I'm a writer, and now, I guess, an activist,
too, having helped found 350.org, which has become the largest
grass-roots climate campaign ever. My latest book is Oil and
I like bees a good deal: they're a reminder
that, working together, without a lot of leadership but with a lot
of connection, we can get much done.
I wrote the first book on global warming (which
we then called "the greenhouse effect") back in 1989; so I've
gotten to follow this story a long time. That means I finally
figured out that reason alone wouldn't carry the day, and that we
needed to assemble some power - not money power, like the oil
industry, but in the currencies of movement: passion, spirit,
creativity. Sometimes we'd need to spend our bodies.
I was reading the early science in the late
1980s, and it seemed utterly overwhelming in its
implications. The end of nature was largely a philosophical
reaction: what does it mean to live in a world utterly dominated by
I'm coming here [to the UK] to help get people
interested in divesting from fossil-fuel companies. If it's wrong
to wreck the climate, then it's wrong to profit from the wreckage,
and this is a powerful way to help weaken the companies that
undermine the solutions we need.
Change is hard, because the fossil-fuel
industry is the very definition of the "powers and principalities"
of our time - the richest industry that the earth has ever
The Church has been reluctant to change its own
practices because change is controversial, and because the
Church is often slow to act. But when it starts, then that action
flows out for many decades to come.
People are listening, from American
Evangelicals to the wonderful Patriarch of the Eastern Church.
We've had a harder time making inroads in the Roman Catholic
Church, but the advent of Francis offers real hope.
Around the world, Muslim communities have been
particularly strong participants in our efforts - they're in many
places that are extremely vulnerable. And the American and Israeli
Jewish communities have been engaged as well.
My worst fear is that human beings won't put up a real
fight against the power of climate change.
But I hope that we'll fight, and that we'll
catch a break or two from physics, and that, while there will be
real damage from global warming, it won't be at a scale our
civilisations can't survive. But that's a dwindling hope, I have to
What I think will happen "realistically" in the next 20
years depends entirely on how many people get involved in
pushing, and how hard they work.
The single most important change we need is to
put a serious price on carbon that reflects the damage it does in
the world. There's no reason the fossil-fuel guys, alone among
industries, should be allowed to pollute for free.
We also need stronger communities, with less of
the hyper-individualism that marks our late consumer society.
We've found local food and farmers' markets in this
country to be a strong way in for many people. You have to
become more connected than you are at the supermarket.
The most important choice I made was fighting this
battle, and my biggest regret was not starting
If I'm remembered in 100 years' time, I'd like
to be remembered as one small part of this battle, long since
surpassed by many others.
I love to take my holidays in the woods. My
favourite was probably walking for three weeks from my home in
Vermont. (I even wrote a book about it.)
The best sound for me is the droning hum and chirp of
insect life in the meadow in the summer. Life on
Wendell Berry has been a key writer for me.
I've been lucky to have a series of inspired preachers
in my life, two of whom were famous: Peter Gomes at
Harvard, and William Sloane Coffin at Riverside Church in New
The book of Job is my favourite part of the Hebrew
Bible - the first great nature writing in the Western
tradition. (I wrote a book about that, too.)
I'm happiest outdoors, especially cross-country
I pray not to be a jerk - which, in my case,
means praying for the humility I lack.
I'd like to get locked in a church with my
wife. She's who I most like to do everything with.
Bill McKibben was talking to Terence Handley MacMath. His
Fossil Free UK tour starts in Edinburgh (30 October), then moves to
Birmingham, (31 October) and London (1 November). Details at
Oil and Honey: The education of an unlikely activist is
published by Times Books.