Here’s How to Stop Burning Things

Radio Open Source
5 min readMar 27, 2022


This week: a conversation with Bill McKibben about the curse of fossil fuel, that crucial material for war and climate change alike. Listen today at 2 pm, or anytime at our site.

Recently “the temperature in the eastern Antarctic was registering at 70 degrees Fahrenheit above normal average temperature,” the author and environmentalist Bill McKibben tells us on this week’s show. “And at the same time, for the first time in many decades, we’re talking seriously about the prospect of nuclear war.” McKibben explains how these dual threats intertwine:

The driver in both these cases is in many ways the same thing. Vladimir Putin’s army is funded by oil. 60% of Russia’s export earnings are oil and his weapon is oil and gas—the threat to turn off the tap to Western Europe. The only good news about any of this is that if we want to seize the moment, the answer is, as it has been for a long time, the same: get off oil and gas.

. . . .we’re now at a moment in history when that’s not only possible to contemplate, but relatively easy to contemplate. It makes complete economic as well as environmental and political sense. And now all we need to do is break the political power of the Putins, the Koch brothers, the king of Saudi Arabia, all the other oil and gas barons who want to keep us locked in business as usual.

Bill McKibben.

McKibben offers steps for making things right:

Our goal needs to be to stop burning things on planet Earth. Human beings have engaged in combustion for 200,000 years. It’s, as Darwin said, one of the two things alongside language that really made us human. And for the last 300 years, it’s what’s made us modern as we’ve figured out how to burn not just wood and dung and things that were our birthright, but coal and gas and oil, the trinity that powered the industrial revolution and modernity itself.

That need to do that— the 200,000-year-old need to set things on fire, we can now do away with, if we want to, in very short order. For all but a small handful of tasks, the fact is that the provision of the good Lord of a large ball of burning gas hung in the sky 93 million miles away provides us with what we need. It sends rays that photovoltaic panels can intercept and turn directly into power. It differentially heats the Earth, producing the breezes that turn wind turbines. And these are the sources of energy whose price is dropping fastest, whose ecological cost, though not trivial, is the most benign of the sources we know. And it’s clearly our way out, our hope, our option.

There’s a group called Third Act, founded by Bill McKibben; its aim, McKibben says this hour, is “to take people over the age of 60 and get them mobilized around issues of climate and democracy.” For him, taking action on such issues can mean, at times, getting arrested (he tells us he’s been arrested around a dozen times so far):

I remember in 2011 when I was organizing the first arrests around Keystone in Washington (which turned into the biggest civil disobedience action about anything in this country in a long time) I wrote the letter asking people to come to Washington and get arrested. And one of the things I said was I didn’t think that young people should have to be the cannon-fodder here. Young people were leading the work. But if you’re 19, it’s possible an arrest record is not the best thing for your resumé. One of the few unmixed blessings of growing older is: past a certain point, what the hell are they going to do to you?

To read more from McKibben on fossil fuel and climate, see his New Yorker article titled “In a World on Fire, Stop Burning Things.”

Read: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Annie Dillard’s eco-classic includes meditations on the combustible stuff of the natural world:

After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames.

Watch: A French Village

A French Village is the story of Villeneuve, a fictional town close to the French-Swiss border occupied by the Germans in World War II. Norman Solomon at The Nation writes that it’s

a relentless epic with little use for the familiar images of craven collaborators and selfless resisters. Un village français focuses on a fictional rural community that endures a tightening vise of German control for more than four years. The villagers live far away from black-and-white tropes.

Listen: Martin Luther King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech

We’ll be talking about this unforgettable, continually relevant speech on our next show.

Listen: The Right Stuff

You must hear the new Radiolab episode:

Andrew Leland joins a blind linguistics professor named Sheri Wells-Jensen and a crew of eleven other disabled people on a mission to prove that disabled people have what it takes to go to space. And not only that, but that they may have an edge over non-disabled people.

This week’s ephemeral library

A.S. Hamrah on the Oscars (as usual he doesn’ think much of any of them). The case for disabled astronauts. How Covid Exploded in Hong Kong. Noam Chomsky: Let’s Focus on Preventing Nuclear War, Rather Than Debating “Just War.” David Wallace-Wells: How The West Lost Covid and Covid is Not Over Yet.



Radio Open Source

An American conversation with global attitude, on the arts, humanities, and global affairs, hosted by Christopher Lydon.