Monday, August 8, 2022

Bill McKibben Addresses Climate-Change Alarms, Solutions at FoA

Environmentalist extraordinaire Bill McKibben took the Festival of the Arts stage on Tuesday night, addressing a small but impassioned audience on the central issue affecting our species. Clad in tan slacks and a T-shirt trumpeting his new nonprofit, Third Act, McKibben described himself, pretty accurately, as a “professional bummer-outer of people”—always the smartest guy in the room, always prepared with reams of dire statistics about our impending doom due to the carbon we’re spewing into the atmosphere. He’s been warning us since 1989, and the problem has only metastasized.

Yet he opened his presentation with some uncharacteristic good news, namely the record-level affordability of alternative fuels: Solar panels, wind turbines and electric car batteries, to name three, are less expensive than they’ve ever been. The sun, he said, “is the cheapest power in the world,” and it never runs out—at least, it won’t for another 10 billion years. He equated solar panels to “Hogwarts-scale magic” for their ability to power our homes from the sun’s rays. We’ve reached a point of technological and environmental innovation such that we no longer need to burn anything, McKibben added, essentially eulogizing fire as a relic of history.

Of course, any McKibben talk can’t stay too, well, sunny for too long. Soon came a few of those sobering stats: Nine million people a year die from breathing air polluted by car exhaust, numbers far worse than COVID or heart disease. Numbers project 1 billion climate refugees this century if mitigation efforts are not put into effect. McKibben described this reality, with his usual eloquence, as “almost paralyzing in its sadness.”

He also explored the disconnect between our current reality and the obvious solutions—a disconnect cultivated by general inertia and, most significantly, by decades of fossil-fuel companies’ disinformation campaigns, which have penetrated our body politic. Between puppet congressmen whose coffers are lined with oil and gas money to a certain president who called climate change a “hoax,” money and power have, time and again, favored stasis over the change that’s so clearly laid out in front of us. Not that the planet cares about any of this: McKibben described the argument as not between industry and environmentalists so much as between “human beings and physics.”

Photo credit: StoryWorkz

But with crisis comes opportunity. While he lamented the failure of the climate-change provisions in President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation, he believes we may have another chance to change the status quo “thanks to Putin.” Echoing John McCain’s 2014 designation of Russia as a mere “gas station” on the global stage, McKibben is right to point out that despots’ stranglehold on the global fossil-fuel industry is a deleterious consequence of our present energy paradigm, one that would be rectified if we transitioned fully to renewables—as countries such as Costa Rica have already done.

McKibben bookended his speech with a call to service, a sales pitch in which the purchased product is the assurance of life itself for future generations. He launched Third Act earlier this year to spur seniors to lead the fight for climate-change activism. Greta Thunberg may be the international spokesperson of the movement, but as wonderful as she is, Mckibben said, “It’s not OK for us to assign the hardest problem in the world to 17-year-olds.”

The 70 million boomers also own 70 percent of the country’s financial assets and have the most time on their hands. So far, his message seems to be landing: Half of the respondents surveyed by McKibben even said they were willing to be arrested for the cause.

Whether or not our hair is as grey as McKibben’s, it’s safe to say his message landed with utmost authority to the Festival audience. Seniors probably can and should lead the way—but it’ll take all of us to move this mountain.

For more of Boca magazine’s arts and entertainment coverage, click here.

John Thomason
As the A&E editor of, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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