McKibben Encourages Action

McKibben Encourages Action


Author Bill McKibben encourages people to take action

By Erin Vander Weele of Media Milwaukee

Posted: April 19th, 2010


One Iraqi woman stood alone holding a sign last October. She wrote the number 350 on poster paper, and took a picture. The sign was simple, but it had a message.


There are still people who do not know what the number means, but to others it is a symbol of change. The number 350, in parts per million, is the number scientists discovered as the safe limit for carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.


Author and environmentalist, Bill McKibben, is founder of a climate campaign called He gave a public talk at the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee last Friday to encourage people to help spread the word about climate change this fall.


McKibben began by briefly talking about how our climate has changed since his first book The End of Nature was published 21 years ago.  He said that even a slight temperature change of one degree has had damaging effects.

For a good portion of the public talk, McKibben showed the audience pictures that he received from all over the world on October 24, 2009. That was the day his campaign planned for communities across the globe to display the number 350.  

“This was the smallest demonstration,” McKibben said as he showed the photo of the Iraqi woman. “One woman absolutely determined.”

The event took place at the Urban Ecology Center at 1500 E. Park Place in Milwaukee.  The event was part of Wisconsin’s Making It Home Film Festivals. This was the third of four series of the festivals which started in Baraboo, Wisconsin in March.

McKibben is an author who used to write for the New Yorker and has written several books, including his newest, “Earth”. He organized the 350 International Day of Climate Action which CNN describes as “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.”

The Wisconsin Humanities Council and Milwaukee Film sponsored the weekend events.  About 150 people registered for the McKibben event, according to Dena Wortzel, Wisconsin Humanities Council director. A community conversation and a book signing followed the public talk.

Wortzelsaid that the Making it Home Festivals “aim to bring communities together,” and that McKibben “challenges us to understand the changes that we brought.”

McKibben’s talk focused on what needs to be done to help our environment. He said communities have been pushing change by doing acts such as growing gardens and planting trees. However, he has found that there needs to be more done.

“We have to figure out how to work as a globe,” McKibben said, adding, “all the things that you may have heard about environmentalists only being affluent white people are nonsense.”

McKibben explained that he wanted communities to send a global message about climate change.

 “Arabic numerals are the one thing that cross globally,” he said.

McKibben showed pictures from countries such as China, Africa, and Iraq. 

The majority of pictures showed groups of people gathered together somehow displaying the number 350. Some were simple signs drawn with marker, while others were creatively arranged using flowers, lights, or sandbags from American soldiers in Afghanistan.

“Most came from places we never even heard of,” said McKibben, “many from really poor places.”

Audience member Jozef Bieniek, age 61, realized that more people need to get involved to make an impact.

"This last winter was the warmest on record,” Bieniek said. "We're talking about a change in society.”

The Next Day of Action

Once McKibben was done speaking, he offered to answer questions from the audience.

“We need to put a price on carbon and find a way to do it without bankrupting people,” McKibben responded to one question regarding the future, and jokingly added, “people need to realize a military vehicle is not necessary to go to the grocery store.”

After McKibben’s presentation, the audience gathered to relax and talk about the event. People of all ages were scattered around the room interacting with each other.

“Bill does a really good job of encouraging people to talk to one another about things they care about,” Wortzel said.

McKibben is organizing another day of action for October 10, 2010. He said this year people will be put to work by putting up solar panels, digging gardens, or doing anything that contributes to the environment.

“People have already said that they’ve organized a bunch of actions for our next big 350 thing on October 10 of this year” McKibben said. “So hopefully we’ll see a lot of great pictures from Milwaukee when that happens.”

Making It Home

McKibben’s visit was part of a larger event called the Making It Home Festival.

The events for the festival took place in Milwaukee on April 16-18. The festivals were held in four Wisconsin locations:

·         Baraboo

·         Dodgeville

·         Milwaukee

·         Chaquamegon Bay.

 “I was really excited that Bill McKibben was able to be here to help kick off this Making It Home Film festival,” Wortzel said. “My goal was to start a conversation with the audience about what it is that we care about between the environment and our community and Bill has a particular perspective on that.”

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