Bill McKibben, a famously inspirational ecological/environmentalist author spoke before a University of Maine at Farmington audience of graduates, professors, parents, distinguished guests and me in May 2011. In brief, his message was that young people should use the lessons they have learned about living and acting together in small groups during their four years at the university and that they must take care never to unlearn those valuable lessons. They should share ideas and work together for the common good.

McKibben cited his experience at Middlebury College in Vermont as an example of people living together and sharing ideas. He described group of college-age people who helped organize a global awareness movement about climate change. This group founded the website, which helped produce more than 7,000 events tied to an international action day.

Last year I read his most recent book when “Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist” turned up at Farmington’s public library. In this book he gave an account of the two sides of the global climate fight. The first is a high-level attack on capitalist, consumerist greed. The second a multiplicity of small-scale local answers.

That second is exemplified by the successful innovations of a lone apiarist (honey-bee herder). His account of the apiarist works was kind of interesting. The hopes he held out for a global solution

were much enfeebled by a column he published in last week’s New York Time. The title gives you its gist: “Obama’s Catastrophic Climate-Change Denial.”

The catastrophe immediately at hand is the Obama administration’s decisions to allow Shell Oil to drill In the Arctic. In McKibben’s opinion that decisively demonstrated the hopelessness of fighting against climate change. No one seem, he concludes is willing “to stand up to the power of the fossil fuel industry. No one ever says no.”

As he sees it we can’t “deal with climate on the demand side alone. If we keep digging up more coal, gas, and oil, it will get burned, if not here then somewhere else….If we’re to have any chance or meeting even Mr. Obama’s weak goal of holding temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, we have to leave most carbon underground.” He points out that the president “has opened huge swaths of the Powder River basin to new coal mining” and is allowing Shell to find and extract oil.

Let’s be clear. The eloquent Mr. McKibben is not defending the Arctic landscape from the depredations of Big Oil. He simply wants all this carbon to stay in the ground.

Here’s another thing we need to make clear, all the more because Bill McK confuses the issue. Success of the climate control effort he envisions requires a government able to stand up a huge majority of the American people and tell them that business will no longer provide them with oil, gasoline, natural gas, or electricity at manageable prices. The demagogic evasion of trying to convince the public, or at least the readers of the New York Times, that it’s only the energy companies whose interests must be checked is transparently false.

The truth, plain and bare, is that the national government has the power to bring an almost instant reduction in carbon emissions. The biggest source of these emissions in the United States is the internal combustion engine. Impose a $10 or even $20 tax on the sale of every gallon of gas or diesel oil and you achieve an almost instant reduction in consumption of fuels and consequent emissions.

People would resort to walking by the millions. Car-pooling would become almost universal. Walmart will achieve a near retail trade monopoly as consumers turn to one-stop shopping as much as they possibly can. Looking beyond that the economy will drop into a deep depression and carbon emissions will drop apace.

Jack up heating oil prices correspondingly and millions of people in the northern states will discover a thing known to the grandparents: that it’s possible to survive inside a house where the thermostat is set at fifty degrees.

These price increases will not take place. It’s not because Big Oil, or Big Coal say no. It’s because the American voters will say NO.

Our political leadership knows this and that is why not one among them is proposing any such measure. Nor will they. Not ever.

Bill McKibben believes it’s up to the environmental movement to block further carbon extraction. Great idea! Leave the politicians out of it. Organize protesters to go to your local gas station to block motorists from gassing up. That should work.

Professor John Frary of Farmington, Maine is a former US Congress candidate and retired history professor, a Board Member of Maine Taxpayers United and publisher of and can be reached at: [email protected]

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