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Talk of climate change simmers in Nevada City

With the Governor of California Jerry Brown joining a who’s who of Nevada County residents, including poet Gary Snyder and various political figures, author Bill McKibben gave a brief and stirring speech to a sold-out Miners Foundry Tuesday night.

“I wanted to hear Mr. McKibben discourse on climate change,” Brown said. “Plus, I am an old part-time resident of this county.”

And discourse McKibben did.

His speech argued planet Earth is in dire condition due to the amount of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere and the devastating consequences to global health and human habitation unless humans curtail their reliance on fossil fuels.

McKibben, who is a scientist and writer by trade, said that the knowledge of carbon’s detrimental effect on the climate as humans know it is not new, as scientists have known for a long time that “when you burn coal, gas and oil you put carbon into the atmosphere, and we knew its molecular structure traps heat that would otherwise radiate back out to space.”

What we didn’t know, McKibben said, is that “we could change things as much as we have.”

The global temperature has been raised by about a degree by human beings, McKibben said, while an extra three-quarters of a watt of solar energy is being trapped per year.

McKibben invoked the iconic image of the Earth as taken from the Apollo missions in the ’70s, saying that picture is out of date as his high school year book picture, with a 40 percent reduction of ice in the arctic.

He said the dire weather patterns, with record heat waves in Moscow and Texas, enormous and persistent flooding in Louisiana, Thailand and Pakistan and drastic changes to the fundamental way that water operates on the planet, are due to emissions from fossil fuels.

“Mexico is dust,” he said.

The problem is now how to mobilize the necessary forces to change the political atmosphere regarding climate change, he said.

McKibben ridiculed Ronald Reagan for removing solar panels from the White House in 1985 in favor of “more manly forms of energy.”

He characterized the fossil fuel industry as “the richest most powerful industry in the world” which has used its power to prevent and delay necessary change and continues to run advertisements that spread dangerous but effective misinformation.

To counteract such forces, McKibben advocated for a global movement and said his modest attempts in the form of 350.org and its associated political activities, including a high-profile arrest in Washington D.C., is just a start.

“This movement is as important for our time as the Civil Rights Movement was for its time,” he said. “Unlike the Civil Rights Movement, there is no promise that we will win in the end.

“Martin Luther King used to end almost every speech with a quote from the abolitionist Theodore Parker, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,'” he continued. “Well, the arc of the physical universe is short and it bends toward heat.”

For more information, visit http://www.350.org or http://www.billmckibben.com.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email mrenda@theunion.com or (530) 477-4239.

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