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Bill McKibben’s life changing transformation to climate change activist

The Guardian just published a really nice profile of 350.org founder and all-around environmental guru Bill McKibben. The story digs into his early years as a pioneering environmental journalist and author, as well as his more recent transformation into what scientist Tim Flannery calls “the most effective environmental activist of our age.” Here is a short excerpt about the latter:

Environmental activism was always something that interested McKibben: his first book included a discussion of the radical ideas and direct action campaigns of Earth First! and other conservationists in the western US. But he was a writer: he and [his wife Sue] Halpern built their home [in Vermont] on land once owned by the poet Robert Frost, whose own summer cabin is nearby, “so there’s some good writing karma, and lots of trees”.

“I think my assumption when I was 27 was that explaining rationally all the trouble we’re in would be sufficient, and that politicians and whoever would act. I’m older now and I think I’ve come to understand a little more clearly that we’re going to need to build some power if we’re going to mount a serious challenge,” he says.

So in 1997, as well as publishing two books, McKibben launched Step It Up, with the help of students at Middlebury College where he is scholar in residence, and organised rallies urging Congress to cut carbon emissions. Step It Up morphed into 350.org, named to fix in people’s minds the 350 parts of CO2 per million in the atmosphere that scientists believe is safe. Currently there are 388ppm, and some previous forecasts suggested 450ppm might be OK. But in 2007 the Nasa climate scientist James Hansen revised this figure down to 350, and 350.org set about trying to persuade the world to believe him. It is this work that currently takes up most of McKibben’s time. Now he is off to Cancún in Mexico for the current round of UN climate talks, though he is not expecting a breakthrough.