Bill McKibben reminds me of an Old Testament prophet. His decades of arguing and campaigning for action to prevent and mitigate human-caused climate change have often been an unheeded voice in a wilderness of noise.
Except that McKibben, though just as dedicated as those angry ancients, is more forgiving of human foibles. And, as he sees even Joe Manchin forced to take up a bit of the climate struggle (if the current Congressional deal survives), he wants to make sure credit is distributed where it belongs for what is being described as the best climate bill in thirty years.
Zeitgeist matters ... most of all it was, I think, the widespread public scorn. Somehow it began to break through to Manchin that the only thing history would ever remember about him is that he blocked action on the worst crisis humans have ever faced.
There’s no longer a real public doubt about climate change. Yes, for partisan Republicans it remains fun to pretend it’s a hoax, but after thirty years of science, fifteen years of movement building, and an ever-increasing cascade of fires, floods, heatwaves and droughts, the public mood is finally strong enough to at least begin to match the political power of the fossil fuel industry.
You could feel it building when Bernie made it a key campaign issue in 2016; by 2020, every Democratic candidate was on board, because primary polling showed it was one of the top two issues for voters. The political force most responsible for this victory was the Sunrise Movement; those young people built that wave and then rode it with immense skill.
But this is a win engineered by everyone who ever wrote a letter to the editor, carried a sign at a march, went to jail blocking a pipeline, voted to divest a university endowment, sent ten dollars to a climate group, made their book club read a climate book. It’s for the climate justice activists who brought this fight into whole new terrain, the scientists who’ve protested, the policy wonks who wonked, and the people whose particular fights may have been sacrificed by the terms of this deal. (Them in particular—if Manchin had to deal because a pipeline he wanted was going down in flames, well, the people who made that possible are heroes).
... the movement now needs to shift more of its attention and vigor from Politics to the other player big enough to matter, Finance. There’s been lots of wonderful work on banks and asset managers, but it’s never had the undivided attention given to politics (in part because it doesn’t have the regularly scheduled elections to drive that focus, though shareholder season in the spring gets a little more notice each year). Taking on the big banks is key (join our Banking on the Future pledge at Third Act if you haven’t already); if you had any doubts, note that it’s the strategy the fossil fuel industry is busily adopting. West Virginia, Texas, et al are trying to intimidate banks to keep lending to Big Carbon; we need the treasurers of blue cities and states (where most of the money lives) to match their game. ...
... I ... thought of the hundreds of thousands of people who have played roles large or small in those divestment campaigns around the world. There’s lots more we can do; we’ve got momentum now, and the best use of momentum is to roll over the opposition.
Listen to Mr. McKibben. He's been a faithful prophet.