Bill McKibben started his lecture with a joke.
“The Dalai Lama is a hard act to follow,” he said, garnering some laughter from the crowd.
But McKibben was greeted with a sea of audience members who packed into Hendricks Chapel Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. to see him speak as part of the first Syracuse University 2012-13 University Lectures series.
McKibben, an environmentalist and Harvard graduate, spoke about global warming, arctic depletion and what everyone should do to prevent irreversible damage to the planet.
“We will break the planet if we keep on with our current momentum,” he said.
The arctic is melting rapidly, McKibben said, and the ocean’s acidity has increased by 30 percent. This past July was the warmest month ever recorded in the United States, he said.
This is a problem, he said, because the amount of grain produced in the United States falls as temperatures rise. For the first time in 38 years, McKibben said, America will produce less grain than it consumes.
McKibben also spoke about his organization, 350.org, which is dedicated to bringing social awareness to global warming and climate change. Toward the middle of the lecture, McKibben proudly showed photos of people from all over the world representing 350.org. U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan placed sandbags in the shape of “350.” In San’a’ Yemen, men and women stood graduate-class style, in the shape of “350.” Women wearing burqas stood in a circle to create a zero.
“They are not thinking about themselves,” McKibben said of the women in the photo. “They’re thinking about the future, about the planet upon which they live, about their children, about the children that will follow for many generations thereafter.”
The “350” in the organization’s name represents the amount of carbon dioxide scientists believe should be in the atmosphere to ensure a healthy and balanced planet in the parts per million, McKibben said. The world is at 392 ppm.
Near the end of the lecture, Mckibben spoke directly to the students in the audience. He said changing the world was not reserved just for them, but for people of all ages. Young people have the means to make a difference, he said, but it must be a collective outcry against the government and big businesses.
After the lecture, Adam George, a graduate student at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, said he considers McKibben to be a living legend.
"I basically consider him an idol," George said. “He is essentially trying to get a mass movement to get a political or community based changed to combat global warning. That is admirable.”