Hurricane Matthew had killed at least 800 people in Haiti and was bearing down on Florida as environmentalist Bill McKibben spoke Thursday at Oberlin College.
With the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recording the hottest temperatures in history in July and August, warmer oceans are increasing the intensity of catastrophic weather events like Matthew and making them routine, McKibben said.
Beyond helping the victims, he said the challenge is to provide them with a world they can survive and thrive in.
McKibben said it will be extremely difficult, but possible. The polar ice caps are melting, oceans rising, and drought, famine, flooding, and wildfires are increasing due to global warming. He said long-term solutions aren’t feasible and immediate action must be taken.
“Time is very, very short. Much shorter than our political class at this point envisions,” McKibben told about 200 people gathered at Finney Chapel. “If we do not solve it fast, we will not solve it. We will reach a point where our ability to intervene will be gone.”
The speech was part of “After Fossil Fuels,” a three-day conference hosted by the college. McKibben, a 55-year-old author of about a dozen books, has been sounding the alarm about global warming since his 1989 book, “The End of Nature.”
McKibben, also founded www.350.org, a group that has organized thousands of worldwide protests against global warming. Its name references the maximum parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for a sustainable planet.
Protests have included mass arrests in front of the White House that pressured President Barack Obama’s administration to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline project in November. In introducing McKibben, Oberlin College president Marvin Krislov called him “one of the most insightful and power voices on the subject of global warming.”
McKibben, who is touring the nation promoting activism and his new book, said his aim isn’t to scare people, but to enlighten and energize them.
A 2012 report by The Carbon Tracker Initiative found that if the world’s coal, natural gas, and oil companies burn all their current underground reserves, it will increase warming four to five times above the 350 ppm limit, making the planet unlivable. McKibben cited a report released last month, which said if all of the carbon burned from active coal mines, natural gas, and oil fields continues at its current pace, it would increase warming more than two degrees and above the 350 target.
He said the only solution is a “swift and managed decline” of fossil fuel production in the next few years and a transition to solar and wind power, adding that due to methane leakage from fracking, natural gas is not a bridge to renewable energy.
McKibben noted solar panel costs have decreased about 80 percent since 2011. He said a World War II-like production effort of solar panels and wind turbines is doable, but Big Oil companies oppose it because it’s harder to profit off the sun and wind.
“We could, if we wanted to, build around this world enough renewable energy in the time we have to do what needs to be done,” he said. “It is technically possible if we’re good about conservation and efficiency, if we change some of the ways in which we live and if we work like hell to build out this stuff.”
McKibben said political leaders have to be pushed through massive protests.
He said if Republican Donald Trump — who said global warming is a hoax — is elected president, it would be disastrous for the planet.
However, McKibben, who helped write the Democratic Party platform on climate change, said if Democrat Hillary Clinton is elected, she will also need to be pressured.
“No leader is going to take us where we need to go at the pace we need to by themselves,” he said. “Absent movements forcing change, change on this scale never happens. That’s the lesson of American history (and) world history.”
Audience member Izzy Esler, a 2015 Oberlin College graduate and college employee, said after the speech that she found McKibben articulate and inspiring.
“I appreciated the urgency that was conveyed,” she said, “but also that he put a concrete vision and solutions and strategies forward.”
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter
Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News-Tribune Author and climate change activist Bill McKibben spoke last Thursday to about 200 people at Finney Chapel. McKibben is the head of www.350.org, a group protesting global warming. He said the planet cannot survive without an immediate, steep reduction in fossil fuel use and a massive commitment to solar and wind energy. McKibben spoke as part of After Fossil Fuels, a three-day conference hosted by Oberlin College.