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Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet Hardcover – April 13, 2010
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, April 2010: Since he first heralded our era of environmental collapse in 1989's The End of Nature, Bill McKibben has raised a series of eloquent alarms. In Eaarth, he leads readers to the devastatingly comprehensive conclusion that we no longer inhabit the world in which we've flourished for most of human history: we've passed the tipping point for dramatic climate change, and even if we could stop emissions yesterday, our world will keep warming, triggering more extreme storms, droughts, and other erratic catastrophes, for centuries to come. This is not just our grandchildren's problem, or our children's--we're living through the effects of climate change now, and it's time for us to get creative about our survival. McKibben pulls no punches, and swaths of this book can feel bleak, but his dry wit and pragmatic optimism refuse to yield to despair. Focusing our attention on inspiring communities of "functional independence" arising around the world, he offers galvanizing possibilities for keeping our humanity intact as the world we've known breaks down. --Mari Malcolm
From Publishers Weekly
The world as we know it has ended forever: that's the melancholy message of this nonetheless cautiously optimistic assessment of the planet's future by McKibben, whose The End of Nature first warned of global warming's inevitable impact 20 years ago. Twelve books later, the committed environmentalist concedes that the earth has lost the climatic stability that marked all of human civilization. His litany of damage done by a carbon-fueled world economy is by now familiar: in some places rainfall is dramatically heavier, while Australia and the American Southwest face a permanent drought; polar ice is vanishing, glaciers everywhere are melting, typhoons and hurricanes are fiercer, and the oceans are more acidic; food yields are dropping as temperatures rise and mosquitoes in expanding tropical zones are delivering deadly disease to millions. McKibben's prescription for coping on our new earth is to adopt maintenance as our mantra, to think locally not globally, and to learn to live lightly, carefully, gracefully—a glass-half-full attitude that might strike some as Pollyannaish or merely insufficient. But for others McKibben's refusal to abandon hope may restore faith in the future. (Apr.)
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1. McKibben states that it used to be the case that if a farmer planted corn where an ancestor farmer had planted, he or she could count on getting the same crop yield as could the ancestor. That is not true at all from an agronomic standpoint. One need only look as far as any of many prior collapses of civilizations (Anasazi, Easter Island, etc.) to see the failure of that logic. Even in un-failed civilizations in the stable Holocene-era climate, it wasn't true.
2. National government is dismissed as being irrelevant to our current crisis since the apparent solution is dispersed and local rather than requiring huge, pooled financial resources such as those demanded for construction of the interstate highway system. This thinking ignores the realities of the nature of public goods and also ignores the important and powerful role national government plays in establishing rules of the commerce game. Case in point: If it weren't for national rule-making, our kids would still be breathing the fumes of leaded gasoline. State and local legislative decisions are not inherently superior in their outcomes to those made at the national level, nor are they any less susceptible to the influence of short-sighted business interests. Lead would still be part of the standard gasoline recipe if not for national action. The same type of power can be used for good once again if we can muster the grass-roots pressure that will force our elected representatives to address global warming in a serious way. 350.org is a great conduit for that type of pressure. Just don't dismiss the potential value of federal laws.
3. I was really put off by McKibben's simplistic discussion of the fabric of future life. Okay, so we can produce food locally in many places, and we can generate quite a bit of heat using biomass (if we're lucky enough to live in a place where woody biomass can be grown in sufficient quantity or where there are enough cows producing enough poop to fuel our methane-producing digesters), and we can stay connected and entertained via the internet, but is McKibben's avoidance of other subjects such as transportation (of people, not food), medicine, clothing and hardware, etc. a statement that he believes those won't be available to the general public in the future world? Or is it that there wasn't room in his book to at least mention those complexities?
4. Hydro and wind power are both treated as though unarguably benign. In reality, there are many complicating environmental issues related to hydropower. (Salmon, for one.) And many bird-lovers and biologists hate wind turbines not because they think turbines are ugly but because they are well-known for killing animals that fly. It may be that our best option necessarily includes building a dam in every possible canyon and putting up wind turbines everywhere the wind blows at least somewhat reliably, but a serious treatment of the subject demands at least a mention of the legitimate down-sides of these alternatives to coal-fired power plants.
5. The last criticism I will mention here is more of a wish than anything else. It would have been nice if McKibben had more directly addressed the insane inefficiency of our existing housing infrastructure and had he presented any ideas about what we might do about it. I'm personally committed to making serious changes in how I live, but what do we do about our vast fleet of suburban stick-frame houses with almost zero thermal mass, pathetic insulation, wrong solar orientation, and long travel distances to any type of mass transit or commercial center? I'm living in a house that's all wrong, and replacing my windows, putting up solar panels and solar water heaters, and adding insulation to my attic isn't going to solve the problem. It's an energy hog any way you look at it. I make fairly good money, and even I couldn't possibly afford (or be able to finance) the kind of retrofit that would make my house anything but crazy from an energy standpoint. I can sell my house and build one that makes sense (those plans are in the works), but on a percentage basis, very few people in the U.S. can take that kind of action. If everyone tried to do it, the expanded new housing footprint and abandonment of embedded resources could be environmentally devastating. A transition to rational home design and in-place replacement of our existing housing stock is an essential part to freeing ourselves from dependence on centralized energy such as natural gas, heating oil, and large-scale power production. But the current housing and mortgage industries aren't set up to facilitate that type of transition. Localization of some parts of life won't resolve it, either. National leadership and revolutionary legislation (with teeth) may be essential to solving this difficult problem.
I could add additional examples, but this has already been too long. Overall, I completely agree with McKibben on what our circumstances are and what lies ahead if we don't do something NOW to change our trajectory from the one on which humans have sent our climate. The science is pretty unambiguous on that. I'm a big fan of 350.org. I agree with McKibben that individual and local changes in habits and behavior can have immense influence on societal outcomes. What is most disappointing to me is that by being careless with some of his facts and by being a bit loose in his presentation, McKibben succeeds in undermining the credibility of climate science and gives doubters the space they need to justify keeping on doing what they're doing, which is running the planet into disaster.
Also see Feral by Monbiot for a ray of hope if we will only follow what he suggests.
Please continue writing and continue fighting, Mr. McKibben. No other endeavor is as important.
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!