How Bill McKibben Uses Pseudoscience and Psychology to Manipulate Energy Policy

by | Oct 2, 2023 | Environmentalism

The so-called Leave It In the Ground movement didn’t pop up from nowhere.

Bill McKibben has built a career as a radical environmental activist and prolific writer, wielding outsized influence on national and global public policy. His extremist ideas have informed the most regressive, anti-energy, anti-prosperity proposals backed by leftist politicians the world over, migrating from the fringe into mainstream thought.

McKibben is the poster child for how the professional Left advances its agenda. It starts by throwing out a radical, non-sensical, half-serious idea—which most Americans, with more pressing worries to attend, mock or ignore. But while the rest of the world moves on, activists and extremists continually attempt to find ways to gain ever wider acceptance for these ideas. In fact, McKibben has routinely protested the likes of Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama for failing to adopt sufficiently extreme positions.

Enter the Green New Deal. Those on the Right mock AOC and “The Squad” until their ideas suddenly become a bill, and inexplicably get passed into law—or, more often, elements of those failed bills get adopted by the federal bureaucracy in the rule-making process or are included in omnibus spending bills.

Suddenly, something like the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act does the opposite of what it promises: Driving up prices on household essentials like gas and food and destroying family budgets, while everyone wonders how it happened.

This is how the professional Left stays so effective in getting its agenda passed, largely by continuing to push the envelope, relying on the administrative state and a Congress too lazy to do proper oversight.

Pseudoscience is a Feature, Not a Bug

It hardly matters that radical environmentalists base their positions on pseudoscience, false assumptions, and outright lies told under the veneer of a “consensus of climate experts.” McKibben has made a pretty penny for himself and for his “nonprofits” by peddling his fearmongering to a media landscape largely illiterate in basic science.

McKibben is not a scientist. To his credit, he doesn’t claim to be one. He graduated Harvard College in 1982 with a Bachelor of Arts (presumably in journalism), though one cannot find his major on the internet. He teaches introductory undergraduate courses on environmental activism at Middlebury College in his home state of Vermont. The closest anyone has gotten to associating him with science is to describe him as a science journalist, but that doesn’t really tell an accurate story. One fawning academic review at his alma mater referred to him as a “trusted intellectual” and a “knowledge journalist.”

Never mind that he’s never had a peer-reviewed scientific paper published.

McKibben’s first job out of college was writing society columns for the New Yorker magazine. His greatest accomplishment is winning mass appeal in mainstream publications. He’s written a dozen books and started several radical environmental protest organizations—and, critically, learned what it takes to raise money from well-heeled donors and foundations on the professional Left.

The influence of climate pseudoscience’s false premise has spread globally, as we’ve watched the United Nations, International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and nations around the world push for ever more restrictive environmentalist policies. It also drives various “green” movements to force corporate boards big and small into compliance with ESG—”environmental, social, governance”—goals, even if some large hedge funds have begun to back off their ESG demands on companies in which they invest.

Hundreds of radical environmentalist protest groups around the globe have done everything they can to mainstream these radical ideas, even if people find their methods repugnant (like dumping soup on works of art or gluing themselves to airport runways). Bill McKibben occupies a large orbital path around that influence sphere.

Outsized Influence on Public Policy

McKibben’s influence has expanded over the years, to the point that socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) gave him a plum position in 2016: An appointment to the Platform Committee at the Democratic National Convention. This after Barack Obama allowed McKibben to write his global warming platform during his 2008 presidential campaign.

That influence began with, named for their goal of keeping atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) below 350 parts per million. McKibben can be credited as one of the biggest influences in the so-called Leave It In The Ground movement.

Founded in 2008, has expanded rapidly, claiming a presence in 188 countries. With an annual budget of around $20 million, it fights to end the use of “fossil fuels”—oil, gasoline, natural gas, coal, and the like—to keep the atmospheric concentration of CO2 low enough to stave off global calamity. As its states on their website, works to “dismantle the influence and infrastructure of the fossil fuel industry and to power up clean systems rooted in justice.” The group’s goals include halting all “fossil fuel” extraction projects, forcing the banking industry to stop financing oil companies, and “revok[ing] the social license” of energy companies.

McKibben has written extensively about his belief that we must keep all “fossil fuels” in the ground, from the New Yorker to the New York Times to Scientific American to Yes! magazine:

When it comes to climate change, the essential problem is not one group’s preferences against another’s. It’s not—at bottom—industry versus environmentalists or Republicans against Democrats. It’s people against physics, which means that compromise and trade-­off don’t work. Lobbying physics is useless; it just keeps on doing what it does.

So here are the numbers: We have to keep 80 percent of the fossil-fuel reserves that we know about underground. If we don’t—if we dig up the coal and oil and gas and burn them—we will overwhelm the planet’s physical systems, heating the Earth far past the red lines drawn by scientists and governments. It’s not ‘we should do this,’ or ‘we’d be wise to do this.’ Instead it’s simpler: ‘We have to do this’ [emphasis added].

Notice that the “numbers” don’t include any sort of proof of his claim. How do we know we have to “keep 80 percent of the fossil-fuel reserves underground?”

McKibben doesn’t bother to say, and frankly, proving it would get in the way of his agenda. Oh, he’s got references on his site to the IPCC and NOAA and Science. Without getting too far in the weeds, however, we know from Climategate that much of the data came from scientists willing to manipulate and cherry-pick, rather than showing the real climate picture. Junk science is ubiquitous where climate is concerned.

Just one small example among a sea of misinformation, from 2020:

The examples are virtually endless.

Who Supports

As mentioned earlier, McKibben and have mastered the grantmaking process, along with working with wealthy leftist donors to fund their activities. They’ve received funding from the Tides Foundation, Arabella Advisors’ “dark money” New Venture Fund, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Soros-aligned groups, and Tom Steyer and his constellation of foundations. Another source of funding for is the Schuman Center for Media and Democracy, which also has employed McKibben as a paid trustee.

Many of the organizations backing, like Foundation for the Carolinas and billionaire Fred Stanback, have taken stands so radical that they rival the depopulationist goals of the World Economic Forum and the Gates Foundation. Oddly, the depopulationists align with other donors, notably the teacher’s union National Education Association.

Politics makes for very strange bedfellows, particularly when a teacher’s union aligns its goals with those who want fewer children in the world.

From 2011 to 2018,’s annual revenue increased from just over $3 million to almost $20 million. It employs a staff of well over a hundred in over a dozen offices around the world. That gives them the ability to organize protests and rallies in several locations simultaneously, amplifying their influence.

McKibben Stays Active

McKibben stepped down as CEO of in 2014. Since that time, he’s occupied his time with writing books renouncing his love of America and writing about the Tour de France for the New Yorker. Of course, he can’t stay away from radical organizing. He’s formed a new organization within the past couple of years called Third Act, which recruits new activists over 60 years old to engage in radical “progressive” politics. He says he hopes to buck the trend of people becoming more conservative as they age. Third Act fiscally sponsored by the Sustainable Markets Foundation, a pass-through funder that gives grants to all the familiar leftist groups, including As of 2023, McKibben still leads protests, including against banks that finance oil companies, and is still writing.

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