Environmental activist Bill McKibben will speak about climate change and environmental health at the 18th annual HOPE Festival at the University of Maine in Orono on Saturday, April 21. His keynote speech, open to the public, is scheduled for noon at the Student Recreation and Fitness Center on campus.

Time Magazine called McKibben “the planet’s best green journalist,” while the Boston Globe said in 2010 that he was “probably the country’s most important environmentalist.”

“On an individual level, it’s hard to make our actions add up to enough,” wrote McKibben in a recent email interview, which he answered while outdoors in California. “That’s why, along with changing light bulbs and so on, the main thing we need to do as individuals is organize, organize, organize.”

As founder of the global grassroots climate campaign 350.org, McKibben has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009. Recently, hundreds of people answered 350.org’s call for participation in nonviolent civil disobedience in Washington, D.C., and more than 800,000 people made calls or sent emails to stop the 1,179-mile Keystone XL Pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Neb.

McKibben has authored a dozen books on the environment. And his first book, “End of Nature,” published in 1989, is regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to learn about what’s happening with climate change. We’ve experienced a very warm and unusual spring. He’ll talk about how important it is that we work together to try to limit our footprints on the planet,” said Ilze Petersons, festival organizer and programs coordinator of the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine, which has coordinated the HOPE festival for the past 18 years.

A big part of McKibben’s keynote speech will be about the upcoming “ Climate Impacts Day,” a global effort on May 5 to “connect the dots” between climate change and extreme weather. So far in Maine, groups in Biddeford, Portland, Farmington and Belfast plan to participate.

“We recently realized in the state of Maine it would be valuable to have some coordinated efforts,” said Bob Koltz, organizer of Maine’s 350.org grassroots efforts.

Koltz will be driving a full car from his home in South Portland to the Orono festival to share information about upcoming 350.org events. He recently participated in “Blow the Whistle” demonstrations, during which Mainers dressed in referee uniforms and “blew the whistle” on state legislators for the fossil fuel industry’s involvement in the U.S. Congress. He also joined 120,000 demonstrators surrounding the White House in November 2011 to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Though 350.org had recently become more active in Maine, that’s not the reason for McKibben’s Orono HOPE Festival appearance. It was Brooksville painter Robert Shetterly who persuaded McKibben to start his Earth Day celebration in Maine.

Shetterly chose McKibben as one of the 50 “American heroes” by painting his portrait for the series “ Americans Who Tell the Truth,” a traveling exhibit and published in book form in 2005.

Shetterly also designed the logo on the HOPE Festival T-shirts, which will be for sale at the event.

HOPE stands for “help organize peace worldwide,” and the festival is always planned close to Earth Day, which this year lands on Sunday, April 22.

Just a day after the festival, McKibben will be spending Earth Day at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

When asked where he spent Earth Day last year, McKibben replied, “This is terrible, but I’ve forgotten where I was last Earth Day. I fear that was 400 or 500 speeches ago, not to mention a few nights in jail. My memory is starting to fade. My favorite Earth Days have been spent out in the woods in Vermont building trails.”

The free festival will open to the public at 11 a.m. with songs from the HOPE Festival Singers directed by Marty Kelley. Zachary Field will entertain with his juggling tricks at 1 p.m., the Timbered Lake duo will honor our roots in Mother Earth at 2 p.m. and the Inanna Sisters will end the festival entertainment with energetic, uplifting rhythms.

“I think music really brings us all together in a way that nothing else does,” Peterson said. “It taps into our hearts and minds, and I think it nourishes our spirits.”

Each year, the festival is abounding with positive energy. This year, more than 70 organizations will share information about their work for a better world. And visitors can walk away proudly displaying a cause on a T-shirts, buttons and bumper stickers, which will be for sale, along with crafts and local foods.

Children will find fun, educational activities provided by Fields Pond Audubon Center, Windover Arts Center and UMaine students.

Among the organizations represented at the event are Maine’s Environmental Health Strategy Center, Cooperative Maine, H.O.M.E Co-op, UMaine’s Green Team the Sierra Club, America’s largest grassroots environmental organization with a membership of 1.4 million.

“The strong issues [the Sierra Club] is involved in is protecting the Maine woods, promoting residential energy efficiency in Maine and promoting rail instead of east-west highways,” said Jim Frick, who is on the executive board of the Sierra Club. “It’s really all about grassroots organizations mobilizing people.”

“It’s not environment over here and health care over there,” Petersons said. “They’re all interconnected.”

This year, festival is co-sponsored by the Peace & Reconciliation Studies, Women’s Studies and Women in the Curriculum, and the Maine Peace Action Committee of the University of Maine.

“I think what’s wonderful about the HOPE festival is sometimes climate change and what’s going on in the world can seem overwhelming and hopeless,” Petersons said, “but when we get together and see how many people and groups are out there doing good work, it gives us hope that we have the power to make change.”

For information or to volunteer, call 942-9342 or visit www.peacectr.org, where you can view directions and download a full program of the festival.

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...