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Time Magazine honors professor for protest efforts

Middlebury Professor Bill McKibben leads a peaceful protest in front of the White House in August.

Middlebury Professor Bill McKibben leads a peaceful protest in front of the White House in August. Photo provided

— Following a civil disobedience protest in late August where 1,253 climate change activists were arrested in front of the White House over a two-week sit-in, longtime Johnsburg resident and current Middlebury professor Bill McKibben was recognized in Time Magazine for his efforts.

The magazine’s Person of the Year issue, formerly Man of the Year, chose protestors, in all their international guises, as the influential newsmakers of 2011.

“It's been a remarkable year because ordinary people started saying this isn't working and we're not going to take it any more,” said McKibben in an e-mail interview. “Not from dictators, not from investment bankers, not from fossil fuel companies.”

McKibben was a driving force behind the late summer Washington protests, and among the first arrested.

The civil disobedience demonstration was aimed at stopping construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline in the central U.S. that would move Canadian tar sand oil to refineries in Texas, a 1,384-mile run that endangers sensitive ecological areas and will vastly expand greenhouse gas emissions, said McKibben.

“What I think is so interesting is how conservative, in a sense, many of these protests are, ours included,” said McKibben.

The 51-year-old professor said many of the participants in the effort were older than him and clothed professionally, with ties and dresses.

“It reminded me a lot of the wonderful organizing many of us did years ago to block the proposed county landfill at the base of Crane Mountain,” he said, recalling Johnsburg Supervisor-Elect Ron Vanselow’s role in that protest.

“We just want a world something like the one we were born to,” said McKibben.

It’s been a bit of a tiring year, said McKibben, but the moral urgency of climate protest is great enough that losing time he’d have to ski, write, hike and teach is worth the sacrifice. For their protest efforts, President Barack Obama has delayed the final decision on allowing the pipeline to be built. Because it’s an international project, the pipeline needs federal approval.

“No environmental victories are permanent,” said McKibben. “This is a temporary delay. But maybe we can buy enough time that the world will finally start getting serious about climate change.”

McKibben said he and his 350.org climate-change activism group will highlight people and places impacted by climate change, including in the Adirondacks. They also want to bring more attention to the governments subsidies paid out to fossil fuel companies, some of the world’s richest corporations.

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