By: Kelly Rockey
“Scientists have identified the greatest problem that we have ever faced as a civilization, and given us a warning about it,” said environmental activist Bill Mckibben during an interview on the May 16 episode of Bellingham’s Chuckanut Radio Hour, hosted at Whatcom Community College.
The show was held in Heiner Theater and the college welcomed environmentalist, journalist and author McKibben as the featured guest of the episode.
The Chuckanut Radio Hour is an award winning radio variety show in Bellingham, and airs on KMRE 102.3 FM every Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 9 p.m. It was created in 2007 by Chuck and Dee Robinson, owners of Village Books in Fairhaven. The Robinsons host the show along with announcer Rich Donnelly.
McKibben has written 15 books about different environmental issues and dilemmas of the modern world. This was his second trip to Bellingham recent years, as he was here to speak out against the proposed coal train terminal in 2011.
“If any place can stop these coal trains, it’s Bellingham,” McKibben said, adding that Bellingham has a “real commitment to place.”
In his interview with Donnelly, McKibben spoke about more than just his experience with the coal train protests. He also talked about his most recent book, a memoir called “Oil and Honey: the Education of an Unlikely Activist,” which explains his journey from writer to activist. It highlights his personal experiences and involvement in what he considers to be a “grassroots movement” against the fossil fuel industry.
“The fossil fuel industry is the richest industry in the history of the world,” McKibben said. “We weren’t going to outspend them, so the only currency we could tap into was the currency of movements.”
McKibben is also the co-founder and president of 350.org, an organization that works to promote global awareness of climate change and motivate people to actively reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. McKibben said the name, 350.org, stems from the organization’s primary goal of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million (ppm), with current levels at 400 ppm.
“I realized we are going to have to make changes as a society. My background is not by temperament, but more out of necessity,” McKibben said. “It was two decades of watching nothing happen that slowly turned me from a writer to something else.”
McKibben said that future plans for the organization include continuing to spread awareness of climate change through education, “with a certain amount of confrontation,” referring to future peaceful protests.
“Our efforts have been getting bigger over the years and [are] still gaining steam,” said Mckibben. “We’re not big enough to beat fossil fuels yet, but were still growing.”
He also spoke about his experience leading a “civil disobedience action” against the Keystone Pipeline in Washington, D.C. a few years ago. While in D.C., he led a sit-in on the White House sidewalk for which he spent three days in jail on charges of failure to obey a lawful order. He said their goal was to “induce a certain amount of fear to the people they were lobbying against,” as political policies play a major role in the movement towards green energy.
McKibben is clearly not satisfied with the lack of progress the U.S. government has shown in its approach toward scientific discoveries related to global warming.
“The consequence that counts is not that they’re going to lose the planet, but that they’re going to lose the next election,” McKibben said. “We do have a kind of 25-year bipartisan record of accomplishing nothing in Washington on this thing.”
With fossil fuels providing a majority of the world’s energy, McKibben acknowledges that divestment in the fossil fuel industry will not be an easy task, but is far from impossible.
“There was one day this week that Germany generated 74% of the power they used from renewable sources,” he said. “That means the barrier is not technological.”
He said this was only made possible by the “political will” shown by the Germans.
“Political will is something we can manufacture if we set our minds to it. That’s why I spend my time now, more of it, building movements than writing,” he said.
The show also included a variety of other performances.
After a quick introduction from the hosts, the show began with the comedic musical talents of local artist Dana Lyons, whose songs mesh environmental activism with comedy and country music. He performed his song “Cows With Guns,” with a little help from the audience on the background vocals.
Lyons is also active in the movement towards green energy, and as a Bellingham resident, fought to prevent the coal train terminal at Cherry Point.
“We must stop these oil bomb trains,” Lyons said.
Next on stage was this episode’s rendition of “The Bellingham Bean,” a humorous vignette set in a fictional coffee shop, which is performed at every Chuckanut Radio Hour. The theme behind this episode was the idea of having bicycles to power the electricity of the shop.
After “The Bellingham Bean,” a few poems, also environmentally themed, were read before the show culminated with McKibben’s interview.
“The window for effective action is closing, and the action we need is great,” McKibben said. “But as the Germans have shown, we are capable of it.”