By Kieran Cooke / Climate News Network

    Bill McKibben, speaking at an environmental protest, says civil action can help save the planet. (chesapeakeclimate via Flickr)

LONDON — Bill McKibben, the US environmentalist who is one of the world’s foremost authors and activists on issues of global warming, does not mince his words.

“We have to check the power of the fossil fuel industry,” he says. “It’s going to take an immense amount of work, but if we don’t win, then there won’t be any future.”

In an interview with Climate News Network, McKibben said that oil majors such as ExxonMobil and Shell show no signs of rethinking their policies or re-ordering their activities.

“They are digging deeper and choosing to ignore what’s going on,” he warned. “Recent work by investigative journalists shows that ExxonMobil knew all about climate change and its effects on the world 40 years ago.”

“If it had spoken out, maybe we wouldn’t be in the deep trouble we’re now in. It was prepared to keep the fossil fuel industry going, even at the risk of breaking the planet.”

Deep trouble

His 1988 book, The End of Nature, is considered to be the first major work on climate change written for a non-scientific, general audience, and has been translated into more than 20 languages.

“In terms of saving the planet from the impact of climate change, we are cutting it extraordinarily close,” McKibben says.

“We have an enormous battle on our hands — a battle that’s not going to be won at the UN but by civil society action.”

McKibben is one of the founding members of, a group started in 2008 to campaign around the world for action to tackle climate change.

The group, which seeks to persuade people and organisations to withdraw investments from the fossil fuel industry, was also one of the main groups behind protests against the Keystone XL pipeline.

“In terms of saving the planet from
the impact of climate change,
we are cutting it extraordinarily close”

The project planned to bring tar sands oil from Canada more than 1,000 miles to ports in the southern US. But late last year, a planning application for the pipeline was rejected by the US president, Barack Obama.

McKibben, interviewed by Climate News Network during a conference in Oxford, UK, organised by the environmental magazine Resurgence, told delegates that as more temperature records were broken — with 2015 being the hottest year on record — climate change is happening so much faster than anyone could have predicted.

We are entering a new, violent climate era, McKibben said. For example, in recent weeks there have immense wildfires in California, while on the other side of the US, there were unprecedented rainfall deluges and floods in Louisiana.

There is some good news, though. “We know what to do and how to do it — we can transform the energy infrastructure,” McKibben said.

Fossil fuel extraction

But he stressed that it can’t be done without breaking the political power of the vested interests who want to preserve the old order.

Battles against fossil fuel extraction and use are going on in every corner of the world, he said — highlighting action at present being taken by Native American people against an oil pipeline project in the states of North and South Dakota.

McKibben has been arrested several times for his activities against the fossil fuel industry, most recently during a protest earlier this year against a gas storage facility in New York state.

“You find yourself in jail — and it’s not the end of the world,” he says. “But it really will be the end of the world if we don’t win this battle.”

Kieran Cooke, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former foreign correspondent for the BBC and Financial Times. He now focuses on environmental issues.

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