[ Music ] >> Hello, everybody. Okay. We're gonna get started. Thank you very much for coming. I'm Carlos Davidson. I'm a professor in Environmental Studies in the School of Public Affairs and Civic Engagement, otherwise known as PACE. Welcome to PACE's inaugural civic lecture series. Thank you so much for coming out today. As you come in, you may have seen the slides. There are a lot of people to thank for an event like this. It takes a lot of people's work. Those are mostly up on the credits there. I'm just gonna thank our funders again that helped make this possible, so the San Francisco State chapter of the California Faculty Association, PACE itself, the College of Ethnic Studies, and the College of Social Science – Health and Social Sciences. So thanks to them we were able to put on this event. This will be Bill McKibben's first talk at San Francisco State, but he has already had a huge impact on this campus.
Two years ago he gave a series of talks in the Bay Area talking about how fossil fuel companies – that is oil, natural gas, and coal companies – need to keep the majority of their reserves in the ground and unburned if the world has a chance of stabilizing the climate. Also as part of his talk two years ago, he talked about having universities and other institutions divest their endowment holdings, their financial holdings, from fossil fuel companies as a way of building political pressure for needed climate legislation, kind of reminiscent of the anti-apartheid divestment movement that happened in this country 20 years ago, 30 years ago. A group of Environmental Studies majors went to those talks and came back inspired to do something about fossil fuel divestment here at San Francisco State. So in Spring of 2013, they formed the student group Fossil Free SFSU and in a whirlwind of activity in that semester they worked with student government on an ASI resolution in favor of divestment. They held a divestment rally at San Francisco City Hall along with Berkeley and Stanford students.
They learned about our endowment here on campus, which is held by the San Francisco State Foundation. They had multiple meetings with the Foundation's Investment Committee and then ultimately they met with President Wong. As a result of all that activity, in June last year the San Francisco State Foundation, its board, voted unanimously for San Francisco State to divest its holdings from companies – [ Applause ] From companies with major involvement in coal and tar sands. And because of that, or as a result of that, San Francisco State became the first public school and the first university in the country, and for that matter in the world, to do any sort of fossil fuel investment. So you beat me on the applause, but another round of applause. [ Applause ] Applause to two things. One for San Francisco State for divesting, but also for the fantastic work of the students in Fossil Free SFSU for making it happen. [ Applause ] And we have a member of Fossil Free SFSU, Brianne Hodson [phonetic], who's going to speak to you briefly right now to tell you about the student-led portion of today's event that's coming up after McKibben's talk. So Brianne, can you come up for a minute? [ Applause ] >> Thanks, Carlos. Good afternoon everyone.
I'm really excited to be here; I think you guys are, too. As Carlos said, I'm Brianne Hodson. I'm a student here at SF State and I'm a member of Fossil Free SFSU, a really awesome organization here on campus inspired by Bill McKibben's work. So I'm just here to let you know that after Bill McKibben speaks we're going to have breakout sessions with five local organizations here in this theatre on how everyone here can get involved with climate change and environmental justice work. So stick around. There's gonna be lots of great information and opportunities to make change. Thank you. [ Applause ] >> Thank you, Brianne. So Bill McKibben's gonna talk for a while. He's gonna take questions and we're gonna work the questions this way. We have ushers that are gonna be passing out index cards. So if you have a question, please write down the question on an index card, put your first name on it too so we can say the question came from Joanne or whoever, and pass the index card to your left, so this way towards the south side of the auditorium, and on the aisle the ushers will come up and down and periodically pick up those index cards, pass them backstage, and we'll get them to McKibben when he starts answering questions.
With no further adieu, please give a warm welcome to activist, educator, author, and cofounder of 350.org, Bill McKibben. [ Applause ] >> It is a great pleasure to get to be here today. And when I say it's a great pleasure for me, I really mean it. Most of the time when I'm places, I'm sort of hectoring people to go do more and get – it's a real pleasure just to be able to come someplace and basically say "thank you." The moment that San Francisco State divested was one of the high points of this very powerful campaign that's going all over the globe and it was, it was a moment that we had really waited and hoped for and we are so grateful for the students, some of whom I've met, and the faculty and the administrators who made it possible. And basically what I want to do is kind of give you the present for a little while of just showing you, talking with you about who your kind of brothers and sisters in this work around the world are in the hopes that you'll just sort of sense this movement as it builds and the possibilities for more going on.
And if I seem the tiniest bit distracted while I talk it's because about 10 minutes ago our great colleagues at 350 in the Pacific from 12 Pacific island nations launched their traditional canoes that they have spent the summer building on those islands that'll disappear this century as the sea level rises. And they launched them outside the largest coal port in the world in Newcastle in Australia. And they're out there trying to blockade the entrance to that port with those giant, giant ships, coal-carrying ships, coming in and out. And I'm incredibly proud of them, these are good friends, and incredibly worried about them because I, you know, even the wake of some of these big ships will be enough to put them in the water. So I'm thinking hard of them.
Let me talk for a minute, just for a minute, about where we are scientifically in this fight. And it's the very depressing part and really it's sort of my job in the world just to sort of be a professional bummer-outer of other people, you know, and I will get through it quickly, but there's no use not, no use sugar-coating it because we're in a ton of trouble. I wrote the first book about climate change for a general audience. It came out 25 years ago this month, i.e. before you guys were born, and the truth is that we knew most of what we needed to know about climate change then. I mean, we knew that when you burn coal and gas and oil you put carbon in the atmosphere, it trapped heat that would otherwise radiate back out to space and warmed the planet. We didn't know how hard and how fast it would pinch, and the story about the last 25 years is it's pinching a hell of a lot harder and faster than we thought. Twenty-years ago we did not think – because scientists are conservative by nature in their estimations. We did not really think, no one thought, that a 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature would've been enough to melt most of the sea ice in the summer Arctic because 1 degree doesn't sound like that much.
