McKibben: ′We have to be fast in the race against climate change′ | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 06.11.2016
  1. Inhalt
  2. Navigation
  3. Weitere Inhalte
  4. Metanavigation
  5. Suche
  6. Choose from 30 Languages

climate activism

McKibben: 'We have to be fast in the race against climate change'

As the climate conference gets underway in Marrakesh and America selects its new president, DW catches up with Bill McKibben - co-founder of climate campaign group - on the politics of climate change.

Deutsche Welle: How do you see the current state of the world in terms of climate change?

Bill McKibben: 2016 is the hottest year we have ever recorded on the Earth. As we speak today, the total amount of sea ice in the Arctic and the Antarctic taken together is the lowest by far that we have ever recorded on this date. That is a pretty bad sign.

In the future, the world will be terribly hot. If it is not a hell that our children inherit, the temperature will at least be similar.

So what is the biggest barrier to changing the trajectory of climate change?

The biggest barrier we've got is the power of the fossil fuel industry. They want to keep doing the same things they've been doing for 250 years: mining coal, digging up oil and gas, and burning them. That has made them extremely wealthy - and now they use that money to block change.

So we have to build huge movements of people in order to try and stand up to them. We are beginning to have some luck with that, but whether we can do it fast enough to catch up in this race with physics that is climate change - I don't know.

Nearly two thirds of Americans say the issue is important to them. Yet climate change has barely featured in the election campaigns. Is this topic deliberately avoided? Or does that have more to do with that not being seen as a priority?

I actually think in this particular case: neither. The American presidential election is a bizarre aberration this time around. I'm no huge fan of Hillary Clinton, but I give her credit for at least trying to raise the issue from time to time, only to see it disappear behind the usual eruption of nonsense syllables from Mr. Trump.

Bill McKibben, founder of (picture-alliance/dpa/N. Battaglia)

Bill McKibben's 1989 book "The End of Nature" is regarded as the first book about climate change for a general audience

Trump has said that he believes climate change is a hoax manufactured by the Chinese. This is the talk of crazy people. I mean, these are the sort of people you see muttering in the corner of a subway someplace. And, you know - you avoid them. But this one is almost getting to be president of the United States. He has announced that he would tear up the Paris climate accords, or at least make sure that America did nothing to comply with them.

What would a win for Clinton mean for climate policy?

I think it would only mean that the movement we are trying to build would have to keep on trying to pressure her. I do not think we are going to get much for free from the Clinton administration. They have not been very good on these issues in the course of the campaign.

You have equated climate change to a World War III. Who exactly are we fighting in the war against climate change, and how can we win the fight?

The war is essentially human beings against physics. We are losing because the temperature keeps going up - it takes territory every day, as islands and coastlines disappear. It takes casualties, as people die every day now from drought and flood and fire. The only way to fight back is to stop burning coal and gas and oil - which means replacing them with sun and wind and hydropower.

You have said that the most common question you get asked is: "What can I do?" And you also say that your answer has changed over the past view decades. How has it changed?

For many years, environmentalists stressed all the kinds of individual action that people should take: turning off the lights or buying the right car, or whatever it was. Those are good, important things. I have got solar panels all over my roof. But I do not try to fool myself into thinking that that is how we are going to solve climate change.

This is a structural, systemic problem. If we solve it, we will solve it politically, by changing the rules. That means that we have to come together. So the right question is not "what can I do" - it is "what can we do."

Youth protesting at COP21 in Paris (DW/N. Pontes)

Thousands of protesters demanded a strong agreement at the climate conference in Paris last year

How much importance are you placing on the upcoming COP22 climate summit in Morocco?

I think the United Nations probably has done most of what it is going to do for a while. It took an immense amount of effort to get even the Paris Agreement. I think the hope is that at COP22 in Marrakesh and elsewhere, at least people will begin to institutionalize plans for the five-year review of the Paris Agreement, and for ratcheting up its ambition.

But frankly, I do not think that the biggest action is going to come through international treaties from this point forward. I think it is going to come through movement-building that takes on this fight with the fossil fuel industry.

Given that, how optimistic are you that we can do that?

I am optimistic that we can build a big movement, because that is what we have been doing. I am pessimistic about the state of the science - things are happening faster than scientists thought they would. I now just get up every morning and try to figure out how to make as much trouble for the fossil fuel industry as possible in the hopes that that would help.

It is a great relief and pleasure to be working with enormous numbers of people all over the world in this fight. There is no guarantee of victory - but there is a guarantee that there will be a fight. We did not know that 10 years ago. So, in that sense we are making serious progress.

Bill McKibben is an author and environmentalist. In 2014, he was awarded the Right Livelihood Prize, sometimes called the "alternative Nobel." He is a founder of, a grassroots climate change movement, which has organized thousands of rallies around the world.

Interview: Charlotta Lomas

DW recommends

WWW links