The front cover of Bill McKibbean's "Eaarth" contains a quote by Barbara Kingsolver urging the reader to drop everything and read the book straight through. What Kingsolver doesn't mention is that once you begin reading the book it'll be impossible to stop.
McKibben describes a place so strikingly different from the planet Earth we have always known, that it has to be renamed to "Eaarth." McKibben's writing is easy to read and his ideas are clear, but his thesis is overwhelming to any reader: "The earth that we knew--the only earth that we ever knew--is gone." (pg 25) At times, reading the book is similar to the experience of watching a carwreck - it's heart-wrenching but you can't force yourself to look away.
A lot of readers will probably dismiss Eaarth based on its "environmentalist agenda" - they'll say that McKibben is simply another tree-hugger attempting to instill fear about the world of the future, or to borrow McKiben's explanation as to why we haven't stopped climate change thus far - "the world of our grandchildren." But if this is true, then we definitely need more people like the author of Earth, as it doesn't seem that anyone is listening - currently, "44 percent Americans believe that global warming comes from 'long-term planetary trends' and not the pumps at the Exxon station." (pg 54)
McKibben is probably one of the very few to steer us into the the direction of thinking that we can't restore the old Planet Earth. Thinking that driving hybrid cars and taking shorter showers will restore the ice caps in the Arctic is unrealistic. We need a major overhaul of our infrastructure and our logic to even adapt on this New Earth we created. It's no longer enough to admit that global warming is real and to want to adjust a few things in our daily lives - we must realize that our daily lives are gone in the way we've known them.
The author's suggestions of how to adapt to living on this new and changed Earth are hopeful and rely on getting rid of industries, on going back to a more simplistic lifestyle of individual farming, moving the entire infrastructure closer to home, and observing as much conservation as possible.
"Eaarth" is a book that should serve as a wake up call, but not in the same way that Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" (book and/or movie) did. By being more Earth-shattering (pun intended), McKibben's book is also more realistic and contains more statistics and McKibben quotes more articles to back up his thesis. However, the book's revolutionary words might also be alienating and can be viewed as a source of despair. In his introduction, McKibben cautions us against this being the case by saying that "[m]aturity is not the opposite of hope; it's what makes hope possible." (pg xiv)
It is this reviewer's sincere hope that McKibben's book is taken seriously and interpreted as a call to action rather than as a description of challenging events that can no longer be stopped or altered.
What would it be like to live on another planet? Like the proverbial frogs sitting in a pot of water slowly coming to a boil, we'll all eventually find out whether we want to or not.
Bill McKibben maintains that we NOW live on a very different planet, a planet that's rapidly becoming less and less like the one humans have inhabited for many thousands of years. And it's too late to turn our space ship around and go back "home." No, we have to wake up and start learning how to live on the planet as it is--not the one we still would like to imagine that we live on.
The first part of this book is bleak, and it needs to be. Too many of us are in complete denial about the condition of our planet and the mass extinctions now in process. So, who cares about how many species are going extinct? Anyone who understands that no man is an island. And that cold/wet weather we've had in 2010 that proves "there is no such thing as global warming"? That weather will only get more unpredictable and violent as time goes by--and, yes, it's due to global warming.
James Hanson and so many other scientists were right, except for the fact that they underestimated how quickly climate change would occur. It's not a matter of what you believe: Nobody is going to be able to sleep through the earth changes--and isolationism, a cache of arms, and a lot of hateful rhetoric is not going to feed anyone's family or keep them secure.
Skills are the new gold, and we need to return to the days when neighbors helped neighbors. We need to press our technologies into service to help us survive, but we also need to return to a Depression-era sense of frugality and saving for rainy days. There will likely be many more "rainy days" in the future than there were in the past. In the last half of the book, McKibben presents some projects that are already underway to help us and our progeny survive on this strange new world that he renames "Eaarth" because our old Earth is already dead. Each and every one of us needs to be thinking about how we can ameliorate harsher conditions, and we need to pick the brains of the old folks before they are gone so we don't have to completely reinvent a bunch of new wheels.
