Bill McKibben on Hurricanes and the Dangerous New Planet We Have Created
September 10, 2017 Democracy Now & The Huffington Post & The New York Times
Hurricane Irma is the most powerful storm ever recorded over the Atlantic. Houston -- the nerve center of the world hydrocarbon industry -- has been devastated by Hurricane Harvey, one of the most powerful hurricanes in US history. The Pacific Northwest is aflame with wildfires raging over hundreds of thousands of acres. Suddenly, our once-familiar planet is melting, drying, acidifying, flooding, and burning in ways that no human has ever seen. We have, in effect, created a new, and increasingly dangerous planet.
"We Have Never Had Anything Like Them": Bill McKibben on Floods, Winds & Fires Devastating US Amy Goodman and Bill McKibben / Democracy Now!
(September 7, 2017) -- In the Caribbean, at least 10 people have died as the historic Category 5 Hurricane Irma barrels across the Atlantic Ocean and toward the US coast. Hurricane Irma is the most powerful storm ever recorded over the Atlantic Ocean. On Barbuda, 90 percent of all structures were destroyed. The prime minister, Gaston Browne, has declared Barbuda is "practically uninhabitable."
This comes as Houston, the fourth-largest city in the US, is beginning to rebuild from Hurricane Harvey, one of the most powerful hurricanes in US history. Wide swaths of the Pacific Northwest are also on fire, as uncontrollable wildfires burn hundreds of thousands of acres across Oregon, Montana and Washington state.
For more on climate change and extreme weather, we're joined by Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, from his home in Vermont. He's the author of several books, including "Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet."
Transcript This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: In the Caribbean, at least 10 people have died as the historic Category 5 Hurricane Irma barrels across the Atlantic Ocean and towards the US coast. Hurricane Irma is the most powerful storm ever recorded over the Atlantic Ocean.
On Wednesday, eight people died on the Island of Saint Martin, one person died on Anguilla, and a 2-year-old child died on Barbuda. Barbuda and Saint Martin were devastated by the 185-mile-an-hour winds. On Barbuda, 90 percent of all structures were destroyed. The prime minister, Gaston Browne, has declared Barbuda is "practically uninhabitable," and warns the entire island may need to be evacuated as another storm approaches.
PRIME MINISTER GASTON BROWNE: You know that we are threatened now potentially by yet another storm, Hurricane Jose.
ABS INTERVIEWER: Jose, right.
PRIME MINISTER GASTON BROWNE: And if that is the case, and it's coming our way, then, clearly, we will have to evacuate the residents of Barbuda.
AMY GOODMAN: In Puerto Rico, more than a million people have lost power, as authorities warn some areas could be without electricity for up to six months, partly because the island's electrical infrastructure has gone neglected due to Puerto Rico's debt crisis.
The death toll from Hurricane Irma is expected to rise in the coming days as the storm moves toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti, then on to the US southern coast in Florida. More than 100,000 people have been told to evacuate their homes in Miami-Dade County, as Irma is predicted to be one of the worst storms to ever hit Miami.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: All this comes as the Trump administration, and the state of Florida, continues to deny the existence of climate change. In 2015, Florida Governor Rick Scott banned agencies from using the term "climate change." On Wednesday, President Trump traveled to Mandan, North Dakota, and celebrated his decision to pull out of the landmark 2015 climate deal, while speaking outside an oil refinery.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: In order to protect American industry and workers, we withdrew the United States from the job-killing Paris climate accord. Job killer. People have no idea. Many people have no idea how bad that was. And right here in North Dakota, the Dakota Access pipeline is finally open for business. . . . I also did Keystone. You know about Keystone, another one, big one. Big. First couple of days in office, those two. Forty-eight thousand jobs. Tremendous, tremendous thing. I think environmentally better. I really believe that. Environmentally better.
AMY GOODMAN: President Trump was speaking in Mandan, the North Dakota town where hundreds of Native Americans and their allies have been jailed and strip-searched during the months-long resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline.
All this comes as Houston, the fourth-largest city in the country, is beginning to rebuild from Hurricane Harvey, one of the most powerful hurricanes in US history. The death toll has now risen to 70 people. And while Houston, the Petro Metro, was underwater, wide swaths of the Pacific Northwest continue to be on fire as uncontrollable wildfires burn hundreds of thousands of acres across Oregon, Montana and Washington state. Well over a thousand more people have died in historic flooding in South Asia, as well as parts of Africa, in recent weeks. A third of Bangladesh is underwater.
