Manchin caved on climate. Bill McKibben says there’s a good reason for that: Us

Manchin caved on climate. Bill McKibben says there’s a good reason for that: Us

July 28, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben

I’ve counted Bill McKibben as a friend since 1990 when I reviewed his brilliant first environmental book—The End of Nature. Not just for his original thinking and elegant writing, but also his relentless efforts to organize others and to be repeatedly arrested to punctuate his points about the climate crisis. 

In the wake of Sen. Joe Manchin’s surprise decision announced Wednesday, agreeing (finally) to the first significant federal legislation on climate in three decades, McKibben has written a short commentary at his substack, The Crucial Years. You can read the whole thing at the link, but I’m excerpting a chunk of it here:

The pushback against his decision two weeks ago to blow up the deal was harsh—clearly harsher than Manchin expected. Within hours he was trying to make the case that he hadn’t actually walked away from negotiations. His fellow Senators stopped playing nice and made it clear they had no use for him. And the president seemed to understand he had to hit back: hence his increasingly clear talk of a climate emergency. But most of all it was, I think, the widespread public scorn. Somehow it began to break through to Manchin that the only thing history would ever remember about him is that he blocked action on the worst crisis humans have ever faced.

There’s no longer a real public doubt about climate change. Yes, for partisan Republicans it remains fun to pretend it’s a hoax, but after thirty years of science, fifteen years of movement building, and an ever-increasing cascade of fires, floods, heatwaves and droughts, the public mood is finally strong enough to at least begin to match the political power of the fossil fuel industry.

You could feel it building when Bernie made it a key campaign issue in 2016; by 2020, every Democratic candidate was on board, because primary polling showed it was one of the top two issues for voters. The political force most responsible for this victory was the Sunrise Movement; those young people built that wave and then rode it with immense skill.

But this is a win engineered by everyone who ever wrote a letter to the editor, carried a sign at a march, went to jail blocking a pipeline, voted to divest a university endowment, sent ten dollars to a climate group, made their book club read a climate book.

Last November, in the midst of the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, I wrote, “No, climate activism isn’t a waste of time”:

I see the fierce activism of courageous and justifiably worried young people pushing hard on climate issues and for reform of a host of other matters that need a new way of doing things because the old ones don’t work so well anymore, if they ever did. I think they and their allies will do all they can to make good policy happen because they know that every minute truly serious climate action continues being postponed means far more draconian measures will be needed to shield us from the worst future impacts, assuming we can be shielded after so many delays. I think they have the optimism of will required to stay persistent and relentless in the face of great odds, in the face of those pessimistic facts.

The Inflation Reduction Act isn’t the end-all, be-all of what needs to be done on climate. And it has some stuff on fossil fuels that, like the bipartisan Infrastructure and Investment Act, will not be helpful for dealing with climate, rather the opposite. But neither of those legislative packages could  pass without those items. And now, added to other positives the administration has achieved, we are on the cusp of having a major climate-related promise to tout in the midterm campaigns. For many of us, that will make canvassing voters easier.

Note: I didn’t say easy.


Going forward, we should fall prey neither to doomerism nor pollyannaism. They serve us poorly. A few months ago, all but the most optimistic among us figured the best we could do in November would be to reduce the electoral damage. The situation looks much better now, and if the Inflation Reduction Act does wind up on President Biden’s desk, it can only improve our chances in the midterms.