As America continues to grapple with political uncertainty and an uneasy relationship with the planet, the author and environmentalist makes the case for an expansive and inclusive grassroots movement. McKibben, who wrote the first book on climate change for a general audience in 1989 and later founded the international climate campaign 350.org with a small group of college students, has lately been focused on growing Third Act, a nonprofit that organizes people over the age of 60 to take action on climate change. In this special episode, we share McKibben’s recent live talk from the 2023 Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride, Colorado, in which he discusses lessons learned in decades of environmental activism and where the climate movement goes from here.
From Outside Magazine, this is the Outside Podcast.
Mike Roberts (host):
Over the recent Memorial Day weekend, a group of us Outside staffers traveled to Telluride, Colorado, for Mountainfilm, an annual festival that brings together an amazing community of filmmakers and change makers to showcase documentaries that celebrate adventure and the outdoors and activism… and a whole lot more.
I’m Michael Roberts, and I’m very lucky to have attended Mountainfilm a couple times now. It was first held in 1979, and it’s one of America’s longest-running film festivals, but it has always been about a lot more than the films. Every year, the speaker series is a major part of the event. And this year, on the opening day, the big name on the stage was Bill McKibben. A journalist and environmental activist, McKibben wrote what is considered the first mainstream book on climate change, The End of Nature, back in 1989. He later co-founded 350.org, a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis. A prolific author, he’s published 20 books and contributed to numerous newspapers and magazines, including Outside, writing a pair of memorable features for us about his quest to become a cross-country ski racer.
Lately, McKibben has been focused on a new endeavor he founded called Third Act, which organizes people over the age of 60 for action on climate and justice. That might seem like a curious choice, because, well … aren’t young people the ones to demand change?
I’ll let McKibben give his own answer to that. We recorded his talk at Mountainfilm about where activism goes at this crucial moment in history, and we’re delighted to share it with you today for a special episode of the Outside Podcast. He shows some photos at one point but it doesn’t matter—you don’t have to see them to follow along, or to take to heart what he has to say.
Bill McKibben: Well, Rachel, thank you so much for that introduction. Suzanne, Thank you so much for letting me come here. When they told me I was going to come speak at high camp, I must say I envisioned that we might be outside and you know, and, but it's nice to be in here. I mean, it's not like we didn't leave behind the most beautiful day of the entire year, you know, to come on in.
And, lucky you, you get to hang out with someone whose, um, most well-known book had the cheerful title The End of Nature. OK. But you get what you pay for, you know. Also, you're surrounded this weekend by the greatest filmmakers in the world, people with enormous visual vocabulary. That's not me. If you're good, I might show you a few pictures eventually.
But before that we're gonna use brand new technology that I call virtual PowerPoint. If it works correctly, the pictures should just kind of appear in your head as I talk, so you let me know how it goes, OK?
Look, we're gonna go through the valley first and just talk about the hard truth about where we are at the moment. Not to just unnecessarily bum you out, but because the only way we can talk about the scale and the pace of the solutions that we require is to understand the scale and the pace of the crisis that we face. I did write the first book about all of this back in 1989, and one of the tragedies of that is we pretty much knew everything back in 1989 that we know now.
It wasn't like there was some great surprise in the meantime. When you burn coal and gas and oil, you put CO2 into the atmosphere. Its molecular structure traps heat that would otherwise radiate back out to space. We knew the planet was going to warm, and, in fact, it's warmed pretty much perfectly on the line that the first scientists like Jim Hansen told us it would, and we knew that was gonna do damage.
If anything, we've pretty much underestimated how much damage that increasing temperature was going to do. Because remember, this is an experiment we have not done before, at least in human time. And the test tube for that experiment is the whole planet. So far we've raised the temperature of the earth about 1.2 degrees Celsius, 2 degrees Fahrenheit, let's call it, which does not sound like much.
If it was 64 degrees when we walked in here and it's 66 degrees when we walk out, our bodies won't be able to tell the difference. But the planet can tell the difference because it's across such a huge scale.