But measured in other ways it's an immense amount. The extra heat that we trap because of the carbon that we've poured into the atmosphere is the heat equivalent daily to about 400,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs. Okay? And that is enough heat now accumulating in the atmosphere not just to melt the Arctic but now we know to set the Arctic and the Antarctic, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet as we learned in May on a course of irrevocable, what the scientists called irrevocable melt that will eventually add 10 feet or so to the sea level rise we were already expecting. We know now, as we didn't 25 years ago, that the chemistry of seawater is changing extremely fast as it absorbs carbon from the atmosphere. The ocean's about 30 percent more acidic than it was 50 years ago, which is an astonishing change in a short time, especially on an ocean planet. This is not good news. We know now, as we didn't then, just how quickly we begin to alter weather patterns in fundamental ways. There's more, there's more – warm air holds more water vapor than cold. That means in drought, in wet places more water comes down, and we're seeing epic flooding like we've never seen before and it means in dry places there's more water evaporating up into the atmosphere.
And sadly you guys have become Exhibit A right now for what dry places look like. This is going to be by far the hottest year in California's recorded history and you're in the driest three-year stretch you've ever been in and, at least watching from a distance, it's really terrifying. I don't know what it quite feels like here and sometimes it's hard for me to kind of get my mind in the right place because where I live in the Northeast we have lots of water and probably always will. But to look at the data, to look at the data from the big gravity satellite, the GRACE Satellite, in late August, the researchers concluded that California had evaporated 63 trillion gallons of groundwater in the course of this drought. It had taken enough weight off the crust here that the Sierra Nevada had jumped up about half an inch last year. The pictures from the Central Valley are devastating to look at. People's wells have dropped 20, 30, 40 feet and then run dry. Those pictures from last spring up in the Sierra where the snowpack was at 18 percent of normal were hard to look at.
I remember what Energy Secretary, the first Obama Energy Secretary Steven Chu, the Nobel physicist, had said in 2008 in his first speech after he was named Energy Secretary by Obama. He came to California and he spoke with the Chamber of Commerce and he said, "I don't think you guys have looked carefully enough at the computer modeling because by the end of the century there's gonna be no snowpack, which means you wont be able to do agriculture here, and I'm not quite sure how you're gonna have big cities, either." I think someone at the White House told him to stop talking like that because really we haven't heard anything quite that frank and forthright ever since, but that's correct. That is what the computers' model show unless we get our act together very, very quickly. And of course, bad as that is here, California's one of the richest places on the planet, so it's much better able to cope with it than all the other places that are dealing with the same thing. There have been a series of papers in the last year or year and a half that demonstrate pretty conclusively that one of the most important driving factors in the civil war in Syria that now engulfs the entire Middle East and threatens via ISIS to kind of engulf the whole world that it was triggered in very large part by the most severe drought that they've ever had in that part of the world, which drove millions of people into cities and off the countryside, off the farm, and got tensions rising.
For me, the scary part is that we're just at the beginning of this process. We've raised the temperature 1 degree Celsius, but the same scientists who told us that was gonna happen are very clear that the temperature's gonna go up 4 degrees or 5 degrees this century on current trends. And if we do that, we just, there's just no way that we can have civilizations of the kind that we are used to. The ergonomists at Stanford predicted a couple years ago that at this point, any rise in temperature about a degree, each rise in temperature of a degree globally should be enough to cut granules about 10 percent. And you can see how that could happen when you look at what's happening to California agriculture right now. You know? That means that if you raise the temperature 2 or 3 degrees, you'd drop the number of calories on this planet by 20 or 30 percent and you guys know enough about how the world works to know what that means in terms of peace and justice and hunger and public health and all the things that, you know, we desperately care about. We can't have those on a planet that's going, going if not to Hell then to a place with a roughly similar temperature. You know? And so we've got to stop it. We've got to fight.
And that's what I wanna talk about just kind of in tribute to you guys for the work you've done here around divestment and in tribute to those guys out in their canoes right now in the harbor in Newcastle. As you can tell just from listening to me, and it's sort of important for me to say, I'm not, you know, a sort of natural public speaker or anything nor organizer. I'm a writer by trade. It's almost the opposite of – I mean, writers are introverts. You know, if we were good at communicating some other way we probably wouldn't be writers. And so I, you know, I enjoy being here with you all, but I'd really rather be, like, home in my room typing. You know? That's what I like to do. And for a number of years after I wrote that book, I sort of thought that writing was my, that was, you know – well, actually, when I was 28, 27 or 28, when I wrote that book and my theory of how the, my theory of change then basically was people will read my book and then they will change.
And they did read the book. You know, it's like in 25 languages and – but that turns out to be not how the world works. It's important to have books and ideas. It's important to win the argument. We won this argument. Twenty years ago the world's scientists were in full agreement and explaining exactly what was going on. We won the argument, but we've so far lost the fight. You know, look at our country. Look at Washington. We basically had a 25-year bipartisan effort to accomplish nothing and it's been entirely successful, as you know. At a certain point about 10 years ago it just began to dawn on me that writing another book was not going to move the needle on this thing. And so we started trying to figure out how to organize and, you know, with not a clue.
Eight years ago, I think, this fall, I asked a bunch of my friends in Vermont, where I live, to just come together for a march and we marched for five days across the state of Vermont and sort of slept in farm fields at night. You know, I'm a Methodist Sunday School teacher so I called up sort of the Methodist mafia en route to make sure there'd be, like, potluck suppers and things. And we got to our main town, Burlington, our big city, which has 50,000 people, but we got there and there were a thousand people marching, which in Vermont's actually a lot of people, you know. And we were pleased with ourselves. But then we read the newspaper the next morning and the story that said that thousand people that gathered in 2006 in Vermont was probably the biggest demonstration about climate change that had yet taken place in the United States.
When we read that, we thought, no wonder we get nowhere. We've got all the sort of things you need for a movement, all the kind of super structure, we've got the economists and the scientists and the policy people and Al Gore. You know, all this sort of stuff. The only part of the movement we'd forgotten was the movement part. There's nothing there to give it any, you know, weight. So, you know, we looked back at the great movements in our history and tried to start figuring out how we could do it. We had a particular problem – we have a particular problem with this movement that makes it particular, especially hard and that's that this is the first fully global problem that we've ever faced. Okay? And global organizing isn't done very often, and I think the biggest reason it's not done very often is that everybody around the world insists on speaking their own language, which makes it difficult to coordinate and cooperate. That's why our work, our organization, has this strange name, 350.org. The scientific data point's important.
