Bill McKibben’s Ecology-Free Declaration of War on Climate is Dangerous and Wrong

Old-growth forests must be protected and restored to limit abrupt climate change
Why does Bill McKibben’s recent sensationalistic appeal for a “War on Climate” make no mention, not even one, of ecology or ecosystems? While understanding Mr. McKibben is trying to call for a rapid societal response at a massive scale to an urgent existential threat, perhaps a better analogy would be demobilizing to make climate peace by cutting emissions and reforesting, as declarations of war often only make things worse.

It is irresponsible and contrary to established ecological science for Mr. McKibben to promote a war on climate focused solely upon techno-optimist industrial solutions. First and foremost, climate change is an ecological issue… I, for one, am much less perturbed that Bill occasionally uses plastic bags for his groceries, than that he apparently has little understanding of the ecological systems that maintain a livable Earth. — Dr. Glen Barry

Earth Meanders, Deep ecology essays by Dr. Glen Barry
Climate policies matter. We have very few chances to get it right before abrupt climate change and related environmental and social issues collapse the biosphere. Yet the solutions being put forth by the leading climate activists—including Bill McKibben, Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Klein, and Michael Brune—are woefully inadequate. In fact, their lack of ecological focus is dangerous and wrong, and virtually ensures failure in limiting global warming to an acceptable level.
In a recent New Republic essay entitled “A World at War”, Mr. McKibben states “We’re under attack from climate change—and our only hope is to mobilize like we did in WWII.” The colorful essay correctly notes the urgency of a dramatic, urgent, and large-scale response to the threats posed by climate change. Yet we are led to falsely believe that a war-like industrial retooling to produce massively more solar panels and wind turbines more quickly will prove adequate to solve climate change. At best this is meaningless jingoism, at its worst it dangerously misdiagnoses climate change’s causes,  and does not propose ecologically sufficient climate change solutions.
NOT EVEN ONCE does Bill’s essay calling for a war on climate mention the biological and ecological aspects of our climate change conundrum. In fact, the words ecology, ecosystem, and even environment are not used. How is it that the climate movement’s perceived Martin Luther King type transformational figure has the science and policy behind climate change so dangerously wrong?
Natural ecosystem loss as a cause, and positive-feedback fed result, of abrupt climate change is once again given short shrift. Protecting and enhancing the natural environment are amazingly completely ignored yet again by Mr. McKibben as an element of climate solutions. Instead we are left with war metaphors and further industrial development as a dangerously incomplete climate policy prescription.
What the hell Bill? Where is your understanding of ecology, and your embrace of widespread and connected natural ecosystems as a crucial element of any climate change solution? It’s one thing to make reference to ecosystems and climate in books, and another matter to campaign on the issue. Why doesn’t actively support and campaign upon ending old-growth forest logging as a central solution to climate change?
Mr. McKibben, climate change is not Hitler, and waging war will not solve it. Climate change results not only from billions of pistons burning fossil fuels, it is also caused by billions of conscious decisions to destroy the naturally evolved world—one tree, or patch of ground, at a time—which through vegetation’s cycling of water, energy, and carbon have sustained a habitable Earth for eons. Of course at some level Bill you must realize this, but why not speak, write, and advocate for protecting and restoring natural ecosystems as a keystone climate change response?
Permaculture forest gardens intermixed with regenerating old-growth key to stabilizing carbon cycle
Maintaining natural stores of carbon and the natural carbon cycle between these repositories is of primary importance in limiting abrupt climate change and ensuring it doesn’t become run-away. Mr. McKibben’s vision of a war-like industrial mobilization is myopic and entirely ignores the re-greening of land and waters that must occur. We could end fossil fuel emissions rapidly, and still drown in historical emissions, if there are not ways to remove what has already been emitted from the atmosphere (we are at over 400 parts per million of carbon and the name of Bill’s group ——acknowledges we have surpassed the safe limit). How else but through natural processes associated with plant growth will global ecological balance be restored?
The simple ecological truth is that natural vegetation and their soil hold, buffer, and cycle carbon in a manner that removes carbon from the atmosphere. We know much carbon is released when natural vegetation is cleared or reduced. And that there is tremendous potential to re-vegetate the vast areas of land that have been cleared of natural ecosystems, as nearly 90% of primary forests have been destroyed or dramatically diminished through fragmentation. All remaining old-growth forests must be protected not only as carbon stores, but also for sources of seed and genetic variability for the coming age of ecosystem restoration and climate adaptation, and aided to expand and reconnect. Along with secondary forests undergoing succession into old-growth status, inter-mixed with organic permaculture and forest gardens, expanded natural forest ecosystems have dramatic potential to store carbon and perhaps more importantly keep it cycling. Of course old-growth forests provide innumerable other ecological services  including biodiversity, wildlife habitat, soil creation, water sponge, and genetic repository.
Given how many natural terrestrial ecosystems have been lost, it is vital to avoiding willful ecocide that we stop logging ancient old-growth forests, allowing them to recover and expand.
I assert with absolute certainty, as a trained ecologist after a lifetime of study and nurturing of ecological intuition, that there is no possible solution to climate change that does not include large natural forests covering the majority of Earth’s land mass.
Old-growth forests power the climate yet the Rockefeller Foundation supports the myth that they can and should be logged sustainably
So why are Mr. McKibben and not calling for an immediate end to old-growth forest logging and a massive program to protect and restore native forest ecosystems along with all those solar and wind factories? Tree nurseries, planting, and care provide jobs too. In what can only be called willful negligence, essentially the entire climate change glitterati including Mr. McKibben refuses to publicly support in a major way protecting and restoring old-growth forests as part of the climate change solution, despite being repeatedly called upon by myself and others to do so for over a decade.
Why could this possibly be? Is it ignorance? Is the climate movement’s leadership out of their element? Does a Journalism degree from Harvard qualify someone to craft planetary ecological solutions? Why is it that the largest, most well-funded voices on climate are not only a journalist by training; but the others are an accountant, a philosopher, a politician, and an actor? Why are none of the leading climate spokespersons who are espousing technology focused climate policies trained in ecological science? Is raising money and being glamorous more important than substance in terms of crafting ecologically informed climate policy?
Is it possible that, however well intentioned, a climate change movement led by those without ecological training is missing the crucial link between intact and connected natural ecosystems and a functioning climate and biosphere? Could a sense of hubris and self-importance have led some to miss this crucial universal truth, long known by indigenous peoples and ecologists, that natural vegetation and an operational climate are tightly coupled and intricately dependent upon each other? Has posing and earnest self-importance become the focus rather than truthfully diagnosing and responding to the climate change emergency?
Could the Earth System be a living organism dependent upon natural ecosystems to cycle carbon and Bill, Leo, Mike, Naomi and Al wouldn’t know it?