Me, I will be running mycelium, making biochar, permaculturing, keeping chickens, and growing/preserving a lot of our own food. I will be a denizen of the instructables web site and the dumpsters, and I will figure out as many ways as I can to work with Nature and not against her. I will try to help those who are near me who are suffering, and I will cultivate friends who are willing to help others as well. What will you do? A good start would be to read this book, especially if you think climate change is a hoax intended to deny you of your freedoms. I hope all who are blind will begin to see. Life is going to be hard enough with our eyes wide open.
on March 18, 2010
Although I'm in complete agreement with Bill McKibben that we are at the end of our old way of life, and find the future he imagines appealing, I believe that future is a fairy tale and that this book is of little value.
The first half of the book amounts to this percent, that fraction, some year, some place, another measurement of volume, height, area, money, population. Meant to incite to action, I found it tedious but then, I've never been interested in this kind of homocentric environmentalism. The self-centered world view it demonstrates is the exact cause of the problems it worries about. What interested me in this part of the book were the brief mentions of ecological changes occurring---trees dying because of insects surviving warmer winters, mosquitoes spreading dengue fever farther and more rapidly, etc.
McKibben's analysis of the Carter--Reagan election and its effects is good but although he writes of Reagan's optimism as being the problem, he commits the same error in this book. He writes off those predicting collapse, not because he thinks collapse is impossible (in fact he provides several reasons that it's likely), but because he sees them as being unwilling to accept other possibilities. To me, the problem is just the opposite---folks like McKibben aren't willing to face the facts.
He prefers to imagine that we will voluntarily choose to make a gradual change to a different way of life. Not to say that some of us aren't already living a very different way of life or that the examples he gives aren't admirable, but to imagine that U.S. society as a whole is going to turn smoothly and peacefully away from consumerism and economic growth and urban life is simply ludicrous. Perhaps he's spent so much time with people who share his concerns, he's forgotten the half of the country who don't even believe in climate change, much less are willing to change their lives to limit it.
In a Gallup poll this month, 50% believe that global warming is occurring and is due to human activity but 48% think its seriousness is exaggerated and 67% don't think it will cause a serious threat to them or their way of life. All percentages are trending away from a concern with the issue. Denial is much easier than change, or maybe they know something Nobel winner Steven Chu didn't know when he suggested last year that the end of the Sierra snowpack could mean the end not only of California agriculture but of cities as well.
McKibben uses, as he has before, part of a frightening old quote from Obama's chief economic adviser Larry Summers: "The idea that we should put limits on growth because of some natural limit is a profound error, and one that, were it ever to prove influential, would have staggering social costs." It seems to me there have been some staggering social costs to not recognizing limits, but I don't think Summers needs to worry that those in power will ever advocate limiting "growth". They will instead try (and in fact already are trying) to cling as long as possible to attempts to revive the old way of life, ignoring the social, financial, and ecological costs of their desperate attempts. None of them, nor most of the country's population, is interested in the "graceful" change McKibben advocates. I do sincerely wish the graceful the best of luck in the midst of the chaos which is coming.
Bill McKibben's Eaarth is a refreshing read. I'll admit, when I first started Eaarth, I had concerns that it would devolve into a depressing diatribe where, after reading, I would feel depressed and powerless about the state of the planet. Not so. Eaarth is an excellent and empowering read. McKibben outlines where the planet is--climate-wise--currently. He tells it like it is, no judging or haranguing. The second half of the book is empowering. McKibben offers small scale, local solutions to the problems he sees. He is not waiting for the rest of the planet, or even the rest of the country to hop aboard his bandwagon. His solutions are achievable in the smallest of communities. Eaarth is an inspiring and uplifting read--once you accept his premise that the planet has irrevocably changed for the worse.
on March 7, 2010
About half of this book is really helpful. It basically tells us what climate change will do and has done to the planet.
