tv Bill Mc Kibben at UC Irvine Climate Change Conference CSPAN March 15, 2019 1:34pm-3:00pm EDT
iraq and afghan war issues at the pentagon and the state department in between those times. there was no difference in the administrations -- the administrations -- their desire was to win for political reasons. everything else was secondary. >> on c-span's q and a. up next on c-span3, bill mckibben meekspeaking at the university of california-irvine about how to address climate change. >> i don't want to be self-c self-congrattoir. there are many conferences on the subject as well there should be, they're happening right now. the only person who isn't talking and thinking about
climate change right now is the president of the united states. it was very good however to see alexandria ocasio-cortez introduce a measure in congress beginning to sketch out the contours of a green new deal and our response finally to climate change at a federal level. the form that put together this gathering has also organized other conferences in the patents on justice and injustice in the courtroom, on freedom of expression, on the future of the truth and on american identity and the idea of democracy in the 21st century. these have been great where experts, authors, writers, journalists, film makers, scholars, legal minds and so on get together to talk about the major issues confronting us. but to my mind, all that is dwarfed by climate change and its implications. as it was said a few years ago, given what was transpired since,
this changes everything, the threat of climate change of disaster and worse on a global level changes everything. it should but does it? these past two years have been the years when the general public began to realize that we face a catastrophe in global terms and we must begin to try to mitigate its worst affects which we ought to have begun to do a half a century ago. the uninhabitable globe is an idea that is becoming commonplace. what can better illustrate the marginization of most of the world's population than its inability to push back effectively against the continuation of all the behaviors of capital and industry that are crushing humanity and sending all life to a rapid extinction. let's not forget as we move forward this weekend and are entertained and moved and enlightened and possibility excited by what we see and here,
that this is what is happening. let's not forget elephants and polar bears and star fish, and many, many plants and milk weed. it reminds me of the little poem by the pastor just to remind you, first they came for the golden frog and i did not speak out. for i was not a golden frog. then they came from the star fish, and i did not speak out. for i was not a star fish. et cetera i think you catch my drift. and then they came for us. right? this past fall in the literary journalism program here i taught two classes that i designed one called earth literature and nature writing. the central text was american earth. a collection of environmental writings, edited by our keynote speaker tonight.
thank you for this testament to environmentalism, bill. my hope was to bring climate change directly into focus with a humanities twist. where is the human in all of this. where are we? what are the steps we can take intellectually, personally, physically and politically to begin to push back against our system as it continues and insists upon promoting the mechanisms of earth destroying climate change. here's what was shocking. many of the students were not quite aware of the situation. they were blown away by the books we read. and by pieces like the fate of the earth by the late jonathan shell. they had very little idea of what on earth was happening. and those who did understand the full import had to do battle with friends and family who discredit the science of it or
who simply and honestly don't want to think about it, who just want to go on living their doggie lives. but my students were intent on enlightening such friends and family. they were moved by the meditation on extinctions, especially the extinction of humility in which he wrote about extinction not only as billions of personal deaths but also as the end of death since all will have died. and the end of birth and thus the end of every single things humans have created and passed down over the generations which people have called the common world. it's the intellectual scientific world we share in all our differing spheres. it's not just life on earth but also this beautiful invention, the human sphere that's threatened by climate change.
everything we've done or told our children or written down, all fables and scientific theories and mathematical formula, all laws, religions and traditions, all recipes, tools, and homes, and inside, and paintings, and art, and folk dance, and incantations and history itself. all of that threatened and not just our nice houses and our cities and our energy resources and our food supply and our water supply and in some cases our cruel and ridiculous idea of dominance over the rest of the world both human and nonhuman. also threatened by the way, all conferences, you may be glad to hear. so i would like to begin this threatened conference with a bit of reverence for what we're doing here, which is sharing our precious common world and also some reverence to the life forms we've been sending to their
doom. the number, a 60% drop in the population of animals since 1970, no matter how you slice it, is disturbing. if you think there's not human caused read this. the wwf finds that the fast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global human population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water, and everything else. of course we're not just talking tonight and tomorrow about the horror of the extinctions cascade, but about climate change overall, with its seasons of fire, and its melting ice and rising and warming oceans. let's think about the pacific garbage patch and the houston petroleum patch and the growing population boom. and the implications of all this
and what we can do about it. let's think about the implications of the actions of our politicians like president trump who bragged to massive applause among other supposed representatives about his regulations roll backs. let's think about all this as we move through this time together and imagine all we have to lose if we don't get serious and take action. the planet is ours to tend to. this is a conference about thinking and imagining, but it's also about justice, about ownership and the new directions our societies can take. thank you. [ applause ] i have another job to do here and that's to introduce bill mckibben. he's an author and environmentalist who in 2013 was awarded the right livelihood price called the alternative noble.
