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April 23, 2013

McKibben: A movement with no geographic limits

, April 23, 2013

By Courtney Blinkhorn

Bill McKibben had a much more soft-spoken disposition than I would have anticipated based on his powerful presence speaking at larger venues, such as the Climate change rally in DC. It was powerful to see him in many different settings, first in the classroom setting, then at ALLARM and finally in a speech in a larger venue. He brought a different demeanor and perspective to each of these settings. Although he spoke quietly in the setting of the class and he answered questions in a thoughtful way, I may have appreciated a bit more of a conversation as it seemed more like a Q&A. He didn’t seem to ask as many questions to us as David Orr had.

His views were mostly in keeping with mine, other than one interesting point. When asked how to get underrepresented members of the community to be included in the movement, he responded that it isn’t important to get everyone to be part of a movement. He emphasized getting people who more easily would be convinced to become a part of the larger climate change issue, because not everyone is ever involved in these types of movements. Maybe this is the more practical answer, but I think for all of us in the room it isn’t satisfactory. What people in these social and environmental movements are asking for is a systematic change that has the potential to satisfy address many different underrepresented communities. It’s not however that McKibben thinks that these communities aren’t or shouldn’t be a part of the movement. He said many times that most of the people he worked with were poor and not white, because most of the world fits these descriptors and 350.org is a global organization.

This desire for a two-way conversation was satisfied when he visited ALLARM. McKibben was asking questions about the organization and it was empowering to hear him describe ALLARM as the one of the leading models for community-based volunteer monitoring.  He expressed that he appreciated all of the work we have done. He had great insights of his personal experiences and a strong curiosity about ours, which made for a really fun conversation.

I felt that his address to the larger Dickinson and Carlisle community was overall inspiring, especially to those who aren’t already as involved with the movement. His pictures from around the world of people supporting the 350.org movement were the most inspirational and something that I could see really sticking with people.  A critique that I heard multiple times was regarding a picture that he stopped on of children in Haiti (I believe) holding signs something along the lines “what you do affects me”. The main critique of this was that the children were possibly completely unaware of what the signs said or any other context of the movement. Although this is a valid point, I couldn’t help but think that doesn’t matter. The fact that they may not have the resources to be aware of how they will be disproportionately affected by climate change doesn’t make it less true. The reason for the image is for it to be powerful to those who are the root of the problem and it is a powerful image that may encourage action by those populations.

It was a real pleasure to have such an iconic member of the climate change movement on campus.

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