The 'bummer-outer' Bill McKibben inspires 

Hundreds packed the IUPUI Campus Center on Monday afternoon, Nov. 9, to listen to a "professional bummer-outer." Yes, that's what Bill McKibben called himself as he opened his talk that supported both the Spirit and Place Festival and IUPUI's Common Theme Project, whose participants read McKibben's Deep Economy.

It was 20 years ago that McKibben published what is now considered the first general-reader book about climate change, The End of Nature. Yet, 20 years later, we are still in the pickle of a lifetime, on the brink of climate collapse for many species on the planet, including our own. It's easy to conclude, here on the eve of the Copenhagen climate talks, that no progress has been made as our planet's peril becomes more irrefutable every day.

McKibben, though, is fresh from the success of International Day of Climate Action, Oct. 24, instigated by his group, and is in no bum-out mode. International Day of Climate Action was a worldwide public protest/awareness-raising, that included 5,200 actions on planet Earth, all pertaining to a single data point: 350 ppm.

350 ppm is the level of CO2 emissions that our planet can handle, without stirring up extreme weather patterns or disturbing the hydrologic cycle or causing mass extinction or massive climate migration, etc.

We've unfortunately far exceeded 350 and we're up to 390, but still, 182 countries were represented and McKibben's slideshow at IUPUI of the actions people made were poignant and inspiring. See to see the photos. CNN called it the "most widespread day of political action in the planet's history."

In his talk, McKibben walked us through a short history of consumerism, pointing out that 1956 was the peak year for people responding to a survey that they were "very satisfied" with their lives. Now, that number is around one quarter of those surveyed. The reason for this deterioration of happiness is that we've lost our "web of connections." People cite "half the number of friends" that they used to have (and we're not counting the amorphous, quasi-fictional friends we have on Facebook).

Over these 50 years, he says, "We've built bigger houses farther apart from each other," encouraging that lack of human contact. Meanwhile, the consumer lifestyle created by readily-available (and affordable) fossil fuels is beginning to run out. And the effects of global warming are now visible almost everywhere, from the melting Arctic ice to the desertification of Australia.

McKibben says our average global temp has risen one degree, many scientists believe we'll go up 4 or 5 degrees if we don't change, fast, and McKibben remarks "we don't want to know" what a world like that will be like.

To free ourselves from the trap of consumerism, we need to head in a "new direction..." that direction being how we deal with food. McKibben calls food "our basic economy," and points out that it's the resurgence of farmers markets that has created the context for people to interact again. Food, he points out, is usually a net gain when it comes to energy issues, but is definitely a plus when it comes to taste as well as the overall experience of buying locally-grown produce, conversing with farmers and growers, as well as other customers.

Given McKibben's activism with Step It Up and now, this college prof and Sunday School teacher has moved far beyond his role as writer, and bummer-outer. In fact, McKibben is one of the most vital voices we have, inciting us to think deeply about sustainability and how the "local" is linked to the "global." Thanks to IUPUI's Common Theme Project for digging into Deep Economy and bringing McKibben here.

For more on the Common Theme Project:; for more on Spirit and Place:; for more on Bill McKibben:

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Jim Poyser

Jim Poyser

Jim Poyser is Executive Director of Earth Charter Indiana, a statewide organization that was one of over two dozen nonprofit partners in Greening the Statehouse. A former managing editor of NUVO, he won HEC’s Environmentalist of the Year Award in 2013.

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