Apr 23, 2020

Bill McKibben's Response to Planet of the Humans Documentary

By Bill McKibben / 350.org
Bill McKibben's Response to Planet of the Humans Documentary

A Youtube video emerged on Earth Day eve making charges about me and about 350.org — namely that I was a supporter of biomass energy, and that 350 and I were beholden to corporate funding, and have misled our supporters on the costs and trade-offs related to decarbonizing our economy. These things aren’t true. Apparently there are lots of other falsehoods and misrepresentations in the film as well, but I’ll let others speak to those.

Like the film-maker, I previously personally supported burning bio-mass as an alternative to fossil fuels—in my case, when the rural college where I teach replaced its oil furnaces with a wood-chip burner more than a decade ago, I saluted it. But as more scientists studied the consequences of large-scale biomass burning, the math began to show that it would put large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere at precisely the wrong moment: if we break the back of the climate system now, it won’t matter if forests suck it up fifty years hence. And as soon as that became clear I began writing and campaigning on those issues. Here’s a piece of mine from 2016 that couldn’t be much clearer, and another from 2019 in the New Yorker about the fights in the Southeast, and another from 2020 as campaigners fought to affect policy in the Northeast. The other side has definitely noticed—here’s an article from the biomass industry attacking me, 350.org, and others. I’m reasonably sure that most of the valiant people here and in the UK that have been fighting this fight will vouch that I’ve been a help, not a hindrance.

As for taking corporate money, I’ve actually never taken a penny in pay from 350.org, or from any other environmental group. Instead, I’ve donated hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years in honoraria and prizes. And 350.org hasn’t taken corporate money, (though it did accept the donation of hundreds of irregular parkas from The North Face in 2009 to warm the hundreds of young people it brought from around the world to the Copenhagen climate conference) 350.org has no financial interest in the campaigns it runs to clean our financial system of dirty fossil fuels, and does not act as financial adviser; it’s untrue to suggest it ever promoted one fund over another or profited from doing so.

I am used to ceaseless harassment and attack from the fossil fuel industry, and I’ve done my best to ignore a lifetime of death threats from right-wing extremists. It does hurt more to be attacked by others who think of themselves as environmentalists. I have spent much of the last ten years doing my best to enlarge the environmental movement in every way I can think of, and to support others in their work; I think that a broad big movement is our best hope. And I have found great joy and satisfaction in that work. I don’t understand the reasoning behind these particular attacks; when I first heard rumors of them last summer I wrote the producer and director to set the record straight, and never heard back from them. That seems like bad journalism, and bad faith.

Obviously there are worse things going on in the world right now, from the pandemic we are all dealing with, to the efforts of the oil industry to use its cover to build new pipelines; they overshadow these attacks, which in any event aren’t on me alone but on lots of others who work, day by day, for change—we’re well aware our victories won’t come all at once, but also that we need to keep pushing. So while you shouldn’t waste any sympathy on me, I am very grateful for the solidarity people have been showing. That feels good.

— Bill McKibben

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