Klockenbrink: A Giant Comes to Greenwich

Submitted by Myra Klockenbrink

A giant stepped into our little town of Greenwich last Sunday. For over 30 years, Bill McKibben has been a leader in the environmental movement, urging his fellow Americans and our world neighbors to meet the challenges of a changing climate. McKibben came to Christ Church as part of its Creation Care series. He spoke to an audience of over 300 — 60 in the room and 259 live-streaming — and told them that they have seven years to pay what they owe to the next generation.

Most of the people in the room were of the over-60 set, and as McKibben pointed out, this generation of Americans has been alive during the release of 85 percent of total carbon emissions now warming our atmosphere.

McKibben asked the audience what it is they might owe to the earth and its future inhabitants after they are gone. 

“We have great leaders in our young people,” he said, “But it is not okay to take the biggest problem the world has ever faced and assign it to 17-year-olds… ‘In between calculus homework and field hockey practice, would you mind saving the planet?’”

While he encouraged everyone to move away from a fossil-fuel energized lifestyle to one that is solar and wind-powered, he said that we need a different order of magnitude of change to avert what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calls “a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet.” Unfortunately, our political system has been unable to answer this challenge and has failed at almost every level to stop the trajectory of this oncoming catastrophe. 

McKibben spoke of another system that obstructs the pathway to a zero-carbon emission future — our financial system, which invests in the fossil fuel industry and its ongoing expansion. Billions of dollars are tied up in our IRAs, 401(k)s and other investments, and this wealth facilitates the ongoing exploitation of fossil fuels and the warming of the planet. McKibben urged each of us to look at how our wealth is invested and to consider removing fossil fuel companies from our investments.

There is good news — alternative energies in solar and wind are widely available and have become much cheaper than coal, oil or gas. We do not have to invent new technology to turn away from this destructive pathway of burning an ever-diminishing resource. But it is going to take time to transition to these new technologies and comprehensive change is needed now.

Scientists estimate we have until 2030 to transition to renewable energy sources to avert irreversible climate change. As Dr. Helen Adams, a lead author on the IPCC report released in February, has said, “One of the things that I think is really, really clear in the report is that yes, things are bad, but actually, the future depends on us, not the climate.” 

Bill McKibben has started a new organization, Third Act, directed at working with the older generation on what they can do to affect meaningful change in the climate crisis. 

“We must do the intellectual triage of stopping the flow of money to an industry that is actively destroying our planet and that threatens our children’s future,” he stated.

What you can do today:

  1. Join Third Act’s “Banking on Our Future” pledge.
  2. Talk to your investment advisor about how you can begin to move away from fossil fuel investments.

Read more about how the banking system fuels the climate crisis in McKibben’s latest article in The New Yorker.