Perhaps the climate change leadership’s funding sources have an interest in continued destruction of natural ecosystems. is primarily funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, also a long-time funder of “sustainable old-growth forest logging”, the same pile of ill-gotten fossil fuel money that has long funded the lie put forth by the Forest Stewardship Council and other logging apologists that old-growth forests can and should be logged sustainably. Two decades ago it looked like primary forest logging was waning and would end, then along came a false solution based upon bad science, and we now have questionably sourced unsustainable old-growth forest toilet paper and lawn furniture certified as being beneficial for the environment. We know it is good because the Rockefeller funded stamp of approval says so. After a decade of prodding by EcoInternet, some progress has been made at getting the FSC out of the business of certifying old-growth forest logging, but it is still not clear what effect if any their pledge to protect “endangered forest landscapes” is having.
John Muir knew over 100 years ago the importance of preserving all old-growth forests
We have known for over 100 years, since John Muir’s prescient preservationist warnings, reinforced by modern science, that logging old-growth forests can never be done sustainably. Ecological function, structure, composition, and diversity are forever diminished. Contemporary planetary boundary science makes clear more natural forest ecosystems have been lost than the climate and biosphere can bear.
My own peer-reviewed ecological science research indicates that at 66% loss of natural ecosystems, the global biosphere percolates and loses critical connectivity required to sustain terrestrial ecosystems and thus the climate and biosphere in the long-term. At least 50% has already been lost, indicating further that planetary ecological boundaries have been surpassed and we are living precariously in a state of ecological overshoot.
Climate change could be solved tomorrow and soil erosion, ecosystem loss, nitrogen and phosphorous deposition, synthetic biology, nanotechnology, emergent disease, toxic synergies, ozone pollution, mass extinction, ocean decline, water scarcity, over-population, inequity, perma-war, and any number of other social and environmental issues could still decimate and perhaps end humanity. Climate change is a symptom of a larger human sickness, deeply entwined with deeper maladies, which will not be successfully addressed in isolation; and clearly it is not a matter of simply powering the status quo with renewable energy, which while important, is far from enough.
There are many elements of sufficient climate policy other than natural ecosystems given short thrift by a techno-optimist vision overly focused upon industrial production of renewable energy. Some can happen right away with the same urgency as ramping up renewable energy. What of energy conservation? Reduced meat diets based upon local organic production? Foregoing personal automobiles and flying less? Others are more long-term but must start immediately and be maintained if there is any hope for global ecological sustainability. What of reducing inequity to ensure all of humanity’s basic needs are met? Having fewer children as we care better for all those we have? And perhaps most importantly, working to demobilize standing armies (as has occurred throughout history except in the last 100 years) and codify world peace in international law.
A narrow focus upon vilifying the fossil fuel industry, a product that virtually every global citizen depends upon through no fault of their own, even the climate glitterati, will only get you so far. At some point, calls for shared sacrifice, equity, and justice will be required to stabilize the climate. Yet climate leaders such as Leo DiCaprio won’t even give up their profligate emissions for leisure on private jets and yachts. On an over-populated, inequitable world that has already overshot ecological limits, it is wrong and dangerous to suggest we can continue conspicuously overconsuming electricity generated through industrial scale renewable energy.
My scientific findings conclude that more old-growth forests have been lost than the biosphere can bear
It is irresponsible and contrary to established ecological science for Mr. McKibben to promote a war on climate focused solely upon techno-optimist industrial solutions. First and foremost, climate change is an ecological issue.
The gross inadequacy of calling for a declaration of war on climate goes further. People are murdered in war, Bill, in large numbers, ruthlessly and wantonly. The jettisoning of moral and ethical standards implicit in war jargon enables a war on drugs to target the poor and minorities, as the war on terror justifies remote control murder, including innocents and even American citizens without due process. And we know drugs have won their war, and that militant nationalism breeds terror. “Wars” declared on behalf of policies have seldom if ever been effective, and usually make things worse.
A much richer vision of the urgent resolve to cut emissions fast would be to call for climate change demobilization and waging of climate peace. History is replete with examples of ending war and the beating of guns into plowshares as an opportunity to redirect societal resources. How many solar panels and windmills could be crafted from nearly $2 trillion in global military spending a year, if the world returned to its pre-911 course of establishing international laws and reducing military expenditures? It is long past time humanity make peace with the natural world and stop destroying her ecosystems and releasing buried carbon stores.
Let me make it clear. Bill McKibben and the rest are heroes who have done much for the climate change movement. But the collapse of the climate, ecosystems, peace, and the human family’s one shared biosphere are so massive in significance that it dwarfs any one individual and requires a truthful and truth-filled universal response. Clearly Bill and are not the only, most qualified, or longest serving players. And sometimes, such as with their abject resistance to addressing natural ecosystem loss as a keystone response to climate change, they are simply plain wrong. Stopping a pipeline here and there, and ramping up renewable energy, will not stop climate change alone. Bill McKibben and other climate luminaries must broaden their scope or we perish.
Tragically, both and other foundation-fed climate bureaucracies like the Sierra Club make little effort to engage with their critics. This is not the first time they have been challenged to address natural ecosystem destruction as a root cause of climate change, and embrace policies of protecting and restoring terrestrial ecosystems including old-growth forests as a keystone policy response. Despite being personally asked numerous times to clarify’s position on old-growth forest logging, Bill has chosen to remain silent, as have the others (even the Sierra Club under Mr. Brune, certainly causing John Muir to roll over in his grave).
Bill and company, from their position of power, privilege, and prestige, have chosen to stonewall and directed their surrogates to vilify critics. When challenged, those feeding themselves from the trough of public money meant to solve climate change have refused to engage in a healthy debate, or even respond to critics, which could lead to more diverse and sufficient climate change policy responses. Many of their supporters, and funders, portray asking questions regarding’s ecology-free climate pronouncements as somehow betraying the movement, rather than ensuring all of the correct and sufficient science-based climate actions are identified and implemented at once in all haste.
Old-growth forests filled with large, old trees, are holy and worthy of veneration, literally the givers of life
Is this the type of climate change movement we want and need? Is it enough to win?
Recently Bill wrote in the New York Times of his outrage that right-wing stalkers from the fossil fuel industry were following him, observing his lifestyle. It is time for Bill to man up, and recognize as a public figure, scrutiny of his private actions and public statements are justified. He has tasked himself with crafting and demonstrating personal and societal climate change responses that are sufficient to avoid global ecological collapse, and he must be held accountable.
I, for one, am much less perturbed that Bill occasionally uses plastic bags for his groceries, than that he apparently has little understanding of the ecological systems that maintain a livable Earth.
In closing, I call upon Bill, Leo, Al, Naomi, and Mike to immediately support and begin working for a global ban on industrial scale old-growth forest logging and for widespread natural forest ecosystem restoration; and if not, to explicitly and specifically say why. Soon it will be too late. Otherwise each is a legitimate target for further protest as they continue their charlatan demagoguery hocking inadequate ecology-free climate solutions.
I implore the vast climate movement and its donors, that in crafting sufficient polices to limit abrupt climate change (and the myriad of related environmental and social crises threatening biosphere collapse), it is time for more ecologically inspired voices to be heard and supported. That is if the big boys (and girl) have left any space or funding in the climate movement for sufficient deep ecology informed solutions.