For more on climate change, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Harvey and the extreme weather sweeping the globe, we're joined by Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, from his home in Vermont, author of a number of books, including Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
Bill, welcome back to Democracy Now! As Irma --
BILL McKIBBEN: Hello, Amy. Hello, Nermeen.
AMY GOODMAN: As Irma is barreling through the Caribbean, and at least 10 people have been killed, as Houston is digging out from being underwater, President Trump was in Mandan, North Dakota, celebrating that he pulled out of the Paris climate accord and greenlighted the Dakota Access pipeline and Keystone XL. Your response?
BILL McKIBBEN: Well, I was interested to hear President Trump saying people had no idea how bad it was, the Paris climate accord. I have a feeling that's a phrase that a lot of Houstonians have been using in the last week, and a lot of people in the Caribbean today, and what people will be saying up and down the southeast coast of the United States and over in Washington and Oregon.
People who aren't in the middle of these disasters have no idea how bad they are. In fact, really, Americans can't have any idea how bad they are, because we've never had anything quite like them. I mean, Harvey, in Houston, which we're on the edge of forgetting about as Irma pulls into the Southeast, Harvey was the largest rainstorm event in US history -- 51 inches of rain in some places. That's the kind of storm that's only possible now that we've remarkably affected the climate.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Bill McKibben, can you also talk about -- I mean, last week saw virtually unprecedented floods across South Asia, as Bangladesh is one-third submerged underwater. Talk about how this has affected -- these kinds of events have affected South Asia, other parts of the developing world and small island developing states.
BILL McKIBBEN: Look, the way that water moves around the planet is now dramatically different. And the places that are going to feel it most often and worst and hardest are the poorest and most vulnerable places on the planet, a list that begins with Bangladesh and with the low-lying island states.
If you want one physical fact to understand the century we're now in, it's that warm air holds more water vapor than cold. And so we have the possibility for storms that are of a different magnitude and scale than we have seen before. The extra warmth in the atmosphere does all kinds of other things, too.
So, right now, in the High Plains of the US, in North Dakota and Montana, in the biggest wheat-growing belt of the country, we've got what scientists are describing as a flash drought. It's been so hot and so arid that in the course of a month or two without rain and with that heavy evaporation, farm fields have just dried up. Many farmers have nothing to harvest.
That's what's helping trigger this ridiculous spate of wildfires across the Western United States, a fire so big yesterday that it managed to jump the Columbia River from Oregon into Washington. People in Oregon and Washington are reporting ash fall from the forest fires on a scale comparable to that what happened when Mount St. Helens erupted. You know, California had the largest -- last week, the largest wildfire in Los Angeles history, which really isn't a big surprise, because it's been the hottest year in California history. So, from Nepal --
AMY GOODMAN: Bill, we're going break and come back to this discussion. Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, speaking to us from Vermont, as we talk about extreme weather events, from South Asia, where more than 1,200 people have died, to the fires of the Northwest to the hurricanes Irma and Harvey, Jose not far behind. . . .
AMY GOODMAN: Let's turn back to President Trump speaking in Mandan, North Dakota, on Wednesday.
DONALD TRUMP: I want to take a moment to send our thoughts and prayers to the people of Texas and Louisiana, who have truly suffered through a catastrophic hurricane, one of the worst hurricanes in our country's history. And guess what. We have another one coming . . . . The one that's coming now, Irma, they're saying, is largest one in recorded history in the Atlantic Ocean, coming out of the Atlantic, which gets big ones . . . . I also want to tell the people of North Dakota and the Western states, who are feeling the pain of the devastating drought, that we are with you 100 percent. One hundred percent . . . . I just said to the governor, "I didn't know you had droughts this far north." Guess what. You have them. But we're working hard on it, and it'll disappear. It'll all go away.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Trump speaking in Mandan, North Dakota, as he also talked about pulling out of the Paris climate accord and greenlighting the Dakota Access pipeline, as well as the Keystone XL. Bill McKibben, Houston, the Petro Metro, home to so many of US oil refineries, some of the largest in the country, like the ExxonMobil facility in Baytown, the second-largest refinery in the country, the effects of the pollution there now, the EPA providing waivers during the hurricane for these refineries, as they close down, to emit even more toxins than they already do, and the people living on the fenceline of these refineries, so often poor communities of color.
