Keynote – Bill McKibben

Just another WordPress site

Keynote – Bill McKibben

and now I would like to introduce the one person who certainly needs no introduction in this audience this is Bill McKibben the co-founder and still leading proponent of this are fossil fuel divestment movement of 350.org and we’re extremely happy that bill could make it to join us here today if you’re interested in his city it’s also in the program I will not read it to you I think we should save the time and give more time to Bill to enlighten us all built please well thank you enormously what a.m. what a pleasure to be here we’re a lot of us going to be camped out in Paris for much of the next few months but it’s this is the right way to begin it there’s going to be a.m. there will be a lot of words and a lot of talk and a lot of whatever but what we’re here today about is action and action that everyone can take theam I’ll explain to you why there in a minute why there’s a slide from the Marshall Islands behind me um right now today when we meet there’s a hurricane circling off the Cape Verde Islands it’s the easternmost hurricane that’s ever been never been a hurricane established that far east in the atlantic ocean right now while we meet they’re the largest forest fires in the history of the u.s. west or burning and putting huge cloud of carbon into the atmosphere right now while we meet people in much of Asia are still digging out from the incredible floods of earlier this summer 2015 is going to be the hottest year and by a large margin that we’ve ever measured July we don’t have the numbers yet for August because it just ended yesterday but July was the hottest month that we’ve ever measured on this planet things are coming apart at an astonishing rate it’s as if the Paris conference and it was sort of being scripted by Hollywood that all the factors that should be concentrating our minds are all converging at once and we’ll see what we can do at that conference but more importantly before it and after it as we build this big movement there is so much that we have to do there’s so many parts to this we’ve got to stop coal mines and pipelines and things and many of us have been to jail and done the other work to try and slow them down and with some success you know there have been very good pieces of news this year I think our colleagues in Australia have managed to stop the plans for the biggest coal mines in the world and the Galilee base and i think that the tar sands up in canada are slowed down now completely that their expansion is over i think we’re starting to win some of those fights and quite amazingly we’ve got to be pushing at the same time for renewable energy all over the world and that’s getting easier to if you want to know the biggest difference probably between what happened in copenhagen and what will happen in paris one is that there’s now a movement to push governments and leaders and make them do something the other is that the price of a solar panels fallen eighty percent in those six years and that fact on the ground makes it possible for us to imagine fast action so those are two of the things we have to do we have to stop bad new projects we have to push for good new initiatives in solar and wind the third thing and perhaps the most important just in terms of the balance of political power on this planet is we have to quickly d legitimize the fossil fuel industry we have to break their political power because if you think about where we stand now you’re left with a real question scientists warned us 25 years ago that we were on the verge of a catastrophe they outlined exactly what was going to happen and it’s happened just as they said it would

the question is why we haven’t done anything really significant in that 25 years to address it and the answer to that question more than anything else has to do with the power of that industry the richest industry in the history of the planet and one that is absolutely irresponsible in its well look right now today President Obama is up in Alaska and he’s talking about what a horrible problem climate change is and how we should be doing something about it how we should be doing more about it than we’re doing but no one can really listen to what he’s saying because he three months ago exceeded to the demands of shale oil and gave them a permit to go drill for new oil in the Arctic think about shale oil and what it represents they watched the Arctic melt just as scientists said that it would melt and instead of instead of drawing from that the obvious conclusion we should stop burning oil we should quickly be moving in new directions instead of that the conclusion they drew was hey the Arctic smelted that’ll make it easier to go drill for more oil in that they become representative these sort of perfect representative of the irresponsibility that is this industry and one of the way is that we can take it on is this divestment campaign now when we started it three years ago we had no real idea what to expect we were drawing on the amazing work that people were doing at places like carbon tracker and I think Mark campanelli and Jeremy Leggett and others are pier today and and taking those numbers that they produced and putting them out there we didn’t know what would happen it’s been a success so far far beyond what we dreamed if you had told us two or three years ago that the biggest French insurance company would be shedding its cold divestments or that the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund otherwise known as the largest pool of investment capital on earth would be beginning down this path we would not have believed you and I don’t think anybody else would have either so in terms of big numbers and things it’s been impressive probably more important more powerful even than that has been what it’s begun to do to undermine and break the power of that industry to expose them for what they are those numbers that came from carbon tracker Institute and that we helped spread around in the early days of this the understanding that this industry has in its reserves four and five times as much carbon as we could burn and keep the planet below two degrees the understanding that is that if we follow the business plans of these companies as they currently exist they will break the planet that understanding is no longer confined to a small group of people it’s not me writing in Rolling Stone anymore it’s now the World Bank and deutsche bank and the bank of england and on and on and on that have assimilated this understanding that we live with a carbon bubble that we face a deep deep choices that need to be made the understanding that these are not normal companies anymore these companies holding these vast reserves that they are rogue companies that have to be reined in if we’re to be able to slow down well for be able to change make the political change that we need to make and therefore it’s just as important along with the kind of big pools of money that we have been able we’ve watched with great appreciation as people all over the world have done the work to make sure that whatever institution they’re a part of the thing that represents them the thing that speaks for them takes this step it’s not like 350 organized this or anybody else it’s been place after place people in their own colleges and churches and synagogues that have done the work and that’s begun to add up to watch while the watch Stanford or Oxford her to watch the Church of England or the

