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McKibben: 2020 Election Presents High Stakes For Addressing Climate Change

Bill McKibben at a podium in front of lawmakers gathered in the House chamber of the Vermont Statehouse
Toby Talbot
Associated Press File
Bill McKibben is pictured here addressing Vermont lawmakers on climate change back on Jan. 30, 2013. In a recent interview with VPR, McKibben said Vermont is "typical in finding it hard to get up to speed in answering the challenge" of climate issues.

Bill McKibben has been sounding the alarm on human activity adversely affecting the world's climate and ecosystems for a long time. Now the Vermont-based author has a new book titled Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

Earlier this month, a United Nations report revealed that the natural world is declining at rates unprecedented in human history.

"The idea that we could lose a million species is horrifying," McKibben told VPR, "but that's what happens when you fundamentally change the climate of a planet." 

More from NPR: "1 Million Animal And Plant Species Are At Risk Of Extinction, U.N. Report Says" [May 6] 

McKibben, a founder of the environmental watchdog group 350.org, said the fossil fuel industry was aware of climate change impacts decades ago. At this point, McKibben said, humans should focus on trying to mitigate the problem.

"It's definitely too late to stop global warming. What we hope is that it's not too late to limit it to the point where it doesn't cut off civilizations at the knees," McKibben said. "The scientific consensus seems to be that we have a narrow, and rapidly closing, window in which to do something significant about climate change."

Here in Vermont, McKibben said generally the state is getting warmer, but there have also been more "dramatic effects" — like Tropical Storm Irene. Yet, he said, Vermont struggles with making progress on addressing climate issues.

"We just came through a legislative cycle where leaders in Montpelier said, 'Well we'll get to this next year.' We're running out of next years," McKibben said.

More from VPR's Brave Little State: How Is Climate Change Affecting Vermont Right Now? [April 2019]

Looking ahead to the 2020 election, McKibben said that polls indicate that climate change is a top priority for Democratic voters.

"The next election is crucial on a thousand counts and climate change is probably the one that will last the longest into the future," McKibben said. "These are elections that will matter forever because of the stakes around climate change and because of the fact that it's a time-limited problem. The results of this election will go down into geological history."

Listen to Mitch Wertlieb's interview with McKibben at the top of the post.

Update 9:39 a.m. This post was updated to clarify McKibben as one of the founders of 350.org, rather than sole founder.

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