his 1989 book, the end of nature, is considered to be the first book for a general audience about climate change. and has appeared in 24 languages. it's hugely important and was immeasurably influential in getting the mass conversation about climate change going. bill has written many other books on the environment and climate change and how to militate for a decent world. it's a founder of 350.org which is organized 20,000 rallies around the world in every country except north korea. he was one of the first to work for a resist eance to the keyste pipeline. bill is the scholar in environmental studies at middle bury college. in 2013, he won the ghondi prize, the center for
constitutional rights and martin sheen, he's won the thomas mer tan award. he writes for a wide variety of public gas stations. he lives in the mountains with his wife. my favorite detail about bill which he includes in his biography because i imagine it is a point of price is that in 2013, biologists named him by naming a new specious in his honor. the animal with this name is a woodland gnat and it seems to me fitting that this great defender of nature should be represented in the record by an animal because the lives of all specious, event gats, are valuable, to me and i think to most of us in this room, the quite and contained bill mckibben is a hero. i define everyone as someone who sees eventually and fights it to
his own possible determent. he has kept an eye on our planet for more than 30 years alerting the rest of us to the crisis and disasters he as a specialist in the field has encountered. he knows how to translate facts into messages and meaning, that the average person can absorb. his astounding optimism and continuing engagement are an example for us all. he's an invaluable figure on the front lines to turn back the effects of climate change to the extent we can. we honor him for this and we ourselves are so honored to have him here tonight. thank you. [ applause ] well, i think the woodland gnat thing had more to do with just being annoying. amy, thank you so much for that introduction, you can tell from just listening to amy what an
important voice she's been in american letters for a long time. and thank you for the invitation here. it's a great pleasure to be here with an extraordinary cast of people who will -- you will learn an immense amount from over the next day or two. i'm the scene setter. in a little while i think we'll have up on stage, betsy colbert who's the most powerful writer about these things that we have and nathaniel rich who representatives the next generation of thinking about these questions and dr. pastor who's reminder that at root of all these questions are questions about justice. let me try -- let me try to just
give a little context here. it's a crux moment right now. this is the right week to be having this conference. it's a crux moment in several ways. the first one is physically. you'll be hearing from great scientists, i see peter glik out there and others over the next couple of days. 30 years ago when i wrote the end of nature, this was still abstract and theoretical. there was a little -- we sort of knew what was coming but it was a little hard to quite believe what was coming. now, it's the text of our every day lives. we've learned just this week that 2018 was one of the four hottest years in human history. we learned in the middle of the week that the glacier in the antarctic has a cavity the size
of manhattan and 1,000 feet high in the middle of it. that's not good news because there's two feet of sea level rise in that glacier. we learn every day now some new detail of this most remarkable of stories. i don't think -- the name of this conference is far and ice. i feel no need to talk to you all about fire at this point. if you all haven't figured it out at this point, nothing i can say will help the pictures that have come back to the rest of us around the country and around the world of california, of the tremendous fires, the physical damage that they do is obvious. but i know from talking to lots of people in those places that there's also a kind of psychological impact too.
and that california always are biward are kind of happy. the place we were all headed. now also carries with it a dread too. because so much of the change is concentrated here. so i'm not going to talk to you about fire. but i put a few pictures of ice in just because it's a little further away. my trip this summer took me to green land. let's see if these will -- are these slides going to advance, do we think? because if they do, it will be better. [ laughter ] >> greenland is a place with a lot of ice. it's a mile on a year.
maybe if i just hit the commuter, it computer, it 'll -- well, i'll try, we'll try a sort of virtual power point approach for the moment. i'll say some things and you try to picture in your head what it looks like, okay? that looks better. there we go. greenland, thank you very much for that, greenland has a lot of ice. that's one of these glaciers leading up under the huge ice shelf. i think there is about 20 feet of see level ice in greenland, should it all some day melt, and it is starting to melt. in fact, more than starting. you see it everywhere you go. i don't know if you can quite make out that picture or not. we were on a boat going up to a
glacier where we were going to do some work that i'll describe in a minute, but if you look carefully, you can see that oust front of the boat, there is water as far as you can see, but if you look at the electronic navigation system above, the icon representing the boat is clearly a mile on to solid land. i asked the captain about this, with trying to contain whatever alarm might have crept into my voice, and he laughed and said oh, well, the electronic chart is five years old. back then, this was all ice as far as you could see. that's a sobering thought. we were there, i was there because i was, and this goes demiller, to what you were saying about story, a friend of mine, the woman on the left, kathy jetnel jiner, is a poet from the marshall islands in the south pacific, one of the places lowest to the ocean, and i knew her poetry and wanted her to, i
wanted to, we wanted to do a video, i wanted to get her up, standing on top of the ice, that when it melt wood melted would drown her home and i figured that would be powerful. and she recruited the woman on the right, a young greenlander poet, whose world is disappearing as she stands there, and together, they produced a truly epic six-minute poem that you can find on youtube. millions of people have seen it now. it was a traffic if difficult expedition to get them up there to do it. but everywhere you looked, there were just signs of what was happening. i shot this video, which will take a minute to get interesting, with my cell phone, out of the front of the helicopter we just stopped to change the batteries, in a remote sensing device, that scientists use to keep track of the glaciers, and then we were headed home, out over the fjord,
you can see the glacial till there, the water coming into the fjord. i'm going to show you this, and i just wanted to kind of stick in your head as a reminder of how fast around the world things now are changing. this is the biggest thing by far that human beings have ever done. and it is now in a galloping new phase, climate change. where, as i said, each day reveals some new facet of our danger of our predicament. that ice front is about 120 feet, it is about a 12-story building high, that you're looking at there, at the edge of the glacier, and as we were flying over it, you just happen, let me see here, keep your eye on the ice at the right-hand edge of this picture, i'm not a
very good photographer, and i was leaning out the window anyway, but just keep your eye on it, it is a 12 story building there. and those waves are 40, 50 feet high, going up, this is happening every second of every day on the edge of some glacier or another, in the north or the south of the world. and every time it happens, the level of the ocean rises some tiny fraction of a millimeter, and it's just a reminder of the incredible beauty of the world we inhabit, and the effect that we're managing to have on it now. it's a crux moment, too. and had is a much happier piece
of news. it's a crux moment, because we know what to do now in a way that we didn't four, five years ago. the engineers at institutions like this one around the world have done their job and done it spectacularly. the price of a solar panel has fallen 90% in the last decade. wind turbines are now the cheapest way to produce electrons in most parts of the world. we learned from a big study this week that the cheapest way to power north america going forward would be to move to 100% renewables and to do it quickly. it would cost much less, not only than dealing with climate change, but much less than just the business as usual going ahead with fossil fuels. that's remarkably good news. if we want to change, we, can and we can do it fast.
