In Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist, award-winning journalist and educator Bill McKibben (Eaarth) recounts his experiences building a grassroots movement to fight climate change and fossil fuel dependency.
What do you hope to accomplish by telling the story of your organization, 350.org, in book form?
I wanted to show that anyone can do this. Activism isn’t just the province of big groups or experts. The climate change movement is largely leaderless—a huge loosely-coordinated fossil fuel resistance that brings local groups together in a global fight. 350.org has always seen its role as helping lay out campaigns where everyone can play together—which is more fun and more effective.
How has engaging in more explicit activism changed your approach to journalism?
I remain a journalist in that I’m interested in facts and science. My activism grows out of that, not the other way around. But I make no claim to “objectivity”—I knew all the way back when I was writing The End of Nature in 1989, that I was taking sides: I didn’t want the planet to burn up.
You make indirect comparisons between the human network of 350.org and the way honeybees work together to accomplish goals. What can organizers learn from honeybees?
A beehive is a hardworking community where bees do different jobs at different times, and work together. A movement is kind of the same. There are no queen bees in the climate change movement, which is working out fine; but there are an awful lot of enthusiastic volunteers doing the hard work.
Scientists have linked honeybee colony collapse to industrial farming techniques, virus, fungus, pesticide, and of course, climate change. Have Kirk’s hives suffered from any of these ailments this year?
It’s been a very wet 2013 in Vermont (record-setting) and so the honey crop may not be great this year. But Kirk’s queen-breeding business seems to be holding up great.
We’re already living with the effects of climate change—superstorms, droughts, other extreme weather events, ice caps melting. How do you address the pessimistic view that it might be too late to avoid a planet plagued by devastating natural disasters?
We’ve already committed to about two degrees of temperature rise. But there’s a huge difference between that and four or five degrees, which is what we’ll get if we don’t very quickly do the job of ending the fossil fuel era.
What’s next for 350.org?
The divestment campaign we launched last year that I describe in the book has blossomed—on 380 college campuses, students are pushing trustees to sell their fossil fuel stock. And it has spread—15 or so big cities have divested now, and the United Church of Christ just voted to do the same!