It's how much carbon we could safely have in the atmosphere measured in parts per million, a number we're already, unfortunately, well past. But the reason that we chose it most of all is because Arabic numerals, unlike words, you know, hop easily across those linguistic boundaries. 350 means the same thing in, you know, Santo Domingo as it does in San Francisco. You know, so we set to work organizing, trying to figure out how we organize the world. We didn't have any money or anything, but we did have – there were seven undergraduates and myself. And that was a correct number because there were also seven continents, so each one of them took one, you know. The one that took the Antarctic also had to take the Internet. And off we went and our job was to find other people like ourselves, you know. And there aren't everywhere something called an environmentalist, but there's everywhere someone working on public health and feeding people and all the kind of things that you cant have in a world that's falling apart.
And they were our natural allies and we just said, you know, come together. Let's work on this together. And we figured we take one day at the beginning and try and just sort of take this number and put it into the information bloodstream of the planet because, you know, people weren't paying enough attention to things. we did not know how well it would work, if it would work, because, you know, we were complete novices at this, amateurs. But we got the sense it might work well two days early. We were supposed to do it on a Saturday, but this Thursday we get a phone call. We're sitting around our one-room office, you know, with our laptops open and the phone rings, and it's our satellite phone call from our organizer, our leader, in Ethiopia, who, like all of our leaders, like me, are a volunteer, like many of them, probably most, was a "she" and, like an awful lot of them, was 17 years old. And she was in tears. She said the government took away our permit for Saturday so we're doing this today before they can stop us, you know.
And that was brave, but that wasn't why she was in tears. She kept saying, "We want to do this the same time as everybody else around the world. We want to be part of this whole big thing. We don't want to spoil it for everybody. We're really sorry. And we have 15,000 kids out in the street right now in Addis Ababa chanting '350.'" So I was, you know, like, "Don't worry, the date's okay." And it was beautiful. The picture was the beginning of this, like, wave of things that kind of sort of launched this climate movement. Over the next 72 hours, there were 5,200 demonstrations in 181 countries. CNN called it the most widespread day of political action in the planet's history. So this was seven undergraduates who pulled this off. I could show you pictures all day and I attempted to because I like looking at them, but the main thing I kind of want to get across is really this just is your thank you present just to show you who your brothers and sisters are. And one of the things that, you know, I spent my whole life hearing that environmentalism was something that rich white people did who had taken care of their other problems and if you worried where your next meal was coming from, you wouldn't be an environmentalist, and on and on.
And it took about 20 minutes of watching these pictures flow in – and at times they were coming in 30 or 40 a minute from around the world – to realize that that was nonsense. Most of the people that we were working with were poor and black and brown and Asian and young because that's what most of the world is composed of. And, you know, oddly enough, they're exactly as interested as anybody else in the future, maybe more so because the future bears down pretty hard on you in a lot of these places. So, I mean, there's, you know, people in dugout canoes on the Congo River someplace above Kinshasa, like right where Joseph Conrad in his Eurocentric way identified the heart of darkness on our planet, you know. But there they were completely – they didn't have a digital camera. They're picture didn't – you know, somebody's home dark room didn't come out so well, so they wrote in what it said. But there they were, very engaged and all over the world with great creativity and cleverness and – you laugh now but the ocean is not far away from you guys. Great involvement of religious leaders of all kinds really for the first time in this sort of thing, so there's the head of Muslim South Africa, of indigenous kind of traditions in South Africa.
There's the Anglican Archbishop at the head of a huge multi-faith march across Cape Town. There's our biggest Evangelical college. I've been to the Middle East to do some organizing. You know, I've been to Bethlehem, which is actually a very hard place to get to at the moment; there's checkpoints and walls and whatnot. But everybody wanted to help out because the Dead Sea is just dropping fast as the temperature rises, so the Jordanians said, "We'll make the big 3 on our beach." The Palestinians said, "We'll do the 5 in Palestine." The Israelis said, "We'll make the 0 on our shore." It was nice. It was powerful. It was the way it should be. Three hundred big demonstrations in China. One of them got busted up by the police like I'm afraid is happening in Hong Kong today as we speak. There are brave people there.
But most of them went off without a hitch and that's important because China has a huge role to play in this fight. As you know, they're burning a lot of coal, but they're also now leading the world in production of renewable energy. Those are our brothers and sisters in the Maldives. That's the Student Government Association. This is like paradise, the Maldives. It's archipelago of, like, a thousand islands spread over the equator and the Indian Ocean. They look just like the picture, you know, in your mind of what paradise is: white sand, coconut palms. People have lived there for 5,000 years and have unbroken habitation. Their problem is that the highest point in the archipelago is about a meter and a half above sea level, so the odds of getting to 5,100 years seem relatively small, but they are fighting and fighting hard, like people all over the world. This was the lead story on Google News for about 36 hours and I think it's because people did not look the way that, you know, newspaper editors thought environmentalists are supposed to look like.
I mean, every woman in that zero there in Yemen, which is about the toughest place in the world, every one of them is in full black burka. So to us they don't look like members of the Sierra Club, but they're hearts are in exactly the same place. They're thinking about the future, not about themselves, you know. Even – I mean, that's the oil-rich sheikdom of Abu Dhabi. Look, there are some oil-rich sheiks down front in their dishdashas. But smarter than your average oil guy, okay, because in the background there is the edge of the largest solar array on planet Earth, you know, so these guys are thinking they might want to stay rich no matter what, and that's good. There were 300 or 400 pictures that ended up in a file marked "350 Adorable" and they were very adorable and they were also hard to look at.
That girl in the middle, those eyes just slay me every time I look at her. She could be a refugee in her lifetime, and not from anything she did, you know. So we keep doing this kind of stuff. We have demonstrations, you know, rallies. We've done about 20,000 of them now in every country on Earth except North Korea, where I actually have no interest in doing them, and it's been really fun and really powerful and we've taken, sort of, the message of climate change to lots of places where people didn't know about it already, including lots of places in the United States – there they all are – and I would just keep doing this forever. The trouble is if we had, you know, a hundred – well, look, we did these big days where we did, like, huge – we called it the biggest art project in history. All around the world we did these huge things with zillions of bodies, so big we had to mostly use satellites to photograph them.
