Well-known environmental activist brings his optimism about the movement to Chico

Bill McKibben is an author, activist and speaker who believes that if enough people get involved, they can reverse climate change.

Bill McKibben is an author, activist and speaker who believes that if enough people get involved, they can reverse climate change.

Photo by Nancie Battaglia">Bill McKibben will speak Friday, June 5, 7:30 p.m., at the Chico Masonic Family Center. Tickets are $15, with a sliding scale for students and limited-income individuals—call 891-6424 for details.

When it comes to climate change, North State residents have good cause to feel bad. A half-decade of drought conditions can turn even the most ardent optimist into a pessimist. Meanwhile, headlines continue to convey troubling news about the environment.

Sustainability-minded Chicoans have heard this topic addressed by visiting experts—notably Guy McPherson, described in a CN&R headline as “Bad-news bearer” for his stark views on Earth’s future, which he shared in November.

KZFR and the Butte Environmental Council hope to shine a ray of light into the dark picture with the appearance of">Bill McKibben. An acclaimed author and environmental activist, McKibben will speak tomorrow night (June 5) at the Chico Masonic Family Center.

Stephen Tchudi, who co-hosts the KZFR radio program “">Ecotopia” with wife Susan, has talked with both speakers. On McPherson, Tchudi quipped: “We were depressed for a week after finishing the interview.” On McKibben, he said: “I think Bill has probably a more balanced view on the science of climate change.

“McPherson has been accused of cherry-picking a little bit and working up the worst possible scenario,” Tchudi continued. “I think Bill still has high hopes that if enough people care about it—march, demonstrate—that we really can make a change, reverse the trend.”

That ability to turn the tide is central to “">Ecotopia” and other KZFR shows, as well as BEC and other local organizations that will greet attendees when doors open at 6 p.m. (McKibben speaks at 7:30.) Those dozen groups include the Sacramento River Preservation Trust and the CSU Student Sustainability Coalition.

“People really do say, ‘Look at the changes that have taken place,’” Tchudi relayed. “It may not be enough, but it’s clear that there’s a global movement of people concerned about solar, about nuclear, about everything from local foods to transportation and oil issues. There’s just a lot more awareness than there used to be.

“There’s still the question of whether it will be soon enough, quick enough. But I think he [McKibben] is among the hard-working optimists.”

He’s definitely well-traveled. Reached via email, McKibben wrote that the Chico talk is sandwiched by “a big religious environmental conference in Pomona” tonight (June 4) and “a huge rally opposing tar sands pipelines in Minneapolis” Saturday afternoon (June 6).

His presentation here will be distinct from the others—“less religious, less Midwestern”—but with the action orientation to which Tchudi alluded. McKibben will offer some specific solutions while motivating participants to seek their own paths.

“I want to bring people up to date on where we are in the fight against climate change, and hopefully inspire them to get involved—or, more likely, stay involved,” he said. “California’s drought provides, I fear, a backdrop.”

McKibben’s appearance began with KZFR general manager Rick Anderson, who according to Tchudi “has had that on his agenda for a long time” and made a series of inquiries before he “got a bite” in November. The community radio station booked him, then formed a partnership with BEC to co-sponsor the event, which will serve as a fundraiser for both.

KZFR and BEC agreed to pay a $1,000 honorarium to, the international climate campaign co-founded by McKibben.

“He can command big speaker fees, but he’s not being enriched in any way by this,” Tchudi said.

So, why did he accept the Chico invitation?

McKibben answered with three reasons:

1) “I am a huge public radio fan, and have been writing about it forever—it’s kind of a sideline of mine.” (He co-created">Transom, a site dedicated to developing new public radio.)

2) “I also write about beer for fun—I was in Chico probably 30 years ago doing one of the very first big pieces about microbreweries, and I visited a little place called Sierra Nevada in an industrial park on the edge of town. I hear it’s gotten a little bigger.”

3) “Chico State divested from fossil fuels, and I wanted to say thank you.”

The organizers are thrilled to have him, and while they would like to raise funds, they’re more concerned about raising awareness. 

“Rick Anderson decided from the get-go that we would price our tickets low [$15] to get as many people to come as possible,” Tchudi said. “It’s not a big money-making event for us, either.

“He’s really the biggest name in the environmental movement. He’s got just great skill in getting out the word…. He’s just out there; everybody knows his work. And he’s not only been successful with his own writing, but also organizing international demonstrations and protest days.”

An environmentalist affiliated with Middlebury College in Vermont, McKibben has authored a dozen books and myriad articles; his best-known work is The End of Nature, his 1989 book that has been translated into 24 languages. Honors include the Right Livelihood Prize (aka “the alternative Nobel”), the Gandhi Prize and the Thomas Merton Prize.

Asked what he wants people to take away from his talk, McKibben simply said: “An understanding that if they’re in this fight they have lots of brothers and sisters around the world.”