Can you talk about the disparate effects? While everyone talks about, you know, these hurricanes affecting everyone, rich and poor, equally, in fact, it is not the case, ultimately, who is most affected.
And with the $8 billion now that Congress has just approved to start to help to deal with the recovery in Houston, the question is: Where will that money go? Who will be helped in rebuilding? Will this money be going to refineries? And what does the whole fossil fuel industry have to do with the kind of severe weather we're experiencing now around the world?
BILL McKIBBEN: Well, so, first of all, you know, as usual, poorest people and most vulnerable people get hit first. Frontline communities in South Texas are a perfect example. Places like Port Arthur, that were just absolutely trashed by Harvey, are difficult places to live in, at best, in the best of times, because of the incredible daily pollution that comes from the fossil fuel industry.
What makes Houston so interesting, as you point out, is that it's sort of the nerve center of the world hydrocarbon industry. It means that -- and I think this is unlikely, but it means that if Houstonians really received a wake-up call from Harvey, more than most places in the world, their rebuilding could help the whole planet. If they seize the moment to say, "We're going to start getting off oil, and we're going to start reorienting our industries toward renewable energy," it would make a huge difference. And it's not a, you know, impossible ideal.
Last week, while all this was going on, Denmark announced that it had sold off its last remaining oil company and was going to use the cash to build more wind turbines. They're looking where the future is going.
We, of course, are looking backwards. And no better example of that than Trump in North Dakota, the obscene party about the Dakota Access pipeline, as archaic and dangerous a piece of technology as we've seen in this nation in a long time, coupled with his absurd promise that he's going to make the drought disappear in North Dakota. Look, the unreason that stems straight from the fossil fuel industry and its inability to deal with the fact that its business model has to change, that's what's at the bottom of an enormous amount of what we see around us right now.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, where the climate movement is now, speaking out and connecting these issues, like your group, 350.org?
BILL McKIBBEN: So, the two important -- I think we're basically in an endgame now. And the two points that we're trying to make, and will make over and over and over again all over the world, with increasing success in most places except the United States, are, one, we got to have it all, in terms of renewable energy. We have to go to 100 percent renewable energy, and we have to do it fast. That's why Senator Sanders has introduced that bill at a national level, along with Senator Merkley. That's why dozens of cities, from Atlanta to Salt Lake to San Diego, have adopted 100 percent renewable policies.
Along with that all, we also have to say nothing. We have to say there will be no more fossil fuel infrastructure development. And that's why we're fighting so hard every single pipeline, every single new coal mine. For the moment, of course, Trump is ascendant with the fossil fuel industry.
They're getting their wishes in this country. But like many things that Trump touches, I think that this is a last gasp. People will come to associate, are coming to associate, the insanity of going full speed ahead into this greenhouse future with the most reckless and crazy president that we've ever had.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, I want to thank you for being with us, co-founder of 350.org. A number of his books out, including the last one, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
(September 8, 2017) -- Rush Limbaugh spent the first part of this week acting as a Hurricane Irma truther, but now it seems he's taking cover.
On Thursday, the conservative radio host announced on his show that he'd be evacuating South Florida, where he lives, and would be off the air for the next couple of days. This comes mere days after he lambasted media stations for their coverage and storm preparers for battening down their hatches.
"May as well announce this: I'm not going to get into details because of the security nature of things, but it turns out that we will not be able to do the program here tomorrow," Limbaugh said on his Thursday broadcast.
"We'll be on the air next week, folks, from parts unknown. . . Tomorrow will be problematic. Legally impossible for us to originate the program out of here."
Limbaugh has long been hell-bent on saying hurricanes and storms like it are part of a liberal conspiracy solely aimed at furthering the discussion on climate change, but his claims about Irma in his Tuesday broadcast sent many over the edge.
