Keynoter at FISU “Save Winter” conference stresses urgency in Lake Placid
By Tracy Ormsbee
Climate activist and author Bill McKibben lamented the change in winter in the Adirondacks, tied it to the global crisis of a warming Earth, shared solutions and encouraged those listening to organize with others to stand up to concentrated power.
McKibben’s words on Friday were eagerly received by an audience of winter sports enthusiasts in Lake Placid to attend the FISU World University Games. The weeks leading up to the events have been marked by unseasonably warmer weather and lack of snow — and, on the day before McKibben’s 40-minute-long keynote at the Save Winter conference tied to the games, pouring rain.
“It was remarkable to come out of that glorious ceremony at the 1980 rink after all the passion and all the hoopla and all the great optimism of young athletes gathered from every corner of the Earth and then to walk out onto Main Street in Lake Placid and see the rain pouring down and all those beautiful gold and white lights just reflecting out of the puddles.”
This is a contrast, he explained to an audience including some who may never have visited the Adirondacks. Back 35-40 years ago, he said, winter came early and you might even see an occasional late August frost. And he put the change in the context of the park’s unique and unprecedented protections — and then the world.
He called the Adirondacks a “second-chance Eden,” restored after a complete deforestation by humans 100 years ago and now a vast wilderness bigger than the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park and Yosemite combined. In 1892, the New York State Legislature in establishing the park, was voting to “take a step back.”
“Nature was able to fill that void and that’s a good and promising sign for the world around us,” McKibben said, but added, “we can’t protect it within the Blue Line alone. There’s no way to protect particular places on this planet anymore without protecting the planet as a whole.”
McKibben described America’s outsized role in carbon production and the good news of clean energy costs lowered by 90%. Electrifying everything is now doable, with technologies that include electric heat pumps and vehicles and magnetic induction cooktops, he said.
More good news: Last year, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act with funds to make the transition clean energy. Meanwhile Gov. Kathy Hochul’s State of the State address last week laid out a proposal to raise the price of dirty energy and provide funding for making the transition to clean energy.
“We actually are able to imagine the possibility that in the very near future humans could end their 700,000-year career of setting stuff on fire.”
To make this transition in the short time left, people will need to organize against the powerful opposition of the fossil fuel industry, which correctly predicted the rise in temperature 30 years ago but told no one and fought against change, he said.
Now, we “have to do in five years what could have been done over the past 40 years.”
The only way to combat the powerful is to organize against the fossil fuel industry, something young people have led until now, McKibben said. Victories to block the Keystone Pipeline and divest from fossil fuel are encouraging, but there’s more to do, he said.
After forming 350.org in 2008 with university students, McKibben is now looking to his generation for help with his latest movement Third Act for activists over 60. This demographic, he points out, has enormous political power and resources. “There is no way on Earth to stop old people from voting,” he said.
“It’s going to take all of us.”