So you've noticed the snow in Austin, the hurricanes in New Orleans, and the unbelievable drought in Atlanta, in addition to the sinking islands in the Pacific?
Welcome to global warming.
If you were wondering what to expect from the coming century in terms of weather, this, in a "I think I'm going to go hide in my closet now" sort-of way, will definitely tell you. The damage rising seas and melting icecaps have done and will do is hard to believe, but it will apparently become even harder to ignore.
That part of the book is great.
But then, the author gets into solutions for preventing even greater climate change: buy local, and don't travel by car, work from home, and work with your neighbors.
That would be great, except he imagines us all living suburbia. One-third of the U.S. lives in cities; where other authors talk about vertical gardens in high rises, and the virtues of being able to live without a car, this author envisions huge cooperative gardens and horsedrawn carriages. That's great, if you have the room for a farm.
Basically, utopian visions of back-to-the-farm seem less than realistic. Of all Americans, some of the people with the smallest carbon footprint (because they live in small spaces, they don't have cars, and they don't use a lot of air conditioning)
are in New York City.
Read this for the first half; the second half seems oddly motivated by back to the land ideals that wouldn't work for many Americans.
on May 26, 2011
Bill McKibben has done much to raise consciousness concerning the necessity of changing our way of life in order to save the Earth.
This latest book has two parts -- in the first half the crisis is summarized. This is familiar to many people by now, but if you have been shielded from this information, then by all means read -- it is essential to know.
In the second half McKibben argues for decentralization and a more locally-based economic system. This is more questionable. While desirable, in my opinion, the question is how is it going to happen? It seems to me that the only way is through social collapse. Our complex, stratified society is not deliberately going to decentralize itself. But McKibben does not discuss social collapse or any of the problems associated with social collapse such as violence, civil war, barbarism, and so forth.
Nor does McKibben discuss what sort of mass militant movement will be required in order to defeat the Carbon Lobby, which is going to be necessary if we are to make a deliberate move to save the Earth and avoid social collapse. In a recent interview he says protest can only be symbolic because the Fossil Fuel System (my term) is too big and powerful. I strongly disagree. Direct action is not merely symbolic, and it needs to be massive! The Rising Tide network is pushing in that direction.
Of course it is much easier to identify a problem than figure out the solution. But there are many better books than this on the subject. I would recommend Thomas Homer-Dixon's The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization specifically on the question of social collapse.
on January 4, 2011
So I thought I'd kick off the year with a review of a book that gave me an incredible amount of hope and inspiration amidst the turmoil that was 2010. I have wanted to write a review of it since I read (and re-read) it but couldn't find the time until the Christmas break. I'm talking about `Eaarth' by Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org and the author of one of the first books on climate change `The End of Nature' some twenty plus years ago.
How can I put this without too much hyperbole?
If you live on planet Earth and are a card carrying member of the human race you need to read this book. And here's why .... one of those presumptions you just made is now totally wrong.
Bill's book reminded me of a roller coaster ride. First he takes you up and up and up as he eloquently and systematically persuades you beyond a shadow of a doubt that we no longer live on the old planet we called Earth. We in fact are living on a new planet that he rather mischievously re-names `Eaarth' because it looks and feels a lot like the old one (hence many of us haven't realised it is a different planet) however it's already behaving like a very strange and unfamiliar beast - and getting more so by the day.
That's the central message of the first half of this book - it's too late, the world is warming, the climate is changing - there's not a single bit of good news about how the planet's systems respond to too much CO2 in the air (seriously NOT one in the hundreds of pages of scientifically supported information!). I normally find this type of information a real drag to read these days (even the best books on the topic can get dry and depressing as they wade into the quagmire of doom and gloom that is climate science) however Bill hauls you up the roller coaster with such eloquence and authorship that many times I had to put the book down and just breathe and reflect.