Church of Sweden or the World Council of Churches just about exactly a year ago a few hours after we had this massive march through the streets of New York 400,000 people in New York a number that we all I think exceed when we reach a Paris at the end of november but right after that march that evening one of the great moments in this whole climate 25 years of climate saga came when representatives of the Rockefeller family announced that evening that they were divesting their holdings in fossil fuel think about that you’ll hear from Steven Hines later who’s been so instrumental in this work but just think about what that means that the first great fossil fuel fortune had now recognized that the moment had come to switch and the power of that was palpable it was the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel age that day between that huge March and that announcement and the question only is how quickly how quickly we will make that end come and whether it will come in time every day now we get new signs from new corners of the world of new people stepping up this week in the last three days just almost at random the canadian medical association the collection of doctors in canada said look we have to treat people who are dealing with the diseases that spread as we warm the planet it’s not okay for us to be invested in these things and they divest it in the day after that it was the biggest Museum Science Museum on the west coast of the United States they said we’re locked here in a four-year drought of such epic proportion that we’ve never seen or measured anything like it it makes no sense as we try to explain that to people for us also to be invested in these companies the day after that it was the City Council of Newcastle in Australia that voted to divest from fossil fuel this is the biggest coal port on planet earth Newcastle Australia they make their money at the moment from the coal industry but they realize both the effect that that takes on them and on the world and they recognize that it is not the future it is the past that if we have any hope it is to move away from 18th century technology and move very quickly in new directions and so it was beautiful and powerful to see that we think sometime in the next couple of weeks we’re going to have a vote in California with the massive pension funds another of the biggest pools of money on the planet to begin moving away from fossil fuels those guys saying it does not make sense for us to base our plans for our retirement for our future on investments in companies that will make the world into which we retire unlivable so that momentum is spreading in every direction we needed to keep growing that’s why it’s so important that this challenge divest Paris divest for Paris challenge is underway and if you go to go fossil free org you’ll see the new website just kind of set up to to bring more and more institutions into this fold over the next few months as we head towards Paris because the conference here in a few months will do more than what happened in Copenhagen it couldn’t do less than what happened in Copenhagen um and it will do more but everyone involved as Reinhart said has already conceded it won’t come close to doing enough it’ll be the best shot that governments can take they’ll do what they can and will push them to do far far more but when they’re done when they walk away when they leave this question for another five years then it’s up to the rest of us to push in every corner of civil society to make a difference and and the reason that we’ve got to make a difference and we’ve got to do it now is just because the world is unraveling in front of us I was going to show just a few slides these are from a day that we did at 350.org a year or two ago when we ask people around the world who were already feeling the effects of climate change to just to sort of dramatize it a little bit as may said one of the points

