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United Methodist leads climate change movement

{mosimage}SWANNANOA, N.C. – Bill McKibben is “the world’s best green journalist,” Time magazine said – and he’s a United Methodist. McKibben spoke at Warren Wilson College just prior to his 350.org Day of Action Oct. 10. Foreign Policy magazine called last year’s October 350 demonstrations “the largest ever global coordinated rally of any kind,” aimed at activating the world into reducing the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) from 390 to 350 parts per million.

By Emily Cooper

{mosimage}SWANNANOA, N.C. – Bill McKibben is “the world’s best green journalist,” Time magazine said – and he’s a United Methodist.

McKibben spoke at Warren Wilson College just prior to his 350.org Day of Action Oct. 10. Foreign Policy magazine called last year’s October 350 demonstrations “the largest ever global coordinated rally of any kind,” aimed at activating the world into reducing the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) from 390 to 350 parts per million.

Noting that he was getting the “bummers” out of the way in the first part of his talk, the author and former New Yorker staff writer laid out the basis for his deep concerns: Although McKibben wrote his first book on climate change in 1989, when the CO2 level was little more than 350, “what we didn’t know 20 years ago is how quickly this is going to pinch.”

The Northern Hemisphere has seen the “most brutal summer ever,” the “warmest year,” McKibben said, and it’s “a taste of what’s to come.”

McKibben said he knew it was unusual when Pakistanis were mentioning the weather in a telephone conversation this summer. “It’s always hot in Pakistan,” he said, but this year they told him it was 129 degrees in an un-air-conditioned culture.

With warmer air comes more moisture; this year it was 4 to 5 percent more than five years ago, “which loaded the dice for much more deluges. Wilmington, N.C., had its second 1,000-year-flood in 11 years. Pakistan has 20 million people on the move” as a result of the devastating floods. And “Pakistani farmers are not causing the problem,” McKibben said.

“In Russia, epic heat-waves produced intense fires,” McKibben said, and now the third-largest grain exporter in the world doesn’t have grain to export.

In the Artic, there is “less volume of ice than ever before. The Northeast and Northwest passages are both open for the second time ever.”

When McKibben was bitten by the mosquito in India, he was sicker than he had ever been, and many were dying. As heat increases, moisture rises, and Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease with no known treatment, is spreading in Asia, with cases in India at a 20-year high.

“I thought, ‘How unfair!’ Most of these people use rickshaws as their transportation.”

When the writer returned to his teaching at Middlebury College in Vermont, he gathered a small group of writer-friends, called on his United Methodist connections for a chain of potlucks – “Methodist sacraments, you know” – and began a hike toward the state capitol. That led to the global organization culminating Oct. 24, 2009, with 5,200 demonstrations in 181 countries.

McKibben “went to church and cried” when Bishop Tutu and other world leaders worshipped during the failed global Climate Conference in Copenhagen in 2009. It is the world’s poor who will bear the brunt of severe climate changes – “people, on every corner of the world, dealing with drought and flood, already unable to earn their daily bread in the places where their ancestors farmed for generations.”

He returned with the determination that changing all the light bulbs in the world and driving Priuses won’t solve the problem fast enough until legislation is passed that sets a price on carbon and makes fossil fuel companies pay for the damage it does – letting them “use the atmosphere as an open sewer.”

McKibben asked people to call for legislation to make a difference, and cited NASA climatologist Jim Hansen’s warning five years ago: “Multiple lines of evidence indicate that the Earth’s climate is nearing … a point of no return, beyond which it will be impossible to avoid climate change with far-ranging undesirable consequences.”

“But,” McKibben asked, “can we muster the political will to do it fast enough? There are scientists who think it’s too late, it’s irreversible; there are political scientists who think the odds are too high.”

McKibben used to hear saving the environment was a movement for rich, white people, but now he sees it is a movement of the “poor, of black, brown, Asians …”

The 2010 Day of Action kicked off in New Zealand and Australia. In Beijing, hundreds of volunteers walked through the city collecting trash as a symbol of how much waste is in the public sphere. “This was the biggest show of youth environmental action in China's history,” a spokesperson said.

In the Philippines, thousands of people in the capital Manila joined a run to raise awareness about the polluted Pasig River. In the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, between 150 and 200 people demonstrated at a market in a poor area of the city where they picked up litter and planted trees. Demonstrations continued as the Earth circled the sun, Oct. 10, 2010.

 

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