Bill McKibben: on happiness and climate change
Step It Up calls on Congress to cut the carbon, quick
When: Saturday, April 14, 1-2 p.m.
Where: Monument Circle, downtown
For more: firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out all 14 Indiana Step It Up rallies at www.StepItUp2007.org.
If you’re in favor of the health of the planet, and you’re keen on the idea of a viable future, Step It Up is the rally for you. Author and activist Bill McKibben and friends aim to mobilize tens of thousands at over 1,300 events in 50 states through Step It Up 2007, a national day of climate action.
The Step It Up platform calls on Congress to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. Reducing carbon outputs just 2 percent per year is do-able with an embrace of renewable energy. According to NASA climatologist James Hansen, ditching fossil fuels is our last chance to stave off the catastrophic effects of global warming.
McKibben’s latest book, “Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future,” addresses the root cause of global warming: lifestyles built on finite resources. He spared a moment to talk with NUVO.
NUVO: A key idea of your new book is that our current economic model is unsustainable and, worse, does not contribute to our happiness. Can you elaborate?
BM: We're very used to the idea that more is better: It's the default assumption of our society. But aside from the environmental impact of constant economic expansion, there's lots of relatively new research to show that growth is no longer making people particularly happy — indeed, despite their ever-increasing affluence, Americans are less pleased with their lives than they were 50 years ago. And it seems, in part, because that affluence (the move to the suburbs, for instance) has diminished our sense of community.
NUVO: You say we've substituted oil for people. What do you mean by that?
BM: Look at our farms. We have less than 1 percent of Americans farming — far fewer farmers than prisoners. In large measure that's because we've replaced farmers with oil: fertilizer, tractor fuel, all the other components of industrial agriculture. It's brought us cheap food for the moment (probably too cheap — notice our waistlines) but at enormous environmental cost. That's why it's heartening to see that the fastest growing part of the food economy is farmers markets.
NUVO: How do we make this profound paradigm shift, in practical terms?
BM: Actually, what I hope will happen is that we will build the set of alternative institutions — farmers markets, local energy systems, public radio stations, local currencies — that supplant much of the globalized economy we've been building. And I hope we build those voluntarily, soon, before the collision of peak oil and climate change make them both mandatory and difficult.
NUVO: You speak of a hyper-individualism, of the erosion of public schools, parks, Social Security and the idea of the common good. What about instant communication? Aren't we as connected, just differently?
BM: I think the Internet is one of the few real bright spots on our horizon. It offers the possibility of living real lives in local places and still having a window open on the rest of the world. The choice isn't between local life and parochialism any more.
NUVO: Are you familiar with Bruce Mau, a designer who's curated an exhibition called “Massive Change” (www.massivechange.com)? His thesis is that a global embrace of design and innovation — for example, machines that purify water and prevent disease, or trains as fast as airplanes but less polluting — is our greatest hope for reshaping our future. What's your response to this idea?
BM: I think technology will help, but I think the most important technology is the technology of community. Look — the average western European uses half the energy of the average American. Not because they have some secret technology but because they live subtly different lives. As for technology, the cheapest and most important changes need to be in the direction of conservation. Right away!
NUVO: What do you want from our next president?
BM: I want her or him to pay attention to basic physics and chemistry. The fingers-in-the-ears approach seems not to be working. Mostly, though, I want citizens to be so active that whoever the next president is will have to take on these issues, especially climate change. That's why we're doing Stepitup2007.org
NUVO: How are you structuring Step It Up to engage today’s activist or potential activist?
BM: We’re doing it locally, instead of a march on Washington, and then we're going to link all those marches together into a great cascade of images on the Web. It liberated people to think incredibly creatively — I mean, underwater demonstrations off coral reefs! It's a new model of distributed protest politics.
NUVO: What's the best possible outcome for Step It Up 2007?
BM: That we raise the bar on what's acceptable action on climate issues, making it harder for industry and their congressional cronies to cut sweetheart deals that delay action past the point of no return!