Keystone Antagonist Steps Down as Head of Climate Group

Bill McKibben, a chief antagonist of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, is stepping down as chairman of the environmental group that he helped create.

McKibben, an author and climate advocate, said the move will give him more time to write and to organize campaigns. He’ll remain as a senior adviser to the New York-based group that pushes for action to combat climate change.

“If this sounds dramatic, it’s not,” McKibben wrote in a letter to supporters sent from Sweden, where he is receiving the Right Livelihood Award from Parliament. “I will stay on as an active member of the board, and 90 percent of my daily work will stay the same, since it’s always involved the external work of campaigning, not the internal work of budgets and flow charts.”

McKibben, 53, has led since he co-founded it in 2007. The group gets its name from a comment by climate scientist James Hansen, who has said the world needs to cut carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million to avoid dangerous alterations to the climate. Current levels exceed that limit.

The group has helped to galvanize opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry heavy crude from Alberta to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries across six states. Critics say the pipeline will encourage development of the oil sands, which are more carbon intensive than conventional oil. The group has also joined campaigns against hydraulic fracturing and to discourage investing in energy companies that produce or use fossil fuels.

’Carbon Budgets’

During McKibben’s tenure, grew rapidly. It reported about $1.9 million in grants and contributions in a 2008 tax filing, and about $6.3 million in 2013 filing. In his letter, McKibben said the group’s size and complexity required a board chairman “who is as good at dealing with organizational budgets as carbon budgets.” He said KC Golden, a Seattle-based organizer, will talk over on an interim basis.

McKibben helped organize a February 2013 rally that drew thousands of protesters to march around the White House urging President Barack Obama to stop the pipeline. McKibben has been arrested at least twice outside the building protesting the project.

“The constant travel of the last seven years has helped a little, I hope, to build this movement, but I’m ready for a bit more order in my life,” McKibben wrote. “I’ll still be there when the time comes to go to jail, or to march in the streets, or to celebrate the next big win on divestment. But I’d like to see more of my wife.”

The Right Livelihood Award McKibben has received is often called the “alternative Nobel Prize.” Awardees this year include Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked documents to reporters about U.S. surveillance programs.