And breaks down clearly the challenge of arresting climate change before it hits a catastrophic tipping point. He knows the Republicans are hopeless, but he hopes that the Democrats can “evolve” on climate change faster than they did on gay rights and marriage:
Unlike gay rights or similar issues of basic human justice and fairness, climate change comes with a time limit. Go past a certain point, and we may no longer be able to affect the outcome in ways that will prevent long-term global catastrophe. We’re clearly nearing that limit and so the essential cowardice of too many Democrats is becoming an ever more fundamental problem that needs to be faced. We lack the decades needed for their positions to “evolve” along with the polling numbers. What we need, desperately, is for them to pitch in and help lead the transition in public opinion and public policy.
He doesn’t have much hope that they will, though, which is why his thinking leads him back to the necessity for a powerful citizens movement to change the culture and change politics:
And so, as I turn this problem over and over in my head, I keep coming to the same conclusion: we probably need to think, most of the time, about how to change the country, not the Democrats. If we build a movement strong enough to transform the national mood, then perhaps the trembling leaders of the Democrats will eventually follow. I mean, “evolve”. At which point we’ll get an end to things like the Keystone pipeline, and maybe even a price on carbon. That seems to be the lesson of Stonewall and of Selma. The movement is what matters; the Democrats are, at best, the eventual vehicle for closing the deal.
The closest thing I’ve got to a guru on American politics is my senator, Bernie Sanders. He deals with the Democrat problem all the time. He’s an independent, but he caucuses with them, which means he’s locked in the same weird dance as the rest of us working for real change.
A few weeks ago, I gave the keynote address at a global warming summit he convened in Vermont’s state capital, and afterwards I confessed to him my perplexity. “I can’t think of anything we can do except keep trying to build a big movement,” I said. “A movement vast enough to scare or hearten the weak-kneed.”
“There’s nothing else that’s ever going to do it,” he replied.
McKibben makes a key point. The challenge of climate warming (along with the ongoing destruction of the environment) is not a challenge that allows for decades of slow and incremental change. These are not ordinary times. These are times that call for revolutions in the way we think and act.
I am constantly struck by the fact that previous generations were in the streets to protest and decry injustice and immorality. Yet out streets are quiet. Hopefully, that will change because the times demand bold thinking and bold action. Nothing less will pass moral muster when the history of this epoch is judged (and hopefully not lamented).