On species extinction:
"We're running Genesis backwards, decreating."
(Bill was a preacher and it shows in his use of language and the (very) occasional biblical reference).
On the Siberian permafrost which is leaking huge swathes of methane into the atsmosphere already:
"It's as if we discovered another human race capable of producing as much CO2 as us and we're waking them up".
I mean wow. I had visions of zombies with XBoxes and Plasma Screens rising out of the bog eating cheeseburgers and farting methane bubbles.
The man can write. No doubt about it. But this isn't science fiction - it's non-fiction and the roller coaster is very, very real.
There are plenty of books that can take you to the top of the climate roller coaster (though none as well as Bill's, I'd wager). But even if you know all of the above to be true, the second half of the book makes it worth your time and where he really stands out from the Flannerys, Gores and Hamiltons. He's got a plan. Ok not the whole plan - no one has - and ok its not actually a "plan" but he's got a workable approach to responding to the new reality on this new planet. A way down from the roller coaster that doesn't involve the carnage of a full scale derailing.
First of all he suggests we accept the new reality (sounds simple, but just look at the 50% climate denialism in the US Republican party or the embarrassing Australian Liberal party and it's climate denialist leader Tony Abbott), then get to work minimising the damage (it's too late to stop significant global warming but 2 degrees is infinitely better than 3 degrees, for instance) and start accepting that the planet works differently now.
Bill's blueprint for how we should respond to our new reality is full of hope and inspiration. There are far too many ideas in the second half of the book to summarise - from the localisation of our energy, transport and food systems to the ongoing use of the internet to ensure we don't return to enclaves and fiefdoms (or worse, get bored in our small local worlds!) - however one thing he wrote stuck with me above all others ...
To live a good life on our new Eaarth, mankind must first rediscover our humility - our great experiment with growth and expansion and dominance over nature has come to it's inevitable end. It's time to learn our limits, or as Bill states in the moving last paragraph of the book ...
"Eaarth represents the deepest of human failures. But we still must live on the world we have created - lightly, carefully, gracefully."
on March 11, 2010
The main premise of `Eaarth` is not that the world will be different in the future, for our grandchildren, rather it is already different - it's too late, we are on a new "Eaarth" (thus a new spelling), climate change is adversely impacting us right now. McKibben supports this with compelling evidence in the first half of the book, which is the best part IMO, although not without problems (see below). McKibben's solution is to reduce complexity, reduce size and reduce growth - smaller, local, slower. This approach, he observes, is nothing new as can be seen in many movements such as local food, slow food, anti-globalization.
Unfortunately McKibben's premise is misguided. He offers a simple solution to a complex global problem that requires both local and international change. While it's true we need to act individually, and as communities locally, there also needs to be work on the level of national and international policy. We need both small scale and large scale tools. All scales have their unique challenges, but neither is a silver bullet solution.
One of the problems with McKibben's evidence-based argumentation in the first half of the book, where he shows how and why the world is already in hot water by citing science reports, is that he uses many of the same logical fallacies of climate deniers. Certain studies are cherry picked for their emotional impact with overly large conclusions drawn. Studies are cited but there is no sense of how reliable or mainstream they are. Was it one scientist with 1 year of data, or 100 scientists over 50 years? It's argumentative rhetoric without the kind of substance that's needed to really arrive at the truth. It's actually very difficult to determine how reliable science reports are, not unlike sorting out all the claims made in the vitamin and alternative health industry. Science journalism is a lost art and one of the reasons there is no much confusion in the popular press. It is exactly the kind of hard work we hope McKibben would do for us in book form - instead he cut and pasted the same headlines we already know about on the Internet without really examining them in detail to determine the nuanced reality behind them, which is nearly always the case.