  1. I couldn’t agree more with your critique of the obsession with CO2 that dominates what passes for environmentalism these day but hey, as long as we’re going to be realistic about ecology, why don’t you acknowledge that it isn’t enough to stop logging and reforest because the existing trees are dying from absorbing pollution? The nitrogen cascade is a far worse problem, so far, than anything else humans have done because it is pervasive in every biome of earth.

    1. Yes, that is the truth. Yet large and connected natural forests are more able to withstand such perturbations, having the genetic diversity and core interior habitat to better do so.

  2. Sir, I also abhor the “war on everything” verbiage that has us “fighting for” everything we support and “fighting against” all we oppose — BUT it’s the language used and understood by the general public, and the activists who wander off into shimmering eco-talk while addressing them will imperil their message.
    You, given your platform and audience, have the luxury of speaking and writing exactly as you choose. It strikes me as unfair and ungracious for you to expect the same tone from everyone. I very much admire Mr. McKibben and Ms. Klein and value their work. Tearing them down brings no credit on you, in my book.

    1. But their policy prescriptions are wrong and won’t solve climate change. That doesn’t bother you?

      1. I must agree with Dr. Barry here.
        Blind adherence to journalists insufficiently versed in ecology, conservation biology (and of course, in the vast scope of biological science itself) is mere uninformed partisanship, addicted to slogans and exteriorization of blame.
        I happen to be a member of AAAS, and have watched with extreme discomfort its almost complete focus on engineering solutions, its avoidance of the problems of human population, its anthropocenist outlook which maintains that the entire Earth can be domesticated for impossibly fictional economic growth, and the incipient attempt to colonize other parts of the solar system.
        Colonization is the exploitation of any percieved external system , and throughout human history, NO reduction in exploitation has ever occurred through colonization,; just as in every other organism, humans respond to increase in resources ONLY by increasing in numbers and dispersal which, with the large population affords incessant repopulation until that formerly external resource/system is destroyed and subjected to simplification requiring more dispersal and colonization. This is not adaptation at all, but wholesale wrecking of the diversity of life.
        Journalists by training have insufficient understanding of the complexity of natural systems, of such quantitative basics as positive and negative density dependence, of evolutionary concepts as stable vs. unstable evolutionary strategies and introduced alien species.
        This does not bode well for those who may believe that engineering can solve critically accelerating interactive problems.
        In the biotic realm of Earth, no simplification CAN finally occur. Some organisms easily outpace us in adaptive response, and as we have excessively overreproduced, along with our few preferred domestics, we place ourselves unavoidably in a lower position on any trophic system.
        Klein seems not to have any grasp of such problems, and McKibben is at his best in popularization of the fact of acceleration of climate change. Grasping at quick anthropocentric fixes is foolish, not merely because it will ONLY result in population increase and more exploitation.
        Every technological advance by humans has ALWAYS resulted ONLY in faster population growth, and exponential growth of exploitation. On a few fronts some avoidance of ecological collapse has been made, such as stopgap fisheries regulation. Yet, it must be understood that outside of those regulated, are increasing numbers of exploiters seeking ways to avoid regulation.
        I am pleased to see that Dr. Barry has begun again to engage with the issue, as we have missed his dedicated work to publicize and try to quantify the extent of the problem.
        However, it does seem on every continent, in every ecosystem, that habitat connectivity may be partially successful, IF prioritized over human economic desire, until such time as abiotic or microbiotic events severely constrain the temporary rampant growth of humans, their domestics, and their shortsighted technological goals.
        Because internet comments are commonly so twitterlike, I think it best that those who read extensive surveys like Dr. Barry’s refrain from training themselves to think in aphorism due to its inevitable utter inaccuracy, lest their whole perception be reduced to such social epithet.
        It’s better to quickly study the sciences most relevant to the issues in which they find interest, and to unceasingly pursue those systematic enquiries.
        McKibben’s work is ignored by the large economic players, and any anthropocenist fixes he promotes are merely temporary fantasies.
        Organisms permeate some kilometers of earth’s crusts, as does the hydrological cycle, and you have already seen that well injection has unforeseen consequences – unforeseen by those who believe that exteriorization is possible.
        Once, studying the actual vs presumed hydrology, metallurgy, and geology of high-level nuclear wastestorage, I was disabused by many orders of magnitude of engineering notions that the problem could be sequestered in such a way as to avoid poisoning future multicellular organisms.
        No radionuclide energy solution does anything but magnify ecological problems.
        Of course, if one is solely focused upon proximate human profit/welfare (they are unfortunately defined the same)then any whose morality is defined solely in anthropocentric terms can only respond to ecological essays and concerns in ways that exclude most of earth’s life.
        Such narrow-mindedness while profitable to oneself and group, merely competes to exclude and is thus exactly the problem.
        Humans have no inherent right to continue to extinguish species and ecosystems. It will take from 1 to 3 million years for life systems to recover enough to recreate large organisms. Many of us have seen far too much extinction personally to stomach such attitudes and results.
        As a student of animal communication (vegetables also communicate and effect change through communication-like means!) I cannot directly affect intraspecies issues such as dispute, but I have seen animals (including us) be extremely unpleasantly surprised by events & heterospecifics.
