Reflections on a visit by Bill McKibben
The other day I read three short essays—one on a fast food restaurant, one on romance novels, and one on the 1980’s futurist Faith Popcorn—three eclectic confections for the erudite in a collection of “Talk of the Town” pieces from The New Yorker. I was preparing for my upcoming introduction of their author to a gathering at Forterra’s office. Other than examples of his graceful writing, they were of no help whatsoever for my introductory remarks. Why? Because the author was Bill McKibben.
Surprised by the subjects? Don’t be. Curiosity about the world and how it works is at the core of most all our great environmentalists. Here’s a guy who started his writing career at the top of the heap—with a national reputation and at a prestigious publication. But his curiosity compounded with his commitment led him elsewhere. His curiosity led him to write a famous essay about where things in his apartment came from—which led to his first book, a game changer, The End of Nature. His commitment led to a life on the front lines of environmentalism.
Bill spoke for about fifteen minutes, mostly about the seemingly willful ignorance and lack of action by our world leaders in the face of a crisis as serious as any humanity has ever confronted— climate change. He called on us to get to NYC this fall when these leaders again will meet in an attempt to address climate change. Once there, he called on us to raise almighty hell—make a noise that may finally be heard by the high and powerful.
He argued with certainty and passion that nothing else matters until our voices on human induced climate change are heard, and that means a life of constant advocacy and agitation. Referring to the work of a companion organization, he stated that conservation of our great landscapes must not divert our attention from agitating against this great global threat.
I agree with Bill, mostly. . .
But what I’ll add, at least to what McKibben said the other evening, is that I believe the environmental movement in fact must do both simultaneously. Advocate, yes, absolutely and loudly. But change requires both advocates who agitate and advocates who apply solutions to shift outcomes. Where advocates who agitate make noise to activate people to take a stand and to stand up; advocates who shift outcomes demonstrate what change looks like—a powerful tool to persuade and evolve the public’s thinking and decision making.
The movement’s ecosystem needs both. There’s room for all of us under our big sustainability tent. Not just room, but need. The challenges we face are too consequential, too urgent. Our approaches differ but are complementary and in fact each necessary if we are to reach our shared end game—a sustainable world.
Forterra’s work to conserve our key landscapes and build community will continue unabated so we create a region where the natural and built worlds are no longer antagonistic, but sum to a sustainable, climate resilient whole. This work will provide key parts of the answer as Bill’s relentless, boisterous advocacy succeeds in getting the world’s attention.
Advocates who agitate and advocates who apply solutions are symbiotic sub-species, each occupying its own niche in the movement’s ecosystem. Without agitators, a number of key folks wouldn’t be taking shelter in our sustainability tent. Without those of us shifting outcomes, agitators wouldn’t have the path forward called for by their courageous actions. Taken altogether this productive and wide-ranging ecosystem— a productivity and breadth of range reflected in the mind of a person who started out as a world class writer at the New Yorker and is now a leader in the environmental movement— is our best chance of creating a sustainable planet worthy of our children.