Ripton resident Bill McKibben is the founder of 350.org, a global grassroots movement working to solve the climate change crisis, and Shumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College. The award-winning journalist has spent more than two decades writing about global warming.
This week he gave a few observations on how climate change fits into the election.
Q: Why did both candidates for the presidency avoid talking about climate change this election cycle?
A: Because of the power of the fossil fuel industry, which has spent more on this election than anyone else by far. They’ve bought one party and terrified the other.
Q: Should climate change be a political issue? Why is this beyond partisan politics?
A: It shouldn’t be an issue of politics, it should be an issue of physics. But that presumes a rational world where people took science seriously. Since virtually every Republican in D.C. has decided to deny climate change, it’s become a political issue. And so far it’s been a spectacular failure of our political system.
Q: Did you see Hurricane Sandy a game changer in the election, that is, did it prompt politicians to discuss climate change in the week leading up to the vote, affect the outcome of the election or voters’ ability to reach the polls or change public perception of the importance of the issue?
A: Not in the election, but it does shift the general conversation. Last week’s cover of that radical magazine BusinessWeek (“It’s global warming, stupid”) showed what happened when the disasters now routine from Pakistan to the Mad River Valley manage to hit the media capital of the planet.
Q: Are there any elected officials who you see as leaders on climate change?
A: In D.C. our entire congressional delegation has been fantastic, with Sen. Bernie Sanders the greatest champion of climate change action in the whole Senate. In Montpelier we’ve had too many real champs to even list, from the governor on down. It will be great to have Chris Bray joining Claire Ayer in the state Senate — he truly gets the issue, and I think will be a leader in the fight to get the University of Vermont to divest from fossil fuels.
Q: Regardless of who wins, what does the next president need to do?
A: He needs to recognize this is the only issue he’ll be judged on 50 years from now.