Bill McKibben opens Eaarth with this ominous note in the preface: “The first point of this book is simple: 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 blown past the amount of carbon dioxide we can afford to have in the atmosphere. The oceans are 30 percent more acid than they should be due to human activity—and that corrosive state is irreversible. There were 111 hurricanes in the Atlantic between 1995 and 2008—a 75 percent increase over the previous 13-year period. The ice caps at both poles are melting at an alarming rate—faster than anyone ever predicted–and the mountain glaciers that supply fresh water to entire continents are disappearing.
We’ve really mucked it up and we are going to live on a planet that gets worse, much worse, than the conditions we see now. It’s too late to avoid that. McKibben pulls apart the rhetoric and examines the studies to get at how bad things will be—pretty depressing. But no news if you’ve been paying attention. The point of his book is to put forth some ideas about how to live on this new planet we have created. Because he’s sure we will never have the option to live again on the old one.
Corporate greed, political expedience, misguided theories of entitlement, the American drive to get bigger, richer, faster, better, pure mule-headed obtuseness got us here. Poor countries are already paying a tragic price for our shortsightedness and greed. They are awash in killer storms, rising tides and salinity in the drinking water, heat that kills crops, insects that breed disease. We are paying a high price, too. The recession that torpedoed the economy was no accident and has no happy ending. Our reliance on fossil fuels and on some fantasy of endless natural resources to be exploited is a fatal flaw. It’s bad and it’s getting worse and we should wake up and deal with it while we have anything left to support life.
Scary truths are that we don’t know how to stop what we’ve set in motion and we no longer control what happens. The effects of global warming have taken on a life of their own and it threatens ours in ways we can’t even see yet. So, it’s time for Plan B. McKibben offers some practical advice from the trenches. Eat and live local. Find ways to support small local farming and food production and do as much of it as you can yourself. Form strong community bonds to help each other through the inevitable crises and disasters and shortages. Act to change minds and methods—we have to use solar power, and wind power and elbow grease as well. Because we are running rapidly out of fuel and there won’t be other choices.
Dump the gas-guzzling 4-wheel drive you suburban softy—when are you ever going to drive off-road? And how many hours are you willing to sit in gas lines to spend a king’s ransom to fill up the tanks? In fact, get a bike, take a bus, do something radical like walk. Tend your own garden—even in the city you can grow things on terraces, rooftops, patios. Staycation—every holiday and long weekend won’t involve a plane—airports and flights will be shrinking as fuel and demand disappear. We can no longer live those big fat lives that were the envy of the planet—maybe we won’t be supersize nation when the marbled beef and the junk food runs out. Just wake up. You can’t live on a dry rock hurtling through space. If we pretend we can fix this, someday, when we get around to it, then the pretty blue marble turns as drab and lifeless as a piece of space junk. Unless you are the Little Prince, there won’t be any room on it for you.
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet Bill McKibben | Times Books 2010