Groucho Marxist Bill McKibben takes on Glenn Beck

My life as a communist actually began without me knowing it, on Friday evening, when Glenn Beck spent his program explaining about a “communistic” conspiracy that included 10 groups in America. One was, a global campaign to fight climate change that I helped found three years ago. He even put our logo up on his whiteboard – and next to it a hammer and sickle.

Since I don’t actually watch Mr. Beck, I didn’t know about it until e-mails began to arrive, informing me that indeed I was a communist. My first reaction was: I’m not a communist. I’m a Methodist.

But then I reconsidered.

Fellow Eaarthling and sometime CP blogger Bill McKibben offers a light touch in his response to the clown prince of disinformers.  Beck is the guy who told William Shatner, “I think there are too many stupid people.”  Now that’s humor!

Here’s more from McKibben’s new Washington Post column, “My life as a communist“:

What exactly was I doing when those e-mails arrived? I was downloading an iPad app, At Bat 11, which lets me (for only $14.99) hear the broadcast of any baseball game anywhere in the country. Since I live in New England, I use it to track our beloved Boston squad, whose moniker I had never before deeply contemplated. Now – well, enough said.And the next morning, on my first full day as a communist? I spent most of it outdoors, at the annual New England festival for young cross-country ski racers. More than 500 kids from across the region were competing, and I was standing on the toughest hill cheering. And here’s the thing – at least with the first- and second-graders, I was cheering for everyone equally. Not only that, but did you know where this particular type of skiing was invented? Norway.

Some people laugh at Mr. Beck – earlier in the same week, for instance, he’d ventured the opinion that “Reformed Judaism” was pretty much the same as Islamic extremism. Not 100 percent correct, but the next day he apologized, and explained the research technique that that had led to the slight miss: “I had, was having a conversation with a few friends the night before – one of them, I trust on things like this, and I’m not even sure if I misunderstood him, or misheard him, or what.” In my case, though, the evidence seemed fairly damning.

Especially because, earlier in the week, I’d written a widely circulated essay that attacked the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which on its own Web site says that as “the voice of business, the Chamber’s core purpose is to fight for free enterprise.” And yet I scourged them – because they’ve spent the past few years opposing any action on climate change. Indeed, they submitted a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency arguing that it should avoid regulating carbon emissions because, in the event of global warming, “populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations.”

To me that sounds absurd. Instead of the 16 companies that provided more than half the chamber’s budget adapting their business models to a world of safe renewable energy, they wished all people everywhere and forever to change their physiologies. But now I see that my protests can be read as a gesture of support for human solidarity, with all that implies.

I should have known better than to go after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. After all, Mr. Beck just last year held a telethon on its behalf, encouraging listeners to send the chamber checks, and ponying up $10,000 of his own $32 million in earnings. “They are us,” he’d explained – and indeed, an executive of the chamber called in to thank him.

The Chamber of Commerce spends more money than anyone else lobbying Congress. They dropped hundreds of thousands on the last state elections in Wisconsin, all of it for the side now standing up for union-busting, I mean human freedom. Opposing them – well, clearly I’m hammer-and-sickle all the way.

I turned 50 last fall – that’s half a century not understanding who I really was. There’s something liberating about finding out. After all, it was Marx who said that above 350 parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we can’t have a planet “similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted.” No, wait, those were NASA scientists. The same people who faked the moon landing. This is a complicated world; I’m going back to the baseball game.

Perhaps this is the best strategy for dealing with this famously ill-informed primate (see Glenn Beck’s anti-science rant: Evolution is “ridiculous “” I haven’t seen a half-monkey, half-person yet”).

The Bible says a gentle answer turns away wrath.  We’ll see….

32 Responses to Groucho Marxist Bill McKibben takes on Glenn Beck

  1. wili says:

    What this really shows it that it makes absolutely no difference what one’s actual stated positions on anything are. If the right-wing-nuts decide to go after you, they’ll just make sht up.

    This is why I totally reject the occasional poster who comes on chastising those of us who are pointing out some of the harsher possibilities regarding GW because (they claim) it will just give ‘the other side’ ammunition to label us as ‘alarmists.’

    They clearly don’t wait for anyone to supply them with ordinance, they just create it out of whole cloth whenever they want to.

