Global Warming Expert Offers Challenge

Alex Pons

In order to promote a cleaner and more environmentally friendly campus, this past Monday, American environmentalist Bill McKibben gave a lecture to the Colgate community on how a healthier planet is possible if change starts at the individual level.

As a professor at Middlebury College, McKibben is a leader in his field and frequently writes about global warming and how alternative energy can help. During his visit to Colgate, McKibben combined his personal views with his expertise into what audience members considered an insightful and inspiring lecture.

In his speech, McKibben admitted that looking back a year ago, he felt a great sense of desperation since little to no legislative action had been taken despite a major increase in media attention towards global warming. Because of this, Mr. McKibben and several colleagues decided to organize a protest march to Burlington, Vermont that eventually drew over 1,000 participants. In fact, the walk against carbon emissions drew so much attention that even politicians were compelled to sign a pledge to push for legislation to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050 if elected into office.

McKibben pointed out that when so many politicians argue that more research needs to be done to support global warming, the power of a simple protest appeared to cancel out any doubt and help the government move in the right direction.

The walk for environmentally friendly legislation was not only successful but turned out to be the biggest anti-global warming demonstration ever to be held on American soil. This fact inspired McKibben and a handful of Middlebury students to create a website called Stepitup07.org where communities from all around the country are able to connect and organize anti-global warming demonstrations in their own community. The result was that over 1,400 demonstrations were planned to take place all over the nation.

Twenty years ago, McKibben wrote the first book about global warming targeted towards a general audience, and McKibben said that the only thing that has changed since then is the severity of the danger that global warming will bring. McKibben quoted statistics that suggest further temperature increase of five degrees, and when a change of only one degree has already brought so much devastation in the form of hurricane Katrina, increased ice melting and severe heat waves, one cannot image what our world would look like if these predictions are valid.

Unlike other anti-global warming lectures, McKibben pointed out deeper causes, saying that our nation’s psychology tells its citizens that happiness lays in material goods. Politicians often argue that a growing economy is a positive action that has no negative side effects. Yet what we don’t realize, McKibben said, is that our ever growing need for bigger houses, imported goods and gas-guzzling cars might be contributing to the nation’s gross domestic product but is also contributes to the vast amount of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere.

“I found it really depressing how the president is using the economy as an excuse for global warming and how this year is going to be the hottest year on record,” first-year Jill Wakumoto, who attended the lecture said.

And with the rise of countries such as China, McKibben’s argument that America has to change not only where it gets energy, but also its mindset, is a compelling one.

McKibben then went on to argue that material goods do not necessarily translate into happiness but that human contact facilitates happiness. From an economist’s perspective, the marginal cost of increased carbon dioxide and limited human interactions outweighs the marginal benefits that come with producing more goods. McKibben claimed that there are solutions that can not only cut down carbon emission but also rekindle human connections.

The first simple solution McKibben suggested comes in the form of a farmers’ market. Not only does buying locally grown food cut out the energy used by food transportation, but farmers’ markets facilitate much more human contact than buying food at a big supermarket.

The second suggestion comes in the form of solar panels. Solar panels not only harness the suns energy with no carbon emission but because solar panels are connected into a bigger energy grid, one neighbor’s excess energy can be used to power their neighbors home and thus foster a connection within a community.

Because of importance of a connected community, McKibben is most proud of the fact that his demonstrations took place within 1,400 different communities where the uniqueness and spirit of the community could be brought through.