we’ve been trying to get across is that this is not a problem for the future this is now and even though we’re used to coordinating big days of action we think we’ve coordinated about 20,000 demonstrations around the world in every country except North Korea um um we um we were impressed by how many thousands of places had no problem demonstrating what they were already feeling there in the Marshall Islands of course like every other place with a coral reef they’re in big trouble hot acid water wrecking one of the most beautiful parts of the whole planet but everywhere I mean you know you would think in Afghanistan people would have other things top of mind but the fact that the Kabul River is drying up is about as important as you can get drought everywhere all over the world now these epic cycles of drought coming in quickly with these hot temperatures evaporating what’s around sea level rise in every corner of the planet some places the problems a little less life-threatening um you know the fact that they’re running out of snow to ski in Colorado may not be the end of the world but what that also means is there’s no snow pack left to feed the farms and fields of the American West all around the world people were on that day as so many others stepping up these people are in the parts of Siberia where wildfires are now appearing 345 degrees of latitude north before they’ve ever been measured before just because it’s gotten so hot dry um those are people who having to leave their homes leave their homelands behind as the temperature begins to rise we do a lot of work across India so we got hundreds of pictures that look more or less like that one the reason that one’s stuck in my mind was just because the note that came with it said all it said was there is no water behind our damn anymore um there’s plenty of places where people have exactly the other problem those people live in the part of Pakistan then in 2010 saw the greatest floods since Noah 20 million people out of their homes is the Indus River spread across Pakistan and as you look at them you sense that probably they had very little to do with causing the problem that we face and indeed that’s the issue all over the world it’s people in places that have done the least that are hit the hardest for some reason that picture stuck in my mind and I don’t know whether you can yeah you should be able to read it and it probably was the smallest demonstration of the day just some Street in Haiti turned into a muddy river by way at one more of these floods but there was the signs that those kids were holding that stuck in my mind your actions affect me that’s absolutely true i mean hades more people died from Hurricane sandy in Haiti than in New York there’s still an outbreak of cholera underway there in the wake of that storm your actions affect me but not vice versa there’s not much that people can do in Haiti to affect the outcome of this issue they don’t have much political power and there’s not any money there at all in order to him it’s those of us who have been causing this problem by the carbon we pour into the atmosphere and those of us who have influence over the resources on this planet that drive this problem who will either solve it or not and and the time has come to solve it it’s not as if we don’t know how we know where we need to go and it’s not as if we don’t understand the quandary that we’re in there’s really no mystery anymore about any of this if we burn the fossil fuel that’s in the reserves of the fossil fuel industry then the planet breaks period end of story that’s it the only part of the story we don’t know the answer to is whether we can change that script whether in the time that we have we can muster the courage and the solidarity to do what needs to be done to break the power of that industry and change that story and divestment is a part of the answer to that question it’s not the whole answer and it’s not a

guarantee that we’re going to prevail I mean I you with a couple of minutes ago what was going on already on this planet we’ve already in essence lost the sea ice in the Arctic and it looks like we probably fatally undermined the glaciers of the Antarctic and that there now inexorably sliding into the sea it’s possible that we waited too long to get started but the best science indicates we still have a chance if we act on every front that we can think of with all the speed that we can muster and one of the ways that all of us are capable of doing that is through this process of divesting from the dead hand of old technology and investing in futures in communities in solutions and doing it fast doing it with urgency doing it as if we were admit the emergency that we actually are I cannot tell you we’re gonna win I don’t know i can tell you because I’ve been all over the world these last year’s I can tell you that while we meet here in Paris there are people meeting and working in every corner of the planet and they have their eye on what is happening here this is a tight now interconnected world and a tight and interconnected movement and when things happen when good news happens it spreads with great speed and heartens people in every corner of the world so the work that you’re doing here the places that you’re able to bring into this fold it’ll matter enormously in this fight I hope it may even matter enough to make a real difference in how it comes out for the moment we’re so deep in the fight we don’t know how it’s going to come out that’s always how it is in great battles and this is the greatest battle that humans have ever undertaken thank you all for much thank you so much bill we have a few minutes for Q&A so if you care to join the conversation raise your hand identify yourself be short that others might also take the floor are there any contributions from yes sir we boutros riparian point no i’ll be speaking French I’m chocolate mousse I work at the Parliament to protect the souls and also at the University the popular university for the biosphere I wanted to tell you something that is everybody’s convinced in this room and everybody’s motivated and as I was saying I wanted to highlight two things usually during these conferences these are things that we tend to oversee the first one has to do with air transportation systems let’s assume that we stop or reduce our emissions for all other activities and let’s assume that we capture less from the souls if we still continued with air transportation systems we would exceed by four degrees the target that was set the average a temperature by the end of the century that’s the first warning the second warning has to do with the soils what we can work on is which is a lever is souls if we divest from the underground operations we should invest in the soils there’s several reasons for this the physical physical and chemical reason is the one you know if we have 12 carbon in the souls we avoid forty four carbons in the and as you know there’s more living things in a teaspoon full of soul than human on earth and so that’s what we have to pay attention to the souls that we have to protect we’re in am we

