A Brief But Spectacular take on working together for climate action

Bill McKibben is an environmentalist and founder of Third Act, an organization that encourages people over 60 to take action on climate change. He also helped to found 350.org, which was the first global grassroots climate campaign, organizing protests on every continent including Antarctica. McKibben shares his Brief But Spectacular take on working together for climate action.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Bill McKibben is an environmentalist and founder of Third Act, an organization that encourages people over 60 to take action on climate change.

    Tonight, McKibben shares his Brief But Spectacular take on working together on climate action.

  • Bill McKibben, Environmentalist:

    I went to Greenland because I wanted to take a young poet from the Marshall Islands, a woman named Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner.

    I wanted her reciting one of her poems up on the ice shelf that, when it melted, would drown the country that she'd been born on. And while we were hovering around in a helicopter on the way home, a 20-story-high chunk of this ice shelf just broke off and fell into the ocean.

    I was dangling off the side of the helicopter with my stupid cell phone just trying somehow to capture some sense of what this was like. On the one hand, it's dreadful, because you know what it means. The sea has just risen another fraction of a millimeter, and somebody's life has been made much harder.

    But it's also a reminder of what an insanely beautiful planet we were born onto. Even as you look on in a certain kind of horror, you also look on in a certain kind of awe.

    We're used to thinking of change on the planet happening in geologic time, that it takes a very long time for glaciers to move or oceans to shift. Right now, it's happening very much in real time. Everybody's seen those pictures that came back from the first Apollo missions out to space in the 1960s.

    Those pictures are as out of date as my high school yearbook picture. We have melted half the sea ice in the summer Arctic in my lifetime. In 1970, there were 70 percent more wild animals wandering around this Earth than there are now.

    It must be said, kids are doing extraordinary work organizing around climate change, but there is something a little undignified about taking the biggest problem that the world's ever gotten into and asking junior high school students to solve it for you.

    Third Act is a new organization designed to get people over the age of 60 working to defend our climate and to defend our democracy. We started organizing Third Act because we started to understand how much power those of us over the age of 60 possess.

    A, there's a lot of us, 70 million people over the age of 60. B, we punch way above our numbers politically, because we all vote. And, C, fair or not, we ended up with most of the money. Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation have about 70 percent of America's financial assets.

    So, if you wanted to move Washington or you wanted to move Wall Street, it helps to have some people with hairlines like mine engaged in this work. If you're in your 60s or 70s or 80s, your first act was in that period of rapid social, cultural, political transformation of the '60s and '70s.

    Our second act was a little more about consumerism than it was about citizenship. That's water under the bridge. Now people emerge in their third act with skills, resources, with time, which they may not have had before, and with kids or grandkids. I mean, your legacy is the planet you leave behind for the people you love the most.

    And the planet we're going to leave behind and the democracy we're going to leave behind at the moment seem likely to be much shabbier than the ones we were born into. Most older people realize that, and that there's real meaning in continuing to try the project of building a better society.

    My name is Bill McKibben, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on working together.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you can watch more Brief But Spectacular videos online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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