Bill McKibben is my kind of activist. He's as modest and self-effacing as he is smart, an educated intellectual with a deep love and familiarity with nature.
In an interview with the Boston Globe, writer Barbara Moran described Bill as "tall and stooped, intensely wonky and hopelessly earnest… smart and savvy and understands politics and public opinion ... a rare combination of sophistication and sincerity".
Actually I admire those qualities in any kind of person. I'd like to see them demonstrated across the spectrum of politics and among our corporate leaders.
I am increasingly pervaded by a deep weariness when I think about the world; it's getting harder to get outraged. But I've been on a slow burn these past weeks as I watch the fossil fuel industry respond to the government's announcement to stop further exploration offshore for oil and gas.
Blindsided? Like hell they were. Without doubt, their highly paid PR executives had their strategies already written and ready to go.
When Bill McKibben last visited New Zealand in 2013 he was urging us to "do the maths".
The numbers are stark and the maths is not so complicated a CEO of an oil company couldn't understand it (they're good with numbers, right? They spend a lot of time looking at the bottom line, share prices, dividend forecasts, their six-figure performance bonuses …).
Here's a quick précis of Bill's talk:
First important number: Two. If the planet's temperature rises more than two degrees, we are completely stuffed (in fact, given the consequences we're seeing of a 0.9 degree increase, two degrees is probably too high).
Second important number: 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide. This is the approximate amount we can afford to release into the atmosphere and still have a hope of staying under two degrees average warming.
Third: 2795 gigatons. That's the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves. That means five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn, McKibben points out.
Does this need to be spelt out further? We can't afford to burn what is already known. The need to stop exploration for further oil and gas is blindingly obvious.
I am even more incensed by Simon Bridges swiftly reassuring National's corporate cronies: "We'll repeal this if elected in 2020."
It seems the Opposition haven't thought of anything more effective to distract the public from the disgrace that is Middlemore Hospital, with toxic mould and sewerage leaking into its walls after nine years of National's "prudent economic management" bled the health system until it is barely functioning.
Bridges might as well have been rattling the National Party money box — campaign donations here.
This Labour-NZ First-Greens combination is doing something to address the critical issues of our times, climate change first among them. The better it does at tackling the genuine roots of inequality, poverty, violence, drug epidemics, unhealthy housing, overstretched health services — gods, the list is so long — the more money business-as-usual will funnel into the National Party's coffers.
Just glance across the Pacific to see what corporate capture of government looks like. You can't avoid the lunacy and danger of the Trump administration even if you try to look away.
How could any sane person — one who loves their children's and grandchildren's future more than short and medium- term corporate profit — not support greater restrictions on electoral spending and donations?
The fossil fuel companies are not neutral players. The #Exxonknew campaign (exxonknew.org) says oil giant Exxon knew about climate change 50 years ago and that the company deceived the public, misled its shareholders, and robbed humanity of a generation's worth of time to reverse climate change.
McKibben is an unlikely hero and leader of a global movement who stepped up when he realised that writing about the problems we face was not bringing about change.
He founded 350.org and a distributed model for global protests, aiming "to hold leaders accountable to the realities of science and the principles of justice".
He was instrumental in delaying the Keystone XL pipeline that now, under Trump's patronage, will facilitate the disastrous tar sand mining in Alberta, Canada.
Lately the organisation is pursuing new strategies. It had a lot to do with the decision by the New York City government to sue the world's five largest publicly traded oil companies, seeking to hold them responsible for present and future damage to NYC from climate change. The City's pension fund tops $189 billion and it also committed to divest US five billion dollars of its funds from fossil fuel projects.
350.org is campaigning to cut off the social licence and financing for fossil fuels by a three-pronged effort — "divest, defund and desponsor".
Small grammatical crimes aside, this is a bold and wide-ranging action, and Bill McKibben is in New Zealand now, a stop on his global tour, where he'll talk about this campaign at public meetings in Auckland and Wellington.
Rather than travel to Wellington to hear him in person again, I've arranged for his talk to screen here in Whanganui. You can hear him in the comfort of the Confluence screening room on Tuesday, 7pm sharp.
Big thanks to Melita and Kevin Farley (of Double Farley) for the venue and tech wizardry. Please join me in applauding earnest sincerity.
*Rachel Rose is a writer, gardener, fermenter and fomenter.