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The central idea is right but it rambles and has too much filler
on March 14, 2009
This version is a reprint of McKibben's 1989 book, with a new introduction. The dates are a bit jarring because he regularly refers to "President Bush"- - meaning the first one, though this reprint appeared during the presidency of the second one. Much of the book takes the unseasonably hot, dry year of 1988 as its point of reference, but that reference has not really aged well.
This was one of the first books to warn the general public about climate change. It began as an essay in _The New Yorker_, which McKibben later expanded. Unfortunately, it tends to read this way still, with a lot of filler and repetition instead of a nice tight argument.
McKibben really has three different ideas of the "end of nature," which he doesn't distinguish. The first is the notion that humans have developed the entire world to our use, leaving only scattered "wilderness" areas. Environmentalists fight to save these but they are already so constrained by humans around them that they are no longer really "nature." Second is the notion that human climate change means that temperature, precipitation, and everything else is affected by human activity and is therefore metaphysically not "natural," losing meaning thereby. I'm not convinced that this is how people experience rain. The third "end of nature" is McKibben's prediction that humans will use genetic engineering to try to escape the consequences of destroying the planet, so that we will have genetically-engineered fauna and flora even in whatever wild places remain. This is the genesis of his more recent book, "Enough," which I preferred to this one.
Mixing these three ideas together willy-nilly doesn't really work, and I wish McKibben had seen more clearly that he was talking about several different things. These three ideas also differ in terms of philosophical meaning as well as the political and economic forces pressing us to end nature.
Yet, behind the entire book is the forceful insistence that there are too many humans, using too many resources, unable to slow down even if we wanted to. That is surely right, and this book makes the depressing point well. The twenty years that have passed since the first edition only confirm that McKibben's main theme retains is force.