This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Bill McKibben's new book is called Eaarth. It could be called Life on Earth 2.0. His main point is that we now live on a very different planet from the one that harbored civilization over the last 10,000 years. The difference is the accelerating warming of the planet's atmosphere, due to the dramatic increase of carbon, due mainly to humans burning fossil fuels.

Global warming is no longer something pertinent to our future. It is not something with which only our grandchildren will have to deal. It is now. The planet we live on today is significantly changed already. And these changes are only going to continue. Global warming is not a theory; it is a done deal. It has produced a different Earth, which McKibben indicates by adding that extra a.

McKibben makes his point in the first hundred pages of the book. His account is not exhaustive. But he brings up enough representative examples of how the planet has changed to be very convincing. Not just by recounting temperature readings, but by going through the litany of serious and destructive weather events that have increased in frequency and severity, all over the world. Draughts, glacier depletion, floods, melting tundra, disappearing icepack, hurricanes, dying forests, increases in insects and disease, decreases in crop yields, and so forth. All happening now, not a century from now. McKibben can even trace at least part of the reason for the current recession to the increase in fossil fuel prices.

Modernity is based on fossil fuels. The use of fossil fuels has corrupted the planetary climate; that and their depletion will mean the end of modernity and even civilization as we know it.

It would be a very depressing book if it ended after the first half.

But McKibben devotes the second half to lessons about how to change the way we are living to adapt to this new, less hospitable planet, without fossil fuels. Once again, this is mostly not theory. Rather, he tells stories of what people and communities are actually doing now, and predicts such strategies and tactics will continue.

Somewhat surprisingly, McKibben is very upbeat. This is not about hoarding foodstuffs and retreating to armed compounds. Though he allows that it could deteriorate to this. But mainly McKibben talks about things getting smaller, more diverse, and more local. He does a lot of quoting of Thomas Jefferson. (There is in fact a whole section on the history of the American Revolution.)

Conservation is important, especially now as we try to wean ourselves off oil. I thought of the eco-mantra: reduce, reuse, recycle, repair.

In the end it is a remarkably hopeful book. It attempts to point a creative and positive way forward through what will certainly be a very difficult time for the whole planet. I hope he is not being overly optimistic.

Tangentially, McKibben's earlier and first book, The End of Nature, now a classic, sounded more like the prophet Jeremiah: warning about a future disaster. Eaarth sounds more like the prophet Ezekiel, in a way, in that he is dealing with a disaster that is now happening, and he is seeking to hold/bring together a remnant faithful community.

The first half of the book also reminded me of the Native American Ghost Dance movement in the 1890's. That was also a response of lament and hope to a catastrophic end of a whole civilization. Much of this part of Eaarth could be read liturgically as a litany of mourning for a planet we destroyed. And the second part is almost a credal statement outlining the way to survival on this new planet.

Read it.

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