Interview

Five Questions for Bill McKibben on Why the Climate March Matters

Bill McKibben, environmental activist and founder of 350.org, will be in Washington, D.C. this Saturday helping to lead the People’s Climate March to protest the policies of President Donald Trump. Yale Environment 360 caught up with McKibben before the event, which will feature scores of marches around the U.S. 

1. There have been climate marches before, including a major one in New York City three years ago. What makes this march different?

Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben

Timing is everything. Three years ago we were trying to inspire semi-friendly political leaders to do something — to show them they had the room to act if they’d seize it. Now we’re trying to make clear that there’s a strong and active resistance to predatory politicians doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry. We’re in D.C. on the 100th day [of the Trump administration] to say that we’ve noticed what they’re up to.

And of course marching is not mostly what the climate justice movement does. Mostly it fights on the ground, against those projects that endanger the future and for the communities hardest hit by fossil fuels. But every once in a while it’s good that we all get together!    

2. With the Trump administration so resistant to any action on climate, why march at all? Is it a futile exercise?

Well, it’s futile in terms of getting good climate legislation, obviously. But movements have deeper purposes than the next congressional session. This week is actually the moment when people are rewriting the charter for progressives so that 100 percent renewable energy becomes the new baseline demand. The bill that [U.S. senators] Jeff Merkley and Bernie Sanders introduced this week [which would phase out fossil fuels] goes farther than anything we’ve seen before — it’s going to make 100 the most important number in energy discussions.  

It’s less that the Merkley-Sanders bill will be propelled to passage by the march – it’s obviously not going to pass any time soon. It’s that it’s an idea that now spreads far and wide.  

3. Do you see any forces for climate moderation in the Trump administration?

No. I kind of doubt that they’ll exit the Paris accords, but only so that they can screw them up more effectively from the inside, which is exactly what the coal industry lobbyists are pushing. It’s a disaster top to bottom — and of course virtually no one was voting for it. The polling shows that the endless environmental attacks are the least popular of all Trump’s unpopular initiatives.  

4. Do you see any possibility that a Republican Congress will ever acknowledge the climate problem?

They’re a wholly owned subsidiary of the fossil fuel industry. They have no freedom of action. A few are beginning to doubt if it’s electorally sustainable to be against physics, so they’re making timid noises about recognizing that overheating the planet might not be a great idea. But this Congress is not going to give us what we need in any way, shape, or form. 

5. Do you see any encouraging signs at all on the climate front? 

Only the relentless fall in the price of renewables. That means that if we really wanted to transform the economy we could. But it would mean going far faster than markets are going to go by themselves. It would mean really, truly going all out.

Every day the news from the natural world gets darker — March’s global heat worldwide beats any non-El Niño month in history. And every month that passes without sufficient action gets us closer to some invisible but real deadline. So, we march.