Oil and Honey – Book Review

Oil and Honey Book CoverReading 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.

Book Review

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.

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Earth Day 2014 – Mr. President, Go Green

For Earth Day this year, I decided to write to President Obama about the Keystone XL Pipeline Project. My timing couldn’t have been better.

350.org Parades Giant Pipeline Around the Capitol Before State of Union Photo: Steven Tuttle

Last Friday, I took a break from drafting my letter to the President to check online for the latest Keystone XL Pipeline news. The U.S. Department of State had just issued a press release stating the Keystone XL Pipeline Project review period was being extended due to a decision by the Nebraska Supreme Court that may result in a route change through Nebraska.

Reading the press release about the Department of State’s Keystone XL Pipeline Project website (I didn’t even know there was one) enticed me to read the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Project Executive Summary dated January 2014.

I discovered how little I actually knew about the Keystone XL Pipeline Project which I’ve opposed for the last couple of years. One document led to the next and so on until I realized I needed to finish my letter and save the Keystone XL Pipeline Project for another post. I did use some of my new found knowledge in my letter to the President. The text is pasted below.

April 22, 2014

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Re: Keystone XL Pipeline Project

Dear President Obama,

On this 44th Earth Day, I want to thank you for your efforts to move the United States towards clean renewable energy and a brighter future for children everywhere.

But it’s not enough. We all need to do more—a lot more.

I was pleased to see last Friday’s Department of State announcement extending the Keystone XL Pipeline Project review period again, but the project should just be stopped once and for all.

Destroying Alberta’s boreal forest and transporting 830,000 barrels of tar sands crude oil across the heartland of the United States every day might be in the short-term interest of the petroleum industry, but it is not in the national interest of American or Canadian citizens.

The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Pipeline Project shows it will cause large scale environmental degradation and is fraught with risks to people and wildlife. It is not a job creator and is not economically sound.

-Once the Keystone XL Pipeline is built, just operating it will emit 1.44 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents a year, the same as putting another 300,000 cars on the road.

-Producing, refining, and burning a barrel of tar sands crude oil from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin emits 17% more greenhouse gases than the average barrel of crude oil refined in the U.S.

-The 42,100 jobs the project expects to support temporarily during construction are not necessarily new jobs. Some or all of the people may already be employed by the companies that would perform the work and it is not unreasonable to suppose that some or all would find other projects to work on if the Keystone XL Pipeline Project does not happen.

-The project will only create 50 post-construction long-term U.S. jobs (35 permanent, 15 temporary).

-The projected $3.4 billion the project would contribute to the U.S. economy is more than offset by spending on mitigating and dealing with climate change which in part is caused by burning fossil fuels. For example, according to The President’s Budget Fiscal Year 2015, $4.4 billion in taxpayer money is earmarked for just for the “Reducing Carbon Pollution and Preparing for the Impacts of Climate Change” section. That puts us in the hole by $1 billion, just for one year.

For whatever reason, the media, environmental NGOs, and the general public have latched onto the Keystone XL Pipeline Project and made it a prominent issue as well as a political hot potato. This provides you with an ideal opportunity to take a stand and kill the project. Such an action is sure to garner worldwide attention and put global leaders on notice that you intend to lead the fight against climate change.

Mr. President what you do or do not do to address climate change during your presidency will become your legacy. That is what will be remembered by your children and mine. I promise to do my part.


Linda, the Unlikely Environmentalist at www.greengroundswell.com

I’ll post the response if I get one.

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