Top Environmental Writer Takes Climate Change Crusade to Portland, Says Schools Must Fight Global Warming through Investments

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PORTLAND, Maine -- One of the country's foremost global warming experts is spreading the message that the problem is worse than previously believed.

Bill McKibben, a journalist who is credited with bringing climate change theory to the mainstream with his 1989 book "End of Nature," visited Portland Tuesday as part of a 21-day tour to promote a series of drastic measures he says are necessary to prevent catastrophic global warming.

McKibben's basic message of reducing dependence on fossil fuels is no longer novel among environmentalists, but his current angle -- of combating the problem through financial investments and driving carbon dioxide levels down to 1980s levels -- is rallying new support around the country.

"We've been playing to huge, sold out crowds all across the country," McKibben told the Bangor Daily News several hours before taking the stage for a multimedia event at The State Theatre in Portland on Tuesday night. "Which is odd, because what we're talking about is difficult and actually somewhat depressing, which is the new math of climate change."

McKibben wrote that new math in a widely read article published by Rolling Stone magazine in July. The story further bolstered his place among star environmentalists such as Rachel Carson, and helped jump start his current tour pushing for worldwide energy reforms.

"The fossil fuel industry has in its reserves about five times as much carbon as even the most conservative government would say is safe for this planet to burn," he said. "At the time [when 'End of Nature' came out], we did not know it would happen this fast and this dramatically. So far, we've raised the temperature one degree, and look at the Arctic. We've basically increased the acidity of the world's oceans by 30 percent. We're making astonishingly large changes very fast, and the only way we can keep it from getting much, much worse, is by very quickly making a change to alternative energy sources."

For Maine, McKibben's plan would mean getting used to life without the oil tanker business in the port of Portland, as well as seeing the state's colleges and universities -- among others -- accept the financial repercussions of cutting their investments in fossil fuel companies.

Headed by school President Stephen Mulkey, Unity College became the first higher learning institution in the country to sign on to what McKibben calls the "divestment movement" last week.

McKibben said Tuesday he hopes that by the time his current 21- day speaking tour is over, Unity College will have the company of more than 100 other university campuses around the country pledging to remove fossil fuel companies from their investment portfolios. The divestment movement is a major thrust of McKibben's plan. …