In fact, it's easier to think of it in different units. Every day, the amount of heat that we trap near the planet because of the carbon that we've put in the atmosphere is the heat equivalent of about 400,000 Hiroshima-sized explosions every day. OK.
And when you think about it in those terms, it's easier to understand how we've melted half the ice in the summer arctic, how we have managed to start pretty dramatically raising the level of the world's oceans, how we've managed to discombobulate the hydrological cycle of the earth—the way that water moves.
If you wanted one fact to understand our century, it would be that warm air holds more water vapor than cold. That means in arid areas you get more evaporation and more drought and eventually, as Coloradans know, things catch on fire. Pretty much in that chain.
Once that water's up in the air, it's gonna come down. And it comes down in deluge and downpour. So, in wet places we see rains like we've never seen before. You may have seen the pictures on the news a couple of weeks ago from Fort Lauderdale in Florida, where they got 25 inches of rain in six hours. Uh, the previous record for all of April had been 19 inches spread over 30 days. They got 25 inches in six hours. There's no possible way to plan or prepare or build for that.
So there were lots and lots of photos of, you know, expensive SUVs just bobbing their way down the main street. Fort Lauderdale's rich enough that for the moment it can deal with this to one degree or another, just as Colorado is rich enough that even something as horrific as the Marshall Fire outside Boulder, you know, it's horrible, but it hasn't crippled life in Colorado.
That's not so true in the rest of the world. Last August, it started raining in Pakistan and by the time it stopped, it probably was the biggest rainstorm on this planet since Noah. There were parts of Pakistan that got 800% of their average annual rainfall in three weeks. That is, they got eight times more rain than they normally get in a year—in three weeks. No way to prepare for that either.
Most of the people in that part of the world live in mud houses, uh, mud brick houses. It's very good architecture. It works very well. Until it rains every day for, uh, three weeks. People's houses melted away around them. Thirty-three million people were displaced. So everybody from Baltimore to Boston, out of their homes. And of course the kicker is that all the people of Pakistan, 200 million people, have managed to produce way less than one percent of all the carbon that's in the atmosphere. The three percent of the world's population that call themselves Americans have produced about 25 percent of all the CO2 that's up in the air. So if there's 33 million people displaced, the kind of easy moral math says eight million of them are on us, you know?
This is the biggest thing that humans have ever done, and by orders of magnitude. And we're still fairly near the beginning of it. That's the scariest part. We've raised the temperature 1.2 degrees so far, and we're on track to raise it something like three degrees Celsius, five or six degrees Fahrenheit.
And if that happens, we're not going to have civilizations like the ones we're used to having. There's just too much violent flux and chaos embedded in those numbers. The UN estimates that that would produce upwards of a billion climate refugees on this planet, for instance.
A million refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria were enough to completely upend the politics of Western Europe. A couple of million refugees on our southern border were enough to introduce truly ugly strains into our political life. Multiply that by a thousand, and try to imagine the planet you're living on. And then go down the list of all the other things, the agriculture and public health and whatever else.
So our job is to keep that from happening. Not to stop global warming. It is too late for that, sadly. But to stop it short of the point where it cuts civilization off at the knee. That's what we're about. That's the most important task maybe for humans of any time. Certainly for humans of our time. And we do not know if we can, but we do know that it's an extraordinary challenge.
And a timed one. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world's scientific experts gathered together by the UN, have told us that to have a chance of meeting the targets that we set in Paris, we would need to cut emissions in half by 2030, which by my watch, is six years and six months away.
Not a lot of time. Not a lot of time.
So that's the bad news. And I'm gonna stop giving you bad news, at least for a little while, and start talking about what we're gonna try and do about this, because the picture's not entirely bleak.
The next couple of years are going to be remarkable because we're about to enter into an El Niño phase of the Pacific Ocean that, guaranteed, will produce new global record temperatures. And probably in the next couple of years, at least for one year, we're gonna go past that 1.5-degree-Celsius mark that we set in Paris just eight years ago as the line we wanted never to go past. So we're gonna find out some hard truths in short order, and it's going to be probably the last moment when the world gives us a kind of workable warning while we're still in a period when we can do something about it.