Some of you guys remember that guy, Tom York, from Radiohead. He got 3,000 of his closest friends and gave them blue raincoats and there they are making an image of King Cnut trying to hold back the rising seas, you know. There's in the DR. That scarab beetle is pushing solar panels across the desert there in Egypt. This was – that was one of my favorite. Maybe this will resonate with you guys. This is one of these dry, now dry riverbeds in Santa Fe because they're in the middle of the same drought you all are in. But when the satellite went overhead, 2,000 or 3,000 people just flipped blue blankets up overhead for a minute just to kind of bring the river back to life for a second, you know. If we had 100 years or even 50 years to do, this is exactly what we would keep doing because people would get the message, the education would spread, you know, people would start doing the right thing.
And people already are. You know, you put in the right light bulb and you, you know, put up a solar panel and your brother-in-law comes for Thanksgiving and sees it and he puts in a Prius and, you know, blah, blah, blah, and eventually two generations are kind of where we need to be. And that's how human beings and institutions should change, kind of slowly and gradually and non-dramatically and whatever. And we don't have 50 years. Physics is not giving us that kind of time. Physics would have been grateful if we had changed 30 or 40 years ago, you know. We are up against, like, truly serious deadlines now and so along with education, we also have to start doing a certain amount of confrontation. And some of that is just fighting against really bad ideas and there are a lot of really bad ideas out there as we began to figure out once we started down this path. Some of you have heard of this Keystone Pipeline thing. Now, none of you had heard of it in spring of 2011.
I'm guessing that because I hadn't heard of it and I follow this stuff pretty closely. I hadn't heard of it until Jim Hanson, our greatest climatologist at NASA, published a paper saying there's a lot of carbon up in the tar sands in Canada and if you could liberate all of it and burn it, all the economically-recoverable stuff, there's no way you'd ever stabilize the planet's climate again. There's six or seven of these huge pools of carbon around the Earth and they simply have to stay underground. But the people that own them do not want them to stay underground. The Koch brothers are the single biggest leaseholders up there in the tar sands, so all those guys would like a pipeline so that they could get that stuff out of there into an ocean someplace so they could send it overseas. So they were happily building one down through the middle of the country.
They were facing really strong and good opposition from indigenous people in Canada and from farmers and ranchers in Nebraska, but it wasn't enough so we asked if we could help and in the summer of 2011 launched this civil disobedience campaign designed so people understand what a big issue this was. And, oddly, it kind of worked. It turned into the biggest civil disobedience action about anything in this country in 30 years. 1,200 and some people went to jail and then it sort of spread around the world, up into Canada, and, you know, all over the place. And then we went back to the White House and surrounded it with people and, what do you know, after about three months of this, to the surprise of all the experts, Barack Obama said, "You know what, I think we should delay a decision on this until after the election in 2012." Which he did, and then he actually then delayed it again until after this next election, which is good.
I mean, it's not as good as if he just sort of forthrightly said, no, let's don't do this, which would've been nice, but I've come to expect less from Washington than once I did, I think. But it's been good because it's kept 900,000 barrels of oil a day in the ground and it's been good because it demonstrates that people can actually stand up to the fossil fuel industry and it's been good because it's inspired people to take on a zillion other nasty things around the world. I read – I was very pleased when I read a quote in the trade magazines – it was like Pipeline News or something – and the head of some company said, "We're never gonna be allowed to build a pipeline in peace again." You know, and I thought, good, that's as it should be, you know. And not just pipelines.
People have done a great job of stopping coal ports in the Pacific Northwest that they're trying to build, and they're taking on these LNG ports along the East Coast and all across the country and now all around the world people are taking on fracking in a huge way. California's done some good things on climate and energy and in certain ways it's leading the world, but you guys are also deeply engaged in fracking for oil now in this state, which is a preposterous thing. And the good people at, among other places, Food and Water Watch that you heard from are helping make sure that that comes to an end. I was yesterday with people from the Coalition on Race and Poverty and the Environment that works mostly out of the Central Valley and they were showing me all kinds of pictures of frack wells, you know, next to schools and things like that. but the really unbelievable part was to just have them describe how much water these guys are literally pouring down a hole in the ground. I mean, everybody else in California now you're supposed to take, like, two-minute showers or something or whatever.
Well, the reason that you're doing it is so that Halliburton and Chevron have 400,000 gallons at a time to dump in a hole in the ground. It's crazy. It should stop and we'll all try to figure out how to make it stop. I think before I leave – I saw a thing at the airport, I think, about the drought and it said if you see people, like, excessively watering their lawns or wasting water, here's a number you should call. And I think before I leave today, I'm just gonna call it up and say, "I saw Chevron putting 400,000 gallons of water down a hole someplace. Maybe you could, you know, go out and do something about that, would be good." So there's all this opposition going on and it's really good, okay. It's also unbelievably exhausting, like, fighting this Keystone thing, which is the stupidest idea ever. I mean, it's just like the dirtiest oil on Earth and it's normally, I think, just – it's taken everything we've got. I mean, people have gone – lots of people have gone to jail over and over again and so on and so forth.
Fighting all this stuff just like that is like that old story, which I'm afraid with sea level rise may come back into fashion, of the Dutch boy trying to stop the hole in a dike with his fingers, you know. We've run out of fingers. There's too many holes. So aside – along with playing defense, we also play offense a lot, which is what the whole divestment thing is about. It's a way to actually go after the fossil fuel industry and make them, put them on the defensive, and it's been beautiful to see it spread very, very, very quickly. And this part of the world has been key. You guys and Stanford are absolute leaders in this and it's a huge help and I wish to heck you'd get Berkeley to go along, too, with this thing. I don't know what their problem is.
But I will tell them that they need to pay some attention to what you all are doing. It's really exciting now to see this happen. It's not because we're gonna bankrupt the fossil fuel industry. Exxon made more money each of the last four years than any company in the history of money, okay. We're not gonna bankrupt them, but we're going to politically bankrupt them. We're gonna make it impossible for these guys to so completely dominate our political life. At the moment, they're able to. Chevron, your local company, gave the single largest corporate campaign contribution in history two weeks before the last federal election. They did it to make sure that climate deniers stay in power. If you own stock in Chevron, that's what you're helping. That's what you're investing in, you know. And so it's good news that at a bunch of universities, but not a lot of other places, this is shifting rapidly. In the last few months, the World Council of Churches, which represents 580 million Christians, has announced plans to divest from fossil fuel.
