In the first event of an inaugural environmental lecture series, the School of International Service (SIS) hosted environmentalist and author Bill McKibben on October 23 to discuss current issues and progress in the global climate justice movement.
McKibben’s speech, “The Road Through Paris: On the Frontlines of the Climate Justice Movement,” kicked off the annual Nancy Weiser Ignatius Lectureship on the Environment series. The lectureship, which was announced in spring 2015, seeks to highlight critical environmental issues and honors the work of activist Nancy Weiser Ignatius, SIS/MA ‘69. The series is endowed by the Ignatius family and friends of the family.
McKibben is a founder of 350.org, a grassroots climate change movement that has organized thousands of environmental rallies worldwide. He is a leader in the fossil fuel divestment movement and has staunchly opposed the Keystone Pipeline XL, which President Obama blocked last week.
Dean James Goldgeier delivered opening remarks, thanking the Ignatius family for their generosity and service to SIS, and praising McKibben for being a “leading voice of environmentalism around the world.”
A renowned figure in the environmental movement, McKibben received the Right Livelihood Award in 2014 – an international honor sometimes referred to as the “alternative Nobel.” His 1989 book The End of Nature is considered the first book to warn the general public about climate change. To date, it has been published in 24 languages.
McKibben began his lecture with startling statistics. While he was speaking, McKibben explained, the most powerful windstorm ever recorded was concurrently smashing into Mexico at the speed of 205 miles per hour. He also said that thanks to fossil fuel emissions and denial of climate change by the oil industry and others, humans have raised the temperature of the earth by one degree Celsius in the past century. McKibben estimates that at the current rate, the global temperature of the earth will increase to four or five degrees just during the lifetime of the youngest audience members.
“We have to stop it,” urged McKibben. “The fight against climate change is the most desperate and dire fight humans have ever engaged in.”
Despite this, McKibben also emphasized that even a small movement of engaged activists can impact the fight against global warming.
“One of the astonishing things about politics is that it doesn’t take 51 percent of people to create change,” said McKibben. “It takes three or four percent of people who are deeply engaged in a fight, and that’s enough to shift the zeitgeist. Then, everything else follows.”
In his concluding statements, McKibben thanked the Ignatius family, Dean Goldgeier, and SIS for supporting climate justice. He underscored that the global community must act quickly against climate change.
“This is the first challenge humans have ever come up against that has a definitive time limit,” McKibben declared. “The arc of the physical universe is short, and it bends toward heat. If we don’t win quickly, then we won’t win at all.”
Read the announcement of the Nancy Weiser Ignatius Lectureship on the Environment.
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