Simply Too Hot: The Desperate Science and Politics of Climate

Posted Oct. 25, 2017

MP3 Excerpt of Yale University speech by Bill McKibben, author, writer and climate activist, founder of climate activism organization, recorded and produced by Melinda Tuhus


Writer and activist Bill McKibben spoke at Yale University on Oct. 10, addressing the urgency of taking action to slow down climate chaos. In the wake of many recent disasters predicted by climate scientists – including the deadliest forest fires in California history and three of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the U.S. mainland and Caribbean – McKibben talked about the pace of climate change and the people's and politicians' response to it.

McKibben wrote "The End of Nature" in 1988, the first book for non-scientists that explained the concept of climate change. He later co-founded the group,, which has led a global campaign to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change, especially on poor nations and low-lying islands whose people have contributed the least to create the climate crisis.

McKibben now travels the world raising the alarm about the dire consequences of climate change and urging people to take immediate action to reverse it. During his talk at Yale, he pointed out that although coal plants are being phased out and renewable energy sources are growing by leaps and bounds, the planet is not winning the battle fast enough, and hence is losing ground. Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus recorded McKibben's Yale speech, titled, "Simply Too Hot: The Desperate Science and Politics of Climate" and brings us the following excerpts.

BILL MCKIBBEN: There is resistance underway every place around the world now, as I say, and it's beautiful to watch. So much leadership provided by frontline communities and especially, I think most gratifyingly over the last five years, by this rapid emergence to the leadership of indigenous traditions around the world. You saw what happened at Standing Rock last autumn – a beautiful, beautiful, powerful gathering. It didn't surprise me because the people who organized it, we've been working with for years. They are great leaders. It's a good sign that the oldest indigenous wisdom tradition on the planet is meshing now powerfully with the newest – that the word that comes from the sweat lodge and the word that comes from the supercomputer is the same word. (Applause) And now people gather in their numbers. These were 400,000 people on the march in New York city – until the Women’s March in January, the biggest marches about anything in this country in a very long time. And it wasn’t just this country; it was as usual all over the entire world.

I think I want to close just showing you a couple of pictures that illustrate in my mind the kind of drama of this moment in which we find ourselves. You know, there are sort of tropes that go on in one's head, that fit the human mind, and one of them is the battle of the small against the very large, the David and Goliath story. These are our friends in the Pacific in those islands like Vanuatu and Tuvalu and the Marshalls and Micronesia and the Solomons that will probably be underwater by the end of the century. But their slogan is, "We are not drowning; we are fighting!"

When we were marching in New York, they cut down on each island a single tree and made a big, traditional war canoe. And they took them to Newcastle (Australia) in the Pacific, which is the biggest coal port in the world, and there they used them for a day to blockade the port and keep the largest warships in the world in harbor so they couldn't come out without running them over. It was a brave and beautiful action. It's been one of the reasons that's galvanized Australians into opposing this crazy plan for this giant coal mine. And it illustrated perfectly this trope that the small and the many against the few and the very big. We saw the same image from the Pacific Northwest the next year. This was when Shell Oil announced it was going to drill for oil in the Arctic.

Think about that for one minute, by the way. Scientists said that if you warm the planet, the Arctic will melt. Shell and its ilk paid no attention and went ahead, and what do you know, the Arctic melted. Having looked at that did the leadership of Shell Oil say, "Huh, maybe we should go into the solar business instead. This seems to be not working out." No. The leadership of Shell Oil said, "It's melted up there now; it will be easier to drill for oil."

And in Seattle and in Portland, for days they blockaded the two giant drilling rigs with small craft. We called them kayaktivists, and it was beautiful, and it threatened more brand damage to Shell that was more than they could contend with. And by the end of the year, Shell said, "Well, we didn't find enough oil in the Arctic. We're going home." Really what they found was a lot more trouble than they could with, and so they turned tail and ran, and that was a very good moment. (Applause)

But we need lots more moments like that. I guess the way to say this is, the planet is now way, way outside its comfort zone. That's what it means when the Arctic is melting, when coral is dying. Because it is way, way outside its comfort zone, we need to be outside our comfort zones, too. We need to be doing much more than we are doing now, because it's manifest that what we are doing now is insufficient – that's why the temperature keeps going up. All we are asking for is a world a little bit like the one we were born onto – a little bit of ice at the top and the bottom, the odd coral reef in the middle.

That's not a radical demand; that's a conservative demand. Radicals work at oil companies. If you get up in the morning willing to make your fortune by altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere; and you are willing to do it after scientists have told you it will happen and you are willing to do it after you've seen it happen, then our job is to check that radicalism (applause). And it is our job to check it fast.

For more information on climate change and Bill McKibben's climate activism, visit

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