So what are we gonna do about it? Well, the good news is, and it is good news, that we have a better sense of what to do than we did even a few years ago. The scientists and the engineers have done their job.
The price of renewable energies dropped 90 percent in the last decade. Sometime three or four years ago, it went past some invisible line where it became cheaper to use the sun and the wind to produce electricity than to burn hydrocarbons. That's pretty amazing. We live on a planet where the cheapest way to produce power is to point a sheet of glass at the sun.
That opens up the possibility that in relatively short order, humans could end their 700,000-year habit of setting things on fire. A habit that served us well. You know, we learned to cook food that was good. Gave us a big brain. We could move North and South away from the equator. The anthropologists think that some of the social bonds that mark our species came from those eons of standing around the campfire every night. It's why we're so good at Zoom, you know? And then in the industrial revolution, when we learned to control the combustion of coal and gas and oil, it gave us modernity, everything around us.
But we're at a point when the costs now sharply outweigh the benefits. The biggest cost is the one I've outlined, the existential risk of climate change. And it's not a risk, it's a guarantee. But there are other costs too. We know now from good science over the last couple of years, we have firm numbers for how many human beings die every year just from breathing the particulates that come when you set things on fire. The number of people who die each year from breathing the byproducts of fossil fuel combustion are about nine million. That's one death in five on this planet. People whose lungs just start filling up. If you've been to Delhi or Shanghai in recent years, you have some sense of how that's possible.
But it happens here too. There are millions of cases of childhood asthma every year in this country, and it's always the people who get to live next to the highway or next to the refinery or whatever else. It's as unfair domestically as it is globally.
And then of course there's the cost we've really hit on in the last year or two. A sort of profound reminder that when you rely on a resource that only comes from a few places, the people who control those few places end up with way too much power.
Our big oil and gas barons in this country were the Koch brothers. They controlled more refineries and pipelines than anybody else. They used their winnings to degrade and deform our democracy. Vladimir Putin used his to go and start a land war in Europe in the 21st century. When I say he used his winnings, that's all he has. I mean, 60 percent of Russia's export earnings are oil and gas. Look around your house tonight and see if you can find something made in Russia to boycott to show your indignation. Unless there is an old bottle of Stolick in the back of the liquor cabinet, I predict you're finding nothing. OK?
It is awfully nice to imagine a world in short order. Where we all have access in all of our places to the sun and the wind to produce the power that we need. And the batteries to store them.
There are other things that can work too. Geothermal power and tidal power and maybe someday fusion power, and on and on. But for the moment, in those crucial six years or ten years or whatever it is, what we mostly have are solar panels and windmills and batteries.
We have the possibility, in other words, to—and here the Methodist Sunday school teacher part of my personality comes out—we have the capacity to stop relying on energy from hell and start relying on energy from heaven and doing it very, very quickly.
And that would be, that would be a remarkable blessing if we could make it happen. Why are we not doing this all out pell-mell with everything we have? Why is this not the only task that humans are engaged in right now?
Because you would think, given the scale of the crisis, the biggest thing that humans have ever faced, and given the possibility of a real set of solutions, that's where we'd be headed. We'd be working super hard on energy efficiency and energy conservation, and then on renewable energy to supply the energy that we need.
We're not doing that, all out. We're beginning to do it a little. Finally, last year, Congress passed—34 years and 40 days after Jim Hansen told them that global warming was real—the first piece of climate legislation. So there's now some money in the pipeline that's going for some of this work, but it's not yet at anything like the scale and the pace we need.
And the reason for that is pretty clear. A certain amount of it is inertia. Always a force in human affairs. But in this case, the inertia is combined with truly toxic vested interest that has dogged us from the beginning of this fight. We now know that the fossil fuel industry knew everything there was to know about climate change back in the 1980s. Back when Jim Hansen was doing that research, back when I was writing that book, they were all hard at work too. Of course, they were.
