Bill McKibben and Susan Halpern in the Berkshires

In the first of a new series of talks that focuses on writers who are tackling the compelling issues of our day, the New Marlborough Meeting House is hosting authors Bill McKibben and Susan Halpern, and the committee for the series couldn’t have chosen better. The date is August 14th from 4:30 to 6:00 PM. Tickets are $20 and won’t last long. (Note: we just learned this event is SOLD OUT, but a video will be posted online for viewing later.)

Bill McKibben’s 1989 book The End of Nature is regarded as the first book for a general audience about climate change, and has appeared in 24 languages. He’s gone on to write many more books and influential articles AND start a movement for climate action. In addition to honorary degrees from 19 colleges and universities, he is recipient of the Gandhi Peace Prize and the Right Livelihood Award. Foreign Policy named him to its inaugural list of the world’s 100 most important global thinkers.

Sue Halpern is a staff writer at The New Yorker and author of seven books, including the best-selling A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home and Four Wings and a Prayer, which was made into an Emmy-nominated film. She has written on science, technology, and politics for the Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, The New Republic, and The New York Review of Books. A scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College, Halpern is a recipient of both a Guggenheim and Echoing Green Fellowship.

The titles of their talks are The Future You Can Have and The Future You Don’t Want.

I first met Bill McKibben shortly after the publication of The End of Nature. It was at an Orion Society event honoring Homero Aridjis, the Mexican award-winning environmental poet. Under the then leadership of Marion Gilliam (publisher) and Laurie Lane-Zucker (executive director), the Orion Society convened annual celebrations of leading environmental authors held in the landscapes that inspired their works.

The gathering for Aridjis was held in the Mexican state of Michoacán, now the site of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (Reserva de Biosfera de la Mariposa Monarca) a World Heritage site containing most of the over-wintering locations of the eastern population of the monarch butterfly. At the time Aridjis was calling for recognition of the site and its protection from loggers felling the very trees that were the resting place of the monarchs.

At that gathering I remember being apprehensive of Bill McKibben’s message in his book. Bob Swann had impressed on me that Gandhi called for 10% protesting and 90% building the future. Bill McKibben’s book seemed too much the Chicken Little tale – “the sky is falling, the sky is falling” – leading to fear and inaction.

But I was mistaken about Bill on two accounts. First his clear explanation about the immanent environmental crisis effectively translated hard scientific data into a language that moved the non-scientifically trained reader. Much like Small Is Beautiful translated economics into everyday stories broadly understood. Over the next two decades Bill McKibben became the voice of a new generation of environmental activists, inspiring outrage and action, and effectively changing the narrative about climate.

At the same time he became a strong advocate for local economies and local communities, recognizing that to end degradation of the environment would mean curtailing use of fossil fuels transporting goods across oceans. Like Schumacher before him he called for local production for local consumption and championed those working to foster vibrant local economies. Including BerkShares, Our Currency for the Berkshire Region!

This fall BerkShares will mark its fifteenth anniversary. BerkShares, Inc will celebrate by highlighting the many locally owned businesses of the Berkshires that have come through the pandemic with creativity, ingenuity, and just plain spirit. These businesses are a fundamental part of what makes the Berkshires unique and wonderful. For notice of the time and place of the 15th anniversary event, sign up for the BerkShares enewsletter.

BerkShares is further celebrating by collecting the over 70 BerkShares Business of the Month stories into a book — Follow the Money: Stories from a Local Economy.

Bill McKibben kindly wrote the introduction to the book. It is shared below to give you sneak peak ahead of publication to bear witness to Bill’s brilliant advocacy for local economies. Join me on August 14th in New Marlborough to hear Bill McKibben and Susan Halpern.


artwork by Marc Burckhardt


Introduction to Follow the Money: Stories from a Local Economy

By Bill McKibben

By the time this book is published, it will be just a hazy memory in the long list of crazy events that have marked recent years—but perhaps the image of the good ship  EverGiven, piled absurdly high with containers and wedged in the bank of the Suez Canal, should stick in our memories. What kind of economy have we built that depends on the endless traffic in the kind of stuff that sits in those containers—and what kind of economy have we built that can come unstuck if a single waterway is blocked?

The opposite of the kind of the economy that Berkshares has been patiently building these past 15 years—the kind of economy whose story is compellingly told in the vignettes collected here.

Every one of these stories is about a business that can be compassed, understood: an inn where friends and travelers can gather, a gym where you can keep your body fit, a nursery that blooms with life each spring. What they have in common is that they are fixed in place, part of a community ecosystem. And like any healthy ecosystem, that is a guarantee of some resilience in a century that will require it. We sense our vulnerability with the pandemic, and even more strongly with the threat—no, the guarantee—of disruption that comes as we confront our future on a dramatically hotter, stormier planet. Instead of building an economy whose only principle is ruthless efficiency—an economy that worships ‘just-in-time’ production, and scorns the rights of workers, an economy that consolidates money in the hands of a few billionaires and leaves vast swaths of the nation hurting—we need economies that understand the value of rootedness.

BerkShares have many virtues, which is why the system has been of such interest over the years to scholars, and to practically-minded politicians who can tell something useful when they see it. But for me their greatest asset is the way that they build local community instead of eroding it.  Too often money is a tool for divorcing us from our neighbors—at its logical end, a person with a credit card need never see anyone except the UPS driver again in his life. But that’s obviously dangerous: when the storm comes, UPS is not going to dig you out. And it’s sad: if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s how much we value those around us, and how difficult it is to be deprived of their company.

So as we return to ‘normal,’ or whatever passes for it in this chaotic century, let us look to the Berkshires for real inspiration. We don’t have to live our economic lives in ways that tear apart the places where we live; with a bit of commitment and experimentation, we can figure out how the genius of our places can be restored, preserved, enhanced. If you must think of it in purely economic terms, consider it a form of insurance: a wise policy taken out against the possibility that the global economy will wedge itself firmly in the sand, and that this time there won’t be a timely full moon to refloat it.

Insurance, though, doesn’t capture the delight that comes with neighbors, the pleasure that comes contact with those around you. Those pleasures shouldn’t be occasional; a working economy delivers them right alongside your sandwich, your book, your repaired bike. They are the joys no delivery driver can provide. BerkShares are, I think, necessary—but even if they weren’t, they are undeniably happy. Fifteen years from now, everyone will understand that.