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Week of 10.23.09

Interview: Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben Bestselling author and leading environmentalist Bill McKibben talks about his hopes for this year's "International Day of Action" on October 24th. The event is organized by, which he founded. McKibben says he is expecting it to be "the most widespread day of political action in the planet's history."

NOW: What is the day of action?

Bill McKibben (BM): It's a day for people around the world to say: listen to the science! We know the most important number in the world—it's 350, as in parts per million CO2. We need to make sure our leaders know it too and understand that they're not negotiating with each other, but with physics and chemistry. That's why it's a good thing that the day of action has gone viral: Oct. 24 is going to be the most widespread day of political action in the planet's history with 2,500 actions in over 170 nations.

NOW: What kind of local events are planned?

BM: The day will begin in New Zealand, where in some cities every church will ring their bells 350 times, and Maori people will greet the planet's first sun on the ridges of the high mountains. Events will move around the Earth with the sun, finishing in Hawaii with an event on the side of Mauna Loa, at the research station where carbon dioxide measurements began fifty years ago.

There will be rallies in iconic places around the globe including: the Maldive Islands - where an underwater cabinet meeting is scheduled; the ruins of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in Iraq; and at the site of the now-melted glacier that crowned the Bolivian Andes.

Also, along the shore of the dwindling Dead Sea, Israeli activists will form a giant human '3', and Palestinians a '5' on their beach, and Jordanians a '0' on theirs.

NOW: What are you hoping to achieve with the 2009 day of action?

BM: We are trying to make the most important number on Earth the most well-known, and hence to drive the negotiations at Copenhagen in the direction of the science.

See images from previous 350 events.

NOW: Is the current focus on the economy crowding out the public's interest in environmental issues?

BM: I don't think so. Everywhere I go around the world there's a real public movement building.

NOW: Some say that real environmental change can only happen at the governmental and institutional level, that individual or even group actions will not move the needle. What do you say to them?

BM: We can't solve global warming one light bulb at a time. We do need governments to reach basic agreements and governments won't do so unless they feel real pressure. We've never had a movement before, and we need one badly to supply some counter pressure to the special interests that have ruled the day so far.

NOW: Has the Obama Administration done enough to combat climate change?

BM: They've removed the automatic American veto from any plan to deal with it, and that's a lot. But Obama needs more room to operate and we need a movement to give him some political space.

NOW: What are your hopes for the U.N. Climate Change Conference in December?

BM: I hope that it will be the beginning of the process, not the end and that it will put the science of climate change front and center. Political reality is important, but even the strongest politicians can't amend the laws of nature.

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