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Interview with Bill McKibben of 350.org

Publié le 1 décembre, 2009 | Pas de commentaires

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As the world prepares for December’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, I talked with Bill McKibben, author and founder of 350.org, an international climate campaign that helped organize events in countries around the world, including Canada, for the international day of action on climate change on October 24. In the interview, McKibben discusses the significance of 350 – what he describes as « the most important number in the world ». He also reflects on the current state of international climate negotiations leading up to Copenhagen and what it will take for nations to agree on a bold, global emissions reduction plan. This comes at a time when, given the extremely slow progress of recent negotiations, many observers have concluded that next month’s conference in Copenhagen will almost certainly not produce a new international agreement to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol.

 Bill McKibben Portrait
Nancie Battaglia,
Bill McKibben Portrait, 2009
Certains droits réservés.

MB: What is 350.org?

BM: 350 is the most important number in the world. James Hansen at NASA produced a paper saying that any amount of carbon in the atmosphere greater than 350 parts per million is not compatible with the planet on which civilization developed or to which life on earth is adapted. We’re already past 350 – we’re at 387 – and rising which is why the Arctic is melting; it’s why Australia is on fire; it’s why we’re seeing historic floods and so on.

Our organization, 350.org, is planning a huge global day of action on October 24 all around the world six weeks before the United Nations climate negotiations in Copenhagen. It’s going to be the biggest day of environmental action the world has ever seen.

MB: What does the 350 ppm target mean in terms of the emissions reductions that will be required?

It requires that we stand on the brakes and throw this whole system into reverse. Not a gradual braking to a halt but a squealing U-turn. It basically means weaning ourselves off fossil fuels by the middle of this century and we have got to leave most of the coal in the ground.

I wrote the first book about this twenty years ago called The End of Nature, which isn’t particularly cheerful, but even then we didn’t understand quite how quickly we were going to need to move.

 Carbon Planet - Ice Sculpture in Darling Harbour – 19
Kirsten Spry, Carbon Planet –
Ice Sculpture in Darling Harbour – 19
, 2007
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MB: Many scientists now think it is too late to stop global warming. Do you think that 350 is a realistic target and that we still have time?

BM: It’s as realistic as we make it. It’s not that we’re going to stop global warming. We’re not. The question is whether we’re going to stop it short of some civilization-scale challenge or not and that’s an open question that will be decided in the next few years.

MB: What needs to be done for us to get to 350 ppm?

BM: The sine qua non is to get a price on carbon fast. If that price is stiff enough, then hopefully that will put market systems into action and we’ll see a large scale and rapid mobilization of resources. We also need quick investments by governments in clean energy research and direct regulation of some carbon sources like automobiles.

MB: How have we become so reliant on fossil fuels and why have we completely failed to address this problem so far?

BM: Because fossil fuels were incredibly cheap and incredibly powerful. That’s why we’re rich in some of the ways and why we’re reluctant to let go. And of course there are also incredibly powerful vested interests that make unbelievable amounts of money. Exxon Mobil made more money last year than any company in the history of money. Hence the need for organizing.

MB: Would you agree with Thomas Homer-Dixon when he says that “change of the magnitude we require happens only when we are galvanized by some kind of crisis or systemic breakdown”?

BM: I think we have that now. What does it mean when the Arctic, which has been frozen for millions of years, melts? What does it mean when the government of Australia says we’re not going to call it a drought any longer because drought implies it might come to an end some day? We’re in that breakdown.

MB: What would the implications of a post-carbon economy be for the tar sands in Alberta?

 Copenhagen Central Space Station
Björn Söderqvist, Copenhagen
Central Space Station
, 2008
Certains droits réservés.

BM: We’ve got to leave coal in the ground and we’ve got to leave unconventional oil in the ground. The ecological cost of extracting that stuff is simply too high for the planet to bear. It’s not going to make Calgary oil executives happy but on the other hand it’s going to give Athabascan native people some chance of holding on to those landscapes where they have been for thousands of years.

MB: So 350.org is helping people to plan events all over the world on October 24 including in Canada?

BM: Yes, 350.org is not organizing events directly so it’s really an opportunity for people to get involved with initiatives that are already being planned or to start their own, large or small. And 350.org is the hub of all this. If there isn’t a rink someplace in Canada with 350 hockey players on it, I’ll be disappointed.

We just passed the 1000 actions mark and we are now getting near to half the countries in the world participating. We need many, many more so go to 350.org and register an event and think creatively. It’s like a potluck supper. We’re setting the date and the theme but we need everybody else to do the cooking and we need them to start right away because there’s really not a moment to waste.

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