Limbaugh ranted on air: "Here comes a hurricane, local media goes on the air, 'Big hurricane coming, oh, my God! Make sure you got batteries. Make sure you got water. It could be the worst ever. Have you seen the size of this baby? It's already a Cat 5. Oh, my God, oh, my God, it's bigger than the island of Haiti. Oh, my God.'
People run to the stores, they stock up everything, and they hoard. And they end up with vacant stores, nothing there. And it's a big success. TV stations got eyeballs, the advertising businesses have sold out of business, gotta restock and the cycle repeats."
He also said that "all you need is to create the fear and panic accompanied by talk that climate change is causing hurricanes to become more frequent and bigger and more dangerous, and you create the panic, and it's mission accomplished, agenda advanced."
In addition to announcing his relocating to "parts unknown," Limbaugh still doubled down on his statements from earlier in the week.
"The views expressed by the host of this program documented to be almost always right 99.8 percent of the time," he said. "There is a reason for that because we engage in a relentless and unstoppable pursuit of the truth and we find and proclaim it and that happens to drive people crazy."
The devastation of Hurricane Irma is expected to be even more catastrophic than that of 1992′s monster storm Hurricane Andrew.
EAARTH Is a Whole New Planet
Bill McKibben interviewed on the New York Times Green Inc. Blog
Twenty years ago, with The End of Nature, Bill McKibben offered one of the earliest warnings about global warming. Those warnings went mostly unheeded; now, he insists, we need to acknowledge that we've waited too long, and that massive change is not only unavoidable but already under way.
Our old familiar globe is suddenly melting, drying, acidifying, flooding, and burning in ways that no human has ever seen. We've created, in very short order, a new planet, still recognizable but fundamentally different. We may as well call it Eaarth.
That new planet is filled with new binds and traps. A changing world costs large sums to defend -- think of the money that went to repair New Orleans, or the trillions it will take to transform our energy systems. But the endless economic growth that could underwrite such largesse depends on the stable planet we've managed to damage and degrade. We can't rely on old habits any longer.
Our hope depends, McKibben argues, on scaling back -- on building the kind of societies and economies that can hunker down, concentrate on essentials, and create the type of community (in the neighborhood, but also on the Internet) that will allow us to weather trouble on an unprecedented scale. Change -- fundamental change -- is our best hope on a planet suddenly and violently out of balance.
Read it, please. Straight through to the end. Whatever else you were planning to do next, nothing could be more important. PRAISE FOR EAARTH
"With clarity, eloquence, deep knowledge and even deeper compassion for both planet and people, Bill McKibben guides us to the brink of a new, uncharted era. This monumental book, probably his greatest, may restore your faith in the future, with us in it." -- Alan Weisman,
author of The World Without Us
"What I have to say about this book is very simple: Read it, please. Straight through to the end. Whatever else you were planning to do next, nothing could be more important." -- Barbara Kingsolver,
author of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
"Bill McKibben foresaw 'the end of nature' very early on, and in this new book he blazes a path to help preserve nature's greatest treasures." -- James E. Hansen,
director, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
"Bill McKibben is the most effective environmental activist of our age. Anyone interested in making a difference to our world can learn from him." -- Tim Flannery,
author of The Weather Makers and The Eternal Frontier
"The terrifying premise with which this book begins is that we have, as in the old science fiction films and tales of half a century ago, landed on a harsh and unpredictable planet, all six billion of us. Climate change is already here, but Bill McKibben doesn't stop with the bad news. He tours the best responses that are also already here, and these visions of a practical scientific solution are also sketches of a better, richer, more democratic civil society and everyday life. Eaarth is an astonishingly important book that will knock you down and pick you up." -- Rebecca Solnit,
author of Paradise Built in Hell and Hope in the Dark Hot Planet, Cold Facts Paul Greenberg / The New York Times
(May 7, 2010) -- There ought to be a word, probably in German, for a book that makes the reader boil over with life-changing eco-enthusiasm only to find himself, a month later, reverting to his old Hummer-driving, planet-destroying ways.
An informal survey of Germanists has failed to come up with anything. But Bill McKibben has found a planet where such books sell well. It is a world where environmental news goes from bad to worse, a place where ice caps vanish, crops fail, oceans acidify, activists rally and an oil company makes more money in three years "than any company in the history of money."
