Bill McKibben speaks at Cambridge Earth Day, 1990

by Jason Ong

There's been a lot of debate and discussion over the Keystone Pipeline, a system that would transport crude oil from Canada to the United States for processing. Supporters of the project claim that it will create jobs and secure a nearby source of oil, while opponents cite environmental issues like an increase in greenhouse gases and the possibility of water pollution.

[caption id="attachment670" align="alignright" width="300"]<a href="">Bill McKibben Bill McKibben at Cambridge Earth Day, 1990. Courtesy CCTV[/caption]

One of these opponents has been environmental activist Bill McKibben, who led a nonviolent protest in November 2011 at the White House to try to convince the administration to stop the project.

His opposition to the pipeline has really brought him into the public eye, but McKibben has had a long history as an environmental activist. He was the keynote speaker at Cambridge's Earth Day in 1990, an event which CCTV covered in depth, and footage of which I found in our archives.

He spoke about the need for more energy efficient light bulbs and cars; 20 years later, regular incandescent light bulbs are being phased out in favor of CFLs, and hybrid cars are gaining popularity. He also advocated sharing environmentally-friendly technologies with the developing world, so they could avoid repeating our country's mistakes. Today, this is a common criticism aimed at China; its development in some ways imitates what the United States used to do before environmental regulation.

McKibben’s speech also mentioned Ohio Valley coal-burning plants and the subsequent presence of acid rain in New England. 20 years later, his opposition to Keystone is rooted in how it could push the entire earth over the tipping point in carbon emissions. He’s had a longstanding belief that the value of local projects must be measured in terms of their wider effects.