Commentary: "How Climate Change Kills History"

(Bill McKibben, — It's eight days to our global climate day of action and I'm just headed back from Nashville, where I spoke to the annual meeting of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. I feel like one of those candidates on the eve of the election, scrambling across the landscape to make sure they leave no vote ungot. But truth be told, I don't really know what I'm doing.

I'm an author turned part-time activist. Not out of desire—my bumper sticker should read "I'd rather be writing"—but out of frustration, and the sense that no one was really building a popular movement about climate change, and that it needed to be done. In this quest I've worked with a crew of young people, all recent college grads, and we've learned side by side about how to organize. Learned by experience, because there's really no guidebook (so we wrote one last year, Fight Global Warming Now).

One of the things we've learned: Look for allies in unlikely places. Global warming can't be a fight dominated by the environmental organizations. They're simply not big enough—they're scaled to defend the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, not take on ExxonMobil. So as we've built, we've focused hard on finding friends elsewhere—across the developing world, for example, in the kind of places that have never had a say in this question. The result: The day of action on October 24 will be the most widespread day of environmental activism ever, and quite possibly the most farflung day of action about any political issue the planet has ever seen. We're closing in on 170 countries. Practically the only ones left are incredibly small (San Marino) or incredibly impossible (North Korea).

Does it matter that, say, every country in Latin America is engaged, given that few of them will play a huge role at the Copenhagen conference? It does, I think—what we're trying to build is a global consensus about the science, trying to make 350 the most well-known number in the world. Consensus counts—it influences the options that the big players can credibly choose from.

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