The place McKibben has discovered is an unpronounceable land called Eaarth. Where is Eaarth, you may ask? Unfortunately, you're soaking in it.
"Eaarth" is the name McKibben has decided to assign both to his new book and to the planet formerly known as Earth. His point is a fresh one that brings the reader uncomfortably close to climate change. Earth with one "a," according to McKibben, no longer exists. We have carbonized it out of existence. Two-a Eaarth is now our home.
On two-a Eaarth, we are way past the bearable threshold -- 350 parts per million -- for carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, and well down the road to a devastating 650 parts per million. Our planet's vital signs are already weakening, and despite the Gore-green tide washing over the nation's documentary production houses, we have come to resemble "the guy who ate steak for dinner every night and let his cholesterol top 300 and had the heart attack," as McKibben puts it. "Now he dines on Lipitor and walks the treadmill, but half his heart is dead tissue."
How we proceed with a half-dead heart is McKibben's primary concern, one that keeps even the morbidly pessimistic reader turning the pages, looking for his own not-too-hot cubbyhole on the superheated planet.
Except, before we get to the cubbyhole, there is a lot of schooling and reschooling to remind us how backed into a corner we already are. Taking aim at those who talk airily of saving the world "for our grandchildren," McKibben shows how we are already standing in our grandchildren's shoes.
Sunnier types like Thomas Friedman, who argues that we can shift our energy economy to renewable resources and reclaim the old, cool Earth, are dispatched efficiently. While agreeing with the sentiment behind Friedman's joie de vert, McKibben points out that even if we were to start an ecological Manhattan Project and build two million large windmills -- "four times as many as we built in 2007, every year for the next 40" -- we would offset only one-ninth of the carbon output necessary to make our planet vaguely resemble the one into which baby boomers like Friedman (and McKibben) were born.
McKibben also gives an alarming roll call of the ancillary phenomena adding to the carbon-dioxide-caused warming, phenomena the original modelers of climate change did not necessarily take into account.
The beetle-driven death and decay of the temperate forests of the Rocky Mountains (beetles spread when unusually warm winter temperatures allow eggs to hatch), which releases yet more carbon dioxide; the belching of methane, an even more effective climate warmer than carbon dioxide, from the defrosting tundra; the transformation of heat-reflecting polar ice caps into heat-absorbing water -- all of these once reliable planet coolers are turning into planet toasters, rapidly accelerating global warming beyond what we can reasonably respond to.
Unlike many writers on environmental cataclysm, McKibben is actually a writer, and a very good one at that. He is smart enough to know that the reader needs a dark chuckle of a bone thrown at him now and then to keep plowing through the bad news.
On concluding his troubling section on the inevitable precipitous decline of our agricultural system and resulting series of food-related wars, he puckishly remarks: "Well, that's a tad grim. Not really the career I trained for, fighting other adult males over the fall harvest." This occasional lightheartedness carries the reader through the book's thesis and antithesis sections, delivering him, albeit a bit dispirited, to the synthesis part explaining how we might endure life on Eaarth.
It is in this final section, called "Lightly, Carefully, Gracefully," that the real problems begin. If you are, like McKibben, a grudging optimist who believes that human society can willfully transform into a better version of itself, you might be persuaded by his arguments, some of them new, others a little old hat.
Arguments that a smaller, diversified agriculture could add stability to our compromised industrial food-production system. That "growth" as an economic model is inherently flawed and will no longer be viable. That an "uptick of neighboring" will spread the sharing and implementation of practical, Eaarth-friendly how-to-ism. That the Internet could alleviate the rural boredom so many of us dread when we contemplate chucking it all and going back to the land, as he argues we must.
But many of these proposed solutions inadvertently resemble the list of things Christian Lander lampooned in his 2008 best seller "Stuff White People Like": "farmer's markets," "awareness," "making you feel bad about not going outside," "vegan/vegetarianism."
It's not that these things aren't important. But in the absence of some overarching authority, a kind of ecologically minded Lenin, they will remain hipster lifestyle choices rather than global game changers. Which I suppose in the end is part of McKibben's point.
Eaarth itself will be that ecological Lenin, a harsh environmental dictator that will force us to bend to new rules. The question is whether we will be smart enough to bend ourselves first.
Paul Greenberg is the author of "Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food."
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.