A self-described “average 51-year-old book author with a receding hairline” turned “unlikely and somewhat reluctant” activist, Bill McKibben these days is something of a rock star.
McKibben first stepped into the climate scene with “The End of Nature,” his first book and one of the first to bring climate change to the public’s attention. More recently, he founded 350.org, an international activist organization. In the course of 25 years, he’s gone from writing for the New Yorker to being a major player in a recent feature published there, which argues that his work “successfully made Keystone the most prominent environmental cause in America.”
His new book, “Oil and Honey,” is in large part an account of this new role. It’s bookended by two major events: a protest at the White House against the Keystone XL pipeline that he organized, and at which he proudly got arrested, and a national tour promoting his fossil fuel divestment campaign. Running counter to the campaign narrative is McKibben’s relationship with a beekeeper named Kirk, who lives, he writes, at the opposite extreme. Running a local honey business, Kirk lives off the grid, and never even goes on the Internet.
McKibben spoke with Salon about protests, beekeeping and how the climate movement has finally grown up. The interview has been lightly edited for space and clarity.
The way you approach climate change has completely changed course since you first wrote “The End of Nature.” Then, you were bringing attention to the issue, but you were reporting on it. Thirteen books later, “Oil and Honey” is the memoir of an activist. Can you talk a bit about that transformation? 10.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>
I think this movement has many, many leaders, so I’ll be happy to help if people do good things. But the young people I started 350 with were 21 and 22 when we began. Now, at 28, 29, they’re the most accomplished activists I know. They don’t need much help from me – they’re really fantastic at what they do.
I think it’s important to realize that I’m not essential to it. That’s kind of an odd thing to say since I’ve written a book about it, but for me, the most important realization I had – I almost ended the book there — was when I got up on the stage at this big climate rally in D.C. in February, which was the biggest thing of its kind ever. And the only thing I could think of to say was, “I’ve always wanted to see what the climate movement was going to look like, and now I have.”
Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on all things sustainability.Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email [email protected]