Hear Bill McKibben speak at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City on Wednesday, October 13, 2010.
Well known for his advocacy of climate-change action and support for a more local economy, author and educator Bill McKibben will speak in Iowa City on Wednesday, October 13, at 7 p.m. at the Englert Theatre. The free event is sponsored by the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability and the UI Lecture Committee.
McKibben made headlines last month during his road trip to Washington, D.C., with Unity College students to “put solar on the White House.” A prolific author, McKibben released his latest book, Eaarth:Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, in April 2010.
We asked the UI community to submit questions they’d like to ask McKibben, and he readily accepted our invitation for an interview.
Amy M. Myers: We’re looking forward to your visit to the University of Iowa on October 13. Let’s give this little Q & A a whirl.
What are “low-hanging fruit” ways for the University of Iowa, or any large university, to become more sustainable?
Bill McKibben: Well, energy is job one, far and away. We get fixated on things like recycling, which certainly matter, but looking at the world in terms of energy is a pretty good way of assessing impacts. Colleges can look at the efficiency of their facilities (i.e., are the light bulbs incandescent, are the windows double glazed, are the ceilings insulated?) and also at the ways they generate power and heat (coal? or something renewable). They can look at how much energy is embedded in their food systems. At Middlebury [College, in Vermont], where I work, we even have a person in the athletic department working hard to save energy on sports: can the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams schedule the same teams the same day, and travel together to get there?
Climate change is a complex issue. What’s the best way you’ve found to explain it?
Imagine that the planet is a body. When we consume coal, gas, and oil, we create carbon dioxide in the same way that when we eat food we create cholesterol. We know how much is too much: a few years ago a NASA team conclusively showed that any amount of carbon in the atmosphere greater than 350 parts per million is not “compatible with the planet on which civilization developed and to which life is adapted.” That’s bad news, because right now the atmosphere holds 392 parts per million, and it’s climbing 2 per year. So too much cholesterol gives you a heart attack, and too much CO2 means that ice caps are melting, heat waves are getting fiercer, droughts are expanding. We need to make it like the Biggest Loser, and we need to do it fast.
Why did you write Eaarth?
To get across one central idea: climate change isn’t something that will happen in the future, it’s something that is happening right this very moment. And it’s the biggest, most dangerous crisis we’ve ever faced.
What inspires you most about the possibilities of the future?
That lots of people are finally getting to work on this stuff. Last year, at 350.org, which is a small group—just me and a handful of recent college graduates—we managed to coordinate what CNN called “the most widespread day of political activity in the planet’s history”—5,200 demonstrations in 181 countries. That means there’s all kinds of people there ready to go to work.
What’s the future of agriculture in a climate-changed world?
Not good. Rainfall gets much more erratic—drought increases, and when rain falls it comes in heavier, shorter, and more damaging bursts. And eventually—this is already starting to happen—it simply gets too hot for our main grain crops to thrive. Look what happened in Russia’s heat wave this year: they shut down all grain exports to the rest of the world.
You’re embarking on the “Put solar on the White House” tour with Unity College students. It’s a great attention-getter, but do you think the right people are tuning in?
I think so. I mean, I was on Letterman to talk about it—that’s the right kind of audience. And when Michelle Obama planted her garden on the White House lawn, seed sales went up 30 percent all across the country. The White House is an awfully important piece of real estate.
Creating a Sustainable World
McKibben’s October 13, 2010, lecture, “Creating a Sustainable World,” is free and open to the public. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. After the lecture, McKibben will be signing copies of his book, Eaarth, which will also be on sale.
To read more about Bill McKibben, visit www.billmckibben.com.
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