        As conservation biologists well understand, those who seek relief from increasing human exploitation to the point of mass extinction and ecological collapse are doomed to lose. We can merely slow the loss until such time as a large event vastly reduces the problem, and the problem is us.
        Our sole concern then, is to protect individual organisms, genetic and biological diversity, and reestablish habitat connectivity, as highly oscillating climate will result in unpredictable change. We are now operating outside of Milankovich Cycles and other periodic and slow progressions.
        I know that the abscission of seeds and pollen are evolutionarily adapted to the advance and retreat of glaciers and the rising and falling of shores.
        However, I am disgusted by cement walls such as freeways preventing natural dispersal of numerous organisms, and by the presence of plastic in the dead offspring of the birds that reproduce furthest from continents.
        The desperate blight is not upon humans, but upon all other beautifully adapted life on earth. Evolutionary adaptation will not be successfully supplanted by CRISPR or any form of artificial selection for human purposes.
        Anthropocentrists disguising themselves in the cloak of Anthropocenists (a fiction which their children will hopefully explain to them in the urban and topsoil-less world they now create).
        I sometimes explore paleontology to speculate on how ancient animals communicated, and do continually find that human social communication is far less encompassing than that of animals with minds open enough to include other species.
        Your brain (or at least most of your adult ability to perceive, and because of the loss of natural environment around most, arousal is limited to exclusively social interaction ) is extremely likely to have been limited by this exclusion; perception uses the brains imbued in modern culture nearly exclusively as a social organ.
        I am constantly pointing out obvious signaling (and its complex webs of meaning) by everything living around us to those who look beyond their own conspecifics, and only once in a while attempt to engage any more with those who have no sense nor respect for the very awareness of those others so mistakenly demeaned and slowly executed by us.
        Humans are now engaged in intraspecific competition (well, really since the rise of the large city-state cultures) to such an extent that their brainns have actually shrunk over 15% fom previous size mean. This suggests that we are pushing ourselves into a closeted life, a life analogous to the domestic companion animals, cats and dogs, who both parallel this 15%+ diminution from their wild conspecifics.
        Although this phenomenon may not be related to actual genetic loss of function, due to our large pool, it is a result of this cultural domestication. THe so-called “primitive” peoples are nto at all so willing as we to be “led” by others and reduced to simpletons in our attention. This latter may be what is seen in political and cultural discourse: I remember the obvious oxymoron of Al Gore’s desiring that we “find a way to maintain our way of life” while dealing with anthropogenic climate change. Can’t do both, Naomi, Bill, engineers, shallow waders in issues – at least not for more than a human lifetime or so; and that lifetime will be filled with increasing violent strife for the other lives that we consider our “resources. for that maintenance.
        Here I will not bring up the epigenetic responses which are being discovered to this social stress. Much psychological diagnosis has roots in those acquired changes in genetic and molecular expression, and should you bother to explore it sufficiently extensively, you will have further insight into emerging problems and conflicts already extant socially.

        1. Thank you Mike for your lovely, insightful commentary. Deeply thought provoking. Keep in touch. Please share the essay 🙂

  3. Thank you, Dr. Barry. That was long but well worth the read. You made some excellent points throughout. Human development and destruction of habitat and ecosystems must be stopped, first and foremost, as you state, to allow for recovery.
    In Wilmington, NC, where I reside, they are continuing to decimate and clear cut for huge residential communities and commercial centers. Daily heartbreak as I witness yet another forest destroyed. Wildlife barely exists here anymore. Surely we have passed the tipping point and are reaching toward ecocide.
    It’s hard not to throw up your hands and hope for a quick and total human extinction. However, we take along so many other species with us.
    The war against the planet was, sadly, begun during the Industrial Revolution. As you state, using one war to fight another ends without a victor. In the end we all lose, but the greater casualty is the biosphere.
    Sometimes a mouthpiece like McKibben can get the conversation started. And hopefully, the talk won’t be cheap and useless. At least it produced another factual, eloquent essay from you. However, I would rather a distinguished scientist such as yourself, who possesses the experience, wisdom and correct intention, could beer the face of the leadership to save the planet.
    I am grateful to your continued dedication to save our dear planet. I take little steps, and have an intense awareness of my every action which has an impact on the environment. I try to lead by example. But it is never enough. And it troubles me constantly and leads to self loathing.
    How can we humans possess so much ingenuity and intelligence, and sometimes compassion, yet fail on the greatest challenge to save the planet, it’s sentient beings and ourselves? It’s a conundrum and selfishly preposterous.
    Thank you for ALWAYS caring and being a voice in the wilderness. I’m so glad I have you to keep me focused.

    1. You’re welcome Susan. We are each doing the best we can and together we can make a difference, particularly if freedom of expression is sought out and valued.

  4. Bravo, Glen! So Right on! This is what need to happen: the preservation and restoration of ecosystems, not more quick machine, or drug fixes! Craig

    1. Thank you Craig. That is kind of you. We need to cut fossil fuel emissions and protect and restore ecosystems, as well as numerous other actions, all at once.

  5. How much more obvious does it have to be for the 100th monkey to see? A War on Climate is what Hbs have been increasingly waging for hundred’s of years. “War” is so self-defeating.

    1. Agreed, even the language of war is disturbing and works at cross purposes to the peace we need to develop with the natural world.