Exxon was the biggest company on earth. It had a huge staff of scientists, and its product was carbon. Of course, they were gonna find out what was going on. And they did. By 1982 or so, their scientists were telling their executives, not just that they had a problem, they were telling them precisely what the temperature was going to be in 2020. And they were spot on. And they were believed. Exxon, we now know, started building its drilling rigs higher to compensate for the rise in sea level that they knew was coming.
What they didn't do was tell any of the rest of us. Instead, they joined across this industry to spend billions of dollars to build this architecture of deceit and denial and disinformation that kept us locked for 30 years in a totally sterile debate about whether or not global warming was real. A debate, remember, that both sides knew the answer to at the start. It's just one of them was willing to lie. And it may have been the most consequential lie in human history because it cost us the one thing we most needed: time. That's why we have six years, not 36 years, to deal with this extraordinary transition.
And though it's gotten impossible for them to continue with the straight-on tactic of denial—there are too many fires now and too many floods—they've turned to the tactic of delay, which is just about as effective. To slow walk this transition, to keep their business model going a few more decades, that's all that they want, but that's enough to break the planet if we let them do it.
So what I'm gonna talk about now is how we try to speed up, catalyze this transition, how we make things move faster, how we really break the power of the fossil fuel industry.
And I talk about this as if I confidently know how to do it. You know, our subject today is activism. I don't have any particular training in activism. And I'm not really that good at or designed to be an activist. I'm a writer. Writers are introverts by nature, you know? It's a pleasure to be here with you today, but, given my druthers, I'd just as soon be home in my room typing.
That's what I like to do, and I thought that was my job. When I wrote that first book, I assumed that— Well, I think my theory, ‘cause I was 27, was people will read my book and then they will change. And they did read the book. I mean, it came out in 24 languages. I've got no complaints, but that's not really how things work.
But I continued to think that our job was to write more books, have more seminars, on and on and on, because I thought that if we won the argument clearly, then our leaders would do what was necessary to, well, to step up to that.
It took me too long, better than a decade, to figure out that we had won the argument. The science was entirely clear. We were just losing the fight. Because the fight wasn't about reason and data and evidence, the fight was about what fights are always about, which is money and power. And the fossil fuel industry had so much money and hence so much power that they could lose the argument forever without disrupting their business model.
So we were gonna need to figure out how to build some power of our own.
HOST: We’ll be back with Bill McKibben at Mountainfilm after a short break.
Bill McKibben: History suggests that if you don't have billions of dollars, the only way to do that is to try and spend the currency of movements. To gather people together and take advantage of their passion and spirit and their creativity. Sometimes their willingness to spend their bodies and go to jail. So that's what we started trying to do.
I make it sound, again, as if we really knew what we were doing. We didn't.
When we started the first iteration of a global climate movement, this group we called 350.org. It was me and seven college students at the little college in rural Vermont where I hung out. We had no money. We had no business really doing this. But, what the hell?
There were seven students. There were seven continents. Each one took one. The guy who took the Antarctic had to take the internet, you know, and, and we went to work. And our job was to find people like ourselves around the world. At least then there wasn't everywhere something called an environmentalist, but there were people worried about women's rights and public health and development and war and peace, all the things that we can't have on a fast-degrading planet, and they were our natural allies. And we asked them—this is now going on 15 years ago—the first thing we did was just say, let's have just a day of action around the planet to see if we can at least begin to raise consciousness about all this. ‘Cause there wasn't sufficient consciousness raised in any way.
Again, I'm a Methodist, so our organizing principle was really the potluck supper, which is kind of the Methodist sacrament, you know? And I just told everybody the date and said, Come join in. Do what you can where you are. We didn't know how it was gonna go.
The first sense that we got—and you've been good, so I'm gonna show you a picture or two in a minute—the first sense that we got that it might work came two days early. We were sitting in our little office and the satellite phone rang and it was our leader in Ethiopia. 17 years old, and she was crying. She said, The government's taken away our permit for Saturday, not a particularly nice government. So we're gonna try and do this today before they can stop us. Which was brave, but that's not why she was crying. She kept saying, We wanted to do this the same day as everybody else. We wanted to be part of the whole thing. We don't want to jump the gun. We don't want to spoil it. We're really sorry. And we have 10,000 kids now, right out in the street in Oiss Ababa, chanting “350.”
