350.org’s Bill McKibben on People’s Climate March: “Weekends Are for Fighting Tyranny”

To mark the 100th day of Donald Trump’s presidency, thousands of climate activists from around the country are converging in Washington, DC on Saturday for the People’s Climate March. Already, Trump has threatened to pull the US out of the Paris climate accord, begun dismantling President Obama’s climate legacy and revived the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. He has also put climate change deniers in charge of several key agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, and proposed slashing the budget of the EPA and other climate programs. This comes as scientists have confirmed 2016 was the warmest year on record. Our guest is Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, who helped organize this latest march and notes: “Weekends are for fighting tyranny.”


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. To mark the 100th day of Donald Trump’s presidency, thousands if not tens or hundreds of thousands of climate activists from around the country are converging on Washington, DC, Saturday for the People’s Climate March. Over the past 100 days, Trump has threatened to pull the US out of the Paris climate accord, begun dismantling President Obama’s climate legacy, and revived the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Trump has also put climate change deniers in charge of several key agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, and proposed slashing the budget of the EPA and other climate programs. This comes as scientists have confirmed 2016 was the warmest year on record and that the amount of carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere is now at a new high, recently topping 410 parts per million for the first time in human history. Ahead of Saturday’s march, organizers of the People’s Climate March recently released this short video.

UNKNOWN: From Boston down to Florida, all the way from the Arctic, all the way from the Gulf, frontline communities, standing side-by-side, refusing to give in.

UNKNOWN: Climate change has happened. Climate catastrophe is a reality. We are dying.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I’m not a big believer in man-made climate change.

UNKNOWN: President Trump has now signed orders saying construction can resume…

UNKNOWN: …almost a 30 percent in the EPA [unintelligible]…

UNKNOWN: Trump’s administration orders a media blackout.

UNKNOWN: We tell them, no more.

[group chanting] No bans, no walls. No bans…

UNKNOWN: We hear the ancestors telling us, it’s time for us to do something greater than anything our brain ever thought was possible.

*UNKNOWN: This is the greatest uniting of bases of movements and of people that we’ve seen in the country in a very long time.

UNKNOWN: We will stand with those who are at the front.

UNKNOWN: Our oceans are not for sale to the highest oil and gas bidder.

[group chanting] Keep it in the ground! Keep it in the ground!

UNKNOWN: It’s about public health. It’s about jobs. It is about justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, activities are already underway in Washington, DC, ahead of Saturday’s People’s Climate March. Thursday night, indigenous activists took over the intersection outside Trump International Hotel, shut it down by performing a round dance. This is Indigenous Environmental Network organizer Joye Braun.

JOYE BRAUN: What do you do when your earth is under attack?

“JOYE BRAUN AND CROWD:* Stand up, fight back!

JOYE BRAUN: What do you do when your mother is under attack?

“JOYE BRAUN AND CROWD:* Stand up, fight back!

JOYE BRAUN: What do you do when the water is under attack?

“JOYE BRAUN AND CROWD:* Stand up, fight back!

CROWD: [cheering]

JOYE BRAUN: It doesn’t matter what Trump does. Because in the end, we are going to still be standing. In the end, no matter what he tries to put through up there on the Hill, we’re going to overturn it. You have to have faith.

AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now! will broadcast five hours of live coverage from the Climate March Saturday beginning 10:00 a.m. Eastern time. You can go to our website, “Democracynow.org” to tune in. But for more, we’re going to Washington, DC, where we are joined by Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org. Usually here up in Vermont, at Middlebury College, where we were yesterday, but now in Washington for the Climate March. Bill, can you talk about, what are the plans?

BILL MCKIBBEN: Sure. Normally, Amy, I would rather be there in Vermont with you. But I got to say, Washington is pretty exciting right now. That round dance last night was amazing. And at the same time, or just before, there was a big party at the Hip Hop Caucus headquarters where Dr. Beverly Wright, the environmental justice pioneer, was honored and so was the great singer Antonique Smith. This town is starting to buzz. Saturday is going to be — Saturday is going to be intense, in part because they’re forecasting the hottest April 29 on record for Washington, DC It will be beautiful weather, but, please, bring a water bottle and some sunscreen and wear a hat. It can say something clever on it, but make sure it’s on top of your head. It’s going to be a remarkable day as people march and as people surround the White House and then sit down for a while. I guess people are saying it is going to be one of the biggest sit-downs if not one sit-ins, in the history of the nation’s capital. The message is, “We’re noticing.” We are well aware of what Trump has done in his first 100 days. And people are organized all over the place to fight back.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about who is organizing this mass assembly and why you’re doing it now.

