By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Apr 14, 2010
Category: Non Fiction
If you want to debate whether global warming is real, or, if it’s real, whether it’s a natural phenomenon or something we did, or if “drill, baby, drill” can bring cheap energy back to America or whether depleting the earth’s resources is a good thing because it brings on the End Times --- there are many places on the Internet you can go to have those conversations.
This is not one of those places.
Just the spelling of the title of Bill McKibben’s terrifying, lacerating and modestly hopeful Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet--- the most important book you can read this year, and yes, I know, it’s only April --- signals that we are, in his view, beyond all those conversations.
Bill McKibben is the dean of environmental writers, and there’s a good reason for that --- in The End of Nature, published in 1989, he was the first to use the term “global warming.” A few years ago, in Deep Economy, he was among the first to write that an economy built on growth was not sustainable and that we needed to scale down and strengthen our ties to our local communities. Not happy messages, but we pay attention because he is a serious thinker, a stellar reporter and a writer who can make even statistics interesting. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. To buy the Kindle edition, click here.]
A great communicator takes complexity and makes it clear for the layman. Like this: Global warming has reached a stage that we no longer are living on the same planet we grew up on. Let McKibben explain:
Global warming is no longer a philosophical threat, no longer a future threat, no longer a threat at all. It's our reality. We've changed the planet, changed it in large and fundamental ways. And these changes are far, far more evident in the toughest parts of the globe, where climate change is already wrecking thousands of lives daily. In July 2009, Oxfam released an epic report, "Suffering the Science," which concluded that even if we now adapted "the smartest possible curbs" on carbon emissions, "the prospects are very bleak for hundreds of millions of people, most of them among the world's poorest."
In the first part of this book, McKibben explains how we got here --- that is, how we blew past an atmosphere with less than 350 parts per million carbon dioxide, and what happens now that we’re at 390, and what will happen if we don’t get back to 350, and fast. And how unlucky it is for us that we’re starting to run short of fossil fuel (“Simply running in place would mean finding four new Saudi Arabias by 2030”) just as we’ve dangerously destabilized the planet.
The pols talk about making the planet “safer for our grandchildren.” As soon as they talk generations down the line, you can stop listening to them, McKibben says. They don’t get it. We don’t have that kind of time. We’ve got to wean ourselves from our obsession with growth, and pronto: “If don't stop pouring more carbon into the atmosphere, the temperature will simply keep rising, right past the point where any kind of adaptation will prove impossible.”
This isn’t going to happen. Wall Street lives on the Gospel of Growth, and the government tags along. And as for public consciousness --- well, “44 percent of Americans believe that global warming comes from 'long-term planetary trends' and not the pumps at the Exxon station." So, as a civilization, we’ll deal with this at 11:59.
Bill McKibben is not a doomsday prophet. He sees hope. In “Deep Economy,” he noted that the fastest growing sector in food marketing is the farmer’s market. Now he sees localization of much more than food production as key to our survival. Because smart people are simply not going to sit back and wait for their lawns to flood, their roofs to blow off and their kids to die of skin cancer.
212 pages. An evening of your life. If you’re interested in saving it, make time.