So I was like, Wow. Do not worry about the date. You've done good.
And then I learned a lesson really fast about the world. I said, We need pictures of this so we can get them out to reporters to get their appetite wedded for the weekend. This is really important. She said, well, the internet's not really working today in os. So I said, ah, there's a one Western hotel in OS the Intercontinental and I bet that there's internet in the lobby and go there with your phone. She called in 20 minutes later and said, They won't let us in the lobby of the intercontinental. They say, it's not really for Africans here.
And I said, Oh my God, we're learning lots of lessons here today. And then I said, look around. Just look for the nicest white lady you can find and hand her a phone and ask her to go into the lobby and press the button. And that's what they did. And that's this picture and a bunch more like it that we had out around the world within a few hours.
But man, did that teach me some lessons early on. And a lot more in the course of that weekend, because before it was over, we'd had 5,100 demonstrations in 181 countries. It was, CNN said, the most widespread day of political action in the planet's history. And they were beautiful and clever. That's the Student Government Association in the Maldives, holding their meeting in the lagoon to illustrate the existential problem of living four feet above sea level in this century. You know, the pictures where there were a bunch that ended up in a file called 350 Adorable.
And they were adorable. But also hard to look at. I mean, those girls are gonna be refugees maybe in their lifetime, and not from anything that they've done.
So we've gone on doing this. We’ve held, we think, about 20,000 demonstrations in every corner of the world, every country except North Korea. And they've been meaningful and beautiful. That's a picture I just like. It's from Santa Fe, the Art Institute. We did this big huge day of giant global art projects and kind of got found a guy with, to let us borrow a satellite to take pictures when the satellite came over Santa Fe. A couple of thousand people with blue sheets went and just brought the river back to life for a little while.
We could have gone on doing this kind of educational work forever, but time was pressing. So confrontation too. We started some of this work against the Keystone Pipeline and then we started having these giant marches and all our colleagues all around the world doing amazing stuff. I wanna show you these pictures just because they really mean a lot to me.
Our colleagues in the Pacific are among the best climate activists in the world. These guys are from countries like the Marshalls and Tuvalu and Vanuatu and the Solomons that may not be there when the century's over ‘cause they're so low to the water. But their slogan is, we're not drowning, we're fighting. And in this case, they each made on each island a war canoe from a single tree.
And took 'em to New Castle in Australia, where for a day they succeeded in blockading the biggest oil ships in the world. These coal ships headed off to Asia.
I love it just because to me it symbolizes what movements are about a way for the small and the many to try and take on the mighty and the few. The two greatest inventions of the 20th century I think are gonna turn out to have been the solar panel and the non-violent social movement. And if we can somehow combine them, then we have a fighting chance going forward.
But that's what I want to talk about, that movement-building. Now, I told you that most of the people that I worked with, when we were starting out 350 were college students. And that's true. And you've seen in most of these pictures that there were lots of young people. And that just got more and more and more the case.
We started this big effort on fossil fuel divestment. Now it's become the largest anti-corporate campaign in history. We're at about 40 trillion in portfolios and endowments that have divested from fossil fuel, more all the time. The California State Senate voted yesterday to divest their giant pension funds, which is wonderful.
But that was mostly done by kids, too, on college campuses. Pretty much every college you've heard of by this point's divested. Harvard and Oxford and Cambridge and Princeton, and you know, on and on and on and on and on.
Those kids were amazing who did that work, and it was hard work. When they got out of college, they wanted to keep working. So they founded this thing called the Sunrise Movement, and that's what brought us the Green New Deal. And the Green New Deal was the reason that we finally got this climate bill last summer out of Congress.
They started asking for $30 trillion and ended up getting $300 billion. So, it's a good reminder to negotiate high at the beginning, because the Joe Manchins of the world are gonna do their best to beat you down. And they did.
