Pastor Bill McKibben: Make Noise & Money, Not War

by Lorna Salzman



"Greed has helped destroy the planet...
maybe now it can help save it."
—Bill McKibben

With what appears to be modesty but comes close to boasting, Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and its evil twin OneSky, says: "I am not an activist". He then spoils it all for us by saying "Population is not our biggest problem". In case we haven't gotten the message, he says "I've always been opposed to population control. In climate terms, population is not the biggest problem going forward. Most of the population growth ....will use very little energy so that it doesn't matter very much". It doesn't take much brain matter to know that human activities not directly connected to energy consumption are giving rise to things that really do matter very much.

What McKibben has left out - there is nothing between the lines here - is the stark fact that climate change induced by overconsumption of energy in large part but in equal part by overpopulation everywhere will hit the poor countries the hardest. Rising sea level will inundate low lying agricultural areas like Bangladesh and island nations, destroying crops and estuaries and turning drinking water wells to salt. Glaciers are disappearing from the Himalayas (whose rivers serve billions of people in India and its neighbors) and the Andes. Crop irrigation and overpumping of aquifers to serve growing populations is lowering aquifers by tens of meters in India and elsewhere, threatening food supplies and diminishing freshwater needed for drinking. Acidification of the oceans will destroy ocean fisheries, already overfished by poor nations in small cottage industries not using much energy, who in some cases sell it abroad for income instead of eating it. (Check out the film "Darwin's Nightmare"). The clearance of forests by timber companies plus the spread of unemployed workers from overpopulated regions as well as countries (Haitian immigrants are now moving to Brazil in droves) into pristine rainforests means more intense harvesting of jungle meat and drastic destruction of trees, habitat and biodiversity.

The competition for land, water and resources is not only between humans as in most African nations but between humans and nonhumans. As population grows, nonhuman species diminish and disappear. At the present rate of growth, with population doubling in 35 years, it is not hyperbole to wonder if anything will be left of wildlife and wilderness by the end of the century. Impoverished unemployed humans do not have the energy or will to make ethical judgments about "the rights of Nature".

It is abundantly clear that the overpopulation crisis will affect the less developed countries more rapidly and intensively than the industrialized west. They are on the front lines. They, not us, will starve, die from drought and famine, as they are forced to destroy their natural resources and water supplies in a desperate attempt to merely stay alive. What we saw last year in Somalia is the future of most of Africa. Yet his holiness McKibben, seemingly in a perpetual spiritual stupor that bemoans "the end of Nature" but refuses to finger the criminals and criminality that is responsible, has no recommendations for action, no policy or legislative agenda, because apparently to hold any of these would require him to become the activist that he so firmly rejects. His creed is Faith-based Science. Papal bull indeed.

In May 2010 I placed a full page open letter, to McKibben, at my own expense, in The Nation, asking why he refused to take or propose actual policies or legislation to curb climate change. In response to an earlier communication with him asking why he isn't promoting specific policies and legislation, he said in effect that this would be useless given our present congress. The closest he has come to taking ANY position was to say we need to "put a price on carbon". He mentions no price nor has he actually used the term carbon tax, which WOULD put a price on carbon. Otherwise he has remained silent, while loudly proclaiming that his campaign has been instrumental on the issue. All this means is that he is telling decision makers to "take action". No specifics of course. Just "action".

In this respect he is no different from other religious leaders who see no evil worth reporting on, at least with names, but cannot help exhorting the faithful (the least culpable for the problem) to promote "peace", "social justice", "equality", and all those liberal homilies intended to smooth over, to the point of invisibility, the actual crimes being committed daily by foreign theocracies, monarchs, oligarchs and pseudo-populists....all in the name of peace, justice, and "freedom" of course. Instead, our own country (the US) bears the major burden of double-standard excoriation, along with the threatened nation of Israel surrounded by fanatic live organic ammunition looking for a place to explode. Religion appears to be the main stimulus for McKibben and others, not least Rabbi Michael Lerner, who yearned for a president full of "the spirit of God".