    Has anyone done a study of public discourse during the Weimar Republic recently?

  2. Glenn Beck is not only a disinformer. He also spends almost all his time on this sort of personal attack.

    His viewers would be better informed if he spent more time on the issues and less time inventing stories about people who are part of a sinister conspiracy to destroy America.

    Did people see the news story about Beck saying that Frances Fox-Piven is a socialist threat to America because of an article that she wrote over 40 years ago? He really looks hard for bogeymen that he can scare his audience with.

  3. Jeff Huggins says:

    Time for a quick thought-provoking examination of free markets, externalities, and a Question of Integrity. A “free market” with integrity, that acts consistently with its own claimed principles, would not … (Well, I’ll leave it to later, hopefully.) I applaud Bill McKibben, of course. Bravo!

    At some point, it would be helpful to revisit Rupert Murdoch’s own past comments regarding climate change and carbon neutrality — the aim that (last I heard) he had chosen for NewsCorp businesses, presumably. And it would be helpful to do a piece on Beck, in light of Murdoch’s comments and so forth, and in light of other factors or at least claims: e.g., even Rex Tillerson has said (to select audiences) that he supports a carbon tax.

    There is another irony: Beck is calling “communistic” when the present-day Russian government is (among others) on Beck’s side — or perhaps he’s on theirs?! — when it comes to responses to climate change, i.e., nil. Isn’t it the Russians, partnered up with “Western” oil companies, who want to drill, drill, and drill in the Arctic and elsewhere? It seems to me that Putin and Palin have much in common, Glenn, when it comes to their love of petroleum and so forth. The Petrol Pair: Putin and Palin. (Don’t get me going, I’d have too much fun.)

    Cheers, Concerned Climate Comrades (ha),


  4. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    As Mr McKibben is a ‘Methodist’ he ought to know that, for the far Right, Methodism is a species of Communism. As for real Marxists I suggest he investigate Marx’s thoughts on the ‘metabolic rift’ between capitalism and Nature (if he has not done so already). Marx was limited by the science of the day and the not so far advanced stage of our destruction of the planet’s biospheres, but he saw that capitalism could as easily destroy the natural world as it did all previous social and productive arrangements. As capitalism is the root cause of our rush to auto-genocide and as the greatest enemies of humanity are the most fervent capitalist zealots, the critique of capitalism by Marx et al, updated with the insights of ecologists since, seems to me to be one of the most promising avenues for searching for a replacement for capitalism, in the unlikely event that we survive beyond the next few decades. Call me a ‘watermelon’ if you like, but rather a watermelon than a mushroom, kept in the dark and fed bulldust.

  5. L. Carey says:

    A gentle answer actually won’t turn away wrath these days (especially the wrath of Faus News pundits and their ilk) — but it will be rather convincing to a lot of rational people. (BTW in math terms, that’s two mutually exclusive sets: (1) Faux News pundits and (2) rational people.)

  6. jaywfitz says:

    The amount of money pouring into the anti-science(maybe we should just start calling it “anti-life” in the epic evil fantasy literature sense? These people make Darth Vader look like someone you’d enjoy tea with at a church picnic. . .) campaigns is simply astounding. As one who manages a small silviculture project on the Big Island of Hawaii I find it shocking that there’s actually people paid to hassle and discredit even our small community efforts. Still, they must be getting desperate, as much as they cook the books to obscure the obvious changes, the facts are that I’m comfortably cultivating papayas at a 1000 feet in elevation above where they were historically ever grown.

  7. climate undergrad says:

    Bill I bet you didn’t know you were a fascist also!

    Aren’t those the same? :)

  8. joyce says:

    Go Bill! I, too, was amused with the personal attach Beck launched on me a few years ago. Like Bill, I didn’t find out about it until after the fact (like 6 months later–no one I know listens to Beck, only by accident did some one find it when googling me)

    I thought it hilarious at first–until I googled my name and found that several extremist site had picked up on it, and I remember one said of those of us quoted in the NYT: “we have names, we have places, now let’s go get them.” Really creepy. Strange times we live in.

    (And it was because I was transforming my yard into an edible garden?? Go figure…)

  9. dp says:

    let’s see we have the wrath, the greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. for ordinary contrarians there’s a lot of pride on the line and some envy. now the top people they’ve got the whole list going, including the sloth, since they’re shirking their civic duty to change with the times.