  6. Dr. Barry.
    I am very inspired but what you have to say and I agree that a war metaphor for how we tackle climate change is woefully, in my humble opinion, bad. I do feel that the likes of Bill and Naomi are good in the sense that they raise the bar in terms of awareness in some aspects of this great challenge that we all face. therefore, they do do good, but what is needed is more of what you say here without adding in the negative statements towards these individuals which at a smaller level feel like a skirmish against them.
    We need to applaud the efforts of all who are trying to find ways to resolve this issue. Protecting ecosystems is a part of it, planting more trees etc is part of it, reducing emissions is a part of it, creating equity and social justice so that all feel respected, valued and protected is a part of it, recognizing that sustainable energy solutions must be coupled with a reduction in our usage of energy per capita is a part of it, reduction or elimination of eating meat is part of it, finding new ways to meet our needs at a level that still provide comfortable and fulfilling lives is a part of it … there are so many things to do and there is great urgency in getting it done. So I applaud what you are doing and look forward to more ideas and leadership from you. I also look forward to the same from as many who are willing to see this is a real and present danger and that we are all stewards of the only planet we have and that we must treat her with the respect due. She is not asking us not to live our lives, she is just asking for us to live consciously and conscientiously while we are here.
    Thanks for your wonderful words,
    Melissa Paige Kennedy

    1. Violent contention seems to occur to induce dispersal. Wars reslove nothing other than increased colonization of the dispossessed.
      This works when habitats are not completely saturated, when uninhabited niches or accessible alternatives exist. Hopefully this gives insight into the increased resistance to immigration, and the increasingly funded research into expanding possible human habitat.
      But the biosphere is full of us, and though war once seemed to have some capacity in depopulating areas into which more humans could disperse, this is no longer viable.
      However, since this competition is mediated through highly emotionally arousing areas of the brain, it will possibly increase in intensity. THe very fact that “danger” is a primary motivator and is the most common perception in which most are involved (either in violent attempt at avoidance, or aggressive attempt to attain social superiority) will lead to more strife, more organized and disorganized warring.
      I suggest that everyone withdraw from characterizing their lives and concerns in that way: danger, war, winning, losing. The pie is now so small that no one except the inherently psychopathic , can gain sustenance from indulging in the creation of such paradigm.

  7. Thank you, Dr. Barry. One point I would like to add is lifting the suppression of fusion power research, the much safer and more efficient pebble bed nuclear power plants, electric propulsion, and other new technologies that have been squelched for decades, because they challenge the supremacy of fossil fuel. Perhaps I’m being optimistic, but I believe we can survive AND live comfortably, after some initial, short-term sacrifices.

  8. An addendum, Glen. What about a crash program to expand what Kansas City is doing with their Subtropolis, and Chicago’s even bigger underground development. No tree-cutting, no land destruction. People like malls, so it shouldn’t be much of a cultural shock.

  9. I am saddened by the appearance of conflict between two people who share concern about a common problem. You are both right (and so is Gail about the trees and other proliferating toxic effects). Meanwhile, while I agree the entire entitled population of earth needs to do without a good bit of its self-indulgence, I don’t see how that is going to happen, even with myself, who depends on modern conveniences to get through the day. But obviously despair and apathy are not a solution either.
    We could certainly do with rapid deployment of clean energy sources, conservation, reforestation (and at the last halting deforestation that is now helping billionaires get more billions).
    I recently saw Time to Choose and strongly recommend it.

    1. This is a policy difference of opinion of vast importance, and yes the constant stonewalling on the matter has led to some frustration. Out of such debate our hope is sufficient ecologically based climate policies will be identified that can actually be implemented.

  10. I believe the essay is a grossly unfair attack on McKibben. Of course stopping mass destruction of ecological systems is a huge cause of concern worthy of high level attention when the enormous and urgent crisis of climate change is discussed. Yet even if the buffering capacity that ecological systems provide were not under mass attack, rising atmospheric CO2 levels would be pushing the climate system into a dangerous state . In fact the root cause of the pending crisis is CO2 rise, a problem accelerated by ecosystem destruction no doubt, a connection acknowledged by McKibben if you read his work deeply. Therefore an attack on him is unfair and unwarranted. Don Brown.

    1. Donald,
      Please direct me to any reference by committing to ending old-growth forest logging and restoring ecosystems as a solution to climate change. I will be happy to retract and apologize for the assertions in the essay once Mr. McKibben publicly starts espousing these policies. Despite watching closely, I have never seen such pronouncements.

    2. Eh, not so unfair, I think. Bill and Al in particular like to push the techno-fetishist response. I think it’s because they believe capitalism must be saved, or is truly the only answer to inequity and poverty, instead of the primary cause.
      Glen’s response, saving old-growth forests and ecosystem restoration in order to put feedback loops to work for us, is a much more realistic one. The ecological focus should be the primary one, but in and of itself is still insufficient.
      The real problem is infinite growth on a finite planet. This applies to population, consumption, and waste assimilation–the core factors of a carrying capacity analysis. And growth of this nature can only emerge from a paradigm of disconnection and hierarchies of domination.
      So, ecological work is the action we should be taking, and reconnecting and building networks of mutual support should form the basis of the new stories we should be telling.

      1. Yes, we need to do a bunch of stuff all at once. And any campaign that chooses only to espouse part of the solution is part of the problem.

  11. Thanks Glen
    The uncomfortable truth is that the earth is telling us to stop burning fossil fuels. We don’t want to do it, but we have to face up to it.

    1. You’re welcome John. Though I reckon Earth is telling us to not only stop burning fossil fuels, but also to stop destroying natural ecosystems.

    2. Whew! Thank you, Glen, for your courageous and thoughtful truth telling!
      Sadly as a result of decades of suppression of the ramping up of deforestation and biomass industries with virtually no opposition from main line environmental organizations, we are faced with an “all hands on deck” moment. Unfortunately, we have an uphill battle because of the invisibility factor in main stream or even alternative media( except the Enviro Show and Eco Beat Hour!!!:-)…! When even the conservative 2015 Paris Accords mention that “nations” and “regions” should protect forests as carbon (& Greenhouse Gas) sinks, we need to worry!
      Let’s break down barriers that divide, join forces and use every opening we have to save trees and forests, thus help the climate! Help us build alliances to help mitigate and reverse climate change – we can, we MUST!

