On Friday, April 13th, right before the start of Earth Week, our campus was very lucky to host an extremely distinguished guest: environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben, who came to speak as the final installment of the University YMCA’s Fall 2017 Friday Forum lecture series, Building a Better Environmental Movement. Past lectures featured a diverse variety of activists concerned with a myriad of environmental issues and were all a resounding success, but McKibben’s visit was by far the most anticipated of the series. This was well apparent in the packed room at Ikenberry Commons where the lecture was held, instead of the normal location of Latzer Hall at the YMCA.
McKibben was on his way to Australia to spend six weeks fighting strip mines, but said that he felt it was important to stop here in Illinois to speak. Though public speaking is not his favorite practice, his talk was enrapturing all the same. He certainly did not shy away from the fact that the threat of climate change puts us in a dire environmental position worldwide. In his words, “We can see these changes at the very biggest levels, and at the very smallest levels,” such as the subtle changes in the patterns of ocean currents to ocean reefs. (The Great Barrier Reef is half as alive as it was 18 months ago). All the same, he has hope – he does not believe we are doomed yet, because we know what we need to do.
Specifically, we need to follow the three prongs of 350.org, McKibben’s non-profit dedicated to fighting climate change. First, we must transition to 100% renewable energy as soon as possible. Second, we cannot allow any new fossil fuel projects. And third, we cannot give a penny more to dirty energy – meaning we must divest our finances from fossil fuels. If we don’t take all three of these crucial steps, then we will not be able to return from the damage we are causing to this planet. McKibben was clear that we don’t yet know if we will win this fight, and this makes it different from every other struggle for justice that humans have undertaken.
Thankfully, the struggle for the welfare of the environment is helped immensely by having people like Bill McKibben. Humble as he may be, his lecture proved why he is such an inspirational figure to many and why we continue to strive to save this planet for all future generations.