In Glasgow in Europe, the first European university, and in Australia in the last two weeks their two leading universities, Sydney and Australia National University, both divested. It's incredibly exciting to see it happen, really the most amazing, one of the most amazing moments of the year was the day of that big climate march in New York in late September, which was – maybe if we have a moment I'll show you a picture or two at the end of it because it was a pretty chilling, cool day, you know. It was the largest demonstration about anything in this country in many years and it was – I can't quite describe the feeling of 400,000 people walking down Sixth Avenue and then falling completely silent for a minute in kind of memory of the people who have already died due to climate change. And then this just roar as people, we said, were sort of sounding the climate alarm as it spread from the back of this 4-4.5 mile long march all the way up to the front. I mean, it really did just send chills down your spine.
But that evening there was a press conference and the representatives of the Rockefeller family announced that they were divesting all their holdings in fossil fuels. So this is the – this is the original fossil fuel fortune. You know, this is the biggest fossil fuel fortune there ever was. And if those guys think it's neither prudent nor moral to stay investing in it, I don't know what excuse anybody else has at this point, you know. It was good, and it is good and powerful. And there's gonna be lots, lots more of this kind of stuff going on because the guys who are in the fossil fuel industry will not give up easily. The Heartland Institute is one of the things that's gotten a ton of money from Exxon over the years to advance their cause, and these were these billboards they put up around the country last year. We woke up one Friday morning and they put up these billboards. And that's Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. I don't even – some of you guys are too young to remember the Unabomber, but he's a crazed serial killer guy who blew up, sent package bombs and things. And so they put up this thing, I don't know, some place in some writings or something had said something about climate change.
"I still believe in global warming. Do you?" It's not a very – the logic is not clear here, okay. I mean, it's like, "Hitler believed in gravity. Do you?" I don't even know what the, you know, what the – but the emotional point is clear. Like, the emotional point is only homicidal maniacs believe in climate change, you know, so you shouldn't do it. We were really pleased because that day, by coincidence, we'd scheduled another of these huge days of action around the globe and the point this time was to find places and people who'd already felt the sting of climate change. We called it "Connect the Dots" and we were trying to – and so it happened that we actually had the real face of climate change to show people, you know, and since the day begins in the Pacific, you know, the very first pictures came in from underwater in the Marshall Islands, where coral reefs are just disappearing in this hot acid ocean we're creating.
You know, just all over the world. Look, they're your brothers and sisters in Kenya who are going through exactly the same thing that people in California are going through. Sea level rises lots of places. Some places, you know, the problem's a tiny bit less dire, but for those of us who like winter, you know – that's up in Siberia. We're having forest fires now 3, 4, 5 degrees of latitude north of where they'd ever been observed before because it's so hot and dry. The Northwest Territories in Canada just went up like a bomb this summer. The fires were unbelievable. They dumped huge amounts of soot on Greenland, turning the snow black, and black snow melts even faster than it was already melting up there. The kind of vicious cycle that just keeps booming along now. These people have to leave their homes because their island is now under water at high tide. That top red balloon is the level where the Dead Sea was 40 years ago.
Just tons and – these people have the opposite problem from you. They're in that zone in Pakistan where we've had, the four of the last five years, the four biggest floods in Pakistani history. In 2010, the rain was so torrential – the kind of ran you can only have on this warmer world – that the Indus River swelled to the point where it covered about 25 percent of the country. 20 million people had to leave their homes. It's as if half state of California had to leave their homes. Try to imagine that. And one guesses looking at them that they probably had not played a large role in causing the problem that we face. And the same all over, you know. Here's my home. I just put those in because I'm homesick and because you can see the, you know – Hurricane Irene was our greatest disaster in Vermont history and there's still a lot of farm fields and things covered in rock and sand that will never really be productive again. Just same all over. That picture stuck in my mind the most in a way, even though it's probably the smallest demonstration, just some muddy street in Haiti.
But it was the signs that your actions affect me. Which is right. more people died from Hurricane Sandy in Haiti than died in New York. Your actions affect me, but not vice versa. There's not a damn thing anybody in Haiti can do to alter this outcome except appeal to our conscious. They can't burn less fossil fuel; they hardly burn any now. They don't have endowments, okay. There isn't – they can't go to, like, the seats of power, the heads, you know, all that. they're stuck where they are and they are depending on us to do that kind of work, which is why, which is why among other things we need you guys to fan out and get some of the rest of California divesting from things. and we need you doing lots of kind of stuff all over the place. There've been great fights going on in this country now. People are really waking up.
There's the first big tar sands battle in the U.S., where they're trying to put a tar sands mine in Utah. There's your neighbors in Richmond. It was a really glorious day when we went 18 months ago or so and protested outside the Chevron – protested the fact that it keeps poisoning the people of Richmond. Protested the fact that they, you know, are complicit in wrecking the rainforest in Ecuador. Protested the fact that they're climate criminals. Very good day to – I mean, I ended up in a paddy wagon with six people, none of whom spoke the language I speak and it was a great pleasure to get to meet them all under that circumstance. This is – this picture's from the last coal-fired power plant in New England and 18 months ago or so two brave guys took a lobster boat and they rechristened it the Henry David Thoreau and they went and blocked the entrance to the power plant, the sea entrance, so the boat carrying the coal couldn't get in. just like those guys are trying to do in the canoes right now as we stand here. And it was a brave thing to do and effective symbolically.
Two or three months later, the state of Massachusetts announced that the plant would go out of business in 2017, so that's good. But they were, of course, arrested and they were getting ready to stand trial in early September and they were going to mount what's called a necessity defense, saying that they had to do this. Because of the climate change, they had no choice. And I was driving down to testify and Jim Hanson was driving up from New Jersey to testify and just as the trial was about to begin, the District Attorney came out and said, "I'm dropping all the charges." My ego was gratified because he was waving around a copy of a Rolling Stone article of mine. He said, "I now – I've been reading all their materials. I think climate change is the most important topic in the world and I'm going to New York to march in this big march in a couple weeks." And he did. He marched right next to the two guys that he, you know, dropped charges against.