  10. Richard Brenne says:

    Worse than a Communist or Marxist or Socialist or Telemarker (the one of these things I know McKibben to at least occasionally be) or even Telemarketer is a Beckist, which is someone who attacks without any evidence and literally worships the free market and all those who profit most from the status quo of ultra-powerful corporations and the fossil foolishness they frothingly support, despite the resultant pollution and most or all of our species demise as collateral damage in their quest to grow their egos to a size infinitely larger than their spirituality, morality or intellect, and the only thing worse than that is a run-on sentence. . .

  11. Scrooge says:

    I stopped watching faux news years ago because it was taking to long in research to find the truth after listening to fox idiots. After hearing second hand about some of the things beck is saying lately is he going off the deep end more now than before.
    Also is this the same bill Mc I saw discussing loons and mercury? No pun intended.

  12. Pangolin says:

    In a weird way Glenn Beck has done more to promote communism than any public figure I’ve seen or heard of in twenty years. Imagine some teen with his anti-environmentalist dad sitting there watching Glenn Beck; then Glenn starts in with his “environmentalism is communism rant.” The kid thinks, “this communism must not be so bad after all…….”.

  13. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    Ask Beck what his religious beliefs are, or just Google Mormon. It’s about as outlandish as one can get – polygamy (yes, but now just after you die), you become a God (if male) after you’re dead with your own planet, you can’t go to your kid’s wedding if not current on your tithes if it’s in the temple, etc. etc.

    I live in Utah and the Mormons here either love him or are totally embarrassed by him and hope no one knows he’s one of their own.

  14. Rick Covert says:

    Glenn Beck’s attacks should not be taken lightly. Already there have been several potential terrorist acts stopped before they came into fruition. In one incident the Tides foundation was targeted by some mentally unbalanced individual based on what he heard on the Glenn Beck show. It just demonstrates how wrecklessly irresponsible Beck is and of course if some one is harmed they always blame their victims. It’s a glib, smug, self-righteous, narccisitic bubble Glenn Beck lives in.

  15. Pete H. says:

    Before the fall of communism in Europe, I visited several communist countries. One of the things that distinguished them from Western Europe was that they lacked any environmental protections. Before the fall in Hungary, the capital’s air choked you, irritated your eyes, and damaged structures. I remember a train-ride by a factory that lacked smokestack emissions controls of any type. Acrid nasty smoke belched into the air. Downwind there was a dead-zone and farther along an area with a large proportion of dead trees and other vegetation. This area spanned several miles. In truth, historically green and communism rarely (if ever) mixed. Beck speaks nothing but nonsense every time he opens his mouth.

  16. Mike Roddy says:

    If you watch old film of Goebbels and Mussolini, they look like vaudeville acts. It’s the same with our Glenn.

    A cardinal principle of guys like him is that they never admit that they were wrong. When global warming picks up steam, he’ll figure out a way to
    blame it on the Left. Contortions like that may end up costing him what’s left of his audience. Let’s hope so, anyway.

  17. 350 Now says:

    One positive that could come from this… for older children forced to live in households where GB wreaks through the teevee machine – the mention of may lead some of them to visit Bill’s website. Not likely but not impossible… Let’s hope some of them have their natural inborn curiosity still intact instead of succumbing to the early ugly hatred and close mindedness we saw in the “throw an egg at Al Gore and Dr Michael Mann” pictures…

  18. OT

    WeatherBill launched Total Weather Insurance in 2010 as a way for US farmers protect themselves against being devastated by weather, which the US Department of Agriculture blamed for 90 percent of crop losses last year.

    Google backs climate-change weather insurance startup

  19. diogenes says:

    As a fellow nordic skiing enthusiast, I’m astonished you’d even spend a micro-second contemplating anything Glenn Dreck says when there is such a great festival going on over at the Holmenkollen right now.

  20. dorveK says:

    Wasn’t Jesus some kind of watermelon anyway, like he could move the mountains without blowing them, and procure free bread and (red) wine
    to just everybody sitting around, all thanks to his blind faith?

  21. Barry says:

    I guess even “dangerous whacky” eventually gets too weird even for faux newsies. Beck’s ratings are down 48% in the key 25-54 age group from last January.

