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McKibben: Can We Stop the Fossil Fuel Industry and Indentured Politicians from Destroying Human Civilization?

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Politics and Democracy page and our Environment and Climate Resource Center page.

Bill McKibben is a patient man. Twenty-three years ago, he published The End of Nature, one of the first books written for a general audience that laid out the issue of global warming. Nearly two decades later, after the U.S. and the international community continued to fail to take action, he moved from journalist to activist, founding, which has grown into a global movement to solve the challenge of climate change. In January, he and won a surprising - if short-term - victory when President Obama put the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline on hold pending further review.

Last week, McKibben sat down with Yale Environment 360 contributing writer Elizabeth Kolbert to talk about the Keystone project and about what the pipeline battle has taught him about how Washington, D.C., operates. In a wide-ranging discussion, he explained why he believes environmentalists only win temporary victories, why activists must keep up pressure on the Obama administration, and why he's concerned about the president's "all-of-the-above" energy strategy. One thing he was unprepared for, McKibben said, was the true extent of the influence the fossil fuel industry's campaign money has on Congress and how difficult it will be to end federal oil and gas subsidies.

"It's as if the politicians are sort of pillows in front of the fossil fuel industry," he told Kolbert. "And you spend all your time going after them and don't get at the guys behind them."

Elizabeth Kolbert: You led the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline this summer and fall and the Obama Administration rejected the application for construction of the northern leg of the pipeline. But just a few days ago the president announced that he was expediting the permitting process for the southern leg. So what's going on?

Bill McKibben: Well, part of it is just a little bit of the rooster taking credit for the dawn - you know, they didn't need a permit from the president for the southern leg, unfortunately. It's a great shame, and we're working hard with our friends in Texas and Oklahoma to try and block it. And it was also a great shame to see the way in which the president did it. It has to make one have some foreboding. If he's really as completely into pipelines as he was saying, that increases the odds that eventually he'll approve the Canadian border crossing.
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