Reading the words oil, honey, and Bill McKibben on the cover was all it took. I instantly decided to buy Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist. I was already familiar with McKibben as the co-founder of 350.org, a grassroots organization intent on building a global climate movement. I’d also read one of his books,
I was already familiar with McKibben as the co-founder of 350.org, a grassroots organization intent on building a global climate movement. I’d also read one of his books, Eaarth, and enjoyed his writing style: a mix of detail, conversation, and humor.
McKibben is a vocal opponent of the Keystone XL Pipeline so I expected to be reading about Big Oil and was curious to find out what he had to say about bees. It wasn’t until I pulled the book off my bookshelf to read it that I noticed the subtitle “The Education of an Unlikely Activist” and realized I’d be reading McKibben’s own story.
At the beginning of Oil and Honey, readers learn they are embarking upon a dual journey with McKibben. In one part of the story, he is cast as a budding apiologist (one who studies bees) and in the other, a reluctant activist.
Bees and Honey
Meet apiarist Kirk Webster, McKibben’s friend, and beekeeping mentor. Follow along as McKibben learns about bees and beekeeping by helping out with Webster’s small-scale beekeeping operation, an interesting combination of tradition and innovation. It works. McKibben shares his insights into bee behavior and sometimes draws comparisons with how corporations and people act.
It is a quiet, simple life amongst the bees and rambling about the Vermont wilderness.
Oil and Activism
The other story thread follows McKibben as he crisscrosses the country via airplane, bus, and car, first testing the waters of civil disobedience and then going all in.
Find out how a class he taught entitled “Social Movements, Theory, and Practice,” a paper published by Jim Hansen, and the Keystone XL Pipeline, influenced McKibben’s decision to lead his first Washington, D.C. civil disobedience action. McKibben describes his feelings before that fateful day.
“…in that early summer of 2011, I was stepping off a small cliff into the next phase of my life. To this point I’d been able to pretend that I was mostly a writer who happened to be helping with some activism—that our global climate education project was a natural extension of the work I’d spent my life doing. But now I was getting ready to do something different: to pick a tough, visible fight with the strongest possible adversaries on the biggest political stage in the world.”
As planned, he did get arrested.
Throughout Oil and Honey, McKibben shares his struggle between needing to travel but wanting to be home. He acknowledges the dichotomy of traveling around burning fossil fuel while fighting for clean energy. He gives an open and often humorous account of life on the road and tells of failures as well as successes.
Oil and Honey wraps up with the Forward on Climate Rally held on February 17, 2013, in Washington, D.C. As Bill McKibben looked out on the crowd of 50,000 people, he said,
“All I ever wanted to see was a movement of people to stop climate change, and now I’ve seen it.”
The Bottom Line
Bill McKibben is the author of more than a dozen books, co-founder of 350.org, and scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont. He is a rebel, a leader, and an environmental activist.
One doesn’t need to be a treehugger or activist to respect and admire Bill McKibben for standing up for what he believes and fighting for a habitable planet for his child and ours and all the children of the future.
I recommend Oil and Honey to everyone. It’s informative, entertaining, and inspirational.
- 350.org – a Global Movement to Solve the Climate Crisis
- American Earth – Book Review
- Eaarth – Book Review
- March For Real Climate Leadership – Don’t Frack California
- People’s Climate March – September 21, 2014 in New York City