and it's a crux moment for a third reason. because people are actually now finally managing to at least take that topic of change and push it into the front of our political minds, in a way that people haven't managed to before. this was a big week. it was powerful to see the green new deal introduced into congress. i was on capitol hill on tuesday for the state of the union, and to get to talk some with alexandria ocasio-cortez, who is as, i've been with her a few times, but she is as great in person as she is on instagram, and completely ready to go, and the young people from the runrice movement and elsewhere, who have been pushing hard for this green new deal, i mean there is a moment happening, and it's a powerful moment and one we need to seize, and the green
new deal is not the only part of it. there are beautiful things happening. we'll talk maybe a little bit later about a young woman named greta funburg in sweden who has launched a series of climate strikes from schools that spread across europe like, well, wildfire, in the last few months, and there are enormous, as one would expect, given the scale of the change we're seeing, there are now enormous responses coming, anti-bodies are starting to kick in, as this fever spreads. so those are the cruxes, the three realities that inform where we are. but i want to back up for a minute. because i want to talk very realistically with ya'll about why it is that we're going to have to push with extraordinary
power, if we want anything to happen. since we're facing the biggest problem that the world's ever faced, and since we know more or less what the solution is, you would think that we would be moving there with enormous speed, doing everything that we can. but of course, we're not. the world has made modest efforts exemplified by things like the paris accords, but obviously, our country has decided not to take part in the paris accords, and that's in defacto sense true of much of the rest of the world, too. there is actually not that much happening or not nearly anywhere as much as we need to have happen, and there is a reason for that, and that's what i want to talk about for a minute. there are many reasons for our inaction on climate change. human psychology is better
equipped to deal with short-term very immediate threats than slightly longer term ones and so on. but my sense after 30 years is that that's not the key part of this problem. it took me a while to figure out what was going on. when i wrote the end of nature, back in 1989, i was 27, i guess, and the, my theory was that people just, information was what was needed, my theory of change was people will read my book and then they will change. i kept writing more books. and we kept having more symposiums and publishing more, because that's what writers and academics, how they think that we think that the world changes, you know, and these things are very important, it is important to have book, it's important to have symposia, and articles and
things, but after about ten or 15 years of this, it dawned on me that my model was incorrect. i was operating on the supposition that we were having an argument and that arguments are solved with more data, more reason, and eventually, it occurred to me that was not true. we won the argument already. by the mid 1990s at the latest, there was a broad and deep scientific consensus about what was going on, expressed by the ipcc, and powerful terms, no one could really, i mean it wasn't an argument. but there was a fight. and we were losing the fight. and the fight was not about reason and data. the fight was what fights are always about. money and power. and there was another side to the fight and the other side to the fight was the richest industry in the history of humanity, and they were willing to spend what it took to make
sure that we did not change even at the cost of breaking the planet. that sounds hyperbolic, but the fossil fuel industry, as we've learned from incredible investigative reporting, some of it done by the los angeles times, over the last three or four years, we've learned that they knew absolutely everything there was to know about climate change. as far certainly back as the 1980s, that they had data that showed precisely what was happening and they believed that data. that exxon was busy building drilling rigs to compensate, they designed them to compensate for the rise in sea level they knew was coming. they knew all about it. they just didn't tell any of us about it. instead, they spent billions of dollars in the most powerful disinformation campaign in human
history. the most cons convention l-- co lie in human history. as over the course of a generation, they managed to prevent any real action on climate from taking place. and that may have been the crucial generation, the crucial few decades that we will never get back, and that will, you know, that geologists, if there are such things, mi lenna from now, will be able to study and describe. having realized that, at some point, the question became what to do about it. because it was unlikely that we were going to match the financial might of the fossil fuel industry. i mean exxon, for instance, in the early years of this century, was making more money each year than any company in the history
of money. they had what it took. the only way we decided to have any hope of matching that was to try and do what human beings have occasionally done in our history, in this country and around the world, which was build movements large enough and broad enough to begin to challenge that financial power, and so that's what we set out to do. it's a little hard now, now that there really are these great scene signs of progress, to remember how difficult and unlikely this was ten or 12 years ago. 2006, my first adventure in any of this, we organized a little march across the state of vermont, from robert frost's old summer writing cabin, for five days we walked up the west side of vermont, to burlington, which is our big city, it's only
50,000 people so not that big but it's what we've got and by the time we got there there were a thousand people marching and you guys, a thousand people, you wouldn't even notice, but in vermont, with the exception of the university of vermont hockey games, that's as many people that you get in one place at one time, and it was great, except that the newspaper the next day said that that gathering of a thousand people was probably the biggest demonstration about climate change that had yet taken place in the u.s. and we saw that, and no wonder we're losing. we have, everything you need for a movement, we've got the engineers and the policy guys, and the scientists, we have al gore, we have all of the kind of super structure of a movement. the only part we forgot was the movement part. there's nothing there to give it any, so that's what we tried to build. and when we say we at the beginning, i mean myself and search undergraduates, at the small college in rural vermont, where i teach, so this is
especially aimed at the students in the audience here, they did an unbelievable job. there were seven of them. there are seven continents. each one took one. the guy who took the antarctic also had to take the internet, okay? and they set out around the world to organize. and organize they did. ten years ago, this year, we had this first big day of global climate action. we didn't know if we would actually, if anyone would join in this thing that we were trying to do. we had asked everybody to come together on a saturday, to kind of try and make this point. we got the first sense it might work two days early on a thursday, we were sitting around our small office, and the phone rang, and it was our leader in ethiopia, who like all of us was a volunteer, like most of us was a she, like a surprising number of us was 17 years old, and she
was in tears, and she said the government's taken away our permit for saturday, so we're doing this today before they can stop us, which is brave, but that's not why she was crying, she kept saying that we wanted to do this the same day as everybody else, we wanted to be a part of the whole thing, we don't want to spoil, it we're really, really sorry and we have 10,000 kids out on the street right now in addis ababa chanting 350, and that was good. and that was really good to see these pictures roll in from all over the world. the second picture came from u.s. troops in afghanistan. they made a 350 with sandbags and said we're parking our humve for the weekend and walking. but as the pictures came in, from, as these pictures came in -- >> the u.s. military -- >> sit down. >> that's a reasonable point.
