth interviews about local and national topics. The Vermont Conversation is also an hour-long weekly radio program that can be heard on Wednesday at 1 p.m. on WDEV/Radio Vermont.

Email: david@vtdigger.org

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