By KC Golden, Chair of the 350.Org board

July 2020

Bill McKibben is a founder, Senior Advisor, and board member of  Later this year, as he turns 60, he’ll be shifting these roles to an “emeritus” status.  This signifies the rising power and profile of a younger and increasingly diverse generation of climate leaders.  But Bill’s emeritus role will not be honorific – we still plan to work him hard as a thought leader, strategic advisor, and inspirational communicator!

We’ve come a long, long way as a movement and as an organization since Bill and a group of Middlebury College students set out to ignite a grassroots movement for climate action over a decade ago.

The Keystone XL pipeline fight laid down the principle of ending the expansion of fossil fuel economy; now stiff opposition to fossil fuel infrastructure projects everywhere is the rule.

The divestment campaign established that continuing investment in fossil fuel expansion would be neither morally acceptable nor financially prudent; now the fossil fuel industry is in economic free-fall, propped only by their residual and rapidly eroding political power.

And while the world’s governments have not fully risen to the climate challenge, vigorous citizen-led campaigns around the world now have broad agency and irresistible momentum.  Climate is now widely understood within broader struggles for justice, and the movement for climate action is stepping up toward solidarity and collective power with those aligned movements.

Bill McKibben and 350 are small parts of these movements, because they are now so large and diverse.  But the importance of Bill’s catalytic leadership as an activist and communicator can’t be overstated.   We are loud and clear now in no small part because he helped us find our voice.  His instinct to lead in a way that lifts up a broad movement rather than carving out an organizational niche has been unfailing.  It remains central to 350’s approach and to Bill’s ongoing role.

This milestone marks the emergence of a powerful global movement and the swift decline in the primary obstacle to climate action – the entrenched political power of the fossil fuel industry.  These are the enabling conditions for rapid climate progress.   

Organizationally, 350 is well positioned to accelerate this progress by supporting the movement worldwide, thanks in significant part to Bill’s leadership and with his ongoing help.  Our staff, volunteers, and partners are fully focused and mobilized as we navigate this crucial turning point toward climate justice, with a just recovery from the pandemic as a pivot.  And our board of directors has grown significantly in depth and strength this year, with accomplished leaders from aligned movements around the world joining long-serving members to take it to the next level.

What this transition does not signify is any stepping back from Bill’s commitment to the climate challenge and continuing to expand the power of the movement to tackle it.  And while Bill will have less day-to-day responsibility in his 350 roles, anyone who knows him understands that he won’t be letting up a bit.  350 will always be inspired and guided by his powerful voice and lifted up by his continuing leadership.

“I’ve worked alongside‘s volunteers and staff leaders since the founding group came up with the idea around a table in a college dining hall,” said McKibben. “And I have the highest faith in those colleagues–like May Boeve, who worked with me to found it all those years ago and is now executive director–and all the others who comprise this remarkable, global team. They serve as a backbone of the global climate movement, and a beacon for environmental justice, and I will do whatever I can to help them going forward. And to the millions of volunteers around the planet who have done most of the work this past decade, I feel an unpayable debt. But I will try to make good on it!”

To be very frank, founder transitions are often characterized by rancor and division, and official communications about them are often evasive.  But there’s no backstory here.  This is about the right and timely evolution of operational power within the movement and 350, fully energized by mutual love and ongoing commitment to keep supporting each other and multiplying our collective power.   Bill hoisted this movement on his back and helped will it in to being.  Now, we have so many strong backs to share the load, and the full benefit of the bright light that Bill continues to shine on our path ahead.

On, as Bill always says, we go.