>> as the pictures came in, what was interesting about them was, to me, that i had always been told that environmentalism was something that rich white people did and if you didn't know where your next meal was coming from, you wouldn't be an environmentalist and so on and so forth. now, there were 5200 demonstrations and 181 countries that weekend. cnn said it was the most widespread day of political action in the planet's history. but it took maybe 20 minutes of watching them come in, to realize that almost everyone who was doing this work is poor and black and brown and asian and young. because that's what most of the world is composed of. and what do you no know? they were as interested in the
future and even more so because the future bears down hard on you if you're in kind of those places. and so, i don't know, it was beautiful to watch. people realized with wit. we had remarkable participation by religious communities around the world for the first time. that's the head of a multi-faith march in capetown and the head of south africa and the head of religious traditions and really around the world indigenous people have probably done more to lead this fight than any other single group. and the scarlet in the back, desmond tutu's successor is the anglican archbishop. i've been in the middle east to do some organizing and it is not an easy place to do that because there are too many walls and barriers in the way but the dead sea is shrinki rapidly as temperatures rise and the jordanians wanted to do
something and we will put a big three on our beach and then the five in palestine and the israeli, the zero where they were. china, i think we did about 200 demonstrations across china, not an easy place to do it and a bunch of people, a couple of them were broken up by the police and people arrested but china is completely fascinating part of this work, having built an enormous amount of coal-fired power plant, they are now building renewable power on a scale that we've never seen in the world before. those are your brothers and sisters in the maldives. in the indian ocean. in paradise in a way. and archipelago of about a thousand islands, stretching 1200 miles across the equator. beautiful white sand beaches. beautiful coconut palms. the highest place in the maldives about two meters above sea level. and that's not a good place to be in a rapidly-warming world.
but they're not giving up. they're fighting hard. and people around the world are fighting hard. this was the biggest story on google news for about 36 hours, and the reason i think was that people didn't look the way that editors think environmentalists are supposed look like. yemen is one of the more difficult places in the world for lots of reasons, that zero, there is all women in full black burka, so, to us, this don't look like the orange county chapter of the sierra club, having their meeting. but their hearts are just in the same place. they're not thinking about themselves. they're thinking about the future. about the larger world. and it was beautiful to see. there were, i confess, three or 400 pictures that ended up in a file marked 350 adorable. they were adorable. and they were also extraordinarily hard to look at. those girls are likely to be
refugees in their lifetime. and not from something they did. from something we did. we've gone on to hold, we think, about 20,000 of these demonstrations, in every corner of the world, small and large, and it's been beautiful work, and work that we've really enjoyed doing. a kind of ongoing educational project, as it were, and sometimes in very obvious and easy places, sometimes in places i had never heard of. sometimes in places that we had obviously heard of, but for other reasons. it's been -- wow, it's been profoundly gratifying to get to do that. we've done what they call the biggest art projects in the world. these installations with tens of thousands of human bodies, that one was organized by tom york, a radio head, who found several
thousand of his closest friends and gave them blue rain coats and there they made the image and for those of you with a good historical education, the image of king kanut trying to hold back the rising seas. there is a picture we see much too much of at the moment, people having to escape through the roof of their homes, as the waves rise. maybe the most beautiful one of those for me was this one from the dried up now riverbeds of the southwest, and when the satellite that we borrowed came over, two or 3,000 people put blankets up overhead and for a moment, they brought the river back to life. and it was a beautiful reminder. i wish that we could just go on doing this kind of education. and i think if we had 50 years to deal with this problem, it's what we'd do. humans change best when they change slowly. it's less traumatic for our economies. and our politics. and everything else.
but we don't have 50 years. we had to start, as we said, a years ago and we didn't, and we're way, way, way behind now. and so we've learned to do a little bit of confrontation along with the education. those are pictures from the beginning of the fight against the keystone pipeline. now seven years ago, i guess. which turned into the largest civil disobedience action by anyone this this country in many years, and it launched, well, it launched the fight against keystone, which continues to this day. we don't know yet whether they will ever succeed in building it or not. and people will continue to fight. more to the point, by demonstrating that it was possible to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, it launched, well, i mean, literally, now, every pipeline
gets fought, every frac well, every oil well everywhere, it was incredibly moving to watch people across california over the last year try to convince governor brown before he left to shut down the absurd process of granting new permits for more oil wells, in the middle of california, if there was any state in the world that should know that that's not where the future lies, this is it, and all of those fights go on, and we win a fair number of them, and even when we lose, we cause great problems for the fossil fuel industry. i don't know whether this is going to happen in time or not. because the effects are well advanced. i mean those are our brothers and sisters up in sigh beera, we now see wildfires three, four, five degrees of latitude, north of where we've ever seen them before. those are people who are literally having to evacuate their homes in micro neesha
because of how far things have risen that top red balloon is where the dead sea was 40 years ago. if it is not too little water, it is too much, these people in the part of pakistan in 2010 had the worst flood since noah, a rainstorm of the kind you can only have in a world where warmer air holding off water vapor unleashes those torrential downpours, this time up in the hindu kush, and it brought down so much water, that the indes river covered about a quarter of pakistan, 20 million people, so well more than half the population of california, moved from their homes. try to imagine evacuation on that scale. and you can tell by looking at them that they had nothing to do with the problem from which they are suffering now.
i don't know, as i say, whether we're going to get there in time or not, but i know that we are going to fight. and it's we that need to do it. that may have been the smallest demonstration we ever conducted. it was just some kids in a street that had turned in a little river in a town in haiti called les cayes in the southwest, and the signs they were carrying, it struck me, your actions affect me. that's completely true. les cayes, the year after that picture was taken was wiped off the map by a tremendous hurricane. a hurricane that did a tremendous amount of damage when it got to the carolinas too but obliterated that southwest corner of haiti. i have no idea if those kids are still alive anymore. your actions affect me. but not vice-versa. there is nothing they can do that really affects the outcome.
