The Indefatigable Bill McKibben | The Nation

Back in 1989, when most important political people were still dithering about carbon dioxide’s true effects on the planet, journalist and activist Bill McKibben published The End of Nature, a book that predicted that life as we knew it was about to change, catastrophically and irrevocably, unless radical action was taken. He was just 27 when he wrote that book. It’s not apparent that McKibben, now 61, has had many vacations since then. He’s the author of numerous other books and articles, the founder of the environmental organization, and the instigator of a new project, Third Act, which mobilizes older adults for progressive change, including on global warming.

Over his several decades writing about and organizing around climate change, McKibben has become a trusted source of insight on the crisis. Fluent in both the science and the politics of our dire situation, he can speak deftly on the latest climate legislation and render jargon-heavy scientific reports into real-world terms.

In his recent book, The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened, McKibben discusses his lifelong experience in the climate movement and the many disappointments it has weathered. In his introduction to a new edition of The End of Nature in 2005, he wrote, “I’ve spent every day since its publication praying that this book would be proved wrong. Those prayers have not been answered.” Yet in spite of all those disappointments, McKibben continues his noble toil.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

—Camille Baker

Camille Baker: I read somewhere that you’ve described your book as being “as close to a memoir as you’ll ever write.” Do I detect some resistance to the idea of writing a memoir there?

Bill McKibben: Yes—because I’ve had as average a life, in many ways, as is possible to imagine. As I pointed out in the beginning, I grew up halfway down something called Middle Street in the prototypical American suburb. So I’ve devoted my life to mostly telling other people’s stories, quite enjoyably. My happiest job ever was writing “The Talk of the Town” for The New Yorker, back in the days when it was all about people no one had ever heard of.

But I’ve really begun to understand in the last while that the current discontents and fractures in our society have at least some of their roots in that world that I grew up in. So its very normalcy began to seem more interesting to me. It was extraordinary to go back into my own life and find out that the world that I’d grown up in wasn’t quite what I had imagined. The beginning of the book was, in certain ways, the real revelation for me—the story that I told about the two events in my 10th year, one of which I knew about and the other I didn’t. It was fascinating to start thinking about all that.

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