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The Earth Times asks: Bill McKibben, the environmental campaigner

By Laura Brown - 22 Sep 2011 16:33:0 GMT
Bill McKibben the environmental campaigner

With the US presidential election a year away, The Earth Times considers the environment debate. Speaking to key figures in the campaign, vocal opponents, lobbyists, authors and thinkers we discuss how significant the environment will be in the 2012 election, and what the major issues affecting the US are.

Environmentalist, author and campaigner Bill McKibben is talking about the planet. Having just set off on the road to take in campus theatre halls and lecture sites across the country he is proposing a time out. We need, he believes, to take stock. Our world is running out of time and he urges us to think about what we are doing. The time for action is approaching and, like an evangelist, he wants to take his message to as many people as possible. We need to think about our addictions, like that to fossil fuel.

"Will we start making a rapid transition off fossil fuel, or will we double down and find new ways to keep our addiction going, fracking say and tarsands development?"

The author and campaigner hit national and international headlines earlier this year will his high-profile and vocal disapproval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the $7billion, 1,700 mile oil pipeline planned to run from Canada's tar sands to Texas. Along with 64 protestors he launched a two week sit in at the White House to oppose the plan, landing himself two nights in jail, and thus raising the profile of their opposition, securing even more column inches.

Bill McKibben

Photo: Bill McKibben

"It's never a good sign," he says, "When major political figures, and indeed entire parties, seem bent on substituting ideology for chemistry and physics. That's why the tar sands fight is so important; the President can do the right thing without Congress getting in the way."

His pleas to Obama comes in a discussion about whether the environmental debate in the US has become too partisan, with the belief that the Democrats are all in favour of change while the Republicans simply want to back big business and stop all environmental measures. Attacks on the EPA, for instance, illustrating the argument. A simplistic view but for McKibben he doesn't completely deny the position of some environmentalists that it's 'Democrats good, Republicans bad'.

"Well, at this point is it fairly accurate, but only fairly, because even most Democrats really aren't doing much. The Democrat controlled Senate couldn't even bring itself to take a vote on the very modest climate bill in Summer 2010."

And he doesn't have much more faith in the business community.

"Business, in general, is harming rather than helping the fight. They've let groups like the US chamber of commerce speak for them - that's why we've been running a big national campaign called 'the us chamber doesn't speak for me,' and many businesses of all sizes have begun to speak out independently on these issues."

This presidential campaign, once the Republican nomination is secured could be of real interest to environmental campaigners. Positioning themselves as Obama's conscience, particularly in the context of Tar Sands Action, they might be able to attack Republicans for their non-green attitudes, but could also provide ammunition for the right who want to criticise Obama for reneging on environmental promises. McKibben believes acting on the environment could have a mobilising effect on the Democrat base.

"We push president Obama to do the right thing, especially on tar sands. My guess is that if he does it will have a re-energizing effect on his currently somewhat demoralized base."

How far, though, does he think the environment will be a key issue in next year's presidential election? It depends, he thinks, how bad it gets. The wildfires in Texas that saw death and destruction spread through the site put inordinate pressure on State Governor, and Republican front runner, Rick Perry. While he may champion his economic policy in Texas, his environmental policy could prove to be a warning bell for those who consider the environment to be a real issue come voting time.

"A few more seasons of Texas drought and hey, even Rick Perry may be thinking twice about global warming".

Bill McKibben is the author of Eaarth and founded grassroots climate campaign 350.org. he has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009.

Top Image Credit: Barack Obama © DKBras

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