they can't burn less fossil fuel. they don't burn any now? okay? they can't, well, they can't go to the white house and protest at the center of world power, because we don't let haitians into the country, certainly not for purposes like that. they can't divest their stock portfolios. i guarantee you that the stock, the endowment of the uc system is 100 times the size of the total stock holdings of all of haiti. and you have a better sense than me. but that would be my guess. so we got to do the fighting. and increasingly, people are. and it's really good to see that there is resistance of all kinds, at all times, now. often, as i say, led by indigenous people, which has been one of the happiest parts
of the last few years, to have that voice at the very front of things, in part for very strategic reasons, when we isolated indigenous people, we sent them to places we thought were of no value, but turn out 100 years later to often be sitting on top of large carbon deposits, or thwart the various corridors over which we need to run pipelines and things. but also, because there's something extraordinarily powerful about having the oldest wisdom traditions on the planet and the newest wisdom traditions on the planet, in some kind of really powerful accord. division from the sweat lodge, and the vision from the super computer and the satellite line up really well and what they both say is that the conventional wisdom under which most of us operate is a flawed wisdom and one that needs to change. these are pictures from the huge march in new york in 2014, which until the women's march at the
start of the trump administration was the biggest gathering in many years in this country, and it was very beautiful to see, but it was matched by things going on all over the world, and the last pictures i'm going to show you almost, come from what was happening at the very same time, with our wonderful colleagues in the pacific 350 groups there, call themselves the pacific climate warriors. and they are on those island nations that are likely to disappear this century. tuvulu, vanatu, the solmonds, months, the marshalls, so on and so forth. and they on each island, cut down a tree and built a traditional canoe, and one for each island, and they took thno very far to australia, which is the biggest coal port on earth, more coal goes lieu it than any place on the planet and there for a day they blockaded that
port and kept that coal in port. it was a tremendously successful thing. it helped raise the consciousness of australians for sure about what was going on. in fact, check this out. a couple of months later, the city of newcastle, biggest coal port in the world, voted to divest its pension funds from fossil fuel, because they recognized sort of what it meant. but i want to show to you just to go back to something that dee miller was talking about, and amy, too, about sort of story, and power. and these are, thinking about, this as i was getting ready for this conference. since i'm a writer, there are, i know that there are certain sort of tropes that live in the human mind that are really powerful. and one of them, one of the most powerful is the kind of battle between the few and enormous
versus the small and the many. which you see, that's one of the biggest ships in the world, in front of those boats, and that's, you know, the death star versus the rebel alliance, okay? and once you start seeing it, you see it everywhere. that same summer, in seattle, shell oil was determined to head up into the arctic, to start drilling there. think about that for a minute. just in passing. scientists had told us that if we kept doing what we were doing, we would melt the arctic. indeed, they turned out to be correct. and the arctic melted. way more than half of the summer sea ice in the arctic is now gone. so did shell look at that and say, huh, maybe we should go
into a different business, solar panels, something like that? no. shell looked at that and said, now that the arctic's melted, it will be easier to drill for more oil. that calls into question whether the big brain was a good adaptation or not, it seems to me. happily, there were lots of people with good brain, and good hearts attached to them, who decided to get in the way. you can see them there. we called them kayak-tivists. and there they are, in front of that 40-story monolith, that drill rig that's about to go off, okay, and they did so much brand damage to shell that by the end of the summer, shell had tossed in the towel and said we spent $9 billion on this and we're not going to spell more, and that was emblematic of what
people can do. so let me just end by saying, time for us to do some stuff. if you've been keeping your powder dry, now would be a good time to do something. and there are many opportunities to do things. i was glad to see our friends from citizens climate lobby out working in the lobby, you know, working on carbon pricing, which is important. [ applause ] >> it is a spectacular moment to be working on this green new deal stuff. i think that people are going to congresswoman porter's office next week, is that correct, monday. >> monday at 2:00. >> monday at 2:00. thank you very much. to make sure that she signs up to back this green new deal in congress. which is the mest encouraging thing in the longest time. i told you before about greta
thunburg, this wonderful young woman in sweden, who started these school strikes. well, it's come to these shores. on march 15, there will be a big climate strike by students. if you're a student, that would be a good day to be somewhere else, not here. out doing something profound that helps in this fight. and the rest of us will get a chance, keep your eyes peeled, i think we're going to try to do a kind of all ages version of this, before very much longer. because we desperately need everybody on board. it is true that young people have done most of the leading and fighting, and that's key, because young people are going to have to live with this, you know, longer than the rest of us. i'll be dead before it hits at its absolute maximum impact. but people who are in college right now, studying whatever they're studying, will have
their lives profoundly disrupted, there will be nothing to do but kind of emergency reaction at a certain point. and unless we're able to head this off. and older people can play particular useful roles. i remember writing that letter that asked people to come to washington and get arrested at the start of the keystone fight. which is not an easy kind of letter to have to write. but one of the things i said in it was i did not think that in this case young people should actually have to be the kind of cannon fodder. if you're 22, it's possible that having an arrest record is not the best thing possible for your resume, you know. one of the unmixed blessings of growing older is past a certain point, what the hell are they
going to do to you, you know? [ laughter ] now, we did not ask people, when they came to get arrested, how old they were. that would be rude. but we did cleverly, i think, say who was president when you were born, and the two biggest cohorts were from the fdr and the truman administrations. that was good. it was good for the young people who were there to see their elders acting the way that eld ev ever, elders need to act in a working society. i'm not saying you have to be get arrested. i'm not saying that is the end of the world. the end of the world is the end of the world. [ laughter ] but i am saying that you need to figure out how to go outside your comfort zone, in a serious way, because the planet is a mile outside its comfort zone, okay? way, way outside its comfort
zone. and it's the job of us at this moment in human history, to figure out how to stop that. we are capable of doing it. i don't know if we will do it because we have to move quickly. the thing always to bear in mind about climate change, maybe it's the single most salient feature in the political sense, is that it is the first time test that humans have ever encountered. if we don't get it right very quickly, then we will never get it right. there is not a plan to re-freeze the arctic once it's melted. so that's our job. i cannot promise you that we're going to win. because we don't know. >> it's not that we're not going to win -- >> hey, come on, come on. come on. >> the problem is --
