Bill McKibbon Wants to Pick a Fight

You know the scene in Braveheart, after William Wallace has made his awesome horseback speech to rally the troops at the Battle of Stirling? And he has that quick confab with Stephen and Hamish and the gang (“Be yourselves”) and then as he’s about to ride off, Stephen asks him where he’s going. And William says, “I’m going to pick a fight.”

Bill McKibbon is about to do that, launching a nationwide tour to talk about the numbers from his terrifying new math article in Rolling Stone, and channel the resulting outrage in the direction of a divestment campaign aimed at fossil fuel companies.

Wen Stephenson in Grist talked with McKibbon about what he’s up to: Cue the math: McKibben’s roadshow takes aim at Big Oil.

So can divestment, I asked, be an effective strategy? Can it generate enough economic leverage to make a difference?

“I think it’s a way to a get a fight started,” Bill said without hesitation, “and to get people in important places talking actively about the culpability of the fossil fuel industry for the trouble that we’re in. And once that talk starts, I think it does start imposing a certain kind of economic pressure. Their high stock price is entirely justified by the thought that they’re going to get all their reserves out of the ground. And I think we’ve already made an argument that it shouldn’t be a legitimate thing to be doing.”

In other words, as in South Africa, as with Big Tobacco, there’s economic leverage in the moral case?


11 Responses to “Bill McKibbon Wants to Pick a Fight”

  1. shcb Says:

    Big numbers make things so much worse, it has been 4,680,000,000,000 nanoseconds since I had breakfast! Good lord I might starve!

  2. knarlyknight Says:

    I plan to read the article tonight.

    Big numbers make things so much worse only if you are stupid.

    Maybe this one??

    The First Number: 2° Celsius

  3. knarlyknight Says:

    Which big number made things so much worse for you shcb, maybe this one?

    The First Number: 2° Celsius

  4. shcb Says:

    The number of temperature records broke is the first, that is just stupid. But the one that showes them to be demigods is the number of months above the century average, it works out to 28 years, isn’t that enough? Why months? Why not minutes? Hell, nanoseconds, 28 years of nanoseconds would be so much more serious than 28 years.

  5. jbc Says:

    I don’t think you read the article.

  6. shcb Says:

    Nope, read the first few paragraphs, if later he says fires in Colorado and x number of records broken are irrelevant to global warming good for him. Got a house full of grandkids tonight, I’ll read it later, leaving grandma alone with them will be a death warrent to my sex life.

  7. knarlyknight Says:

    Why months? No reason I’m sure, probably just that that’s how the data is recorded, we get updates monthly not daily.

  8. shcb Says:

    OK, read it, he not only didn’t disavow himself from the rhetoric, he upped the ante at the end. How is arbitrarily raising taxes without a viable alternative going to help? Won’t prices just go up more or less evenly? People still need to go to work and factories still need to run.

  9. __j__ Says:

    @shcb, arbitrarily raising taxes only in a single country won’t help, you have to impose world government (or threat of invasion by a superpower… we’re the only one militarily at present) around the globe. Then, in terms of reducing fossil-fuel usage, arbitrarily raising taxes *does* reduce fossil fuel usage (theoretically at least — ignoring the black market and bribing the carbon inspector and other likely-in-practice dodges), thereby leaving all the reserves in the ground, and to the extent the warming is human-driven saving the planet, because solar power and wind power and so on become cheaper than the overtaxed fossil-fuel-sources. People that are *serious* about their AGW worldview *must* strive for high taxes now, and world domination now. Extracting all the remaining fossil-fuels cannot be allowed, because enviro-armageddon will be the result.

    For those that ‘accept’ a degree or two of global warming, it is permissible to wait another 20 years or so before weaning ourselves off fossil fuels… and by then, the price of extraction will make such a changeover at least somewhat economically wise. China is working on municipal-size fission-power generator tech, for when they run out of coal-reserves ~2030. Environmentalists hope that solar power tech (thermal and PV and focal-PV) will dramatically improve in cost between now an 2030, to avoid depending on fission for the bulk of our energy. Nothing but nukes or solar has the joule-capacity to replace fossil fuels. (Wind-power is actually doing somewhat okay now, but only in good geographical areas, and inherently intermittently.)

