The Adirondack Explorer asked Vermont author, environmentalist and former Adirondacker Bill McKibben to discuss the climate-crisis arguments in his new book, Falter, and how the issue affects the Adirondacks.
McKibben spoke about climate change at an event hosted by the Explorer and The Wild Center in August, 2019.
In its July/August 2019 issue, the Adirondack Explorer asked McKibben to discuss the climate-crisis arguments in his new book, “Falter,” and how the issue affects the Adirondacks. Following is a transcript of the questions and answers.
Explorer: Let’s start with the scary. Your book compares our climate trajectory to earlier periods of mass extinction—but with advanced warning that past inhabitants of our planet didn’t get. Are we heeding the warning?
McKibben: We’re essentially paying no attention. We’ve emitted more carbon since 1989 when I wrote “The End of Nature” than in all of history beforehand. Finally, though, a movement is arising to force the issue. 350.org was the early iteration; now we’re seeing the Green New Deal, Greta Thunberg’s school strikes, and so on.
Explorer: You argue that no place will be spared. What do you foresee for the Adirondacks and other parts of the interior Northeast?
McKibben: Less winter, eventually much less. Far more precipitation, especially gully washers, interspersed with more frequent drought. Spread of ticks and other disease-carrying insects. The wholesale alteration of the forest, replacing birch/beech/maple with, if we’re lucky, oak and hickory—and lots and lots of tree mortality, as well as collapse of many ecosystems.
Explorer: What changes have you noticed already during your travels in the Adirondacks?
McKibben: Some of all of the above—and the psychological change that we no longer take the stability of our place and its seasons for granted.
Explorer: What’s the most important thing Adirondack Explorer readers can do to protect the future?
McKibben: Join together with other people in the movements large enough to actually change things. That’s why we started groups like 350.org. New York State has great coalitions, like nyrenews, that are pushing powerful legislation—CCPA, the Climate and Community Protection Act, the equivalent of a state-level Green New Deal.
Explorer: There’s a perception that green energy is unaffordable and unreliable in the North Country. Yet you write of a working family in Vermont that modernized home energy systems and dramatically cut oil consumption, financing the work through monthly utility bills. What’s your advice to Adirondack residents with big heating bills?
McKibben: Invest in/look for financing for the electrification of your home heating system, primarily with cold climate heat pumps, and if possible supply some of the juice from solar panels. The financing is the hard part (and where legislation would help) because the cost savings, as you note, are immediate.
Explorer: You count nonviolence among our primary tools against disaster. Why?
McKibben: Because we need movements to stand up to the entrenched power of the fossil fuel industry. The movements of the 20th century—from suffrage to Satyagraha to civil rights—show us this can be done, though it is not easy.
Photo by Nancie Battaglia.
“cold climate heat pumps”? I am curious what that is. We are looking into switching from NG to ground source heat pumps – again (we tried to do it years ago). But on a relative scale we will switch from 888 a year to 666 a year for heat. So for a 40K (or more we have a big place) investment the payoff is after I am dead. But fine I can swing the cost and we will do it, but it isn’t for your average folk even with the huge rebates we have – federal tax incentives and gas moratorium rebates we have here. The maps I saw showed nothing in the Adirondacks. Air source heat pumps sound like a good option up north but maybe only for seasonal people like us?
]I saw these on This Old House. They are basically a really efficient heat pump. Older HPs usually required auxiliary heat when it got below ~20 degrees outside. The newer CCHPs are supposedly good down to ~zero. They were installing a system in New England. If warming trends continue, they may be a good option. Research, research, research…
What is disturbing is the reluctance of the Cuomo administration to address climate change in the Adirondacks. The snowmobile lobby and the winter recreation industry are all in serious denial – and state actions are reinforcing that denial.
The administration takes climate change seriously only until it collides with powerful political interests. Then it’s business as usual.