>> that's all right. >> we don't have much time to stop the extinction of humanity, and this is not only a bunch of hype and delusion, but it's dangerous. >> that's possible. >> the problem is -- >> so i won't -- >> don't insult me. >> hopefully, no one should assault you. >> and i've been trying actually hard to speak to it. i do think that we need fundamental change, and that's precisely what we're talking about. and it's actually beautiful to see people like congresswoman ocasio-cortez who i do not think is some dupe of the system trying to cover things up, proposing bold and profound action. action that i really, really,
you know, i am, my dearest friend in this work, and kind of closest companion, intellectually in a lot of it, is naomi kline, who introduced the green new deal crew on tuesday when they had a nationwide webinar and call-an call-in and things and it was really profound to listen to her words. we do need big change. and we do need it very fast. and we need it all over the globe, so that means that we need as many people as possible engaged in that fight. and that's always the trick. how do you do things in a way that brings enough people on board to let you change in the time that you have? we'll see if we can. i don't know. but i do know that it's going to be a fight. that people are now engaged all
over the planet. and that's a good feeling. those of you who are in this fight, should know, if you have brothers, and sisters, everywhere, who are in it with you, and you should take heart and confidence from that, confidence not, as i said, that we're going to win necessarily, but confidential that it's worth the attempt. and worth the try. so i just want to say thank you to all who have worked hard in this already. and thank you all so that everybody will join in going forward. it's going to take pretty much all of us. thank you very much. [ applause ] >> questions? >> so i've rattled on for a good
long while. and used up a lot of time and we're going to get in just a minute to the more interesting part of the afternoon. but amy says we have a little while for questions. or comments. or abuse. or whatever you have in mind would be fine. >> i'll use my bull horn voice. >> stand up. >> the green new deal, oh, it's working now. no amount of policy is actually going to transform this. because what's at the root of this problem is not bad policy and not even just rogue oil companies, it's actually the
very dynamics of the system of capitalism that's driven by ruthless competition. whether it be this country, who has the military as the number one consumer of oil, per capita, in this world, or whether it be somebody like china, somebody's going to take that place, because they're driven by the dynamics of competition that are integrated into the system of capitalism. that has had fossil fuels running through its veins from head to toe. so we need a movement of people, millions of people throughout the world but to make an actual revolution to overthrow the system of capitalism we don't need to lock people into the voting booths while the planet burns. you're leading people right back into it. >> so i see you're bob avakian, revolutionary, communist party. i think the, i think that one of
the interesting questions is how systems change. so you know, the revolutionary communist party has been saying the same thing for a long time and hasn't actually changed. it strikes me that actually there are interesting possibilities for making pretty profound change right now. so we talked before, let's take a good example, about renewable energy, all right? one of the many sources of the concentrations of wealth and power in this world, and the inequalities and imbalances, is the fact that our maybe most important commodity is found in a few places, all right? deposits of coal and gas and oil. and so the people who happen to have control of them have inordinate power. whether it's vladimir putin, or the saudi royal family, or in
our country, the coch brothers, are the most important political players, and also our biggest oil and gas barons. now in a world that moved swifrtly toward local energy sources like the sun and the wind which are omnipresent and ubiquitous, one of the results would be at least some good increase in the democ tieization of power on this planet. >> i think that is a useful thing to aim for. i think undercutting the power of people like the koch brothers is a good first step to things or a good deep step to things. i also think and i said this before, that given the timed test that we're now in, that we better be able to find those futures of the current world in which we live that we can make work for us.
so for instance, i'm a methodist sunday schoolteacher but i'm prepared to concede that perhaps this would all be easier if people all around the world subscribed to some nature-based religion, that we, you know, but that's not going to happen, in the time that we have, so it's useful that we've been able to find, in the sacred texts of most of our, all of our world faiths around the world, things that are really useful to help us make this move in the right direction. it's been profound, for instance, to watch the pope come out with one of the most deep critiques of where we are that we've ever seen. and based on the idea that we're supposed love our neighbors. so i, you know, it's possible that you and bob avakian and the
revolutionary communist party have the only tool there is to get us forward but frankly i doubt it, and i think that we're going to to need to, i'm very, very impressed by what's happening with the young people who are giving us the green new deal now, going forward, and i think it probably behooves some of the rest of us to start trying to get behind them in a serious way. >> let's let someone else -- shut the hell up. let's let someone else talk for a while. because you've gotten a good shot at it. over here. >> is this on? >> okay. so i just wanted to talk about this. first of all, the planet has been pretty much screwed since 20 years ago, so there is no need to talk about a communist revolution that's going to change everything in the next five years, it's going to fix, when we are already negative 20 years behind. secondly i'm sick and tired of
hearing the excuses from the internet communist, i'm not a capital lift be and i think a social lift system in economics is going to help everybody including environmentally, but this idea that you can just blame all of it on economics, and think that you can get away with not having to take personal action, in order to change the environment, in order to help the environment, that's the most ridiculous thing i have ever heard in my life. okay? i've heard it all the time from you guys. i'm sick and tired of it. okay. so, so my question is, do you think that we need to talk more about the meat industry? because i have been vegan for a long time, i think my family's been vegan since about 20 years ago, so the meat industry makes up about 30% of the entire world's contributions to global warming, or climate change, or whatever. that is a huge industry. and no, i don't want to hear an
excuse about how you can change that economically. i want to talk about, you know, the consumers. >> okay, i think i've got the basic point so let me, first of all, let me just say, like uci is really woke. i mean, second thing, so i take your point. we think that actually the best estimates are, livestock industry, if you take all accounts, accounts for about 18% of emissions, which is a lot, as you point out, okay? so the question is, what to do about that. how to make it, how to change that, how to change people's diets. one possibility is to run a campaign to turn everybody into vegans and that's fine. i think it is probably hard to do rapidly in the time that we have. about a half percent of americans are vegans at the moment. and if we ran a super great campaign, my guess, as an organizer if everybody put all,
we might get that up to 5% or something and that would be terrific, okay, but not enough to numerically change the outcome here very much. and i got to say, having spent an awful lot of time in other parts of the world, and in many of them in newly-developing parts of the world, on this question in particular, you're swimming upstream hard. there's lots of people who are just coming into the kind of meat-eating phase, and they like it. and so it's, it's not a slam dunk, okay? so the question is, what things might change that? and the meat industry is a kind of good example of where there are levers here. the industrialized agriculture system is in essence a way of using fossil fuel, i mean, to basically, our agricultural
