Grover and Bill

Is your dinner-table chat Norquist or McKibben?

Is your dinner-table chat Norquist or McKibben?

(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

There are two kinds of households in America today: ones in which Grover Norquist is a household name, and ones in which Bill McKibben is a household name.

Auntie Ruth can explain.

Norquist is the no-tax-pledge guy who stunned the world earlier this month when he told the National Journal that a carbon tax might be a possibility if it was swapped with cutting the income tax. Now that's some pretty nifty no-tax pledging going on there, Grover, but before a crack in the dike of conservatism could spring out—that's been one leaky wall as of late—the Koch-brothers-funded American Energy Alliance spanked Norquist and he reversed.

Norquist understands maybe better than most the power of fighting an opponent you can name, one you can point a finger at, draw a firm circle around.

Perhaps, just perhaps, McKibben is cut from the same cloth. His work on climate change has been clear-eyed and compelling for more years than most of us probably noticed.

These days, there is a burgeoning movement on Eastern college campuses demanding their administrations divest from fossil-fuel companies. McKibben, who it appears is playing the sacred role of village elder to the younger activists, is quick to compare this effort to the anti-apartheid divestment movement, a movement whose opponent was morally reprehensible and internationally dependent on corporate investment. It’s an apt comparison, apt and daunting.

“Environmentalists, understandably, have been loath to make the fossil-fuel industry their enemy,” McKibben told Rolling Stone in July. The hope had been that Exxon Mobil Corp. et al., would transform from fossil-fuel companies to energy companies, that institutions that powerful could play for our side.

And, oh well.

Don’t misunderstand—we’re all part of the problem, and we have our changes cut out for us. Reduce, reuse, recycle, repeat. But a movement is really what’s needed, and the seeds are in the ground, the trowel is right here: There you’ll find the three little numbers that McKibben and the students are building their movement around—350—a little bit of arithmetic that puts the climate crises in stark, even chilling, relief.

Actually, there are three kinds of households in America today, the third category being the majority of households in which neither Grover Norquist's nor Bill McKibben's name are tossed about with any frequency. But oh, goodness me, what do those households talk of over dinner?