McKibben's fable to consider secession and small is beautiful

McKibben's fable to consider secession and small is beautiful

Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance by Bill McKibben is a novel published by Blue Rider Press with a statement regarding big versus small and climate change. In the 1800’s one union was so significant but it was controversial. For decades this tug-of-war between states and the union built up and finally led to the civil war. Today, the American population is again heavily divided.  During two centuries, the union was necessary to build railroads, settle a continent linking east and west, develop education systems, communication, national transportation systems, fighting world wars, reaching the moon, and so on. The indigent people were mostly eliminated and the bison and beaver hunted nearly to extinction. And now, a message within McKibben’s fable is that “we need to be small, or at least smaller.” 

Bill McKibben is a champion fighter against climate change and founder of, the grassroots movement, which launched among other efforts a fossil fuel company divestment campaign. He weaves his scenarios of climate change cometh in Vermont into his fable story that centers on Vermont’s possible secession from the USA. Radio Free Vermont includes book cover reviews by progressives Bernie Sanders, Naomi Klein, and Jay Parinia, who calls the book “a balm for troubled times.”

Those familiar with everything Vermont will recognize McKibben’s local geographical and sociological references and that is an essential element of the overall point. 

Among the 16 books produced by McKibben, starting with “The End of Nature” and more recently with “The Global Warming Reader,” he has previously written about cross country skiing (Long Distance) and in real life he is a regular patron at Rikert Nordic Center near Middlebury, Vermont. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the way McKibben weaves the sport of cross country skiing into the story using biathlon (competition that incorporates target shooting with cross country skiing), and an ambush, rescue, and escape on cross country skis.

The “living small” dialogue is portrayed by repetitive annunciation of “town meeting” the age-old community gathering done on the local level where local decision-making takes place. An apt quote by Abraham Lincoln is worked into the fable “Ere long the most valuable of all arts, will be the art of deriving a comfortable subsistence from the smallest area of soil. No community whose every member possesses this art, can ever be the victim of oppression of any of its forms.” 

Some of the stand-out quotes in Radio Free Vermont include “the sound of freedom is low, quiet small. It doesn’t drown out everything else,” “Federal and state officials are not terrorists, they’re mostly just in over their heads,” and Rex Tillerson, US Secretary of State and one time Exxon CEO said to the fictitious Vermont governor, “I want to say that I’ve never had the chance to visit Vermont due to the fact that you have no deposits of oil or natural gas, but I do know that you have a number of very fine filling stations.” The use of humor can be poignant and stinging.

McKibben of course interjects a view of what Vermont will be like in the future as climate changes impact the region. “With the Arctic melted, there was no place to build up the intense cold that had always marked winter in Vermont. Lake Champlain did not freeze much anymore and if snow fell it was usually for a few nighttime hours in the middle of a rain storm.”

The book is a quick read and leaves you wondering about greed and politics. Vermont’s real governor recently outlined his idea to conduct a targeted marketing campaign to attract selected people to come and populate Vermont because the state population continues to decline while the cost of living keeps escalating. Due to the state’s economic shortcomings and political polarization it is unlikely agreement can be found on issues related to Radio Free Vermont such as developing a carbon tax or universal health insurance…let alone secession [sic].