  12. Just sent out this email to Mr. McKibben who I have briefly corresponded with from time to time:
    Hi Bill,
    Perhaps you have seen my essay critical of your recent war on climate essay at . Though full of fighting words expressing frustration at your and’s lack of emphasis upon sustaining natural ecosystems, it is also an urgent plea to broaden the scope of your policy demands to ensure they are ecologically sufficient. I am now based in New York City and would welcome the opportunity to sit down with you to discuss these matters and find common cause in efforts to end old-growth forest logging as a keystone response to limit abrupt climate change. I believe natural ecosystems offer one of the only possible buffers to carbon emissions, and allowing their recovery will minimize the likelihood of a pulse of carbon as they face widescale death. Can we please get together and talk about this?
    Glen Barry

  13. We, all us humans are destroying the earth. We are consuming at vast rates what little is left. You mentioned the “simple life” and really this is the only answer I can see can change the road we are on. For all of us to stop using up our resources. Plant gardens, create small farms and turn our yards into wild life habitats by planting lot of native plants and trees. Giving back to Mother Earth rather than taking.

  14. I think the reason ‘war’ is an apt analogy but also a big part of the reason that some (perhaps most of us) don’t like it, is the very real capacity of climate change for absolute carnage of life….. including by precipitation of real war (armed conflict) – the absolute ugly horror potential side of the Climate Change issue remains almost unspeakable amongst many including campaigners because we have been taught (partially by experiences and then some by peers) that horror does not engage and win campaigns and because there is a very fine line between acceptance of the potential for horrific catastrophe and submission to futility,…also it ‘frightens the horses’ one of the main reason I believe that mainstream media don’t go there, society does not want the populace to freak out, heaven forbid they might stop consuming and paying their mortgages… – however to face the horror of war, with the optimism that while current battles are being lost, the war can be won as by the massive effort employed in previous world wars… is actually positive and optimistic to me, it give hope heart emoticon – also past wars have been fought against nations and therefore involve some bigotry (obviously if your prepared to kill someone a bit of hate is involved) – however a war against the climate is the inverse of nationalism, it is internationalism,.. even a humanism cause after all some life (at least bacteria) would survive runaway climate change independent of human intervention – so really its about keeping a home for our species (and other fellow species travelers) – I can understand that lovers of nature find the war analogy an antitheses of the ‘ecological love’ we need to cultivate to repair the earth, but I think McKibben’s words on physics being a poor negotiating partner are salient – the earth doesn’t car for how much altruistic love we put into her repair – if the Greenhouse Gasses get too concentrated and runaway- and abrupt climate change is initiated/occurs – we’ll all cook regardless. As an ecologist myself I have never imagined that an effective response to the threat posed by climate change doesn’t include major life supporting ecosystem protection and repair, but also as an ecologist considering the rate at which climate change is unfolding, I believe such efforts will be futile unless the primary challenge of stabilising Greenhouse Gas Concentrations is addressed ASAP. To transition to zero and then negative emissions – there is nothing short of the war analogy that reflects how quick and how much we need to act to this existential threat… !! Onward Gaian antibodies…. You’re mother needs YOU!!

    1. Hey Jim, thanks for a reasoned response to my essay. On facebook you are blocked for your ad hominem personal attacks which distract from an important policy discussion.

  15. Mckibben has been a proponent of industrial wind power here in Vermont since the get-go. He sees no problem with bulldozing our montain tops blasting pouring hundreds of thousands of CO2 generating concrete, transported up wild ridge lines and installing gigantic 300 foot towers to generate more electricity for the walmarts and Dollar Generals that pop up near every little town these days. He is a phony and a publicity hound. I’m disgusted with so-called environmentalist who regard him as a spokesperson. Reduction of the human impact on the planet involves living more simply. No, I have hope that it will happen; respect for life on earth has disappeared among humans- and the ultimate consequence will be our own bloody demise.

    1. That sir, is the point I am making, not quite as eloquently as you. Industrial renewable energy in and of itself has severe costs.

  16. It is a question of what sort of earth we wish to leave our descendants, once we have ensured our survival as a species? I for one would want one full of the diversity of millions of years of evolution. One in which our quality of life can be measured by our appreciation of those with whom we share this planet.

  17. Hi Glen,
    You certainly have a valid point and surely Bill would acknowledge this if you took it up with him as a one-on-one discussion. I’d certainly endorse and comment along prevailing lines that you care to take up with him. Regards, Alan

  18. Well stated Glen. Even our very language and terminology continues to separate us the rest of nature, and reinforces the cosy mindset that we are “in charge” and “in control”. Hapless dominion!

  19. Dr Barry, I have long argued that climate change is merely a SYMPTOM of the real problem, which is nonstop economic growth on a finite planet. As I see the difference between you and the climate hawks you named, you want the world’s population to take steps consistent with scaling back nonstop economic growth – widespread land preservation, reductions in consumerism, systems-based thinking which values ecological factors in decision making….. that’s all good and to your credit. At the scale of a single human lifespan, you understand that we need the wisdom and maturity of many decade’s of thoughtful experience. On the other hand, I tend to agree with the implied views of McKibben and others, who view society more like a 17 or 18-year old, who realizes they have strength, knows just enough to think they know everything, and are certain they will live forever. As a parent or teacher, we’ve all had the painful experience of letting go enough to let young people we care about learn from their screw-ups…. while at the same time trying to protect them so their screw-ups don’t kill them. That’s the state of affairs as I see it. McKibben’s approach is dialed in to what’s POSSIBLE, given who we are as a society so far in our evolution. I sincerely hope we keep it together long enough that your views in this essay become an assumed party of our unconscious narrative. But we just ain’t there yet. Yes, McKibben’s approach is a large scale industrial redesign of the planet, and that hurts…. indescribably so when the turbines or solar farms or whatever come to a wildlands that we personally know and love. Realistically, though, we just don’t have time to un-build our addiction to nonstop economic growth and still forestall the coming clouds of hydrogen sulfide rolling off the oceans as they go anoxic. Only the “all in” approach has a chance in hell of engaging with the bulk of citizens in earth’s various societies. Once its in place, we’ll need to keep teaching limits, and one thing we know from ecology is that if we solve energy some other limiting factor will come to the forefront in human discourse. That’s all well and good, just so long as the next limiting factor is one that lacks the same extinction threat to aerobic life. That way, we’ll have time to keep spreading systems-based thinking. Whether it’s a war campaign or peace campaign, it is certainly a multi-generational one, where the appropriate focus will change as we progress (or not). You’re in good company, by the way. At the end of his life, Gandhi wistfully came to see that India just wasn’t ready for his teaching of nonviolence. It’s sort of the same deal here, in my opinion.

