The Reversing Climate Change podcast with Nori
A podcast about the different people, technologies, and organizations that are coming together to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reverse climate change. We also talk about blockchains.

#93 Bill McKibben on the once and future climate movement

October 8, 2019


“I’m optimistic, save for the fact that climate change is the first time-limited problem that we’ve ever really run into. Dr. King would say at the end of speeches ... ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. This may take a while, but we’re going to win.’ The arc of the physical universe is short, and it bends toward heat. We win soon, or we don’t win.”

Bill McKibben is the author and environmentalist credited with penning the first book on climate change written for a general audience, The End of Nature. He is also a founder of, the first global, grassroots climate change movement. Bill was awarded the 2014 Right Livelihood Prize, the 2013 Gandhi Prize and the 2013 Thomas Merton Prize, and he was named to Foreign Policy magazine’s inaugural list of the world’s 100 most important global thinkers.

Today, Bill joins Ryan and Christophe to discuss his role in the climate movement, explaining what inspired him to start and why he chose that particular number as a target. He shares his view of the fossil fuel industry’s ability to divert the debate on climate change with money and power and addresses the global economy’s continued dependence on fossil fuels. Listen in for Bill’s insight on the powerful history of nonviolent social movements and learn how we can get back to a safe CO2 level of 350 ppm. 

Key Takeaways

[0:59] Bill’s role in the climate movement

  • Wrote first book on climate change for general audience
  • Losing fight to money and power of fossil fuel industry
  • Started with intention to build movement

[4:59] Why Bill chose the number 350

  • Asked Jim Hansen to identify number for global campaign
  • Established that climate change not problem for later

[9:50] Bill’s insight around getting back to 350 ppm

  • No one solution enough to scale (e.g.: planting trees)
  • Must make transition away from coal, gas and oil

[14:28] The role oil and gas companies might play in the solution

  • Incumbents never initiate technological transition
  • Unlikely to see selves as energy service provider

[18:15] The connection between big banks and oil and gas

  • Dramatic increase in lending to fossil fuel industry
  • Financial markets may be lever to pull in climate fight

[20:23] The global economy’s dependence on fossil fuels

  • Capable of shutting off much sooner than planning
  • Need to rapidly replace things we use fossil fuels for

[23:04] Bill’s take on the top two inventions of the 20th century

  • Solar panels 
  • Nonviolent protest

[28:35] The history of victory in social movements

  • Need 4% of people engaged in fight (apathy cuts both ways)
  • First Earth Day led to Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, etc.

[30:59] How Bill thinks about communication strategies 

  • No one key to pitch every message
  • Honesty as useful trait over time

[33:24] Bill’s view of the opposition to the climate movement

  • No serious argument on basic points of climate change
  • Fossil fuel industry diverted debate effectively

Connect with Ryan & Christophe 


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Nori Newsletter

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Carbon Removal Newsroom


Bill’s Website

Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist by Bill McKibben

The End of Nature by Bill McKibben

Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? by Bill McKibben

Prairie Festival

The Land Institute

The Land Institute on RCC EP062

Dr. James Hansen

American Geophysical Union

Dr. Hansen’s Paper on the 350 PPM Target

Bill Moomaw’s Article on Forests & Climate Change

Amory Lovins

Bill’s Piece on Big Banks in The New Yorker

Clean Air Act

Clean Water Act

Endangered Species Act

The Paris Agreement

Bill’s Piece on 2050 in Time Magazine

Green New Deal

Sunrise Movement

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