So it was a nice moment and the march really was unbelievable. It felt different than anything I'd ever been at. One of the reasons that it was so different – is there a little bit of water over there? Thank you, very much. One of the reasons it was different was nobody gave any speeches at it, okay, which there was some people before it, like, "Oh, you have to have speeches. What about, like, Dr. King in 1963 in Washington?" And I was like, "Yeah, and what other speeches do you remember for, like, the last 50 years?" You know? That may have been the exception that proved the rule, you know, that mostly speeches aren't all that interesting, sort of like this one, and so instead it was just people. And it was led completely by, like, the people who should've been up in the front. The first 10 blocks or so was all just frontline communities, people who have really – people in places like Richmond who have borne the brunt of all this and indigenous people, who have been trying for a very long time to say things are out of whack on this continent, get your act together. And now finally people are beginning to listen.
So it was very beautiful to see and it really made me think about, you know, the eight years before and those thousand people who marched across Vermont. Now there were 400,000 people. So that's good. Movements need to move, they need to grow, they need to get big. We need you guys organizing like crazy. We need you a deep part of this. And we might need you to do – I just might need you to be sort of brave the way people have been in lots of movements over time. Maybe I'll just finish by saying think back about that civil disobedience that we were doing in Washington in 2011, which was kind of the beginning of the Keystone campaign and, as I say, it was the largest thing like it in 30 years. And I'd written a letter that asked people to come to Washington to get arrested, which was not a fun letter to write really. One of the things I said in it, and as I look around at the very nice demographic diversity in this hall, one of the things I said in it was I did not think that college kids should have to be the cannon fodder for this civil disobedience, okay.
Young people have led this fight in most places and most of the time, and that's appropriate because you all are gonna have to deal with the – I mean, I'm gonna be dead before the very worst of this kicks in, but you guys are gonna be in the absolute prime of your lives and, you know, all the good things that you're training for now, you're just gonna be, you know, instead doing kind of emergency response to, you know, with all the things that are going on. But I said I didn't think you should have to be the cannon fodder for it because, you know, if you're 22 right now in our economy, it's possible that an arrest record is not your single best, you know, resume item that you could have, you know. One of the few un-nixed blessings of growing older is, past a certain point, what the hell are they gonna do to you, you know? And by the way, it must be said because we're in a college, if you happen to have tenure that goes triple for you, you know. There's nothing that could happen to you.
[Applause] So it was good because there were a lot of people with hairlines like mine that arrived in Washington to get arrested. Now we did not say to them "how old are you" while they were getting busted because that would be rude, but we did say – and I think cleverly – we said, "Who was President when you were born?" And the two biggest cohorts were from the FDR and the Truman Administrations, okay. On the last day, there was this guy arrested with a sign around his neck that said "World War II vet. Handle with care." He'd been born in the Warren Harding Administration, so that was long enough ago that I'd forgotten there was a Warren Harding Administration. It was good. It was especially good, I think, for the young people who were there to watch and kind of see elders behaving the way that elders actually should behave in a working society, you know, and that was good. The other thing that was sort of unusual about it was that we said to people, "If you're gonna come get arrested" – and you saw it in those pictures – "it'd be good if you wore a dress or a necktie when you come to it." Not because – I mean, I live in Vermont.
You know, Vermont makes San Francisco seem formal, you know. I don't really ever wear a necktie except when I'm getting arrested. And the reason that we did it was just because we wanted to send a kind of visual accompaniment to the message that, really the message I've been trying to get across as I talk here today, which is that there's actually nothing very radical about what we're talking about. Nothing at all. We'd like the world to be more less like the one that pertained for the last 10,000 years, this period of time that we call the Holocene, a period of really benign climatic stability that we have now come out of in the lifetime of everyone in this room. Sometime in the last 20 years we've crossed some invisible line and now we're in some other chaotic thing that's outside the Holocene. To ask for what every other human being that we know anything about had is not radical. It's, if you think about it, a fairly conservative demand to make.
Radicals work at oil companies, you know. If you get up in the morning at Chevron and you decide that you're gonna keep making your fortune by pouring carbon into the atmosphere, altering the chemistry of the atmosphere, past the point when scientists told you what it'll do, past the point when you watch the Arctic melt, past the point where you can stick a pH strip in the ocean and see the fact that you're acidifying it. If you're willing to do that, then you're a radical on a scale that we've never seen before, and our job is to kind of check that radicalism as fast as we can. And I will end – if I were a good organizer, I would end with some rousing whatever to get you completely fired up. I'm a writer and so I'm not completely allowed to do that. I mean, I'm sort of constrained to tell you the truth, and the truth is there's no certainty that we win this fight.
It's not like other battles because if we don't win it fast, we don't win it. You know, I think about things like the Civil Rights Movement in this country and they had to be braver than we – I mean, so far no one's shooting at you, you know, for talking about climate change. But they did have the luxury, I think, of knowing that they were gonna win. Dr. King always said at the end of all his talks, he'd always – quoting, I think, the abolitionist Theodore Parker. He'd say the arch of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice, and this may take awhile but we're gonna win. Okay? Our problem is that the arch of the physical universe is actually short and it bends towards heat. And if we don't win this soon, we won't win it. Science is frankly really daunting and so is the power of the fossil fuel industry. There is hope. There's hope in the technology that we've developed in the last 25 years.
It's amazing to look at Germany, the one country that's taken this seriously, and see that there were days this summer when they generated 75 percent of the power they used from the sun and the wind. Okay? That proves to me that it's not natural resources but political will that's lacking because Germany's not exactly – no one ever went on a beach vacation to Stuttgart, you know. And there's hope not just in the technology. There's hope in that political will beginning to accumulate. It's beautiful to watch this movement start to grow. Now, I can't guarantee a victory, but I can guarantee at this point that there actually at least will be a fight. And I don't think we knew that – I didn't know it – seven or eight years ago. And I know now because I've been to all these places I've been showing you pictures of that everywhere there are people ready to engage in this way and it's beautiful to see and it's beautiful to be here with you all and be able to say thank you and to say that I look forward just to standing shoulder to shoulder with you in this fight going forward.
So thank you all very much. [ Applause ] >> I remember reading your book 25 years ago and asking after I read it, well, where is everybody. And they're out now. >> Now they're in New York, yep. >> Yep, they sure are. So I've got some questions from students. First one, shouldn't divestment activists approach college administrators as allies rather than as enemies? We don't want the San Francisco State University endowment to be hurt by stranded assets. >> Absolutely. That's how everybody's done it all around the world. The first thing they've done is gone to the administrates in the most friendly possible terms and said, here, we're gonna give you some investment advice and it'll be all to the good. And in a few places, people have been smart enough to take that and that's good. In many other places, the power of this incredibly rich industry has been enough to keep, for the moment, to keep that at bay.
