- Tracy Ko/Daily
By Anna Rozenberg, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 14, 2012
Renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben visited the University Friday afternoon to urge activism for sustainable efforts, and highlight environmental issues plaguing the world.
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At the event, co-sponsored by the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise and the Graham Sustainability Institute, McKibben shared pictures and stories of his personal battle against the oil industry, before answering questions from audience members.
“Unless we understand the scale and pace of (global warming), it’s hard to understand what scale of solution we need,” McKibben said in his opening remarks.
McKibben’s website, 350.org, was founded in January 2008 to raise awareness of global warming, and was inspired by findings by Tim Hanson, a scientist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Hanson found that the safe limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million, and there is currently 392 ppm.
On October 24, 2009, 350.org helped spur 5,200 demonstrations in 181 countries to protest lowered carbon emissions. Despite the protests, McKibben said world leaders need to collaborate to establish policies centered on sustainable practices.
“It should’ve been enough,” McKibben said. “(Our leaders) should be taking action, but they’re not.”
During his address, McKibben proceeded to provide an array of examples of how the Earth has been negatively impacted by human pollution.
“Think about the oceans — our metaphor for vastness,” he said. “The ocean is 30 percent more acid than it was four years ago. Its pH, its chemistry, has changed in a dramatic fashion.”
McKibben examined the erratic weather patterns that North America has experienced in the last six months — including the national heat wave last March — using it as another example of how global warming has impacted the environment.
“You recall it because it kind of felt nice ... but it kind of felt ominous too,” he said. “It wasn’t supposed to be like that. Every flower and tree went immediately into blossom, and in April when we had the typical frost, that was that.”
McKibben also discussed how the abnormal weather negatively impacted grain harvests in North America, leading to an increase in prices. He said that while the 15 to 16-percent hike in costs was manageable for some, it severely affected many American citizens.
He also shared his initiative to inspire religious organizations and schools to divest from fossil fuel companies.
After discussing the plan, McKibben closed with words meant to inspire the crowd.
“I don’t know if we’re going to win, but I sure as hell know we’re going to fight,” he said.
After the speech, listeners moved to the lobby to mingle, and had the opportunity to get a copy of McKibben’s book signed.
LSA freshman Lindsey Scullen said she heard about the event in her environmental writing class and came because she is interested in working to protect the environment.
“There were moments during the speech where I wanted to cry almost,” she said. “I knew it was a problem, but I didn’t realize how large of a problem it was.”
Scullen said that after hearing McKibben’s speech, she plans on getting involved in an environmental organization on campus.
Kyle Overman — an LSA senior and a member of Students for Clean Energy, a new organization on campus — went to the event to support the movement for sustainable living.
He added that SCE plans on asking University President Mary Sue Coleman to sign a petition that will show the University’s commitment to becoming 100 percent sustainable.
Fifth-year LSA student Joseph Evergreen Snow Varilone was one of the few audience members who got a chance to ask McKibben a specific question.
“I wanted to get a sense of where the state of the environmental movement is at, specifically the part of the movement that has a broad following,” he said.
Varilone said he thinks the problems McKibben spoke of are widespread, adding that he questions the methods of counteracting global warming.
“I think, in some ways, this is a problem more drastic than we’ve ever seen before and drastic problems require drastic solutions,” Varilone said.
Ian Dillingham contributed to this report.