system across the american midwest, you know, we plant corn and pour oil over it, more or less, and we have, well, you know, how industrialized agricultural works. one of its vulnerabilities is that rely on sun cheap energy, if we got say some of the things that say the citizens climate lobby is talking about, that signal sent through that system would have profound effects. it would help move us towards a much more localized agriculture, with lots more farmers on the land, which would be a good thing in many ways, and it might well move us precisely, i mean it would certainly get us away from the concentrated animal feeding operations and things that are the biggest hallmarks of our live stock system. i guess what i'm trying to say is that individual action is, as you say, important, okay? and i think in this case, the
most compelling individual, the most compelling kind of movement building i've heard from are these people who are talking about what they call reduce sitarianism and trying to persuade people to cut back by half or two-thirds the amount of meat they eat which strikes me as achievable in many ways especially because we know a lot about health effects and things but as important as individual actions are, we cannot make the math work at this point with those alone. i mean my house is covered with solar panels, as i was telling students earlier today. my family ate nothing that didn't come out of our valley in vermont for a very long time. i drove the first electric ford, and state, so on and so forth, i don't try to fool myself that that is how we are going to solve climate change. the most important thing an individual can do at this point
is be a little bit less of an individual. it's join together with others in the movements that are capable of making change. so think about, just think about the math, a little bit. if you can get that 5% of people who you might be able to persuade with a big organizing campaign to be vegans, if you could instead, or in addition, get those 5% of people deeply involved in this larger climate fight, 5% is enough to win. we know from example after example around the world that if you can get a movement going and you get 5% of people deeply engaged in it, you win. because apathy cuts both way. there's not people out organizing hundreds of thousands of people in the street to demand more fossil fuels or whatever it is, okay? and if you win on that, then you send a series of messages through that amount to really large scale change. that's why i organize, you know, the way that i do.
and why i like watching the sunrise movement and these guys organize in the ways they do, but if you, as i said before, it is completely possible to start, i mean, i mean we started 350 with myself, kind of, you know, introverted writer, and seven undergraduates, so if you get a good campaign going that's turning people into vegans, left and right, we'll do what we can to help back it, and work on it. and so good for you to be engaged in it. thanks. [ applause ] >> bill, my question is based in the project drawdown initiative. >> paul hawkins. >> a 100 of the best solutions for the climate. and certainly, renewable energy gets a great deal of exposure. there's so many hopeful pieces of that initiative that don't get much exposure, and that's the base of my question to you, and just a couple of points
there, they say the first one is about refrigerants, changing worldwide refrigerants is the most important piece, you know, the top ten have only two or three that are actually clean energy or renewable energy. very interesting pieces that you've touched on in some ways. and the last piece i'd point out is that when we listen to paul hawkin discuss this, he combined two of them, i think it was number six and seven, together, they become the second most important, and they are about educating women worldwide, and family planning, spreading family planning services worldwide. which seem to be really compelling and hopeful pieces of a solution available to us. and i just -- >> those are very powerful and important, and this book is well worth reading if you don't know it. it's called drawdown, and it's kind of a list of all of the different things, some of them highly technical, some of them cultural, that we could do, that would help a great deal. i think the reason above all that we concentrate a lot on
fossil fuel is because if one could break the power of the fossil fuel industry, then the political possibilities for change in a huge number of directions open up. that's the place where the blockage exists, you know. think about the united states. the fact that the gop exists as a kind of wholly-owned instead riff the fossil fuel industry. and that the democrats to one degree or another are kind of terrified of the fossil fuel industry, keeps us from making change at anywhere near the pace we immediate to go. so that is why it is really important. and it's possible to stand up to that. it has been really powerful to watch young people and others around the world push this divestment campaign. we started it six years ago. modeled on the one that helped end apartheid in south africa,
and after desmond tutu, south africa asked that we do, it and we're now at the point where it is the largest anti- corporate campaign of its kind in history. we're past $8 trillion in endowments and portfolios that have divested, shell oil said this year that it represented a material risk to its business. so i think that's why we lean hard here. you've got to look, given the time that we have, for the pressure points that we can raise, and that's why it is so important, i think. >> i can't really see you. there you are. >> i might get in a fight with the other people that are pretty angry though if i stand up. my thought is about the aggression and of the comment about the world screwed, things like that. because i've been listening to
this kind of environmental movement since i was little. my parents were talking about it in the '70s. and back then, the world was screwed. right? and i wonder if that turns off people to, well, if it's already screwed, then why would i be a vegan? right? so my question is, is it a sales piece? so the kind of aggression, i love the passion that i see out of people, but i wonder if that aggressive, the world is over, you know, i wonder if the environmental movement just needs almost a pr piece, or a sales team? >> people say this from time to time. and i mean i'm in the sense the wrong person to ask. i'm a writer. i'm a writer so my job is above all to just tell the truth. okay? but as i said at the beginning of this talk, there are very bad signs about the world, and there's no sense, i mean when
you're watching glaciers collapse into the ocean will, is no point in not saying what's happening but there are also very good things going on around the world. the rapid ability to deploy renewable energy if we wanted to. the rise of movements, demanding change. these are very good things. so i don't think it's -- when we started 350.org, we took the name from what scientists said was the most important number in the world. the amount of carbon you could safely have in the atmosphere, 350 parts per million, but as we took it, we were, i mean we did it largely because we knew we wanted to organize globally, so we figured arabic numerals would work better than english words, you know, in helping leap across linguistic boundaries, and you saw the pictures. but the other, the potential
drawback was people said well 350, it is really depressing because we're already past it, and so on. i thought that that was not correct. my guess was, and i think that this has been born out, that it's more like, when you go to, well you're not quite old enough for, this but when bow to the doctor at a certain point, the doctor starts talking to you about cholesterol, okay? and when the doctor, if the doctor says to you, at some point in your future, if you keep eating the way you're eating, you may some day have a high cholesterol and -- no one does anything, you know. they just keep doing what they were doing. but if the doctor glances up from his paperwork, and says hmm, you seem already to be well above where you're supposed to be, you're in the zone where people have heart, it looks like you may have had a couple of small strokes already, okay?