And as we speak, the Republicans are trying to negate some of that work in return for not setting the global economy on fire with the debt ceiling.
But those kids did an amazing job. And then of course, the even younger group of kids, high school- and college-age kids, exemplified by Greta Thunberg. She's one of my favorite people in the world to work with. I adore her. I think she's a truly great political figure. But she would be the first to say, she has been the first to say to me, there are 10,000 of me around the world. I've met 3 or 4,000 of them in every corner of the planet. Young people of incredible power and earnestness. And they have 10 million followers. That's how many kids were out on school strike in September of 2019 before the pandemic hit.
So the point of all these stories is: the kids are doing their job.
And they should be. They're gonna have to live with all of this all their life. I'm gonna be dead before the worst of it hits. But if you're in college right now, doesn't matter what you're studying, if we don't get this under control, by the time you're in the prime of your life, your job's gonna be disaster response ‘cause that's gonna be everybody's job.
So they have real reason to do this, but I heard one too many people say to me, well, it's up to the next generation to solve these problems. Which is a) ignoble. They did not cause this. If you're, say, 70, now, you've been alive on earth for more than 80 percent of all the carbon that humans have emitted. OK? Ignoble, but it's also impractical. Young people lack by themselves the structural power to make change on the scale we need in the time that we have. There's not the decades for them to grow up and take control of the Senate and run all the big companies and whatever else. We have to make change now, which means that they need some other people backing them up.
So when I started thinking about who does have structural power, well, I started thinking about people like me. There are 70 million Americans over the age of 60. It's possible that there are a couple in this room, but the rest of you tell your parents and grandparents about this, OK?
70 million of us. But multiply that by some number to get a sense of our clout because every single person in this room voted in the last election. There is no known way to stop old people from voting, OK?
And we ended up with most of the financial resources. About 70 percent of the money in this country belongs to the Boomers or the Silent Generation above them. So if you wanted to put some pressure on Wall Street or Washington or whatever, having some, what we've been calling “experienced Americans” would be a useful thing.
Now, the reason that it's been a long time since anyone tried to organize this age group, maybe back since a woman named Maggie Coon who set up something called the Gray Panthers in the 1970s that was very cool. The reason is that political scientists are convinced that people become more conservative as they age, and there may be some truth to that. As you have more stuff, there's more to protect or something, but we can't let it be true, and we don't need it to be true with this group of older people.
Because if you're in your sixties or seventies or eighties now, your first act on this planet was in that period of epic social and cultural and political transformation. The period when we began to take women seriously in public life, the period that saw the apex of the Civil Rights movement, the beginning of modern environmentalism, first Earth Day in 1970, when 20 million Americans, ten percent of the then-population marched in the streets. The biggest demonstration probably in American history and among the most successful, since within a year or two we had the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act and a lot of other things.
If you have any doubt about the importance of those years, look at the things that the Supreme Court went after in their right-wing rampage last summer: Voting Rights Act in 1965, the Gun Control Act in 1968, the Clean Air Act of 1970, and Roe v. Wade, 1973.
So, we won these battles once and we can win them again.
That's why we started this thing, Third Act, and it's grown like topsy. It's really been fun because lots and lots and lots of people are either remembering what they did when they were young, or celebrating the fact that they now have, for the first time in their lives, the time to really lean in.
We've been working on democracy and on climate, on the political climate and the climate climate ‘cause they're closely linked and because they're the things that are most out of balance. And it's been beautiful to watch people come together.
2022 was an election year. We worked a lot on things like registering voters and it turned out that older people were uniquely good at this.
We've been running this program called Senior to Senior, where older people are writing to high school seniors and telling them about what voting meant to them in their lives. It's been good for the people doing the writing. I was at a retirement community the other day talking, and afterwards they took me up to the assisted living area and introduced me to a 97 year old woman who couldn't leave her bed, but she was writing 15 letters a day ‘cause she said, I want to have still some impact on this world that I love.
