Bill McKibben, Oil and Honey; The Education of an Unlikely Activist (New York: Times Books, 2013), 255pp.
For over thirty years Bill McKibben has fashioned himself as a writer of the environmental movement. His first of a dozen books was The End of Nature (1989), which has been translated into twenty languages. Deep Economy (2007) argued for a "quiet revolution begun by ordinary people with the stuff of our daily lives." Eaarth (2010) was a ruthlessly realistic elegy that admitted that since humanity had permanently altered our planet, there was little to do but adjust ourselves to the consequences.
His newest book is different. It's a memoir that describes how a few years ago McKibben woke up to the uncomfortable realization that "writing was not enough." Education and explanation, with the hope that reason would prevail, weren't working. Changing light bulbs was a start, but it was now time to change the system. "I've willed myself to become someone other than who I had been," he writes. "This is the story of that education."
McKibben has thus moved from mere engagement of ideas to moral resistance and civil disobedience. With the help of seven students at Middlebury College, where he teaches, he founded 350.org. Their first foray in 2009 kick started 5,200 rallies in 181 countries. He's taken on the president and congress over the Keystone XL pipeline, and the oil companies that now spend $100 million every day looking for still more fossil fuel to burn. His latest move is to pressure endowment portfolios into divestment, much like the apartheid movement.
So much for oil. What about the honey? Around this same time, McKibben befriended a Vermont beekeeper named Kirk Webster. Roughly half the book describes how in 2011 the two began collaborating on a 50-acre farm that McKibben purchased and that Webster tends. And so a stark contrast. When he's not jetting around the world, or doing time in jail, you can find McKibben farming with Webster, an unmarried man who loves what he does and doesn't own a computer. Act globally, act locally.