Bill McKibben, the writer and activist who has done more than anyone to call forth a grassroots climate change movement in the United States, is stepping down as chair of the board of 350.org. McKibben will remain a board member of the group that he and six of his students at Middlebury College founded in 2007, driven by their shared conviction that winning the climate fight would require building “a movement just as strong as the civil rights movement was,” as McKibben told The Nation at the time.
Since then, 350.org has helped push the threat of climate change into the mainstream American political agenda. The group has championed the fight against the Keystone XL oil pipeline; spearheaded a campaign to persuade universities and other institutions to divest stock holdings in fossil-fuel companies; and helped to organize the People’s Climate March, that put an unprecedentedly diverse crowd of hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of New York City in September demanding climate justice. This week, 350.org activists are in Lima, Peru, pressuring diplomats at the last official round of international climate negotiations prior to a summit in Paris in December, 2015, where a new treaty is supposed to be signed. Pointing out that, for the second year in a row, a killer typhoon struck the Philippines during international climate negotiations, Zeph Repollo of 350.org demanded that governments kick fossil-fuel companies out of the talks in Lima, declaring, “We refused to accept a future where deadly storms become a way of life.”
Replacing McKibben as board chair will be current 350.org board member K.C. Golden, a Seattle-based activist who has helped to organize grassroots resistance to expanding US coal exports to Asia via ports in the Pacific Northwest. “Oh, my god! There goes a coal train right now,” Golden, the senior policy adviser at the NGO Climate Solutions, told The Nation by cellphone last week from near Seattle’s Pier 61. “The specter of coal trains moving through the Seattle waterfront on their way to China strikes us as—well, what’s beyond irony?” added Golden, who as an aide to Seattle Mayor Paul Schell helped the famously green city eliminate coal from its power supply in 2000.
Notwithstanding that one train, Golden claimed that opponents “are having a lot of success in blocking coal exports”—a battle carrying stakes for the climate that match those of the better-known Keystone XL controversy. “Exporting coal to Asia toasts the planet just as effectively as burning it ourselves,” Golden said. “Asia’s energy markets are by far the fastest growing in world. The direction of the investments they make in the years to come will be the single most important factor in deciding whether we get a handle on climate change in time. ”
McKibben, a longtime Nation contributor, announced his new role in an e-mail sent on December 2 from Sweden, where he was receiving a Right Livelihood Award, known as the “alternative Nobel Prize.” While emphasizing that he was by no means leaving either the climate movement or 350.org—where he will now carry the title of senior adviser—McKibben, 54, wrote that after seven years of nearly constant travel he was “ready for a bit more order in my life. I’ll still be there when the time comes to go to jail, or to march in the streets, or to celebrate the next big win on divestment. But I’d like to see more of my wife,” the writer Sue Halpern, and have “more time and energy for writing, which is how I got into all of this in the first place.”