McKibben Versus Hedges’ Clash of Worldviews: How Do We Solve the Environmental Crisis?

Yes! Magazine and TruthDig, via Alternet and OCA

Bill McKibben believes we must reduce our carbon emissions immediately, or else face disaster. Chris Hedges says that until we defeat corporate power, we can’t address anything.

Editor’s Note: The following two articles below by Bill McKibben and Chris Hedges illustrate a key point of debate in thinking about how to solve our environmental crisis. Environmental activist and writer McKibben, in YES! Magazine on October 15, writes that we can’t let the atmosphere contain more than 350 million parts per million of carbon dioxide, or else face total environmental catastrophe, problem being that we’ve already passed this number. He’s helped organize a day of action on October 24 to push and make it happen. Chris Hedges’ response in TruthDig channels the radical thinking of Derek Jensen and argues that there is no possible way to address the release of carbon dioxide without addressing the way industrial society without addressing corporate power: “The reason the ecosystem is dying is not because we still have a dryer in our basement. It is because corporations look at everything, from human beings to the natural environment, as exploitable commodities. It is because consumption is the engine of corporate profits.” A very important debate, arguably on potentially the most important issue of our lives —

350: The Most Important Number in the World

by Bill McKibben, YES! Magazine

From Mt. Everest to the Maldives, people worldwide are turning an arcane number into a movement for a stable climate. Bill McKibben asks: Will you join them?

Let’s say you occasionally despair for the future of the planet. In that case, the place you need to be this week is the website for

Every few minutes, something new arrives at our headquarters, where young people hunched over laptops do their best to keep up with the pace. News that activists in Afghanistan-Afghanistan-have organized a rally for our big day of action on October 24. They’ll assemble on a hillside 20 kilometers from Kabul to write a huge message in the sand: “Let Us Live: 350.” more→


I have been saying since 1991, before the first Gulf War, that if Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Cesar Chavez were to miraculously return today and assess the environmental/corporate/military crises confronting us today, the first thing all of them would say to the leaders of various movements to make things better (and they would say this in their first minute or two of looking around), is “Where are your boycott components?”

That’s how I began the hundreds of letters I sent and calls I made as I tried and tried and tried for years and years to get any political action group or environmental organization, large or small, to start a boycott of Chevron. I was occasionally told there already was a boycott of Exxon, which was a total joke (and probably started by the oil companies to dupe naive environmentalists) because Exxon, unlike Chevron, makes only a small fraction of their profits pumping gas in America. Be that as it may, nobody wanted to even entertain the idea of a boycott. Of any oil company. Why not? I finally came to the conclusion that people thought Chevron was a synonym for gasoline, and on some not very subliminal level they thought I was suggesting we stop driving our cars. Heaven forbid.

So now we’ve got Jensen and Hedges continuing to make the following maddening statistical blunder that renders their arguments plain silly. They say, “Municipalities and individuals use 10 percent of the nation’s water while the other 90 percent is consumed by agriculture and industry. Individual consumption of energy accounts for about a quarter of all energy consumption; the other 75 percent is consumed by corporations.” Hold on, guys. Who do you think is eating and buying all those agricultural and industrial products? Go on, take a guess. Right. Individuals.

My point is that there are proven ways for people to take effective action as individuals and as groups that can have immediate and powerful impacts on the current economic system. If we could mount a serious boycott of health insurance providers we’d have Single Payer tomorrow. If we can successfully boycott one gigantic earth-killing corporation, it will make an enormous difference. I have been baffled for twenty years by the reluctance of otherwise seeming socially conscious people, many of whom experienced the power of King’s and Chavez’s boycotts firsthand, to institute and diligently pursue one or two easy-to-remember boycotts as a foundational part of any meaningful resistance and change.

Creating and harnessing the collective power of millions of individually not very powerful people is the key to all successful social movements. Why not apply the same principles to saving the earth? And by the way, who was it that led the American scuttling of the Kyoto Protocol? Al Somebody?

Why does everything devolve into a “debate”? They’re both right – the climate is spinning out of control, and the Corporate Model is dehumanizing, exploitative and ultimately doomed to failure. There’s plenty for everyone – pick your cause and get busy.