that's the moment when people say, huh, what pill would i actually need to take here, you know. i sense from the laughter that several that several people here have had this conversation with their doctor. that's where we are. so just like you wouldn't want your doctor to blow smoke up your colon, you also, you know, wouldn't want scientists to pretend that we weren't so someplace where we are. you need the doctor tell you where you are and give you some sense of where we are. that's where we are. it requires maturity. i'm convinced that humans are capable of that kind of maturity. especially if we could stop the endless repeated lying coming from the fossil fuel industry that for 30 years has drowned out every attempt to tell the
truth. i gotta say, without repeating myself, that that's just something to take on board, to really understand, that the richest industry on earth was willing to use that power to tell what became the most significant lie in human history. and it worked. i mean, we have a president of the united states who believes that climate change is a hoax invented by the chinese. if you were sitting on a public bus and someone was muttering that next to you, you would get up and move to a different seat. okay? that's what happens when you have an unlimited budget to tell lies. good point. >> i'm told this is our last question. then we're going to be setting up for the panel. there will be more time for discussion after the panel and all day tomorrow. so this is our last question. >> i just want to thank you very much for your talk.
i found it simultaneously depressing -- [ applause ] and also inspiring. i was wondering if you could talk about the relative roles of sort of pessimism and optimism? i'm thinking in particular of some of the challenges of climate change involving refugees and economic distress and the case for optimism in that context. thank you. >> sure. this is a really important question. and profound. i'm afraid this is one of the ones where we have already done enough damage that we're going to see real affect. start with syria. we now think that one of the
major reasons for what happened in syria, the outbreak of the civil war, was the deepest drought in the history of what we used to call the fertile crescent. in the course of a year or two, a million farm families were driven off the farm and into the cities, already crowded and already unstable and a vicious and horrible government in syria. it all just came apart. you see what happened as several million people fled syria and a million of them made it to europe. it destabilized the politics of western europe and to some degree politics even of our country. or look what's happening in central america right now. one of the reasons that honduras, nicaragua, he will salvador are destabilized is because there are few places
where you have countries with oceans immediately adjacent on both sides. as those oceans have heated and as i think you will hear tomorrow, most of the heat that we're managing to capture from the sun is staying in the oceans, as those oceans have heated, they have had extreme affects on those places. really profound drought. people are being driven into cities. those cities are destabilized by other things. we're seeing great outbreaks of violence and people fleeing. you can sense what affect that's had -- retrograde on the politics of the state. imagine a world, the one predicted by the u.n. at this point, where something like 250 oh 300 million people are on the move by the middle of the century, which isn't very far away from climate change. and try to imagine how the planet copes with those kind of tensions.
some of that's already baked in. so we better start figuring out how to do it and building a wall is not a good answer to that question. [ applause ] some of it perhaps can still be prevented if we move with enormous speed to try and -- it allows one to end really by just reminding everyone that among other things, but maybe on top of other things, climate change is the single most unjust thing we have ever managed to do on this planet. there's an almost perfect inverse correlation between how much of the problem you caused and how much of the affect you are suffering. the less you did, the worse you get it. one of our tasks -- this
really -- it's one of the reasons why it's powerful to see the green new deal in this country trying to talk a lot about social justice. it's one of the reasons we need to think about it in global terms in those ways, too. we're going to have to meet that profound justice with profound -- profound injustice with profound attempts action justice all over the planet. not just because it's the right thing to do but because at this point it's the only practical thing to do. that will be a hard task. but, you know, people have -- one of the things to get out of our minds is that we're the only people who ever had to face hard tasks. our grandparents had to deal with fascism in europe. that meant a lot of them had to die in the process. we're not -- we don't have to do that.
we don't have to kill anybody. just the opposite. but we do have to get to work. if there's any message that i want to leave you all with, it's just that. it's a really good idea to be having a big symposium and discussion of this over the next couple of days. but coming out of it, i mean, since you came, you now have the burden on you to do something. maybe it's not the best way to think about it as a burden. maybe the best way to think about it is as a privilege. we happen to be alive at the moment and in a place with the kind of resources and power that we can make a tangible difference in the outcome of the greatest problem that not very much people ever get to say i'm doing the most important thing i could be doing in the world right now. if you get involved in this fight, you will be able to say that and with a straight face.
i just look forward to being shoulder to shoulder with you all going forward. thank you. [ applause ] watch american history tv live on saturday, starting at 9:00 eastern from historic ford's theater in washington, d.c., for the 22nd annual abraham lincoln symposium. this gathering brings together lincoln scholars to highlight the 16th president's life, career and legacy.
watch american history tv this weekend on c-span3. next week on c-span3, american history tv in prime time. starting at 8:00 p.m. eastern on monday, a symposium on the civil war, its causes and the roles of african-americans and southern unionists. we will hear from john meechum. elisebeth varan also. the u.s. special representative for north korea spoke at a recent conference on countering nuclear proliferation hosted by the carnegie endowment for international peace. he was interviewed by a "new york times" reporter. >> thank you for being with us today.