are in a as I say in an emergency a one metaphor one image to keep in mind is we are you know in a bathtub that’s filling with very hot water we have to do two things one is to make sure that there’s a good drain open at the bottom and so that means making sure that soils and forests and oceans remain capable or become more capable of draining carbon from the atmosphere the other thing we have to do and probably this is the emergency thing at the moment is to turn off the faucet that’s pouring more water into the bathtub all the time bathtub is already overflowing and one of the things that’s dangerous things that’s starting to happen is as we heat the planet the ability of forest soils oceans to take up carbon is being systematically reduced are the mechanisms that the planet has for dealing with carbon are beginning to break down because we’re raising the temperature so quickly it’s one of the reasons we’re in such a dangerous moment thanks sir here in the first row do we have a mic thank you James r anderson from The Guardian um you you mentioned that Barack Obama had somewhat undermined his his trip to the Arctic by giving the go-ahead to shell I wonder if you could just expand on that a little bit and also perhaps comment on the contrast if you see one with with the rhetoric from Hillary Clinton on this who seems to be a you know a bit more progressive if you like so um it is very difficult for Barack Obama or anybody else to say look we take this completely seriously this is the greatest problem the world’s ever faced but it’s okay to go ahead and start drilling a whole new oil field up in the Arctic those two things are at odds especially once you know there was an important paper in nature in January that specifically identified the Arctic as one of the few places that had to absolutely be left off limits if we had any hope of meeting our climate targets um so it’s a it’s bad contradiction it doesn’t mean that the work that Obama is doing in other spheres is useless it does demonstrate the fact that we’re not yet at it demonstrates the power of the fossil fuel industry the reason that Obama said go ahead is because the everybody’s deathly scared of what happens when the richest industry on earth takes you on its why Obama didn’t talk about climate change during the entire last presidential election okay and it’s breaking that kind of silence that we have to do and let me just add in passing that the Guardian and James have played a major role in making this happen their campaign around divestment and they’re highlighting of these the contradictions on also the part of all kinds of players big foundations and so on has been an incredibly important role a credibly important part of making this happen and in demonstrating how even in our kind of mented media world crusading media can still play a huge role in switching things in making them work as to Hillary Clinton who knows it’s very good you know the fact that she said she came out against Arctic drilling is a demonstration that movements work and when people rise up and demand things you know on the other hand she’s refused yet to offer even an opinion on the Keystone pipeline and the tar sands in Canada so there’s I someplace I mean I it’s it’s um it’s it’s kind of odd and good for us Americans to be in Europe where they’re at least a few you know people from the Green Party for whom one can say yes they’ve seemed to have assimilated this whole problem and gotten it alka they’re very few politicians on the planet anywhere who have managed to kind of go all the way and and and live without contradiction our job is to make the contradictions more painful for them at all times in the fourth row sir thank you my name is Jonathan Essex I’m member of the Green Party local councillor in England a question I would ask is coming up to the Paris climate talks it might look like the UK government might choose to invest