  22. David B. Benson says:

    Glen Beck only needs to look into a mirror.

  23. Jeffrey Davis says:

    “Glen Beck only needs to look into a mirror.”

    Beetlejuice. Beetlejuice. Beet …

  24. Christopher Bowal says:

    Hi Joe!

    I’m Chris, and I’m a huge reader of your blog. Just wanted to let you know I love your writing! Keep it up!

    I’m a student at the University of Calgary, and just recently along with two other fellow students I created a video about our idea to make our University a greener place. Here’s a quick summary:

    “Revitalize sustainability measures, increase fitness and lessen the negative environmental impact of elevators by promoting existing stairway infrastructure through auditory/visual enhancements, nature themes, educational eco-facts and sustainability-focused features.”

    We would be honored if you could help us reach our goal of getting the most votes – the team that wins earns their university $100,000 to implement the environmental solution!!!

    If you could, please feature this story and help us build awareness to combat this growing dilemma. You can find our video at

    Thank you so much!!!

    Christopher Bowal
    Student at the University of Calgary

  25. Mike Roddy says:

    Christopher Bowan,

    Good luck with your project, but what we really need from students in Calgary are actions to shut down the nearby tar sands projects.

  26. toby says:

    There was a parellel to Beck in the US in the 1930 … the radio priest Father Charles Coughlin, who gathered a massive audience for his anti-capitalist rants. Coughlin was more left than right, but the parallel is striking.

  27. Prokaryotes says:

    Re toby, “Coughlin was more left”, i really don’t have that impression …

    … later to rationalize some of the policies of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.[5] The broadcasts have been called “a variation of the Fascist agenda applied to American culture”.

    . Donald Warren, using information from the FBI and German government archives, has also argued that Coughlin received indirect funding from Nazi Germany during this period.[23]

    After 1936, Coughlin began supporting an organization called the Christian Front, which claimed him as an inspiration. In January 1940, a New York City unit of the Christian Front was raided by the FBI for plotting to overthrow the government.

    And just 6 years before that

  28. RT says:

    I think you guys probably know about one of Australia’s best denial propagators, “Professor” Bob Carter.

    Well, the old Prof is again spreading his denialist seed (so to speak) (h/t WtD website) at:

    and here

    At least he has finally owned up to his corporate allegiances – IPA lapdog!

    “Professor Bob Carter is a geologist, environmental scientist and Emeritus Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.”

    Sort of like being Chief Health Adviser at Phillip Morris…

  29. MarkF says:

    people should click on the link to the washington post article, maybe they will continue to have Mr.McKibben’s articles.

    I don’t understand why this man Beck is tolerated.

    this is from “the Guardian”, this January:

    “Francis FoxPiven is not going into hiding. Not yet.

    The 78-year-old leftwing academic is the latest hate figure for Fox News host Glenn Beck and his legion of fans. While she has decided to shrug off the inevitable death threats that have followed, she is well aware of the problem. “I don’t know if I am scared, but I am worried,” she told the Observer as she sat in a bar on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

    “At the start I thought it was funny, but now I know that is dangerous… their paranoia works better when they can imagine a devil. Now that devil is me.”

    For the past three weeks Beck has relentlessly targeted Piven via his television and radio shows as a threat to the American way of life”

    Is this acceptable, If Beck knows that death threats follow his pronouncements?

    Anything for a dollar.

  30. libby says:

    Great response Bill! Kudos. Seriously, have you thought about stand up comedian for the environment? Might get a whole new level of awareness, maybe even those folks who think Beck is for real instead of the corp shill he is.

  31. Jay Alt says:

    Bill – entertaining and effective for those who take time to read, which may not be Beck’s core audience.
    But single word accusations/smears also demand a short reposte to deflect conversations. I haven’t formulated mine fully, it will probably involve Methodism and that suspicious ‘group worship’ angle.

    If Beck’s ratings continue their slide and he marginalizes himself further, I’ll be bringing him up. To point out which prominent GOP politicians (all?) hold some the same irresponsible, wacked-out views.

  32. Jim Groom says:

    Here is a quote that reminds of much of what Beck seems to stand for.

    ‘The great strength of the totalitarian state is that it will force those who fear it to imitate it.’ That is from Hitler not Beck, but it certainly makes one think about Beck’s ravings.