Conservation Minnesota

A Passioned Commitment To A Cause

JohnHellandbiopicIt’s been a quarter of a century now that author Bill McKibben has been thinking, researching and writing about climate change issues.  His seminal book that helped start the discussion, “The End of Nature,” was published in 1989.  I had the pleasure of seeing him speak last week to a combination of students and senior citizens at Macalester University.

McKibben is the founder of the organization 350.org.  350 is the number of parts per million of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere that most scientists say is the safe upper limit.

Any amount higher than that poses great problems to our planet’s ability to adapt and sustain all the life forms we know.

Fresh from helping organize the nation’s largest climate rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. the week before, where he and other activists were thrown in jail, McKibben is committed to spreading the word about the growing threats of climate change.  He is trying to persuade President Obama to stop the Keystone Pipeline, slated to come down the center of the country from Canada to Mexico, which NASA scientist James Hansen calls a conduit to the “world’s largest carbon bomb.”

McKibben brings eye-opening figures to his global warming message.  We have 1/5 less the ice surface in the Arctic than when Neil Armstrong looked down upon the Earth almost 45 years ago.  Every one degree of the Earth’s warming means 10% fewer grain yields around the world.  With a still growing world population, and less agricultural land all the time, the lower grain yield could be perilous to world poverty and peace among nations.

He argues that we can’t allow the planet to warm more than two degrees Celsius.  That would mean another 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is a generally accepted upper threshold.  However, what he mostly worries about is the fact that proven oil and gas reserves owned by energy companies are FIVE TIMES as large as the 565 gigaton figure, and the companies have no interest in leaving them on the ground.

McKibben speaks widely on college campuses to ask students to pressure the administrations to divest themselves from investments in fossil-fuel industries.  He’s also asking senior citizens to step up and become active for the sake of their grandchildren and future generations.  You have to admire his reasoned and steadfast commitment to this cause.  As he says, ” reason alone isn’t working, but passion, spirit and creativity must happen for us to succeed.”

About John Helland

John Helland
John Helland is a history graduate of the University of Minnesota. He served as the nonpartisan legislative research analyst for the Minnesota House of Representatives after graduation. He worked extensively on environment and natural resources legislation and issues, and was the primary nonpartisan research staffer for the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance committees from 1971 to 2008.
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