Environmentalist Bill McKibben isn’t just talk. Case in point: He spent two nights in jail in 2011 for staging protests in front of the White House against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would carry oil sands from Canada to the southern United States. And yet he’ll argue that the time he spent working with a beekeeper was just as important to stemming the climate-change tide. This month McKibben comes to Town Hall with his new book, Oil and Honey (out September 17), where he’ll discuss those two worlds and their unlikely convergence.
Why have bees become such a key issue for environmentalists?
We need bees for pollination, and bees go out into the field all day and forage. If something’s going wrong with them, it’s a pretty good sign that something’s going wrong out in that environment.
Is it possible that some people write off the bee issue due to memories of being stung?
I hadn’t thought of that, but I do think some people have an aversion. I was once very badly stung—not by honeybees, but by yellow jackets. It took me awhile to get used to the idea that if I had my beekeeper’s veil and things on I didn’t have to worry.
Looking back, what did protesting the Keystone XL pipeline accomplish?
When we started, everybody said, “Don’t even bother. It’s a done deal.” Literally every insider, everyone in the know, said that. But we went ahead anyway; there’s too much carbon in these tar sands. Two years later, they still don’t have their permit. So far we’re showing that, at least for a while, you can stand up to the money that Big Oil brings to the table if you bring your own currency to the table: passion, spirit, creativity, and the willingness of people to submit their bodies for the cause.
You give off a sense of unavoidable environmental doom. Give me a reason to be optimistic.
We are, in some sense, screwed no matter what. The Arctic is already melted. We’re seeing great outbreaks of extreme weather. All that’s from about one degree of temperature increase. But the same scientists that told us that was going to happen tell us that we could see a four- or five-degree Celsius increase this century if we don’t start making changes. So I guess that’s to say, there’s screwed and then there’s screwed.
Published: September 2013