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Man on Fire


By Sebastian Howard

Bill McKibben is a leading voice in the modern environmental movement. This gadfly shocks us out of complacency and into taking action to fundamentally change our relationship with the natural environment. He is the author of 1989’s seminal The End of Nature, and more recently, the acclaimed Deep Economy. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, Mother Jones, and The Atlantic Monthly; he is a public speaker and Scholar-in-Residence at Middlebury College. The volume and timbre of McKibben’s work convey his belief that a massive, immediate effort is required in tackling what he calls “the biggest political and economic task we’ve ever faced: weaning ourselves from coal, gas and oil.”

Bill McKibben
Image courtesy Nancie Battaglia
Mckibben’s Writing And Activism Demand Our Attention
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GreenSource: What advice would you have for a young, environmentally concerned architect or engineer just getting into the field?

McKibben: You’ve made the right choice. Everything is going to be about carbon and oil prices for the foreseeable future, and if you know how to reduce energy use, you’re golden.

GS: Do you have any thoughts about integrating local food production into the urban or suburban landscape, or even into buildings?

McKibben: There’s a huge urban agriculture movement all over the world, especially in the Global South. I think the real promise lays in areas immediately adjacent to urban centers. About two thirds of U.S. agricultural production is in counties next to metro areas, but at the moment it is mostly sucked into the commodity food stream.

GS: How important are location and access to alternative transport-ation in greening the environment?

McKibben: Very important—long commutes are hellish in every way, including their effect on the climate.

GS: Can you recommend two or three books that every designer or builder should read about the environment or the future?

McKibben: Jim Kunstler’s first book on the suburbs, Geography of Nowhere. Maybe my Deep Economy or something else about the rise of localism. Anything by Wendell Berry.

GS: Ultimately, will legislation or individual action have the most influence on climate change?

McKibben: Legislation. The math won’t work one light bulb at a time.

GS: How has the environmental movement come to embrace nuclear power, which was demonized by progressives for a time?

McKibben: Aside from a few, I don’t think there’s that much of an embrace. The economics are so bad—it’s just too expensive to be of help.

GS: You’ve said that the “environmental movement...is not scaled to change the central functioning of the world’s economy.” Is anything scaled or structured to modify our current formulation of capitalism?

McKibben: Not right now—but the rising price of oil is really helping.

GS: What is the virtue in selling organics or hybrid cars—isn’t nature an intrinsic good and not a product for consumption?

McKibben: Green consumerism is not central; but if you’re going to buy a car, why not a hybrid?

GS: Why have you voiced support for Senator Obama?

McKibben: Consider the alternative. And Obama seems bright, which would be a plus.

GS: The threat of climate change can be immobilizing.

McKibben: Get over it—go to work. www.350.org is where I’m spending my time at the moment.

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This article appeared in the November 2008 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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