BILL MCKIBBEN: [laugh] Well, not me, in the first place. There’s hundreds of groups involved in this organizing. And they run the whole spectrum. In the lead, as usual, the environmental justice groups, indigenous groups, the people who have really been leading this fight from the start. A really big addition this time around is large, large participation by the labor movement. You know, people have tried to make out there is a split between environmentalism and labor over the years. And if that was ever true, it becomes less so all the time. Groups like SEIU and the nurses and the transportation workers and everybody just flooding in for this fight.

It is going to be — well, it is going to be not carried out in the hope that we can convince Donald Trump to do something different. We can’t. And the GOP in Congress, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the fossil fuel industry, isn’t going to do anything, either. We’re well aware of that. What we are doing is laying down the most serious of markers about the future. And one of the numbers that will be on everybody’s lips is 100, as in 100 percent renewable energy.

Yesterday, I stood with Jeff Merkley, the senator from Oregon, and Bernie Sanders, who I think may come from the very state you are in today. And they put forward really a landmark piece of legislation. For the first time, they said we need 100 percent renewable energy. Not, “We need some solar panels and we need some fracking wells.” Not the all of the above energy policy that the Obama administration favored. Instead, finally saying, we are ready to go, 100 percent. The technology is clearly there. The price of a solar panel keeps plummeting, which is why it is so absurd to watch Donald Trump try to somehow revive the expensive and dirty coal industry. We are ready to go, and now we have got I think what is going to be the flag around which progressives rally. Nothing less than 100 percent will do.

AMY GOODMAN: A new Washington Post article is headlined “The company behind the Dakota Access pipeline is in another controversy.” It details how Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, has now twice spilled drilling fluids in Ohio wetlands this month while constructing the $4.2 billion gas pipeline, the Rover pipeline, which is slated to stretch from Appalachia to Ontario, Canada. One of the spills included two million gallons of drilling fluid. Bill McKibben, your response?

BILL MCKIBBEN: I guess I can’t say that it comes as an enormous surprise, Amy. Look, there have been — from the — any pipeline company you look at — TransCanada or Energy Transfer Partners — they all have a long list of these kind of spills. Some of them a few thousand gallons, some a few hundred thousand gallons. That’s precisely why people at Standing Rock were so right to say, “Do not put this across our water supply. We know what will happen. We do not know the day that it will happen, but we know that it will happen.”

And that’s why people are standing up again to fight the Keystone pipeline in Nebraska and South Dakota and Montana. Everyone is well aware of what this industry is about. It engages not only in those kind of practices, polluting people’s water, but it has polluted our political life now for a quarter century.

One of the really powerful things that’s going on in this country right now is watching attorney generals like Eric Schneiderman in New York and Maura Healey in Massachusetts take on the oil companies that systematically have lied. Exxon is mainly in the crosshairs right now. That have systematically lied for a quarter century. And those cases are advancing. A New York judge has taken the Exxon case under her wing now and I think we are going to see remarkable disclosures about all of the things that they knew all along.

AMY GOODMAN: The significance of 410 parts per million. I mean, your group is called 350.org, based on 350 parts per million.

BILL MCKIBBEN: So, anything greater than 350 parts per million is more than the planet can safely deal with. It is what’s overwhelming our climate system. Because as you say, we’ve been going up about three parts per million per year. And two days ago, for the first time in we think at least 5 million years, the planet broached the 410 parts per million level. Now, it will go down for a while and then back up. And eventually, we will always be above 410, and then above 420, and above 430. We just keep pouring more carbon into the atmosphere. And the toll it is taking is now not some future or abstract threat. It’s what happens every day.

The latest numbers we have for March, they showed that March was the fourth warmest month that we have records on, dating back to the 1880s, and the warmest month in a non-El Niño period. That is to say, we’re kind of in a permanent El Niño now. The temperature is always elevated. March saw record lows for the date in global sea ice. That’s really, really scary. We are melting some of the biggest physical features on our earth.

