Climate experts size up hope for the future

MIDDLEBURY — Last Monday, just days after launching his new book, “Falter,” then joining climate justice activists for the first leg of the 65-mile Next Steps Climate Solutions walk, Ripton author and 350.org founder Bill McKibben returned to Middlebury College to participate in a panel on the ethics of climate change.
Joining McKibben were British philosopher Rupert Read and climate scientist (and lead coauthor of the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report) Kim Cobb.
The panelists were asked to consider the following questions:
•What are the responsibilities of those who know about the extent of the threat?
•Are they obligated to trumpet it at every opportunity, and/or massively alter their normal mode of living?
•How does one manage the anxiety and despair that attends an understanding of the bleakness of the science?
•How do we address not just scientific denial but emotional disavowal of climate reality?
Read opened by speaking directly to students:
“Your so-called leaders have failed you,” he told them. “Your parents, I’m sure, mean well but they and their generation have failed you. Your teachers, despite their best intentions, have failed you. And we, despite our best endeavors … have failed you. We’ve failed you because we are sending you naked and unprepared into a deteriorating future.”
Cobb, on the other hand, offered more hopeful remarks, which were delivered via video stream. She spoke of an awakening of sorts after the environmental devastation she witnessed from Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean, followed by her disappointment with the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
She said she’s since committed to aligning every aspect of her life with climate solutions. Part of that commitment involves equipping her students at the Georgia Institute of Technology with the skills to fight and adapt to climate change.
“I have confidence that young people will fix this,” she said. “I’ve never been happier or more hopeful.”
McKibben, who 30 years ago published “The End of Nature,” the first book about climate change aimed at a wide audience, acknowledged he’s “been uncheerful about our situation for a long time.”
At times he agreed with Read:
“Rupert is exactly right when he tells us we’re in very, very deep trouble,” he said.
But, like Cobb, he felt heartened by a continued upsurge in activism around the planet.
“I’m very encouraged by Extinction Rebellion in Europe,” he said. “I’m very encouraged by the young people who are fighting hard for a Green New Deal — most of them alumni from the campus divestment movement around this country. I’m maybe most encouraged of all by the extremely powerful moral leadership coming from Greta Thunberg and the people who have followed her in schools around the world now, disrupting ‘education as usual’ with the demand for real change.”
The climate movement is “pretty close to some kind of zeitgeist shift here,” he added.
Video footage of the entire presentation, which is well worth viewing, can be found on the Middlebury College Vimeo page: https://vimeo.com/329640801.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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