  20. We Are All Ready Baked in to a 6C. Temp. Rise, even if we stopped emitting Carbon and Methane Right Now !
    Heating Up, and Burning Up, with Record Heat and Rain Year after Year !
    “Professor Chris Field is bullshitting the planet. On whether 1.5C is still feasible” Kevin Hester
    “The message is already clear, that if the world does want to strive to limit warming to 1.5C or less, we don’t have very much of the carbon budget left.” Professeor Chris Field
    “There is no carbon budget any more and 5C is baked in according to both Shell petroleum and the International Energy Authority. ” Kevin Hester
    With Record Breaking Wind, Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Earth Quakes, Rain, Snow and Heat !.
    That are HIGHER, Than Normal ! We are going to go Off the Charts !
    There is No Atmospheric Budget For More Carbon, Methane, or Nuclear !
    We must Stop the Koch bros, Warren Buffets, Bill Gates, and their Fossil Fuel allies from FUKUSHIMIATIZING Us !
    Greenland is Melting and Calving Now, Jonas just went over Greenland at above Freezing Temps, for the first Time in the Dead of Winter 2016
    “And for the Winter of 2016 it’s possible that the Arctic may never experience typical conditions.
    For, according to NOAA, the first half of February saw this record, Spring-like, warmth extend on through today.
    It’s as if these coldest zones in the Northern Hemisphere haven’t yet experienced Winter
    — as if the freak storm that drove Arctic temperatures to record levels during late December has, ever since, jammed the thermometer into typical April levels and left it stuck there. ” Robert Scribbler
    Greenland has 20 Feet of Sea Level Rise !
    Now is the Time for Feed in Tariff Clean Kilowatts, Home Owners and Commercial Business owners selling Renewable Energy, Wind and Solar to the Utility !
    Dump Net Metering (Second Utility) Third Party Leasing.
    Protect Our Communities with Solar Policies that keep the Money in the Wallets and Purses of Head of House Holds.
    In Order to Ready Themselves for coming, Record Breaking Rain, Wind, Snow and Temps.
    Food Shortages, Heat,, Floods, Fire, Quakes, Volcanoes, Hurricanes. and Sea Level Rising 220 Feet !
    With Ca. Residential and Commercial Feed in Tariff
    Help Protect Hard Working, Tax Paying, Voting, Citizens from our Koch Bros, Warren Buffet, Warren Gates, Fossil Fueled Energy and Water Policies !
    We Need To Decommission are Nuclear Reactors Now !
    And Relocate to above 3,000 Feet !
    Each 1C. Temp Rise, Atmospheric Moisture increases 7%
    We have increased Temp 1.7C. and Climbing
    1850 ppm Carbon 270
    1980 ppm carbon 350
    2015 ppm of Carbon 405 and Rising
    2016 ppm carbon 412 and rising !
    What will the ppm of Carbon be when Greenland All Melts ?
    Diablo Nuclear, San Onofre Fuel Rods, and All Nuclear needs to be relocated to 3000 feet above Sea Level
    Over 3 Million Years of Waxing and Waning From the Poles, with the Arctic Keeping North America Cool, Now it is Greenland Because of Fossil Fuels !
    Massive Sea Life Die Off on Pacific and Atlantic Coast !
    Pacific and Atlantic Oceans 4 – 18 degrees warmer than Normal
    Antarctica has 200 feet of Sea Level Rise
    Arctic Region Warming Twice as fast as the rest of the planet !
    Over 440 Nuclear Reactors at Sea Level Now !
    From Kevin Hester comes this message: Professor Guy McPherson will be touring New Zealand in November 2016 talking about Runaway Abrupt Climate Change. Regular updates are provided at KevinHester.Live and Facebook events will be created as the date draws near.
    Sign and Share for a Ca. Residential Feed in Tariff. Go to the youtube site, look six inches below video, click on Show More, then click on blue link to sign the petition.

  21. There is obviously a lot of knowledge about ecology in the post. But many people are already aware of these facts, and I am sure McKibben is one of them. I congratulate the author on a lifetime of learning about ecology. I suggest he branch out a little and learn the meaning of metaphor. The ad hominem attack was entirely unnecessary unless it was simply a technique used to garner more attention.