But it is not just remote places. Pakistan, which is always a pretty hot place, crushed all its heat records a couple of weeks ago. It was 122 degrees in April. Up in Siberia, this year’s massive, massive wildfires began in April. These are not good signs. Not at all. Not for billions of people on this earth who are living close to the edge.

I think the place maybe to watch with the greatest worry right at the moment, and to try to help the most, may be those parts of Africa around Somalia that are enduring a climate-caused and really record-breaking drought. The Times said not long ago that it may be the greatest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. And of course, where humanitarian crises happen, so do political instability.

This is the world that we’re building and building fast. And it’s the world that people are trying somehow to slow down. That’s what this march on Saturday is about. That’s what this bill introduced yesterday by Merkley and Sanders are about. We’re looking for the cracks in the Death Star. Trying very hard to bring down this fossil fuel machine before it does any more damage.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, President Donald Trump is set to sign an executive order today that would further expand offshore oil drilling in the Pacific, the Atlantic, and Arctic oceans. And President Trump also ordered this week a review of national monuments, potentially opening up millions of acres of public lands to drilling, mining, and logging. Trump said Wednesday his executive order was aimed at reversing Obama’s use of the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect federal land from development. The significance of these executive orders? Will he be able to move forward and do this?

BILL MCKIBBEN: He will be able to do some of it. I mean here, they spent part of the week talking about how they’re going to be trying to do more drilling for oil and gas in national parks. I mean, who wants to go look at Old Faithful when you can see a derrick pumping up and down someplace? Look, they’re doing everything they can on the Koch Brothers fossil fuel industry wish list. These guys have waited a long time for absolute power. They’ve got it. They are making the most of it.

The only piece of good news is it’s incredibly unpopular. Of all the unpopular things that Trump is doing, the polling shows that the one that’s most out of whack with Americans’ opinions are these attacks on the environment. And it means, too, that people are going to have to start stepping up a little bit in other places.

I noted this week that after an amazing six-year campaign by students and faculty and alumni, Harvard University, the richest and most famous educational institution on the planet, more or less announced that it was divesting from fossil fuel. Now it didn’t use those words because it would be too embarrassing, I guess, for it to back down on its strident position against divestment. But its investment managers said, “We’ve put a pause on fossil fuel investments, and we don’t think we will ever resume.”

I think one of the things that’s happening is that people are realizing that they can’t pass the buck to the government because the government, at least as far it comes to environmental protection, doesn’t exist. That they’re going to have to bite the bullet a little bit themselves. Look, there are no silver linings to Trumpism. This is an unmitigated disaster. But let’s hope that at least it helps people find their courage in this resistance. Saturday will be another episode in this ongoing saga of citizens stepping up. Citizenship has been out of fashion for some decades in our country, but now it is back in fashion. Weekends are for fighting tyranny. And that’s why it’s going to be really fun to see Democracy Now! and everybody else out on the Mall on Saturday.

AMY GOODMAN: Why does marching matter, in this last 30 seconds? And are these marches happening around the country?

BILL MCKIBBEN: Marches all over the country. They matter. It is a beautiful week of action. It began with the scientists marching last week, and marching about facts. And now it’s all the rest of us who aren’t scientists, but who can take those facts and use them to turn into action. That’s what we are marching for. The action’s not going to come in the short run from DC But we need to come together once in a while from all our work out in the world, fighting every pipeline and coal mine and backing every solar panel and windmill. We need to come together sometimes and show our strength, so that the Trump administration at its 100th day is under no illusions that people are somehow in a fog. We know absolutely what this guy is doing, and boy, are we pissed off about it.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, thank you for being with us. Co-founder of 350.org. And that does it for our broadcast. We will be out on Saturday broadcasting five hours from the People’s Climate March starting at 10:00 a.m. Eastern standard Time. On Saturday night, I’ll be speaking at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, and on Sunday at Busboys and Poets. Then it’s on to Durham, North Carolina. On Monday night, I’ll be speaking at the Eno River Unitarian church at 7:00. On Tuesday, 6:30, I’ll be speaking at the Coral Gables Congregational Church in Miami. On Wednesday at 7:30 in United Methodist Church in Tampa. And beyond, check our website, democracynow.org. Thanks so much.