So the second time around, once people have said, no, we wont do it, then we've got to approach people in different ways. And that's the story of the last great divestment battle which was over apartheid in South Africa. It took eight or nine years to get most colleges to do the right thing and it took a lot of people sitting in and, you know, doing all the kind of things that – but dammit it was very worth it. When Nelson Mandala got out of prison, the first trip he took was to the U.S. and the first place he came was to Northern California. And he came to say thanks to people in the U.C. and Cal. and CSU systems for having been the biggest single endowments that divested of the 155 campuses across the country that divested. Mandala said, look, we liberated ourselves, but we could not have done it without the help from the larger world, that kind of pressure. It's Mandala's great accomplice, Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Laureate, who's really the spiritual leader of this current divestment movement. He said, you know – he said last week in this great video that you should Google and look at – he said climate change is the human rights challenge of our time, of our century, and divestment is Job Number 1.
>> David asks if nature has ended, what role does geo-engineering play? >> Well, this is a very good question. So you all know that having filled the atmosphere with CO2 and raised the temperature, there now is scattering of people who think that the correct response to this would not be to stop putting CO2 in and letting it, you know, forests and oceans take it out of the atmosphere. It would be to keep putting CO2 in but also add a hefty mix of sulfur into the atmosphere because that would block some of the incoming solar radiation and it would also make sure that the sky sort of took on a nice milky white hue all the time and that sort of thing. I got to say I think it's nuts. I'm glad that there are researchers kind of looking at it because there may sort of be a kind of break-the-glass moment when we have no choice but to try it. But since we know how to do what we need to know how to do – we know how to do things like renewable energy – it makes no sense to instead do stuff like this which comes with huge dangers.
The computer modeling shows that even if it worked, it would probably end the monsoons across much of the Asian subcontinent, which would be a problem for the couple of billion people who depend on them. And it would do nothing about ocean acidification. And it's also, it's just, it's just kind of crazy. Like we know, we know that we need to reign ourselves in, and we could, but we're not. A very good resource for thinking about this is my friend Naomi Klein's new book, which is called This Changes Everything: Capitalism Versus the Climate, a book I highly recommend to you and maybe the best chapter in it is on this question of geo-engineering. >> The next question has to do with money and politics. With the vast power of political action committees and Super PACs, it is possible to neutralize the overwhelming influence of private capital on domestic and foreign policy and, of course, climate policy? >> It's not easy.
I mean, these guys if left to their own devices, money will win every time. And that's been the story and that's what's been going on. And I'm very glad that people are trying to do something about this. People like Larry Lessig and the work that's going on around campaign finance reform and so on and so forth is really crucial. I think the stuff we're doing in the climate movement probably is the key part in this because when we talk about money in Washington, we're really talking at the biggest scale about just a few industries, pharmaceutical and energy being by far the biggest. I mean, the Koch brothers, who are the mortal enemy here in a lot of ways, they are by far the biggest players politically that there are in this country. And so it's, it's very fun to try and knock them for a loop because doing so would help in any number of ways. It's not just climate change they're trying to perpetuate; they're funding every anti-union thing you can think of and, you know, so on and so forth. That's why it's become such a broader fight all the time.
>> This is a big question, this next one. Is capitalism and globalization the real cause of climate change? >> Well, I mean, the real cause of climate change is carbon in the atmosphere, okay, and methane and other things. but it's no question that the reason that we stay – the biggest reason we stay addicted to them as a kind of unregulated laissez faire system that let's you pour carbon into the atmosphere for free. Think of what it is that the Koch brothers and everybody else have basically bought. It's the right to use the atmosphere as an open sewer for free. No other industry gets that. No other – nobody else gets that. I don't know. I assume in San Francisco you have to pay to put our your trash. You can't, you know – it would be cheaper, you know, where I live if you just, you know, instead of putting, if you just collected your trash every night and just tossed it in the street, you know.
That would be cheaper, but pretty soon you'd have rats, you know, and there'd be leptospirosis and that's why civilizations decided a long time ago that one of the hallmarks of civilizations was we'd clean up after ourselves. Except if you're the fossil fuel industry, and then you're just allowed to pour this stuff out for free. So we're gonna have to end that kind of unrelated laissez faire capitalism. One thing everybody left, right, and center has acknowledged is that we need to put a serious price on carbon to reflect the damage it does. Once we do that, we'll find out if markets can also be helpful in this fight. They certainly are good at sending signals, information, once there's a price on something, so we'll see. But there's no question that the kind of capitalism we've got at the moment is not producing – I mean, it's producing a broken planet. >> This is a little follow-up question to what you just said.
It's a policy question and it's from me, actually. You mentioned a carbon price. >> Yep. >> What do you think of fee and dividend? >> I think fee and dividend – you set me up very nicely. I think fee and dividend is exactly the place we should be going. This is the scheme. So the problem with the carbon tax is no one likes taxes because you take – and the guy who votes for it then gets voted out of office and it's all over. This fee and dividend thing, you can put a honking tax on carbon. You make Chevron pay a huge amount of money per ton of CO2. So the price of gas at the Chevron pump is suddenly what people are paying in Europe for gas, you know, $6.00-$7.00 per gallon, which is good because we like to be reminded, we need to be reminded when we go to the pump that we don't actually require a semi-military vehicle in order to acquire our groceries, you know. That's a useful thing.
But then you take all the money that you collect from Chevron and everybody else and you write a check to everybody in the country every month or six months or whatever for their share of the money. You don't send it off to Washington; you just send it, just recycle it through back to people. 80 percent of people come out ahead in this scheme, you know, so it's a good way of doing it and we have reason to think that it'll work effectively. British Columbia has done it now for a number of years and it's become not only effective in reducing emissions but it's highly popular as a – which is not something that you can say about most taxes. >> This is an interesting one. This question's from Russell. What positive residual effects can we get from the climate movement? Change to a more just economic system, increased democracy in the world, etc.? >> For me, the biggest residual, the biggest sort of beautiful change that comes if we win this fight, is that we move from highly centralized sources of power – power-power but also the kind of political and economic power that comes with it – to a much more – I mean, sun and wind are very different from fossil fuel.
