Bill McKibben Biography: Author, Environmental Activist

Bill McKibben is a writer and avid environmentalist. He has written several books, and contributes regularly to publications such as The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Orion, and Mother Jones. He is on the board of Grist Magazine, for which he also writes articles. He is currently a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Bill McKibben’s work has been published in over 20 different languages. His latest original work, Deep Economy: the Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, addresses the shortcomings of the growth economy and envisions a transition to more local-scale enterprise. McKibben’s books vary in nature; however, it was his first book that established him as an environmental writer. The End of Nature, published in 1989, spoke to the issue of climate change. Originally serialized in The New Yorker, it was considered the first public-oriented alarm about climate change. With tragedies like Hurricane Katrina finally bringing global warming into sharper focus for everyone (not only scientists and environmentalists), his writings have grown even more important.

Today, he examines the economy, the environment, and the overall happiness of the US. McKibben writes that formerly, it was accepted that growing the economy would make people wealthier, and therefore happier. Now, he says, “Growth is bumping up against physical limits so profound – like climate change and peak oil – that trying to keep expanding the economy may be not just impossible but also dangerous. And perhaps most surprisingly, growth no longer makes us happier.” McKibben’s latest book, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, states the need “to move beyond growth…begin pursuing prosperity in a more local direction, with cities, suburbs, and regions producing more of their own food, generating more of their own energy…”. This idea builds on his 2003 book, Enough, which imagines genetic engineering, progress, and growth taken too far, and wonders whether it is not better to be fully human than unnaturally perfect.

In the summer of 2006,

In 2006, McKibben led a five-day walk across Vermont, demanding legislation to slow US carbon emissions and that summer, with the help of six Middlebury College students, McKibben organized 1,400 global warming demonstrations across all 50 stages of America. In early 2007, he founded stepitup2007.org. This unique idea called on people and local groups (including not-so-local groups such as the Sierra Club and the NWF), to organize their own rallies on April 14, 2007. The rallies ranged from a large group of people dressed in blue in Manhattan’s Battery Park, lining up approximately where the sea level would rise with continued glacial melting, to small groups viewing Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth. All called for Congress to pass strict laws to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. To that end, today, McKibben is hard at work launching the 350 campaign aiming to spread the word that 350 parts per million atmospheric C02 is the maximum amount allowable in order to maintain the survival of the human enterprise as we know it.

An active participant in the Methodist Church, he sees religion playing a vital role in protecting the future of Earth. A recent document called the Evangelical Climate Initiative led McKibben to write an article asserting that “even in the evangelical community, “right wing” and “Christian” are not synonyms…given that 85 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians, and that we manage to emit 25 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide – well, the future of Christian environmentalism may have something significant to do with the future of the planet.”

The painting above by Robert Shetterly is part of a collection of portraits and quotes called Americans Who Tell the Truth. It reads:

America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior. At the moment the idea of Jesus has been hijacked by people with a series of causes that do not reflect his teachings. It’s hard to imagine a con much more audacious than making Christ the front man for a program of tax cuts for the rich or war in Iraq. We have made golden calves of ourselves — become a nation of terrified, self-obsessed idols.

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