    1. I couldn’t agree more, as we simply do not have the necessary time and in many places the available water supply needed to restore old growth forests in-time to avoid ruinous if not fatal damage to human society from ongoing carbon and CO2e emission.
      Over the much-longer term a policy to try to regrow forests and urban tree cover must be combined with policies to arrest rapid population growth and even to reduce global population, as well as to arrest urban sprawl, retain as much irrigated farmland as is possible, and attempt to grow as much of urban food supply as-possible in large urban hydroponic greenhouses as-possible.
      I do not think that the good doctor has done enough research into the amount of farmland needed to supply population an average diet of so many calories on an annual basis, given our current 51% loss rate between farm and end user.
      I devised a simple model to answer this question using USDA food availability, food loss, and crop yield data several years ago, and I personally guarantee that forest permaculture has zero chance of feeding the 8 billion people who will be alive in just 15 years.
      How do you get your food grown in forests to urban wholesale food warehouses and to retail anyway? Let me guess: Using our current diesel fuel-powered distribution system?
      Is the good doctor even aware that the human race has already lost more than 35% of the farmland that existed in 1970 and it has been forecast that we will lose half of what remains by midcentury to desertification, doubling the required crop yield necessary to continue to feed our existing population, not including any additional population growth?
      I hate to have to say this, but Bill McKibben is quite right, we must rapidly move away from fossil fuels toward renewable-source energy and EV or hybrid motive power. We must also move toward localization of food and consumer goods supply and greatly reduce trade, and consider the degrowth ideas of futurists such as Dr. William Rees of the University of British Columbia.
      We must adopt policies to contain urban sprawl and attempt to design cities to reduce the need for residents to drive, and yet, even in the cutting-edge sustainability-minded Metro-Denver urban area, the sum total of all current urban sustainability efforts will only reduce the current need for residents to drive by 13-15% by 2040.
      We only have until 2030 or 2035 to effect enough change to save the human race, which is clearly not enough time to substantially regrow forests even using rapid-growth species, especially not in the Desert Southwest where we are facing critical and rapidly-worsening water supply shortages and are already seeking to remove cottonwoods on the grounds of their required water use.
      However, we only have 15 to 20 years to rapidly effect the necessary change as our carbon budget is already long-blown once rapidly-rising Arctic natural carbon and methane emissions are included, and the possibility exists that any day we could see a catastrophic single-day methane emission as permafrost and sea-floor methyl hydrates continue to thaw.
      Are we all aware that we have already seen several catastrophic-level Arctic methane releases in the past year, with several atmospheric methane observations of between 2950 and 3096 ppb to go along with a ground-level observation of 375,000 ppb on the Yamal Peninsula in June this past summer, that has since caused an all-summer and fall heatwave across Siberia that averaged 7 C above-normal, as well as contributed to about 20 times as much timber burning as-normal across Siberia this past summer too?
      At the combined rate that the human race is growing, destroying forests for a variety of growing human needs, losing viable farmland, as well as overdrawing aquifers at triple the recharge rate, while surface runoff declines across drier regions of our planet, and ongoing temperature rise contributes to rising natural CO2 and CO2e emissions which have also contributed-to an immense increase in annual woodland lost to wildfire, as well as to a rising number of record flooding events across wetter regions of our planet that also kill vegetation and trees, it is far too late to effect the necessary change just on woodland growth policy.
      Because of this fact, the good doctor does a grave disservice here, as his claim that a seachange in forestry policy can supplant the need to rapidly move away from carbon emissions on a global basis is woefully naive. Do you have policy control over the over 200 individual governments across our entire planet doctor? No? How many have researched your ideas and have moved to rapidly embrace your ideas? Zero?
      Perhaps you should read some of David Spratt’s stuff on Climate Code Red especially his now 2 & 1/2 year old piece that proves that we had already exhausted our carbon budget by then, and mind you, over the last 2 & 1/2 years, several additional sources of methane emissions have been found that were not included in previous climate change calculations, such as methane from abandoned oil & gas wells, methane seeps from coal beds, and methane rising from organic matter getting trapped by dams as well as downstream getting trapped on the outside of bends in rivers and streams.
      To put it mildly, the human race is in an extremely difficult position right now, facing a rapidly-worsening multi-faceted disaster that still very likely contains a bunch of unknowns. Not only is ongoing growth and the use of fossil fuels killing our climate but also rapidly-depleting critical resources whether metals resources, viable farmland, woodlands, water resources, and even apparently ocean seafood and the very air that we breathe as our ocean’s ability to produce oxygen is lost.
      Apparently according to a new peer-reviewed study from Europe we have already exceeded the peak ability of soils, plants and trees to absorb carbon too, now a decade ago in-fact, a study that is subsequent to your original letter to Bill McKibben.
      The absolute last thing we need at this point is in-fighting between the many related well-intentioned efforts to arrest rapid human overgrowth, over-consumption, and overuse of increasingly-scarce resources as our temperature continues to rise at a rapid rate and human disaster appears increasingly certain, especially if we lose ocean seafood and the ability of oceans to create oxygen.
      In my well-educated professional opinion I would say it is time for the good doctor to retract his naive complaints against Bill McKibben as well as against anyone else fighting to save the human race, as we are all working toward the same goal, which at this point is to save as many human lives as is possible, as the bow of human society is already beneath the waves and there are nowhere near enough lifeboats to save all of us either.

  22. A low-hanging fruit that the big greens have largely turned away from while turning to more popular “carbon bombs” is mountaintop removal, the cradle of the climate crisis. The process clear cuts forests and pollutes streams in Appalachia, in some of the biologically most diverse forests on the planet. In the meantime, the airborne blasting dust and toxic processing waste lead to a public health crisis in some of the poorest parts of the US. The big greens need to put some effort into actually ending this practice and supporting the grassroots-led efforts to do so, instead of tokenizing and franchising local efforts.

  23. “Why doesn’t actively support and campaign upon ending old-growth forest logging as a central solution to climate change?”
    Glad you asked. I’ve been trying for years to get 350MA to pay attention to forest protection and restoration and am constantly ignored or patronized. Even many local grassroots climate activists seem clueless to this aspect of the climate struggle. We’ve been playing it like a broken record on The Enviro Show for 11 years!

    1. Hi Don,
      The situation is truly sad. Glad to know others are questioning the climate movement status quo. Would love to come on your show and discuss the matter.
      Dr. Glen Barry

      1. Dr. Barry, I am concerned about the Senate Bill S. 2012 that would declare burning forests “carbon neutral”..
        I hope that Democracy Now will air your views.
        Although I believe that all humans have an awareness of their connections with forests and the natural beings within them, (including sub-soil fungal networks, we need to include forests with the “non-extractables” that ought not to be burned either. Why do you think it is so difficult for groups fighting fossil fuels and pipelines to get that? Josh Fox deals with iit as a “fringe” issue… what a lost opportunity.
        I”d like to invite you on my show also. The Singing Wilderness & Eco Beat Hour. (On ) Like also
        Write at:

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  25. Lots of fine words on this site but the march to climate destruction continues apace.
    The problem that we face is human ignorance, much of it wilful and human psychology. It seems that we are ill equipped as a species to understand and correct the destruction of our environment and thus ourselves.
    The climate movement has been struggling for decades to find the campaigning forumla that will work. So far unsuccessful.
    Of course people in the climate movement including Mr McKibben understand ecology and the need to repair the earth.
    IMHO given the failure of every part of the climate, environment, ecology, left, peace etc movements to solve this problem leaves us with few choices. Squabbling amongst ourselves is not one of them.
    IMO it is time for a seriously disruptive program against the polluters and destroyers and their enablers in a way that will bring this existential crisis into the living rooms and consciousness of enough people to create the required momentum. This could be seriously nasty but so is climate change.

    1. Discussing substantive climate policy differences is not squabbling. It is getting the policy right – both sufficient and doable. Ending old-growth forest logging and allowing old forests to expand is critical to global ecological sustainability and avoiding the worst of climate change.
      Dr. Glen Barry

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