Bill McKibben on Food, Oil and Politics

Bill McKibben spoke at the Food Revolution Summit, hosted by John and Ocean Robbins.

By Scott Mielke

At the Food Revolution Summit this week, author and environmental activist Bill McKibben dramatically framed the effects of global climate change—resulting in part from industrial food production. He said the species-extinction rates that the world is now witnessing have happened before in the Earths’ history—only when the planet was hit by an asteroid.

“In this case, of course, the asteroid is us,” McKibben said. “And the frustrating part is we don’t need to do it. We know much of what we need to know to avert this. We are just not doing it because it is in the strong financial interest of a small group of human beings to keep us in our present course.”

For the past week, scientists, doctors and nutritionists have participated in the online food summit in an effort to help people learn more about food and how it effects the environment. This event started last Saturday and will end a on Sunday, May 6.

John and Ocean Robbins host the annual event with the mission to “Heal your body and the world… with Food!” Bill McKibben was interviewed Tuesday, May 1, during a day focused on the theme: “Eating as if the Earth Mattered.”

McKibben is most recognizable as the author of The End of Nature, which, 23 years ago, was among the first books about the effects of climate change. He is a contributor to The New York Times as well as the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Rolling Stone and Outside magazines. He also started the grass roots climate-change movement 350.org, which has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 different countries since 2009.

Mckibben said in the interview that problems with our food, are connected directly to problems in the environment. He put the blame on the oil industry as well as U.S. politics.

“For 20 years in this country we have had a perfect bipartisan record of accomplishing nothing on climate change,” he said.

McKibben pointed out that industrial monoculture farms and giant feed lots are extremely energy intensive, and often involve fertilizers made from oil and transported by petroleum-burning vehicles. He called on Americans to take action by purchasing local organically grown food, while also eating lower on the food chain—which generally means less meat. He said that will reduce the carbon footprint of your food and provide a cleaner and healthier diet, while supporting the local community.

McKibben said the fossil fuel industry, the most profitable industry in the nation, is not likely give up an extreme profit margin for a bunch of radical hippie environmentalists. But he said it’s the oil, coal, and gas companies who are the true radicals.

“I mean, if you were doing the next James Bond movie, you could have the villain [saying]: ‘Give me 8 trillion dollars or I will alter the chemical composition of the atmosphere,’ he said. “Well that is what people who work at the fossil fuel industry do every day.”

McKibben said the planet needs local, national and global social movements.

“It is our challenge the way that the Civil Rights Movement was the challenge in our parent’s time and in our grandparents time they had to go off and fight Hitler,” he said. “That wasn’t much fun either. So it’s time for us to do what we need to do.”

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