Bill McKibben's `Eaarth` is a passionate and informed argument for a belief system that is a model of Vermont environmentalism. This is not a bad thing, but it is preaching to the choir and ultimately just deepens the divide. Vermont, where McKibben is from, is repeatedly used as a positive role model. Unfortunately Vermont has many unique characteristics geographically, demographically and historically that simply don't apply to other regions of the US or world. Of course McKibben is just using Vermont as an example, but it's one of the worlds best examples for his cause. McKibben doesn't ask the hard questions or look at the messy contrary evidence because it doesn't make for as good a story.
`Eaarth` is worth reading, because there is a considerable amount of up to date information in particular the first 100 pages on what's happening to the world today with climate change; I know a lot about it, but still learned a lot new, and McKibben is a good writer. Ultimately I don't think the books main premise says anything very new, at least for me, I already knew "we are so screwed" years ago. For some readers though it may be an eye opener and bring coherence of different topics into the bigger picture. I'd love to see someone set up a web page that investigates in more detail each of the claims made in the book and ranks them according to degree's of assurance, reliability and number of studies supporting it. Such as the "Snake Oil?" example (see comment below for URL). In the end this is a book worth reading but do your own research also.
The first two chapters of this book provide a good overview of the evidence for, and the consequences of, global warming. These consequences do not get as much attention as they should, and if anything, will likely be more severe than described. I believe that McKibben's assertion that the changes are clearly apparent now, not an expection of the future, is true. The recent massive snow fall in Washington DC is one of the expectations of global warming: warmer air hold more water; more water means more snow dumped at lower lattitudes as weather fronts move north. The unusual spelling, eaarth, used as the title is intended to convey the idea that the Earth has alrady changed, and is not the Earth as we generally think of her.
The last two chapters of the book are a guide to changing the bad habits that have lead us to this eaarth. I was very pleased by the breadth of this coverage. But I do not think that there is as yet sufficient anxiety among the general public, and perhaps more importantly, among politicians, about climate change to effect these changes in a timely manner. Climate change denial seems to be a major plank in the platforms of several political movements. Many elected officials looked out over a Washington DC brought to a total stand still by snow, and still managed find this to be evidence for a normal winter.
But political climate change is necesary to survive the changing global climate. Some serious cultural changes have to be made to reduce/eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from major sources and these will require a type of politics which is impossible today. Two of these are Portland cement manufacturing and air travel. The former will require either development of new building materials with a small manufacturing carbon footprint (unlikely), or complete sequestration of CO2 emissions, a costly change that will undoubtedly require federal incentives at taxpayer expense. Air travel will have to be curtailed; CO2 emissions from aircraft engines cannot be captured at all. I do not think that our current elected officials are up to it.
This is an important book. Every policy maker at all levels of government should get a copy, although the denial folks will certainly not read it. I wish it was more emphatic about the evidence at hand, and the seriousness of the problems. Skeptical readers might also want to visit the CDC website for an overview of the public health consequences of climate change, many of which are also currently in evidence.
The title of the book, eaarth, is clever, but should have been the Richerd Zeebe's quotation in chapter 1, "It's pretty outrageous what we've done."
on February 1, 2013
Somehow I missed this book when it was published in 2010. I've read and enjoyed a number of articles written by Bill McKibben and have had the good fortune to hear him speak at an Adirondack Mountain Club event. I discovered 350.org while reading Barbara Kingsolver's (one of my favorite authors) newest book, "Flight Behavior: A Novel". From the website I learned about the efforts of 350.org and about this novel.
The book is very convincing about climate change and the need to reduce carbon in the atmosphere. Every fact is clearly explained, easily understood and supported by mountains of research for non-scientists like myself.
It left me wondering how we could inspire everyone to work towards reducing our use of fossil fuels. The one idea I had would be for TV weather reports to report on levels of carbon in the air we breathe. This would at least make us aware of highs and lows and enable viewers to correlate high levels of carbon with poor air quality and possibly storms, etc.
It's not difficult to read and easy to identify with because many of Bill's examples are close to home!