And they were good for the people getting them because it turns out that if you're 17, there's a reasonably good chance you never got a letter in your entire life.
All that penmanship that you spent years laboring over turns out to be kind of a superpower in this day and age. And now in the brief interregnum, they allowed us between elections—apparently over now—we were working hard on climate. And since I don't think we're gonna get federal climate action anytime soon, thanks to Kevin McCarthy. I think we've done what we're gonna do in D.C. for a little while. We were working hard on the other half of the problem on the financial system, and in particular the four big banks: Chase City, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, that are the biggest lenders to the fossil fuel industry by far.
And we were telling them we did not want them to keep doing this. We had our big day of action in March that some people here were a part of. And it was incredibly beautiful. We had about a hundred demonstrations all over the country. People brought all their cleverness to bear. Our Alaska working group built big credit cards out of wood and then cut them up with solar-powered chainsaws. It was terrific.
People were cutting up their credit cards all over. Remember that movie Jaws, Peter Benchley, who wrote it. I think, slightly out of penance, his wife, Wendy Benchley, has spent her life as a really effective ocean conservationist. She's in her eighties, but she put on her scuba gear and went down and cut up her credit card against the coral reefs of the Florida Keys with all, you know, big turtles and stuff looking on.It was great.
I was in D.C. These are just a few pictures from that day in various places. I was in D.C. and there we had thousands of people. We managed to bring out all the important parts of the environmental movement. The Greenpeace, the new head of the Sierra Club, Ben Jealous, who used to be the head of the NAACP. Just remarkable, remarkable people.
And we shut down the banks for the day with the big sit-in. I've reached the age where sprawling on the concrete for four or five hours is not my big thing. So we had people gather hundreds of rocking chairs, uh, and it was great man.
It was the most comfortable sit-in of all time and everybody took note, you know?
So we're pushing on with all of that. We're gonna see what we can do on these fronts, we're trying to bring everybody into this space ‘cause, man, do we need it. And man, is it fun to be backing up the kids who are really still leading this work and should be leading this work.
One of the first big days of action we did, it was Fridays for the Future Us, that's Greta's group, that asked us to take on the banks in the first place. They said, we are mad at these guys, but most of us aren't old enough to have bank accounts yet. Can you help? And we were like, sure. And I remember being a big demonstration in Brooklyn. We were marching around between, and of course there were a few hundred high school kids, and they're somewhat spry, so they were at the head of the march, but at the back there was a big group of us with a big banner that said fossils against fossil fuels, you know?
And the kids were so happy to see that because, if you're 17 right now, the world feels like a really desperate place. Like, you've been bequeathed a poisoned world that's not gonna work for you. And it is incredibly important to show, at the very least, that we are making every effort that we can.
I cannot guarantee you that these efforts are gonna work. We don't know. We've waited a long time to get started, and the momentum in these physical systems is enormous. And if we don't fight with everything we have, then we haven't a chance. And we know that this is what people are called to do in this time and this place. To figure this out, to demonstrate—well, I've said once or twice that it seems to me that climate change is a test of whether or not the big brain was a good adaptation or not. It clearly can get us into a lot of trouble, and the question is, can it get us out of that trouble, too?
My guess is that it'll have to do less with the size of the brain than with the size of the heart that it's attached to. And that's why it's a real pleasure to be in a room full of goodhearted people who are doing this work and just to say, we will go on and do what we can and see how it comes out.
Thank you all very, very much.
Mike Roberts (host): That was Bill McKibben, speaking at the 2023 Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride, Colorado.
You can support his efforts to take action on climate and justice 350.org and thirdact.org.
And you can learn about Mountainfilm and purchase your pass for the 2024 festival at mountainfilm.org. It’s really an incredible event.
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Outside’s longstanding literary storytelling tradition comes to life in audio with features that will both entertain and inform listeners. We launched in March 2016 with our first series, Science of Survival, and have since expanded our show to offer a range of story formats, including reports from our correspondents in the field and interviews with the biggest figures in sports, adventure, and the outdoors.