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Bill McKibben Sees “Vivid Possibilities For A Rapid Energy Transformation”

Published on August 15th, 2020 | by Carolyn Fortuna

August 15th, 2020 by


He describes the current state of energy as if we were on the edge of a precipice. “As this week demonstrated, either we seize the suddenly vivid possibilities for a rapid energy transformation, or we watch the world disintegrate,” Bill McKibben outlines.

He’s the founder of 350.org, a prolific environmental writer, an oft-cited spokesperson for the climate action community, and a renewable energy futurist. He’s asked us to imagine the Earth as a planet — with darkpoles and belching volcanoes and a heaving, corrosive sea, a place raked by winds and strafed by storms and scorched by heat.

And now he says we can make that planet’s reality a hospitable place for future human habitation starting today. That is, if we grasp onto pragmatics where renewables power the planet. To do so, he beckons us to develop a stronger sense of social trust, a collaboration toward the common good through energy awareness and advocacy.

“Either we acknowledge science and put on a mask,” McKibben instructs, “or we are going to kill people and cripple our economy.”

rapid energy transformation

Bill McKibben, image retrieved from Senate.gov

McKibben’s remarks emerged this week in a New Yorker editorial in which he took the optimistic route about climate action by noting how the “Supermajors,” which we often describe as Big Oil — BP, Chevron, Eni, Exxon, Shell, Total, and ConocoPhilips — are anything but a safe investment bet right now.

McKibben’s analysis is not alone about the decline of Big Oil. An August, 2020 report titled “Transition Faster Together: Renewable Solutions, Strategies, and Policies for a Clean Energy Future” forecasts that, by 2050, 66% of the world’s electricity will be generated from renewable energy sources. The report outlines that this significant rise will be related to more onshore and offshore wind projects, lower cost and more efficient solar modules, and advanced energy storage solutions.

Facts About The Climate Crisis You Just Can’t Ignore

McKibben brought to our attention a couple of recent climate events that should be shaking us to our core.

On Ellesmere Island, in the Arctic, Canada’s largest remaining ice shelf (an area significantly larger than Manhattan) collapsed over the course of 2 days. “Above normal air temperatures, offshore winds and open water in front of the ice shelf are all part of the recipe for ice shelf break up,” the Canadian Ice Service tweeted.

In Mumbai, where the coronavirus may have already infected half of the people living in the city’s vast slums, record rainfall produced misery almost impossible to imagine. An “astonishing” 82 inches of rain fell on the city between July 10th and August 7th; the monsoon often produces flooding, McKibben notes, but not like this.

The Mumbai Mirror has written about the “spirit of mumbai: tired and beaten.”

rapid energy transformation

Photo retrieved from NOAA

Events That Can Give Us Hope That The “Climate Battle (is) Turning”

Several recent events give data-driven hope that Big Oil is becoming a 20th century phenomenon.

  • BP is now the first oil supermajor to begin abandoning its business model: it announced that it would cut oil and gas production by 40% over the next decade and dramatically increase its investments in low-carbon technology. McKibben reminds us that BP capitulated:
    • to years of activist protest
    • to the challenge of cheap, clean renewable energy
    • to the destruction of demand that came with coronavirus
  • Exxon conceded that it might have to wipe 1/5 of its reserves off its books by year’s end — investments in places like Canada’s tar sands that are too expensive to be profitable at today’s prices. McKibben says there’s clearly no growth coming: Exxon’s share price now depends on it paying a reliable dividend. To keep doing so, the company is taking extreme measures, like ending the match it pays its employees for their 401(k)s.
  • The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) headed to court this week to demand that Shell Oil stops endangering communities and clean water in Providence, Rhode Island. Shell Oil, CLF states, “is putting Providence and the iconic Narragansett Bay at risk by failing to prepare its Rhode Island oil storage terminal for climate change impacts that are here and worsening. The terminal sits directly in harm’s way as sea levels rise, rains get more intense, and storms grow more extreme.”

Believe In The Reality Of The Green New Deal

Rapid adoption of technologies like air-source heat pumps and electric motors show that it’s possible to cut America’s emissions by 70% – 80% by 2035. These are 2 of the many manageable lifestyle changes that are possible within the Green New Deal. “There’s nothing quixotic about the Green New Deal,” McKibben argues.

He does acknowledge that the Green New Deal remains to be financed. McKibben says the key role of the federal government is not to pay for rebuilding people’s houses and buildings but “to prime the pump so that private capital can do the job, allowing most of us to reap real savings from radically reduced energy bills.”

All of that said, the Green New Deal still requires government leaders to take the initiative. McKibben quips that, “obviously, we have to elect Joe Biden. Our decompensating President said last week that Biden is ‘against energy,’ which, in context, is a strong endorsement.”

But McKibben doesn’t stop there. He insists that Biden must be pressured to use the climate crisis to heal our economic woes. Terminal demand decline for Big Oil is just a start.



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About the Author

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. She’s won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. As part of her portfolio divestment, she purchased 5 shares of Tesla stock.
Please follow her on Twitter and Facebook.



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