By Paul McDermott ’18

A Q&A with a Student Environmental Supporter and Renowned Environmentalist Bill McKibben.

Journalist, activist and professor Bill McKibben’s book, “The End of Nature,” is considered to be the first book about climate change that was written for general audiences. Its message has been translated into 24 languages.

The founder of, he has worked around the world with grassroots organizations to fight climate change and to work toward divesting from fossil fuels. He has received the Gandhi Peace Prize for his efforts.

McKibben is one of the most recognizable and visible climate activists in the world, says Dan DeZarn, Geneseo’s director of sustainability. “He has put himself on the line in his writing and research, as well as in direct action activism — including being arrested at protests — in opposition of fossil fuel proliferation.”

On Sept. 30, McKibben delivered the annual Walter Harding Lecture at Geneseo. Invited by the Department of English, McKibben also shares a mutual interest in Henry David Thoreau with the late Distinguished Teaching Professor of English Walter Harding, who was the world’s leading scholar on Thoreau and a founding member and past president of the Thoreau Society. McKibben wrote an annotated version of “Walden,” and acknowledged its “comprehensive and illuminating” predecessor, by Harding.

Paul McDermott ’18, president of the Geneseo Environmental Organization club and past member of Geneseo’s President’s Commission on Sustainability, asked him about the importance of his activism and speaking on college campuses.

Q: Why is it important to come to colleges and talk to students about environmental issues?

A: Because higher education is the one institution in our society that is devoted to thinking about the future.

Q: What is the first step to make a positive change in the environment? Can one person have an impact?

A: At this point, not as an individual. Climate change has gone too far to make individual action the most important path forward. Instead, we need individuals to join together in movements to press for the kind of sweeping change that has some chance of catching up with the math.

Q: Why are some politicians and scientists in disagreement about climate change?

A: Because some politicians have taken large sums of money from the fossil fuel industry.

Q: There has been extensive media coverage of environmental issues like the Dakota Access Pipeline and the water crisis in Flint, Mich. What are some other issues that the media may not be covering, but are also important?

A: It’s crucial to stop every new fossil fuel project, because if we build them, we’re locked in for the next 40 years. There are a lot of good fights in New York State, for instance, against new natural gas plants.

Q: What is the value of grassroots environmental organizations, such as local organizations and clubs?

A: Global warming is indeed global, but all of us live in particular places, so that is where we understand and act on these issues. As long as local groups are coordinated with others around the country so we can work together on crucial issues, then they can be very effective.

Q: How is climate change affecting our local area in Western New York, and what successes have environmentalists had in the local area?

A: It’s raining like crazy. Storms that dump more than 2 inches of rain have increased 70 percent across the region. That’s one of the reasons people fought so hard to stop fracking in New York. (McKibben has said fracking is a contributor to climate change, and warmer air holds more water and creates the potential for longer droughts and more severe rain events.)

Take Action

What We Need to Know The time for large-scale action against climate change is overdue, says Bill McKibben. Here are some the takeaways from his Walter Harding Lecture at Geneseo, which provided a perspective and discussion on the topic valued as part of a liberal arts education. McKibben says:

  • The United States in one of the last industrialized nations to address climate change as a global crisis, and push towards cleaner sources of energy. The administration’s decision to withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is one of several examples.
  • Through advancements in green technology, the United States can increasingly reduce its dependence on greenhouse gas-emitting sources of energy like coal, petroleum and natural gas. For example, 35 percent of Germany’s power was produced by renewable energy in the first half of 2017. The United States has the technology, “and yet, we are resistant.”
  • Climate change is an international issue. If we, as a species, are serious about fighting its effects, everyone must do their part.