Advice For the Permaculture Movement From Bill McKibben
Interview by PMNA
As a grass-roots organization in over 180 countries, 350.org mobilizes millions of people around the world to take action regarding the dangers of fossil fuel development. Specifically, they advocate for a reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide, back to 350 parts per million. As 350.org gears-up for an active year, Bill Mckibben takes time to offer advice on how the Permaculture Movement itself can scale-up.
PMNA’s Hannah Apricot: After the short conversation I had with Bill McKibben at the 2016 Bioneers conference, I was reminded of why I do permaculture and why I want to help others learn about the global solutions it offers. We are racing toward the point of no return. We must join with like-minds and act in large numbers! Now is the time!
PMNA: The Permaculture Movement is all about solutions, yet we have a lot to learn in our organizing. It is impressive what 350.org has done to motivate and mobilize people around the world. What can permaculture learn from 350.org?
Bill McKibben: I think 350.org found an unoccupied ecological niche. There were a lot of people deeply concerned about climate change, but feeling very small, and not able to do anything about it. By showing them that there are lots of other people thinking the same way made them realize that maybe together we could make a dent. Probably more than anything, that’s what accounted for 350.org’s rapid rise. I think that the sense that one is not alone is important to making things scale-up really fast.
PMNA: Where have you seen success in your efforts?
BM: One has to preface that in the largest sense, we are not succeeding at all – the temperature of Earth continues to go up, and it looks like it will for a while. But we have had successes in lessening some of the power of the fossil fuel industry. People’s actions have recently blocked a large number of proposed projects. We have divested trillions of dollars formerly invested in fossil fuel, which led investors to look for new places to put their money – such as renewable energy. This has made strategies like the Paris Agreements possible. Any time people are mobilized in a big way, any time there is a movement, that kind of pressure begins to yield results.
PMNA: What role do you see for regenerative agriculture in the climate change struggle?
BM: Land use changes seem to be an important part. Jim Hanson, the great climatologist, has said if we do large scale land use changes, we might be able to reduce CO2 by as much as 50 ppm, but it is hard to imagine scaling those changes in the time that we have. One reason it is easier to think about fighting the fossil fuel industry is because there is like only 100 oil companies that you need to fight, instead of a hundred million farmers whose practices you need to change. But, that’s no reason not to try. It is very clear that soil is becoming much more a part of this fight than it has been in the past. Partly because we are learning a whole lot more about carbon sequestration potential.
PMNA: Could you talk about the important interface between the Climate Change Movement, Youth, and Native People’s rights?
BM: One begins with the understanding that climate change is the first truly global problem. And it leads to the realization that the majority of the world is poor, black, brown, Asian, and/or young. And so, it should come as no surprise that that is who is leading the fight. I was always told that environmentalism is for rich white people, but with climate change, it turns out not to be the case at all.
PMNA: The organization you founded, 350.org is so named with the belief that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide is the upper threshold to support life as we know it. We’ve now passed 400 ppm. How can we still get back down to 350 ppm?
BM: The closest thing we’ve come to a global vision of what the world might look like is from the research of a man at Stanford University, Mark Jacobson. He has laid
out renewable energy pathways for the 50 states and most countries in the world, providing a fairly detailed description of what resources to convert to – sun, wind, hydro. If communities were on a path to 80% renewable by 2030 and 100% by 2050, then the carbon cycling system of the ocean and the forests are probably enough to take us back to 350 ppm by the end of the century. But if we don’t do it very soon, we will never get back to that number. There are several positive feedback loops that keep accelerating things. We are getting dangerously close to that window permanently closing for anything occurring in a human time scale that will get us back to 350 ppm.
PMNA: When is that window closing?
BM: Some of it is already closed. We’ve already seen permanent changes. I think it is unlikely that we will see the Arctic freeze like it has before, throughout the rest of humanity’s future. And coral reefs, I am afraid, are very endangered. We’ve lost an awful lot of reefs just this year. It’s hard to imagine that. Each year and with each step we take on this road, we are closer to the point of no return.
PMNA: What do you think is the best way to create change?
BM: The only way to do it, is to have massive movements that apply massive pressure. When that happens we get somewhere.
Photos of 350.org Actions From Around the World: