Paul Houle: Bill McKibben shows “foreign radicals” can help Canada save environment

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      It’s a tough message to hear. Global warming is fast moving out of control and we may not be able to contain it. But American environmentalist Bill McKibben wants us to know that he stands with Canadians and other nations around the world in the effort to save this planet.

      Speaking in Vancouver on Monday night (March 26) at the 15th annual fundraiser of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, McKibben said, “I don’t know if it’s going to come out okay....It’s an enormous honour to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you in the years ahead to see how all this comes out.”

      McKibben is the author of a long list of important best-sellers on environmental issues. He is the founder of, a worldwide organization dedicated to fighting the carbon emissions into the atmosphere that cause global warming. was started in 2007 and is allied with 300 other organizations around the world. It’s based in Berkeley, California.

      The 350 refers to the level of carbon dioxide parts-per-million (ppm) in the atmosphere. In 2007, NASA research scientist James Hansen indicated 350 as a safe upper limit. McKibben calls it a “killer statistic” as the actual level is now 395 parts-per-million of carbon.

      I was impressed by McKibben’s folksy, down-to-earth, compassionate style of speaking. And he was given a stellar introduction by leading Canadian scholar Naomi Klein. She noted that, by recognizing the power of the number 350, McKibben had transformed it into an urgent “SOS” call for the environment.

      Klein talked about how McKibben went after President Barack Obama to reinstall solar panels on the roof of the White House. In a great publicity coup, McKibben indicated that he didn’t want just any solar panels. He wanted to find the same ones that former president Jimmy Carter had installed there back in 1979 and that were later removed by Ronald Reagan.

      The Carter panels were eventually located at a college in Maine. However, the Obama administration rejected them, but pledged to install brand new ones by a certain date. That time came and went, and, to this date, no panels have appeared atop the Obama White House.

      In her introduction, Klein referred laughingly to her now advanced state of pregnancy. McKibben gallantly noted that “with the genetic power gathering in Naomi’s belly at this minute, you can almost guess who will be speaking at the 35th fundraiser [of the CCPA]”.

      McKibben noted with pride that Prime Minister Stephen Harper had once referred to him as a “foreign radical” and complained that radicals like him “were causing trouble and should go away”.

      “I want to talk about what kind of a foreign radical you have in your midst,” said McKibben. He then noted, that while he was born in California, he did most of his elementary schooling in Toronto. In fact, noted McKibben, there was a student at this same Toronto school who was one year ahead of him and went on to become a big success in politics—Stephen Harper.

      “We are not the radicals,” stressed McKibben. “The radicals work at Enbridge, Kinder Morgan, and Exxon. They are trying to alter the chemical composition of the atmosphere.” In my view, McKibben described himself more as a conservative—or conservationist—in wanting to conserve the environment, get us off coal and oil, and fight those who would protect their profits (from fossil fuels) “with enormous guile and power”.

      The growth of is astounding. The first big day of action for the organization was in 2009. Protest rallies happened all over the world.

      McKibben expressed great pleasure with what happened in Addis Ababa that year. Protesters there reported that their rally permit was taken away so they had to stage an ad hoc demo two days before the originally planned day of the event. They called McKibben to apologize: “The government took away our permit so we are going to do it early and we’re really sorry, but we have 15,000 people on the street right now.”

      McKibben noted that rallies have often used older demonstrators in place of young students who might jeopardize their future careers if they acquire an arrest record at a tender age. One of the most committed protesters was an 86-year-old man who carried a sign that said “World War Two vet—handle with care.”

      McKibben often referred to the simpler times of his childhood in the Leaside area of Toronto in the 1960s and the great sense of community that seemed to exist then. Maybe this is just nostalgia, but I could completely relate to that. I was partly raised in the same community during the same time period (my grandmother lived there then).

      Nostalgia or not, McKibben is setting his sights on an ideal of neighbourliness and community that we must achieve if the world is to survive. As he describes it, it is about recognizing that there are limits to growth and materialism. That we must learn to show restraint as individuals and restraint in our economies if we are to protect more important spiritual values and the natural environment. Continuing unlimited consumption is a dead end street both for human creativity and Mother Nature.

      So, Mr. McKibben, to paraphrase the words of Stephen Harper, you may be a “foreign radical” but please come back soon as we need more of your brand of radicalism if we are to get out of this environmental mess.

      Paul Houle is a Vancouver social worker and community worker.



      Al Bore

      Mar 27, 2012 at 8:42pm

      ***If there were real legal consequences for condemning my children, none of you remaining climate change believers would be shooting your mouths off like this. ***
      *Occupywallstreet's demands do not mention climate change because of Y2Kyoto's required CARBON TRADING STOCK MARKETS, funded by banks, run by corporations and ruled by trustworthy politicians.
      *Obama has not mentioned any climate crisis in his last two state of the union addresses.
      The new denier is anyone who doesn't know that the voting majority now are former climate change believers, planet lovers and "Liberal”.
      We have left the CO2 mistake behind us now as we move forward.

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      Mar 28, 2012 at 7:52am

      McKibben has joined the rarified ranks of the science based environmentalist embracing nuke power as the solution to the AGW crisis.

      He joins the world's number climate scientist James Hansen, as well as Stuart Brand, James Lovelock, James Cameron, Mark Lynas, George Monbiot, and Gwen Cravens.

      A worldwide investment in 10000 new mass produced nuclear reactors at a cost of less than $15 trillion over the next 15 years would be paid for by and would end fossil fuel use valued at around $3T annually, eliminate most air pollution saving millions of lives, end the global warming/ peak oil problem with a 100% elimination of GHG's within a ten year time frame, and is a great investment making the economy more efficient, a wonderful job producing economy boost, and requires only a small part of our industrial capacity. $15T with $3T in fossil and $5T in polluion/health/climate benefits in payback gives a TWO year payback period and over a 50% rate of return on investment.

      Deniers and Warmists both could embrace it.

      There are no renewable energy schemes that can make even the tiniest dint in GHG emissions with their need for 100% name plate backup from inefficient fossil fuel sources run inefficiently, until a not yet invented storage scheme becomes available many decades in the future if ever.

      GTL plants like Shell's new Qatar plant using natural gas to make diesel at $35 a barrel and easily adaptable to nuclear hydrogen/atmospheric CO2 as feedstock, would provide liquid fuels.

      The effort to replace all fuel sources with nuclear would be similar to the industrial effort required to produce Liberty ships or Sherman tanks in WW2 - easy since our economy today has ten times the industrial capacity 20% idle. The rate of return on that investment is over 50% per annum to the nation as a whole.

      With a fossil to nuclear conversion over fifteen ten years well within our idle industrial capacity, rates of return of 40% per annum to the nation as a whole, and a fossil to renewable conversion utterly impossible financially, industrially, and politically,it is not only incredibly stupid governments and leadership that is wrecking warming/air pollution reduction efforts, but worse the ecofascist movement led by Greenpeace with its equally stupid malevolent even pathological opposition to nuclear power.

      The biggest problem is a nuclear conversion will put Big Oil out of business and they buy a lot of politicians and antinuke media support to ensure that doesn't happen

      The pollution deaths of three million folks worldwide every year and billions more when they cause us to slide over the fast approaching climate precipice are the hapless pawns in this dirty game.

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      Mar 28, 2012 at 8:04pm

      "Global warming is fast moving out of control and we may not be able to contain it."

      QUICK! Give all your money and assets to Goldman Sachs!
      It's the only solution! There's no time left to debate this!
      Oh, and Al Gore needs more cash so he can buy more oil companies that drill in the rainforest.

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