    But, ummm, from a more pragmatic standpoint, you can argue that global warming publicity junkets like this one do *not* actually have the goal of outright, so to speak, solving the temperature increase. What is the end result of arbitrarily hiking taxes just in our country, or just in a few countries? Well, bupkitz as far as *global* warming is concerned. Other countries will be glad to buy and burn the fossil fuels we refuse to utilize ourselves. The end result for AGW would be to *delay* the temp-climb, by a few billion nanoseconds. [grin]

    But there are other motives that make such a thing attractive: people scared of enviro-armageddon tend to give up their liberty to a centralized technocratic controller *way* more easily than non-scared folks. Therefore, if you are a statist politician like Al Gore, it hardly matters whether anthropogenic global warming is scientifically justified, because it’s politically justified. You can come within a Nader of winning the presidency on that one unifying theme, right? Obama carried a similar banner, but mostly for Solyndra and the GovtMotors Volt, as it turned out, not for mother nature. (cf paragraph #1 above)

    Why blame all the fearmongering on dems, though? If you were in the oil&gas biz, which is a natural monopoly in economic terms (*very* difficult for a newcomer to enter the industry and survive to tell the tale without being absorbed by an acquisition or crushed like a bug), and you wanted to drive up profits on your product without looking like you were profiteering, wouldn’t you be glad if somebody was pushing people into hoarding petrochem products? Generating fears of a shortage? Passing legislation that made your product cost more, and justified price increases… which can be used to mask profit-increases, too?

    Remember that whole Abramoff scheme, where the legal-monopoly casinos in state foo were laundering their money through lobbyists that made sure it ended up in the pocket of religious groups that pushed for anti-gambling and anti-lottery legislation in the nearby states baz and qux … thereby guaranteeing the existing casinos retained their position as the only service provider the government allowed to operate in the gambling market. Devious abuse of politicians and lobbyists and statutory loopholes is second nature to the oil industry.

    As for McKibben, I’ve never heard of him, but I note that he is on the board of Grist, he charges money for his talks, and he (just like Al Gore) says there is no engineering solution for the moral outrage that is the fossil fuel industry. Slavery of darker-skinned humans is a good thing to get morally outraged about. Abortion is a difficult topic, but you can see how people on both sides treat it as a moral issue. What sort of engineering solution can there be to slavery in 1860? Well, none — you need a political solution, or a violent war, or both. There *is* actually some hope of an engineering solution to the abortion issue… we have in-vitro-fertilization now, and we have incubation-facilities for premature infants now. All that we need is an artificial womb, to cover the remainder of the nine months aka 6500 hours, and getting an ‘abortion’ need no longer involve the death of the fetus.

    There *are* all sorts of engineering solutions to global warming: the direct sort, like orbital material to deflect some of the incoming sunlight, or methane-and-CO2-removal ultra high altitude dirigibles, or improved desalination so we can irrigate the Sahara and plant a brand new rainforest there. Most of these ideas are impractical… but when compared to creating a world government and enforcing arbitrarily high taxation on fossil fuels, they start to sound relatively easy. Of course, the indirect sort of engineering solution, already mentioned above, are also happening as we speak: nuke + solar + wind tech gets cheaper all the time.

  10. shcb Says:

    I was going to respond but I really don’t disagree with anything you’ve said here so i leave you with this

  11. __j__ Says:

    For those too busy to watch the video, it is titled ‘no pressure’ and has three scenes (that I watched). Classroom, teacher asks the students which of them will reduce CO2 emissions by 10% this year, everybody raises hands, then asks for the nays, two kids raise their hands, teacher smiles and says no problem, your own choice, bell rings, students begin to leave, teacher presses button bloodily exploding the naughty nonconformists, splattering gore everywhere, then as an afterthought reminds the students to read chapter five in their texts. Scene two, similar scene at an office. Scene three, ditto, soccer team. Presumably the same teacher/boss/coach will next year be asking which folks can reduce by 20%, and the next year 30%, and so on… until no more invasive-species-homo-sapiens-sapiens remain.

    Point being, the ONLY way that you can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions via POLITICS is by using the coercive powers of the state to destroy all who stand in your way. Regulations that intend to halt changes in the content of our global atmosphere must logically apply to everyone on the globe. There can be no dissent. Thus, totalitarianism. Which in a nutshell explains why I voted against Al Gore.

    Environmentalists that want to save the planet therefore need to get their minds wrapped around the pure-clear-unsullied factoid that, unless they are okay with a clone of Stalin as the new World Coordinator, they better start searching for non-political ways to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. Notice that I didn’t say “reduce CO2 emissions”. Because once you leave the negative-solutions-only world of politics, you can start imagining positive solutions.

    Instead of regulating the CO2 producers to death, figure out an industrially-useful mechanism that sucks CO2 out of the atmosphere faster than the emissions can keep up. Cf de-salination and greening the Sahara. Or, figure out a cheaper way to generate electricity, cf wind-turbines and solar-thermal with grid-tie. Or, figure out an urban planning solution that reduces the need for travel — the best way to reduce automotive pollution isn’t building trains, it’s making telecommuting the reality for 75% of all workers.

    But all that requires creating technology! Environmentalists overall tend to be *against* creating technology, and *for* punishing industrialists. Sad as sad can be — the only people that can save them from eco-totalitarianism, while simultaneously taking care of the planet, are the very same people most environmentalists treat as enemies of nature.

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