By Matthew Rothschild

When I read in The New York Times this morning that a record low amount of ice — only 24 percent — covered the Arctic Ocean, I thought immediately of a speech I heard Bill McKibben give at Fighting Bob Fest in Madison, Wisconsin, last Saturday.

“Reality intrudes,” he said. Amid all the focus on the political campaigns, he continued, “the most important thing that happened this year was that half the Arctic ice cap melted. One of the biggest physical features of our planet got broken.”

He talked about the “summer like no other” that we’ve just lived through, noting that it started in March when it was 94 degrees in South Dakota. While it may have felt welcome, he said, it was “weird and scary and not how the world is supposed to work.”

He noted the forest fires in New Mexico and Colorado, and then the drought that’s been covering 68 percent of the country and the record heat we’ve had in Wisconsin.

“Some people here may have predicted that if you elected Scott Walker governor, Wisconsin would go to hell in a handbasket, but I doubt you meant that so literally,” he joked. Then he got serious. “Unless we act really quickly,” he said, “it’s going to get much, much, much, much, much, much worse.” If we keep on our current path, he warned, “the world will break.” He was not without hope, though.

“We have to fight, and the good news is, we’ve started to fight,” he said. He mentioned the battles against mountaintop removal, against fracking, and against the Tar Sands pipeline.

“It is possible to stand up to the fossil fuel industry,” he said. “But it will take compassion, spirit, and creativity. We’ve run out of fingers to put in the dike. Now we need to make a fist.”

He called the oil, gas, and coal companies “a rogue industry.” He noted that they have, already in reserves, five times the amount of carbon that scientists say can safely be released into the atmosphere. And these companies are ready to burn it up.

“These guys are outlaws,” he says. “They are outlaws against the laws of physics and chemistry. And it’s up to us to bring them to justice.”

McKibben is not naive. “We can’t do it politically,” he says, “because the system is owned by people with unlimited money, including the fossil fuel industry. That’s why we’ve had a perfect bipartisan two-decade record of accomplishing nothing.”

What he has in mind, instead, is a campaign of divestment, similar to the one that was launched in the 1970s and 1980s against companies doing business with the apartheid government in South Africa.

“The only language they understand is money,” he said. “We need to tell them, ‘If you want to take away the future of our planet, we’ll take away your money.’”

He’s planning a road show in the next few months going to campuses around the country with the likes of Naomi Klein and Van Jones.

“We’re going to light a bunch of brush fires for divestment,” he said.

And he’s encouraging nonviolent civil disobedience. He recalled the 72 hours he spent in jail in Washington, D.C., last year protesting the Tar Sands pipeline.

“It was not the end of the world,” he said. “The world ending is the end of the world.”

He’s aware of the uphill battle we all face. “They’ve got an awfully lot of money,” he said of the fossil fuel companies. “And time is awfully short. But there are people all over the world ready to fight with us. There is no guarantee of victory. But there is a guarantee of a fight.”

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “The Real Romney: Scorn on Ice."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter



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The beauty and the tragedy of everyday life in a war zone.

Maybe I should only be shocked that I wasn’t shocked a long time ago.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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