Q&A with environmental activist Bill McKibben

by Alexa Green | 1/20/16 7:42pm

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SEAMORE ZHU/THE DARTMOUTH STAFF
Source: Environmentalist Bill McKibben gives speech at the Hopkins Center for the Arts.

Bill McKibben, a leading environmental activist and author on climate change and policy, visited Dartmouth yesterday, endorsing Bernie Sanders’ campaign. McKibben is the Schumann distinguished scholar of environmental studies at Middlebury College and founder of the international environmental organization, 350.org.

What motivated you to speak to Dartmouth and Upper Valley community members about Sanders?

BM: Well, you know. New Hampshire has a lot of leverage, so you know, students in this part of the country want to take part in political activity. They always are going to be engaged. This is a very, very unique part of the country. You have a chance of making a difference, so that is why it is great. And candidates come to Dartmouth, too — it speaks to the kind of students you’ve got.

What do you think the role of students is in the upcoming election?

BM: Students should first stay interested. It should be noted that Bernie is the oldest candidate ­— he’d be the oldest president ever elected. This is interesting because his support seems to be coming from the youngest people. And so, I think that students are already playing a big role and will play a bigger role particularly as the next couple of weeks go on. New Hampshire is a state with a lot of colleges. Students actually take initiative if they get out on voting dates, like Super Tuesday, or if they spend a day or two campaigning on the phone. They’re the most powerful people in the United States.

In your opinion, why is Sanders the best candidate in the upcoming primaries and presidential election?

BM: The thing that I know most about is climate change. And on that issue, Bernie has been absolutely the most forward person in all of Washington for the last many years. He has been in the lead on every single fight — he’s done Exxon, the Keystone Pipeline, you name it. So, I think there’s no doubt that he’s the best candidate on that note.

What do you think the biggest challenge facing environmental protection is today?

BM: Climate change is not only the biggest environmental question, but the biggest question facing the whole world. Because, everything that happens to the climate, even as related to how well its systems are working, makes us ask the questions: Are we going to have enough food and resources that people can afford? Are we going to have countries facing conflicts as resources diminish? These are issues that everyone has taken for granted, and now we are depended upon to worry about them. We found out today that 2015 was the hottest year ever, and I think that is a reminder for just how much work we have to do to fast track this solution.

What do you think that students can do to address climate change?

BM: I think, and I’ve always said this for a number of years, that your individual actions today can be put in that field of generally “fighting our fight.” The most important thing that individuals can do is not to be an individual. Join with others in these big groups to combat climate change, like 350.org, because that is what it will take to change our politics enough to get actual difference.

Who or what do you think is Sanders’ biggest issue in the race?

BM: I think the biggest issue for Bernie Sanders in the race is just whether he can hold on, whether people know about him. In Iowa and New Hampshire, they’re beginning to see [his narrative] . They’re coming into really seeing Senator Sanders. It will just be interesting to see after Iowa and New Hampshire and people in the rest of the country have time to figure out where they want to be, and what a wonderful character he is.

Why should the candidates take environmental issues and climate change into account on the campaign trail and in office?

BM: They should take it into account in office because it’s a challenge to world leaders. They are going to have to deal with climate change. It will be the next biggest issue for the next three presidents. Candidates should take it into account on the campaign trail because it is also a player in politics. The Republican party is so absorbed with the oil that they want to protect, which makes them vulnerable on the campaign trail because wherever they go to speak, they are going to be talking about climate change a lot. Most Americans are no longer comfortable with the ignoring of science.

Considering national concerns about oil change, the Dow dropped 500 points resulting from American fears and low oil prices.

BM: That’s right! Energy is in the center of so much that happens in our economy and our political life.

I see that you have spearheaded the resistance to the Keystone Pipeline and launched the fast-growing fossil fuel divestment movement. How do you think that type of climate awareness can be echoed on Dartmouth’s campus?

BM: I was very glad to see a bunch of Divest Dartmouth students at my talk, and I think their work is going very well. I think that the students are helping Dartmouth moving forward at a fast pace. And I think it is only a matter of time before people like the Rockefellers say, “We can’t afford to ignore the planet.”