By Bonnie Sigwalt, MBA Candidate, Marlboro College Graduate School

Blogging from the Ending Keynote Speaker Bill McKibben, author, educator and activist: “The Slow Living Paradigm for Local Agriculture, Local Economies, and Sustainable Energy”.

   Bill McKibben is known by many as the best environmental journalist and author of our day. Currently a Scholar-in-Residence at Middlebury College, his latest books ‘Deep Economy’ and ‘Eaarth’ articulate many of the ideas embodied by this week’s Slow Living Summit.  It is at Middlebury where he and a handful of students founded 350.org, the organization created to call the world to swift action to lower carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to below 350 parts per million (what some scientists, such as NASA’s James Hansen, say is a safe upper limit).

   Wearing a 350.org t-shirt, Bill began his address by showing how far we have come so quickly.  It was only 10 years ago when Middlebury taught ‘Local Food Production’, the first of its kind in the country, but there was really nothing to assign students as far as reading was concerned (barring 20 years or so of Wendell Berry, that is!).  Now you cannot really graduate without having read Michael Pollan in at least two or three classes and we are now graduating students who have spent thousands of dollars on their education who want to grow garlic somewhere…  Bill also wrote an article about eating nothing but food from the Champlain Valley and two or three years later ‘locavore’ was the word of the year and the number of small scale farms is growing and growing.  We are changing the world in profound and beautiful ways in a whole new spirit requiring a lot, not a little, in farming communities around the world.

   As Bill stated, he would not be ‘fulfilling his destiny if he did not bring some gloom’ and proceeded to talk about the trouble we are in at the global scale.  He asked the question, “Do we continue to make progress locally or not?”  It is crucial how the local and the global scales intersect and we did not realize that the drastic changes happen at the global scale (e.g., record temperatures, flooding, drought, more powerful storms) impact the local scale.  Planting is being delayed or destroyed, years of local development is being washed away in a matter of minutes, and the price of food (most felt in developing nations) is on the rise causing a few million people to eat less tonight because of it.

   The main point Bill wanted to get across is the fact that, so far, we have increased the temperature of the planet by one degree and some climatologists say that by the end of the century, we may see a four or five degree rise.   If one degree is enough to melt the Arctic (and cause all of the aforementioned climate-related havoc), then we really do not want to see what four or five degrees will do.  Those of you who are committed to the future, must be able to work both at the Local level and the Global level.  You can build all of the resilient local systems you want in the form of farms, farmer’s markets, restaurants, Co-ops, etc., but if it rains 30 days in a row, or doesn’t rain 30 days in a row, you are not going to grow anything. All of your local efforts will be for naught.

   After 350.org’s successfull initial campaign in October 2009 which spawned global response, and last year’s even more successful 10-10-10 event showing that it is not just rich white people with nothing else to do being active to raise awareness, Bill stated three more ways this year you can get involved and act:
  1. Mark your calendars for September 24th, 2011… “Moving Planet” focuses on how we get around, mostly on bicycles. Bicycles are one of the few tools used by both the rich and the poor.
  2. Take on the US Chamber of Commerce by getting your local businesses and local Chambers of Commerce to state “The US Chamber of Commerce does not speak for me.” The US Chamber claims it represents US businesses, but supposedly 55% of their funding came from only undisclosed 16 companies. They also filed a petition with the EPA asking them to reconsider their position on the regulation of Greenhouse Gas emissions under the Clean Air Act namely because of its negative impact on jobs and the US economy.
  3. Go to climatedirectaction.org to keep up-to-date on a huge new project called the Keystone Pipeline connecting Canada to Texas with crude oil, namely from Alberta’s oil sands. If we were to burn all of the sludge from the oil sands, our current 394 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 would become 600 ppm.
   One of the last things that Bill brought up in his talk that resonated with a number of audience members was that fact that it is not only college kids that should be active in the above efforts, but it is Bill’s contemporaries and the over-40 crowd that should be rolling up its sleeves and get in there to work both at the Local and the Global levels to raise awareness on CO2 levels in the atmosphere and how to lower them.

   Local economies provide the absolute vision of how we as human beings and all living things would be able to flourish on this planet forever, we just have to get over this 350 ppm hump by working at the global level too.  Thanks for the inspriration, Bill!   Let’s get to work.