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Bill McKibben and Climate Scientists in Boulder: A Critical Report

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Why are we losing the war against climate change? Because Americans are, more and more, merely preaching to our respective choirs.

I had a depressing moment, last weekend.

Saturday morning, I (biked) up to Boulder's historic Chautauqua to interview Bill McKibben, the man who was the first to write about this new thing called "Global Warming" back in the 80s, who was on Colbert last month, and whom I've had the honor to interview twice before.

30 years have passed since McKibben wrote his best-selling End of Nature. And things have only gotten much worse, scientifically-speaking, since the 80s. Back then, our earth's atmosphere's carbon levels were well below 350 parts per billion, globally. Now, we're at 387, and rising steadily.

I walked into the historic Chautauqua auditorium, where there's maybe 1,000 seats, and only about 200 of 'em were full.

It was the old Boulder tribe, out in force. They reminded me of an aging, dying warrior clan in Tolkein or sumpin'--the noble, now-gray hippies that made Boulder the green, walk-the-talk place it is. Or was, until 89, and the Californians started moving here in droves, and our real estate boom was on.

There were a few token college kids, who the charming moderator made a point of calling on. Gotta bring the show ponies out for the old-timers (all the other green-minded young Boulderites musta been at New Belgium's Tour de Fat).

But what bothered me most wasn't that only maybe 200 had come out on a Saturday for a panel, including McKibben, of top-notch scientists, authors and professors (including the ancient, sweet, ever-youthful 90-year-old Al Bartlett).

When I walked in someone asked about how to convince people who didn't believe in climate change. All the speakers started saying self-righteous, stupid (to my mind) things about how the other people were self-righteous and stupid. It was like a liberal version of the partisan rancor in Washington, as symbolized by Joe Wilson's heckling the other day: you lie!

I waited for McKibben to answer, and I expected him--an idol of mine because he is, like Michael Pollan and Jon Stewart, a master communicator to the masses--to demur. But when he said you just have to walk off at some point and get active and change things anyway, I was disappointed. Didn't we try that us vs. them brand of aggressive activism in the 60s and 70s? And didn't Allen Ginsberg, one of the greatest and most prominent activists of that time, conclude that "aggression only feeds aggression."

The way to destroy your enemy, as Obama says, is to make them your friend. Adam Werbach is perhaps the leading example in my generation of such new tactics. The youngest president of The (storied) Sierra Club in history, at the tender age of 30, he later quit to go work for The Man. The Evil Empire itself: Wal-Mart.

And he changed them from within, with the help of many others.

Within a few years, CFLs were at eye-level, and incandescents were moved down to the bottom. Wal-Mart, while still far from perfect, now gets the gospel of green efficiency: it saves them money.

What bothered me is that Chautauqua's distinguished panel were, by and large, echoing their audience: dismissing, denigrating, making light of, those who "don't believe" in global warming (which we greenies prefer to call Climate Change or Global Weirding).

That's not the way to convince America of the urgency of taking a path of right action to reverse our self-destructive, inefficient, dependent-on-foreign-oil ways.

Only an hour before, preparing for my interview with Mr. McKibben, I had talked with my pa, who though not technically a Republican, leans conservative and supported President Reagan and Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. at least once. That said, he's an independent thinker, and well-read. He can outargue me most of the time.

I'd asked him what he thought about global warming/climate change. He offered that it didn't seem to be warming much of anything at all. In a curious case of (too much) respect for nature, he questioned whether "all us little ants" could really have an effect on the earth.

I replied that there's no way we couldn't, all put together, and that people knew the effect of even one car by turning it on and leaving the garage door closed ... ! (Not something I recommend, by the way). And our earth's atmosphere is like one huge garage. How could we be having an effect? That's just crazy. What are you talking about? Have you heard of pollution?

Fill it with kajillions of cars, you got a problem that might just snuff us all out, if you know about that 350 stuff.

But back to Chautauqua. All the heads were nodding. Everyone was loving being in agreement with everyone else. And there weren't too many everyones. It was depressing.

elephant's mission is not to merely preach to the choir. Our mission is not to be agreeable, not to have your support on everything we say and do. We prefer dialogue to solidarity. We want to spread the good word regarding "the mindful life" to all. Republicans, Democrats, fat, thin, old, young, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, agnostic, atheist, black, Latino, white, etc. That's why we're called elephant. Because though all us blind fools may think our way is the best way, when we open our minds and hearts we realize we're all grabbing onto the same thing.

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Waylon Lewis is the founder of elephantjournal.com and "Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis", an irreverent green talk show which airs monthly from Naropa University. To host Walk the Talk Show videos on your site free, email talkshow[at]elephantjournal[dot]com.

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