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Climate Crunch Time

In the 50 years since the first Earth Day, the environmental movement has matured and developed highly sophisticated methods for driving change. But, given the unprecedented scale of the climate crisis, the question is not whether activism is effective, but whether we still have time to save ourselves.

Since 1880, the average global surface temperature has risen by about 1°C, or 1.8°F. Much of that increase has happened in the last 50 years, and the consequences are already becoming apparent. Forest fires have become larger and more severe, the polar ice caps are melting six times faster than they were in the 1990s, and extreme weather events like hurricanes and droughts are occurring with greater frequency and intensity.

As the evidence of the looming climate crisis has mounted, it has reinvigorated the environmental movement that started in the 1970s, with young people increasingly leading the way. In August 2018, a then-15-year-old Greta Thunberg staged her first climate strike in front of the Swedish parliament. Just over a year later, millions of young people in 150 countries joined her for a worldwide climate strike. The activists’ demands are straightforward but potent: eliminate greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, shift to renewable energy, and ensure a sustainable future. Will our leaders listen?

Bill McKibben is a long-time climate activist; a regular contributor to the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, and other publications; and a co-founder of On July 8, he spoke with Elmira Bayrasli about climate activism during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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