BC Canada's The Tyee Magazine on Bill McKibben and Building a Broader Climate Movement
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
At The Tyee this week, a terrific non-profit online magazine covering news, culture and solutions as they relate to British Columbia and beyond, Geoff Dembicki profiles Bill McKibben and his work as a co-founder and leader of 350.org. In doing so, Dembicki draws on and addresses several themes that I explored in my Spring 2013 Harvard Shorenstein Center paper on McKibben and the related article appearing at Canada’s Policy Optionsmagazine.
Here’s how Dembicki frames his focus:
Roughly half of North Americans, suggests recent public polling, don’t accept the scientific consensus that humans are frying the climate. Any talk of wide-ranging carbon solutions similarly divides the halls of power in Ottawa and Washington.
But McKibben isn’t worried about “too much polarization.” Blocking climate progress are the fossil fuel companies he says have “more money than God.” An ever-louder choir, he’s convinced, must counter their immense political influence.
Some observers sympathetic to his cause now wonder, though, whether the opposite might be true: By singing “at the top of their lungs,” have McKibben and his supporters become deaf to large sections of the public unconverted by their gospel?
And in so doing, have they ultimately made it harder to save planet Earth?
Geoff Dembicki does a great job laying out a number of complex issues, choices and questions. For movement building, this kind of journalism is important since it invites reflection and discussion of assumptions and goals. McKibben and his colleagues at 350.org deserve immense credit for pioneering innovative new approaches to activism and for changing the way that environmental groups practice politics. Personally, I have a great deal of admiration for McKibben’s writing on the need to think deeply and critically about our economy and our lives as consumers and to devote more time to family, nature, reflection and community. Moreover, in 15 years as an academic, I have never seen students as engaged on climate as they are in working on behalf of the 350.org-led campus divestment efforts, which I think has strong merits as an organizing strategy and goal. The relevant question of the moment, however, is if opposing the XL pipeline — though good for activism — might take away from more meaningful climate policy goals. A related question is how to expand and diversify the climate movement to include people and groups beyond the “choir” so effectively engaged by McKibben and 350.org.
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