None of this is new nor would it be remarkable were it not for another less publicized side of the McKibben coin : his gross grovelling solicitation of the American business community to support his 350 ppm campaign, using the tried and true incentive of more profits and a better public image. Yes indeed, this is McKibben's unabashed tack. The centrality of economic growth and overconsumption is not even given a footnote or token lip service. Instead, McKibben, with his Rockefeller money (in an interview last year he pretended to not know the source of his funding) has done intense and unconditional solicitation - call it pimping for capitalism - to the business community. Here are some excerpts from a 350.org mailing of January 2011.

...."you can put information about what 350 means for climate change on your next green product (like Camelbak)

..."put a 'Business for 350' poster in your store-front or a similar badge on your website..."

..."host a mini-rally (with your logo on the banner) like the staff of Keen Footware......this is marketing which we're supposed to be good at."

"...grab the 'Business for 350' web badge ...You'll be building the base and increasing your company's visibility .."

"Think of it as a giant branding campaign......think of something useful and beautiful to do with your business...get in touch with our business coordinator to let us know that you're on board. She's helping coordinate businesses for the project and will be able to give you all the info and resources you need".

Other benefits touted by 350:

"provide increased engagement from your employees... renewed loyalty from your customers..and a (sic )health and happiness for your community".

So the tax-deductible Rockefeller grants and the public donations to 350. org are being used to assist the business community improve its image......isn't it heartwarming? But there's more. McKibben is pals with Richard Matthew's The Green Market, which promotes

"the convergence of sustainable capitalism (sic) and the global environment".

McKibben picks and chooses his capitalist friends carefully, shunning the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which compared to the energy industry is only a squeal, not the whole hog. It is worthwhile looking more closely at Matthews and The Green Market project.

Canadian energy activist Cory Morningstar has written extensively, no-holds-barred, on the "Climate Cartel" of 350.org, OneSky and Climate Solutions, and extensively on McKibben's craven capitulation to capitalism, saying to Matthews: "If we truly want to save some semblance of a livable planet for our children, we must confront and reject the non-profit industrial complex, who in reality cannot and will not bite the hand that feeds them..the hand upon which they depend in order to continue to exist".

Matthews' response to this was to defend "the growing relationship between business and the 'nonprofit industrial complex' as driving the green economy and benefiting the environment, saying "It is nothing short of absurd to dismiss the business community's pivotal role in carbon reduction". But he saves the best for last, saying

"Morningstar's Marxist-Leninist rants reduce the war against climate change to class conflict....(her) revolutionary zeal is unproductive and does nothing to solve the dire crisis we are facing. We have seen this tired rhetoric before and as we look back on the arc of history we see that anti-capitalist regimes are the polar opposite of a panacea".

Meanwhile, according to B.C. environmental analyst Tim Murray, West Coast Environmental Law in Vancouver (WCEL), rationalizing their intake of corporate cash, recently quoted a poll suggesting that only 15% of British Columbians are concerned about "charitable funding" of environmental groups. They argued that such funding helps right the imbalance between ordinary citizens and the influence of multinational corporations, cleverly referring to these corporate sources as "U.S. philanthropic foundations". When WCEL's executive director Jessica Clog was asked about the slippery slope between taking dirty corporate money and knuckling under to a corporate agenda, she admitted this was of concern, adding that Murray could help reduce WCEL's reliance on this money by writing her a check to help her cause.

The general public is not merely being deceived but is being led like lambs to the slaughter, in the belief that they have principled and muscular leadership on the climate change issue. Nothing could be further from the truth. Between the fat cat enviros like Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund protecting their access to congress and policy makers, and the leaders at the grassroots who refuse to lead, the citizenry and the planet are in grave danger, with no rescue in sight. At the very least they need to know who is deceiving them, and Bill McKibben is at the top of that.

© 2002 Lorna Salzman. All rights reserved. Material may be quoted with permission.