in expanding an airport possibly one backed by an infrastructure private finance company which would lock in future carbon emissions as the last comment II commentée mentioned which like divestment we also need to make sure we get the investments right and it’s not just the investments in renewable energy that matter I think we need to have political commitment to to not have other kinds of investments which perhaps are linked to expanding fossil fuel use would you perhaps comment on that absolutely look this problem of liking in is is an essential problem and it has to do with the the moment at which we live if we can stop for the next few years a series of bad new projects going forward pipelines coal mines and new airport runways and things five or 10 years from now those will know people will no longer be proposing them the world will have moved past that will have gotten to the point where we understand the folly of drilling in the Arctic or whatever it is the problem is right now we’re still at that transition moment and the fossil fuel industry and the aviation industry and others understand that this is the end game in a serious way and they’re working very hard to put facts on the ground in the next few years if they don’t get them built in the next few years they’ll never get them built it’s why the struggle is so desperate right now we have a couple more I can’t take them all I already apologized but there has been a gentleman in the back I’m please try to make it maybe a half a minute question then I can take up a few more and i will ask bill then to to all answer several just in one run please thank you very much my name is Shanna from the two degrees investing initiative based in Paris and since a few weeks in New York so my question is about the fossil fuel industries the companies so how much do they care about the divestment movement is there really fear death what do you think and in that threat i would say what is the most important to you really the financing flows and the relationship with a steak with a shareholders and investors or the political power they have that you mentioned and what is a level from which the threat could really be more active because i believe that it’s still not as a sufficient level thank you very much here in the second row Natalie Bennett leader of the Green Party of England and Wales Jonathan has already referred to one terrible British government plan I’m afraid I could come up with a very long list supporting fracking doing everything possible to undermine renewable energy given that is it time do you think for NGOs the churches for groups who’ve traditionally campaigned in a rather polite kind of way and indeed for foreign governments given this is a global problem is it time to get tougher is it time to get rougher is it time to say to NGOs charities as you’ve said this is a global immersion emergency you know the polite kind of writing letters isn’t enough you need to do more and is it time to say to foreign governments to governments around the world you know it’s all very well being diplomatic but this is an emergency get tougher and the last one here in the first row would you pass on the mic i’m johan the emotes with european so diverse invest an asset manager money man I think that’s you done a wonderful job but I think we are really really fortunately greens in Germany or the SPD has moved through the feed-in tariff the price of solar from six in that cent per kilowatt-hour to now record a four cent per kilowatt-hour in austin texas so really now you may not expect it but the market forces may be behind us so we have a huge amount of the dam is broken the market for so behind us and i think we could make more of that i think it makes no more economic sense and we can make so much money we’ve made so much money already shorting oil companies i think that story has to be told more thank you know that’s a very let me answer all three of those but that’s a very congenial place to to start um one of the things that we did not think of ourselves as when we started this divestment campaign three years ago one of the things we did not think of ourselves was investment

advisors okay as it turns out had people had the good sense to listen to scientists you know college students and the rest of us campaigners they would have made a lot of money in the last three years investing in the stuff that we’re trying to get people to divest from has been a very poor decision if you had significant money in coal stocks you don’t have any money left anymore from it and the same thing now is happening in oil and gas so that’s one of the things that actually makes this pitch easier and and and more understandable to people and I think the reason that you point out is at the root of that we’re now moving to the point as the price of solar panels falls where this transition becomes clearer where it’s more obvious where the world’s headed the question about how and I think that goes to the first question about how much the fossil fuel industry cares about what’s going on they care desperately less because we can bankrupt them we probably can’t in the short run then because we can undermine the sense that they are the future they work extraordinarily hard to project and protect that idea if you look at the forecasts that shell or Exxon or people put out every year they keep saying oh renewable energy will be a small part of the future we’re going to be burning oil forever and ever just simply isn’t true the numbers every year begin to increasingly bly that notion and we’re speeding that up to the point where it’s really starting to pinch if you have any doubt about it it what’s interesting is to look at the reaction of the fossil fuel industry to divestment when this little city council in Newcastle Australia voted to divest last week the Prime Minister of Australia Mr Abbott went crazy and started attacking them left and left and right they understand what a what a knife to their legitimacy this is what a what a blow and that goes to the final question about how polite we should be going forward and I confess I err on the side of impoliteness all the time I’ve been I’ve been blunt today in my descriptions of these companies and I think it is time that we it’s not that it’s not impolite I wrote a piece today a piece yesterday that’s making the rounds right now in inna and what it what it said was it’s not as if you know in the end the real problem exactly is this fight with between industry and environmental the basic problem that we face on the planet is a fight between human beings and physics okay and physics above all has no interest in politeness in spin in physics will be extremely uninterested in the fact that yes it’s very hard for our leaders to do what needs to be done it physics is not going to cut them a break and say oh well I mean yes let’s just suspend the rules for 10 or 20 years while you work this out um our job is to be as blunt and straightforward as physics and to say that in the world we live in we simply can’t do what Exxon and Mobil and total and everybody else want us to do it’s not physically possible to do that and since it’s not physically possible we better stop them from doing it and we better do it fast and we’ll do it every way we can and if some days we put on neckties and go talk in polite places about doing it there are other days when we have to you know um put on you know go to jail to to keep it from happening this is the fight of our time and it may be the fight of all time and it’s really good to be in a room full of people who are deeply engaged in that fight and I’ll look forward just getting to work shoulder-to-shoulder with all of you going forward and you know if I’m ever impolite you’ll understand why thank you all very much

thank you so much bill having you is such a great encouragement for all of us thank you very much and we’re looking forward as you say standing shoulder by shoulder