My Perfect Adventure
In the fight against climate change, one of the world’s biggest collective action problems, environmentalist and author Bill McKibben has built a reputation for mobilizing the masses. McKibben, who wrote what is regarded as the first mainstream book about global warming and was called “the world’s best green journalist” by Time magazine, has helped coordinate more than 20,000 climate demonstrations in more than 182 countries through his grassroots campaign 350.org, which he cofounded in 2008.
The campaign, named after one of its goals—the reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide to a level of 350 parts per million, a safe limit according to a leading NASA scientist—harnesses social media to advocate for policy changes. Among its many initiatives, the campaign last year galvanized more than 1,000 protesters in Washington, D.C., to fight against the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, a $7 billion plan to transport heavy crude through the United States from Canada. That effort helped temporarily derail the project, although construction on the pipeline’s southern leg began in August.
Now McKibben, who has written a dozen books about the environment and articles for publications including The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Outside, is taking his activism on the road. In a new campaign this month, he will embark on a cross-country tour (in a sustainable bus) to raise awareness at events alongside musicians, artists, and actors, including video appearances by activists Naomi Klein and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. When he’s not traveling, McKibben lives in Ripton, Vermont, and works as a scholar in residence at nearby Middlebury College.
Here he tells us how a bout of dengue in Bangladesh bolstered his resolve, which author we should all be reading, and why his ideal day involves lots and lots of snow.
Describe your perfect day, from dawn 'til dusk. Where would you be, who would you meet, and what would you do?
For me, it's waking up to six inches of new snow in my Vermont home—from the door I can ski for a hundred miles, on backwoods trails and snow machine paths, and the perfectly groomed corduroy at the Middlebury College cross-country ski tracks. I'd see my buddies in the Frost Mountain Nordic ski club, and the country's best groomer, Mike Hussey, up in the PistenBully [snow groomer] laying out the diagonal tracks. I'd ski for hours, and then lie out in front of the fire and drink a bottle of the Hill Farmstead Brewery's Ephraim Ale. And here's the good news: with any luck, I'll get a bunch of days like this in the next few months.
If you could travel somewhere you've never been, where would you go and why?
I've been to much of the world, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, from the bottom of Everest to the top of Mount Rainier. But I've spent very little time out on the very deep blue ocean, away from land. I'd love to explore it in some boat small enough to really feel the immensity.
Where is the best place you've ever visited? What made it so special?
Oh, I spent most of my adult life living in the Adirondacks, and I've never really found any place that suits me better. I think everyone has a particular landscape that's just right for them, and if they're lucky they find it. Something about the shape of the mountains, the granite shelves along the lakes, and the tamaracks turning yellow in November. It’s not beatable.
If you could have lunch with any adventurer, explorer, or athlete, who would it be and why?
Hmm, it’s very hard to choose. I'd kind of like to drink a beer with Petter Northug sometime, but I'm guessing the conversation might not be too deep. And I got to spend a week in Yosemite once, drinking martinis with David Brower, the greatest environmentalist and among the greatest alpinists of the 20th century. And I've had many merry lunches with Wendell Berry, the great explorer of that place we call home. So maybe Kikkan Randall, America's greatest nordic skier? So I could get some technique tips?