Fossil fuel's concentrated in a few places. Each place where it's concentrated there's a tiny sub-caste of incredibly rich people who have, you know, concentrated all that wealth and power to themselves, the Koch brothers being an astonishing example. The sun and wind are different. There's sun and wind everywhere. They're omnipresent but diffuse. So there's no way to become quite the solar baron on quite the same way. You can do it in your communities. I like having solar panels all over my roof. I like having them connected to the grid. I like the idea since I'm in New England that my neighbor is cooling his beer before the Red Sox game from the sunlight that is falling on my shingles, you know. That's good, and it's a very different model. It allows us to do the same kind of thing we've begun to do in the last 10 years with food. I was happy to see the farmer's market here on campus I came across.
What we're talking about in energy terms is a farmer's market in electrons. Everybody puts some in, everybody takes some out. It's great and the utilities hate it for just that reason. It's the reason why, you know, they were able to, the Koch brothers and others, were able to just – in Arizona, probably the sunniest state in the entire Union, just passed a series of laws that made it almost impossible to put new solar panels on your roof. You know, it's crazy what they will do to hold onto that kind of power. >> So if you could snap your fingers and enact one simple government policy overnight, what would it be? >> That's a – yeah, I can think of a number, but I guess I should not think cruel and mean thoughts. >> You only get one shot. >> Well, you know, that's the problem with wishes. Look, putting a price on carbon, a serious price, is probably the sine qua non for effective action. At this point it's not enough. We also have to do other things, like lots and lots of investment on a kind of World War II sort of scale to deploy renewable energy and stuff.
But the first order of business is to get a serious price on carbon would be I guess what I'd say. And then to figure out how to do it, how to make this work around the world, because we tend to get very centered and, here's what we'll do in America. We have a huge problem that requires among other things taking serious resources and sending them to poor countries from rich countries that got rich burning fossil fuel to countries that need to be able to leapfrog the fossil fuel age and cant afford to do it on their own and both practically and morally need our support to do it. >> That kind of answers the next question, which is what can we do to push for global agreement or maybe to bring about global agreement? >> I think the only thing we can do is build big strong, angry movements. There's no way to, like – I mean, the U.
N., it's not like some magic someone's just, like, not turning the right screw in the U.N. system and if we tweak it a little bit. It's just a reflection of power. The fossil fuel industry has the same power in most of the important countries of the world that they do in ours and until there's some – I mean, the whole point of having movements is to have a countervailing power. Since they have all the money, we need to have enough bodies, passion, spirit, creativity in order to counterbalance that. And if we don't, we'll lose. >> What hopes do you have for the Paris climate talks in 2015? >> Well, I mean, as I say, it depends on how strong our movements are. I don't – they're definitely not going to solve the problem. Hopefully they wont be quite the fiasco that Copenhagen was.
I think the best hope is that we'll get some real agreement, some kind of agreement, on sending money to poor nations to help them really jumpstart the process of going – because these are the places where much of the story will be told, you know. China, but now especially India, are probably the key, you know, next dominos here. >> This is a question about divestment. You've said elsewhere that you see divestment as kind of turning the fossil fuel industry into a pariah. And you said that today, too, weakening the political system. So what do you do with that after you've turned them into a pariah? >> Well, we do all the – we do all the policy stuff we should've done 25 years ago. It's not like these are, like, mysteries, like the price of carbon or something. Every economist left, right, and center for 25 years has said put a price on carbon.
But we haven't done it because of their power. I mean, none of this stuff is mysterious. You know, a fourth grader would say if you're in the middle of a draught, it's stupid to let Chevron pour 400,000 gallons of water into a hole someplace. But the reason that we let them do it is because they have more political power than the rest of us do. That's – you know, when we have broken some of their political power, then sensible policy gets a change, you know. They've broken their political power in Germany. The utilities are no longer the big political players there and that's why they've been able to spread – there are more solar panels in Bavaria than there are in the United States. And that's why. >> So you think that the difference in political power of the corporations helps to explain why Europe and the United States are different in terms of their carbon emissions per person? >> I do. I also think that – I mean, what happened in Europe is interesting after World War II because they didn't have much in the way of domestic supplies of oil. They kept the price of energy artificially high.
They taxed it and always have, so the price of a gallon of gasoline's always been the equivalent of $7.00 or $8.00 a gallon in Europe. And the result is, you know, that they've developed differently. That's why they have nice cities that are intact and draw people in instead of sort of sprawling suburbs. That's why they have good trains. It's not because, you know, Belgians have some, like, train gene that, you know, helps them to do it. It's because if gasoline's $8.00 a gallon, then there's political pressure on, you know, your Belgian parliament to make sure you have trains that come on time and go where they need to go and, you know, all of that. >> Naomi Klein [phonetic] has said that we cant really win the climate fight without building a broad progressive movement that reverses the trend toward privatization in the United States over about the last 30 years and sort of re-elevate the role of the public, of government, of the common good.
I wonder if you think she's right. >> Yeah, well, I think Naomi's right about most things. you know, Naomi is one of my oldest friends and closest collaborators. She's on the board of 350 and all that. but I think she'd say, as I would say, it's not like you do the first thing, you know, reverse privatization and blah, blah, blah, and then you have this other thing. We do all this stuff at the same time and it all works toward the same end, you know. If we can – if we can win some of these climate battles, which may in a certain sense be easier to get people to focus on because, what do you know, you turn on the tap and no water comes out. Then we have a chance of, you know, winning some of those political battles.
>> What do you think building a broader movement means for the climate movement? Do you think the climate movement should be building coalitions with other movements? >> I think we are. I mean, that's what – I think if you're in New York this last, for the big climate march, it was great. I mean, it was, you know, this big representation of trade unionists, especially SCIU and the Nurses Union. It was completely cool. And the Transit Workers Unions, just, you know, out in force. It was great to see. The whole thing was largely – the New York thing was largely organized by the local environmental justice groups in New York, people like Eddie Batista and Elizabeth Young Pierre, and just real heroes who did a terrific job of getting it all together. And of course New York is like San Francisco, an incredibly diverse city. One of the things that was really beautiful was to see contingents of immigrants from many of the countries that have been hardest hit by climate change marching as blocks, you know, sort of bearing witness for people back home. This is a very different environmental movement than there used to be, which is good because it's a very different country than it used to be.
>> Thank you very, very much. >> Thank you all very much. [ Applause ] [ Music ].