In recent weeks, I have been paying close attention to policy dialogues sparked by Hurricane Sandy. So when I heard Bill McKibben was bringing his Do The Math tour to Madison, I had to be there. The event made quite an impression on me, both in terms of packaging the argument for divestment in fossil fuel stocks, but even more particularly how McKibben has moved dramatically out of his academic comfort zone – understandably driven by his palpable fear that without action our planet will become uninhabitable within a few generations if not sooner.
McKibben is an environmental activist, who at age 27 wrote the The End of Nature. During his presentation he reflected that at the time, he thought a book was all that was needed to spark change. He now recognizes that while academic contributions are important, they’re not necessarily sufficient for social change.
McKibben has devoted himself to this work. He’s not a rock star type (even though the tour has all the elements, including a huge bus, high quality graphics, music, and videos from famous people like Desmond Tutu); this does not seem to be his comfort zone. He seems a bit uncomfortable in the limelight, and dresses very casually. He says he would rather be typing than touring the country.
The morning after attending the presentation, I awoke at 4 AM thinking about key elements of McKibben’s work and contemplating their relevance to broad population health challenges. Here’s what he’s done: