PAUL SMITHS - Nearly 100 people gathered in the Joan Well Student Center at Paul Smith's College last night to engage in a lecture by Bill McKibben - the first part of a weekend workshop on nature and environmental writing presented by the Adirondack Center for Writing.
McKibbenis an environmentalist and author who frequently writes about global warming and alternative energy and advocates for more localized economies. In 2010 the Boston Globe called him "probably the nation's leading environmentalist," and Time magazine has described him as "the world's best green journalist."
But on Friday night, longtime friend and Adirondack writer Jim Gould, who helped found the Adirondack Center for Writing, described him differently.
Author and environmental activist Bill McKibben signs a copy of his new book “Eaarth,” for Diane Minutilli of Lake Clear on Friday night at Paul Smith’s College.
(Photo for the Enterprise — Eric Voorhis)
"Bill is the man who Rush Limbaugh once called an environmental wacko," Gould said. "And Limbaugh is right. ... You won't find anyone more passionate about the subject than Bill."
During the lecture, the audience listened as McKibben told the story of his career thinking about, writing about and taking action on the issue of climate change, beginning with the publication of "The End of Nature," in 1989, the first book for a mass audience on the subject.
"When I wrote that book 20 years ago, my idea was that people would read it, take it into consideration and do what was necessary to bring about change." McKibben said. "But that didn't happen at all."
Bill McKibben will give speak again at 7 p.m. tonight at the First Presbyterian Church in Saranac Lake.
After writing a dozen books and publishing countless articles on the subject, McKibben said he watched in frustration as the United States and other major nations failed to make commitments or take action during the climate conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.
"But that moment provided a moment of clarity - that we're going to need to look at other way of moving forward," McKibben said. "We've had a perfect 20-year record of doing absolutely nothing."
In his new book, "Eaarth," McKibben says it's too late to stop the global damage of climate change - "It's not a problem for our kids and grandkids; it's a problem now" - and describes what humans will have to do to adapt, including clustering into small, agriculturally based communities.
But he is still hopeful that government will make changes.
McKibben started a global campaign called Step It Up that organized more than 2,000 rallies throughout the U.S. in 2008. But when the release of a NASA study revealed that the safe amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 350 parts per million (ppm), McKibben said he found the number useful.
"We currently have 392 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere," McKibben said. "As a writer it was against my literary instinct, but giving the problem numerical value is unifying. The thing about people in other countries is that they insist on speaking their own language. But everyone can understand Arabic numerals."
In 2009, McKibben founded and still manages 350.org, a grassroots organization that hopes to stabilize global carbon concentrations at 350 ppm. McKibben told the audience about a rally on Oct. 24, 2009, when 5,245 demonstrations took place in 181 countries - including gatherings in Saranac Lake and on Mount Marcy.
"It was what CNN called 'the most widespread day of political action ever recorded,'" McKibben said. "It was incredible how creative people were, how open they were. We worked hard, really hard, to organize everything, but the real work happened elsewhere. It was like throwing a pot-luck dinner."
After the success of that demonstration, McKibben said he was looking forward to the next on Oct. 10, 2010 - 10-10-10.
"On that day, around the world, we're having what we're calling a global work day," he said. "It will allow us to send a clear message to our leaders. ... If I can hammer a solar panel to a roof, than they can get on the floor of the Senate and hammer out some legislation."