You might not realize at first that the author of “The End of Nature,” generally regarded as the first nonfiction book about climate change for the general reader, has a well-developed sense of humor. But in the pages of Bill McKibben’s first novel, the activist and co-founder of, the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement, proves to be a pretty funny guy.

“Radio Free Vermont” is a “fable for resistance.” The novel chronicles the adventures of Vern Barclay, 72-year-old radio host, as he records a rogue podcast that’s “underground, underpowered and underfoot.” Aided by a computer whiz and an Olympic biathlete, Vern gathers around him a band of Vermonters ready to secede from the United States and form their own republic.

Clever but low-key, serious in intent but optimistic, “Radio Free Vermont” is light reading for a dark time.

Reached by phone, McKibben spoke about the value of resistance, writing a comic novel in the Age of Trump and his own views on environmental issues related to Maine. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What made you decide that it was time to write a full-length work of fiction?

A: I’d been writing the novel in little pieces for some years, partly just to amuse myself and to keep myself sane in the midst of all the other work I was up to. This seemed like the right time to publish it. There’s this beautiful wave of resistance underway around the world, especially in this country, post-election of Trump. It seemed like a moment to try to celebrate that resistance and provide some creative ideas about where it might go.


Q: What kind of challenges did “Radio Free Vermont” present for you?

A: I’ve never written a word of fiction on purpose before. It’s possible I’ve written some by accident.

It was a fun stretch for me. It required me to be somewhat less relentlessly serious than I’ve been for the last number of years. I got my start as a professional writer at the New Yorker, writing “Talk of the Town” stories, which were anonymous in those days, and funny. I missed that. It’s very hard to be funny when you’re writing all the time about climate change, one of the least funny things ever.

Q: How did the plot develop over time?

A: I did a profile years ago of a remarkable radio station in Vermont whose various proprietors and personalities helped get me thinking about the character that eventually became Vern Barclay, the central character of the book. I’ve always loved the radio and so it was sort of a natural vehicle to write about.

Q: You call the novel a fable of resistance. What do you see as the moral of the fable?


A: The moral is: Resist! The moral is not that we all need to secede from the union. As Bernie Sanders says in his blurb, the real point is to draw on the histories of resistance that we have and figure out new and creative ways going forward. I’ve long been interested in questions, tactics and strategies of movement building. We’ve learned a lot at as we’ve built that into a global grassroots climate campaign.

Q: What is the real-life likelihood of the secession of Vermont or any other state?

A: I’d say small, but I suppose it depends on what keeps happening with the country. I’m in many ways a sentimentally patriotic American. I grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, giving tours of the battleground where the American Revolution began. Eventually, the patriots of Lexington and Concord stood up and said, “Enough!”

Trump is transforming America in very dangerous ways. Resistance will happen, whether it’s legal secession or more likely an increasing desire of states to take control over important parts of their citizens’ lives. Now that America’s pulled out of the Paris climate accords, for example it’s going to be up to California to provide leadership that allows us to continue trying to save the planet.

Q: You started “Radio Free Vermont” well before Trump was on the political scene. What impact did the November election have on the book?

A: The notion that 60 million people in America thought this guy was the best that could be done for America seemed so sad to me. Writing “Radio Free Vermont” was reasonable therapy for me, helping me cope, and I hope it will prove the same for people who read it.


Q: The Vermonters in your novel live by kind of a “think small, act locally” philosophy. In this age of globalization, why do you feel it’s appropriate to adopt a more local focus?

A: My tendency always is towards small instead of large. Many things about our economy and our polity have gotten too large for people to deal with easily.

The book is a kind of love letter to Northern New England, where I’ve spent most of my life. Acting locally is very ingrained in the New England character, town meetings and strong local communities being a big part of our life.

In a larger sense, acting locally is very appropriate, because we’ve seen what the opposite has gotten us as we’ve globalized everything. One of the two biggest results of globalization have been an almost unbelievable level of inequality in our world.

Globalization has also given us runaway environmental problems, especially climate change, which has become so ferocious that it’s now an intense part of our lives. We look at tragedies like the one underway in Puerto Rico and understand that we can’t be going down this particular path any longer.

Q: Do you know of Maine’s recently enacted “food sovereignty” legislation, allowing localities to let growers sell products directly to consumers free from state regulation?


A: Not really. I get to Maine a few times a year and of course I love it. I don’t know the politics extraordinarily well, but I think that some residents of Maine may find certain resonances between the governor described in “Radio Free Vermont” and the current occupant of the corner office in Augusta.

Q: Do you have any comments on reports indicating that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke may wish to allow timber harvesting in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument?

A: It’s so sad. One of the great glories of America has been that we pioneered the practice of setting aside land for something other than making money from it, for people to recreate and contemplate and to allow the rest of creation to make its living, too. One of the best things we’ve ever done is protect a certain amount of land. It would be sad if those of us coming along now can’t keep the promises for preservation that people before us were able to make.

Q: What do you most want readers to know about “Radio Free Vermont”?

A: My hope is that it’s funny. When I was young, I remember reading Edward Abbey’s novel “The Monkey Wrench Gang” and enjoying it mightily – and taking a lot from it, too. Abbey is someone I really admire both as a person and as a writer. I hope that people get some of the same kind of informed belly laughs out of my novel as I get out of his.

Berkeley writer Michael Berry is a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, native who has contributed to Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, New Hampshire Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books and many other publications. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: mlberry

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