Hey folks! I’m on the road with none other than Bill McKibben (who is strangely calm even when I am slightly lost on the freeway) and we’re on day 2 of our Heartland speaking tour! We’re doing stops in Colorado, Ohio and North Carolina- all key political stops with environmental battles that are rising to the surface. My job, basically, is to drive the rental cars to where we’re going and make sure Bill gets a good sandwich for dinner. Which so far I’ve been good at, although my phone did die yesterday, and Bill had to google his name and the date to figure out what building we were speaking in.

The tour is focusing on where we go next- the stories of how we got here are vital, and they’re told and discussed and analyzed, to a point. But each night turns to what we do now- and that’s a very important conversation to have, and one people are grateful for having addressed.

Last night we were in Boulder, Colorado and we spoke to a crowd of about 420 people, all of who were active in the recent passing of 2B/2C, which allows Boulder to run their own electrical utility. It allows the city to look into powering with clean energy- to accept electrons that came from wind and solar, not coal, and to break free of the corporations fighting us at every turn.

84In the recent vote, after being outspent by a ratio of 10:1, the final decision came down to a 1% margin. I find it quite ridiculous that there’s that much money pouring in to shut down climate activists. And in some ways, it’s gratifying to know that we’ve made this fight real- however hard or impossible it may seem, big energy is scared. And although that doesn’t make our fight any easier, it’s good to know we’re being taken seriously.

Boulder has an occupy group, which Bill was able to stop at earlier that day, and it’s phenomenal to listen to him talk about the occupy movement- especially when I’m standing in the middle of one.

So far the city of Boulder has played nice, and the occupy movement itself is coming up with their own good neighbor policy, to return the favor. But it’s no guarantee things will continue to stay civil, and that’s something that people are very much aware of. It’s also mentioned by Bill that the park isn’t the crux of the fight- “the physical space, in the end, isn’t that important. Take back that democratic space that’s disappeared.”

The room in Oberlin is now full- the aisles are three abreast on each stair, and the satellite room is filling as well. This speech will be livestreamed to the other room, so that those who can’t fit in this lecture hall can still listen, and participate in the Q&A. Technology really is an incredible force for organizing. Oh, except that this time, the livestream isn’t working.

You know what is else is an impressive force for organizing? Community. And the ability to sit closely next to one another. Thankfully, these couple hundred climate activists aren’t daunted by the thought of sharing elbow room. I’d also love to give a shout out to the older ladies who are willing to stand so that others may sit- you rock!

Bill just took the stage, which means he’s now sitting on the counter. He’s going for casual, because, as he says, he talks a lot- but he’s decided to consider this group his extended family. “In some level it’s pointless coming to oberlin- you already know everything there is to know about this”.

Yet Bill starts off with sobering knowledge–as he almost always does, being a self-described “professional bummer-outer”:

“We’re over the worst case projections from the Inter-governmental panel on climate change (IPCC), …and we’re really starting to see and feel the effects of this in all kinds of places.”

“More air holds more water vapor than cold air does, so we’re getting way more drought in arid areas as we increase evaporation, and more flooding in wet ones. What we’ve done is load the dice for deluge, and lots of places are now rolling snake eyes”

The room is silent during this part of bill’s talk- hearing these facts, even if you’ve heard them recently, is sobering. Our planet is in peril, and in our lifetimes will change dramatically for the worse. There are many people in this room who have already seen that in their lifetimes.

“What the climatologists tell us is that unless we get our act together quickly- and that means getting off coal and oil and gas much quicker than any government has planned- that 1 degree [ the raise we’ve already seen] will be four of five degrees, and there’s absolutely no way our civilization can stand up to that kind of change.”

Tonight’s sobering fact- even for people who are already stone-cold sober- “For every tenth of a degree increase in temperature, there will be a 10% decrease in grain production around the world. We can’t let that happen.”

It’s funny how even in a silent room you can hear people get hit by astonishing information. It’s almost as if you can hear worldviews creaking as they shift in their heads.

Bill just admitted he wrote the first book about climate change when he was 27. “And my theory at the time, was that I will write a book, and people will read it, and people will change”. The whole room laughs. “But the next theory was that scientists and experts will talk to our leaders… and they will do something about it. And that was a perfectly valid expectation- that’s how things should work. …But it hasn’t worked. And the reason I think we’ve come to understand- while people of great intellect were talking in one ear of our political leaders, the fossil fuel industries were bellowing in the other ear.”

The subject of occupy wall street arises again — which is quite warmly received. For all the time the climate movement spends explaining how the two are connected, the people who showed up in Boulder, and the people here in Cleveland, are already very much aware of the interplay. I don’t know whether people have avoided thinking about how much corporations influence our environment, or avoided acting on that knowledge- but either way, they’re done playing coy.

Bill, who speaks around the world, just told the room that talking in the human mic gives him a great sense of power. He repeats what he said his first time at #ows in NY: “Wall street’s been occupying the atmosphere for many years, it’s about time we returned the favor.”
It’s powerpoint time- nothing fancy, just a series of wonderful photographs of both phase 1 (the arrests) and phase 2 (the encircling) of the tarsands action campaign.

He is stopped immediately by the first one- a shot of him talking to a crowd of people, who will all be arrested 20 minutes after the photo was taken.

“The hardest part every morning was getting out and talking to people- and it was hard, because what people were doing was brave. It’s not that they were gonna get beat up or whatever, it’s just very psychologically hard to do something when the police tell you not to do something and you do that.”

“People were using their bodies as kind of the ante to get us into the game”.

And it worked. This isn’t the end to bill’s talk- he continues on, moving forwards in time, sometimes just to where we are now, sometimes jumping to the world our grandchildren will live on. But I can’t share with the internet his entire talk in this one blog post- we’ve got 3 more stops to do, so I’ve got to save some of the quips and sobering moments for the next one.

More soon,

-Jean, from a coffee shop in Ohio.

@Jean_Altomare on Twitter

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