UB looks forward to upcoming Buffalo Humanities Festival

Lead environmentalist Bill McKibben will be this year’s keynote speaker


Most people consider Bill McKibben the country’s current leading environmental activist. What most don’t know is how he earned that title.

McKibben was arrested in 2011 after leading one of the decade’s largest protests against the Keystone XL pipeline construction. His grassroots organization 350.org has run close to 20,000 rallies to bring environmental awareness to the world’s leaders. McKibben will bring his activism to Buffalo on Sept. 29 as he delivers his keynote address for Buffalo’s fourth annual Humanities Festival.

UB’s Humanities Institute will join Canisius College, SUNY Buffalo State College and Niagara University to host the city’s fourth annual Buffalo Humanities Festival. The festival features an array of speakers, panels and community conversations at various locations across Western New York from Sept. 28-30. This year’s focus is on climate change; events will address issues like environmental justice, economic sustainability and the global climate change crisis.

McKibben will deliver his lecture “The Desperate Climate Fight: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Moment” at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery on Sept. 29 at 8 p.m.

David Castillo, director of UB’s Humanities Institute, hopes McKibben will get people “fired up” about climate change. Castillo thinks McKibben’s activism helps to bridge the gap between climate science and regular people.

“One would think that the best people to talk about the environment are scientists,” Castillo said. “Yet, one of the biggest problems we face nowadays is the fact that there is no connection between the scientific community, their findings, and what we take to be our reality. This is where McKibben comes into the picture.”

Humanities New York, a nonprofit that provides funding for humanities institutions, will begin the festivities on Sept. 28 with their presentation, “Turning the Tide: Communicating Climate Science,” at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.

Ryan McPherson, Chief Sustainability Officer at UB, will join three UB faculty members to discuss the central role the humanities play in bridging the scientific community with public opinion.

“We are an institution of higher education and we make no excuse about believing in science,” McPherson said. “[Science] is great but if we can't communicate that to people, if we can’t find ways for people to hear that message, what’s the point?”

The lineup for Sept. 30 features national artist Deke Weaver’s performance of “BEAR,” a chapter from in his lifelong work, the Unreliable Bestiary.

“Weaver’s performance will present to us a tiny sliver of our current catastrophic loss of habitat and biodiversity,” said McPherson. “[But] three doses of inspiration and a couple of doses of reality is a nice mix of how you can meet people, have open conversations with them, let them digest the information and in time, act in a positive manner.”

The Humanities Festival is funded by the John R. Oishei Foundation. Other sponsors include Humanities New York, UB RENEW, The UB Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development and more.

“It truly takes not just a village, but a whole town,” Castillo said. “It takes a lot of contributors to put together this festival who are essentially doing it for the love of conversation that we are trying to create.”

Jessica Fiegl, a junior environmental geosciences major, thinks the Humanities Festival will be a great way to start conversations that otherwise might not happen outside the science community.

“I think that getting so many speakers from the Humanities Institute to talk about science will be a great way to get people interested in and learning more about important issues,” Fiegl said.

Tickets purchased before Sept. 25 include lunch from the West Side Bazaar. This weekend’s festival will end with live music from the 12/8 Path band and a reception from local microbrewery, Community Beer Works.

Anna Savchenko is a staff writer and can be reached at news@ubspectrum.com