Tag Archives: environment

Eaarth – Bill McKibben

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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

The Tree — John Fowles

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On a wide swale in the center of a Little Havana side street, a gnarled tree spread its canopy over a motley collection of bright bits and foul garbage around its trunk. The tree stood a little ways down from my bel canto teacher’s rambling house, the neighborhood gone slightly seedy but the voodoo tree an anomaly nonetheless. Residents didn’t approve of it but they kept their distance. I ventured in to catalog the offerings now and again: a chicken head, two yellow feet with bloody stumps, random pennies and the odd silver coin, candle stubs, bits of paper with scribbled writing impossible to decipher, pictures torn from magazines, letters in sealed envelopes, plastic and glass beads, airline liquor bottles, mostly empty.

There was never any paper money under the tree, no headless dolls with pins stuck in them, but always the sense of someone watching, a sour sense of ill-will and desperation. It was Santeria, I learned, the Afro-Cuban animist religion of a poorer class of refugee. Neither I nor, apparently, the city parks department had the temerity to risk any engagement with that tree. I took nothing; I left nothing. The offerings rotted in the shade and sun.

I hadn’t thought of the voodoo tree in years, until something in John Fowles’ hardcover essay The Tree triggered the memory. No idea what that might have been. Fowles’ trees are a loftier sort, more apt to channel Tolkien than some demonic Orisha. But they are powerful beings in his world, symbols for all of nature, the vertical reproach to human alienation.

Fowles wrote this essay in the late seventies with a prescience about the current state of the environment that would be stunning if we hadn’t already known then what we know now. We are destroying ourselves. We are ravaging the planet, barricaded in our cities and living willfully blind. We have forgotten the mysteries of the dark wood, the truth of druids, the significance of a living tree. Science has given us names for the deciduous and the evergreen that can never capture the unnamable things that they are. We no longer believe in magic so magic has fled.

The Tree does not sentimentalize this. It is a cold, clear accounting of how we tame trees, prune them, harvest them, cut them down and make things of them. The tale tells of wandering in a numinous lostness, of forests as metaphors, of writing fiction as blind as owls in daylight, blinking at the blank page, wondering what will come next. Fowles finds solace and revelation in his forests and small copses and isolated stands of birch and oak. He scrambles with us over scraggy slopes and tors of granite and shale to a hidden wood–primeval trees stunted, intertwined and untouched, fraught with silence, alive with ferns, mosses and lichens–sanctuary for birds and old spirits. He tells us his writing is a pale thing next to a tree. That to capture a tree in words is as impossible as reproducing a symphony in a painting.

John Fowles has some glorious fiction to his name: The Collector, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Magus, The Aristos. The Tree is an argument for the intuitive, the wisdom conferred only by presence, the acknowledgment that, refusing to see with the heart, we begin to die. Fowles called this encounter with trees, creature to creature, the return to “green chaos.” It is the place he went to find his stories, the wild, still, unpredictable woods that blur the borders between dreaming and waking.

We are losing this mysterious planet we only half-know. We have no name for the spirit in the tree that is our spirit, too, so we classify the tree, cull it or conserve it at will, espalier it, trim it, cultivate it in an arboretum, a tree museum. Maybe we need a return to gifts of chicken feet, copper pennies left in offering, midnight ululations. Maybe we need to sit with trees, walk among them, read at their feet, listen for the slight rustling that signals the beginning of a story, the invitation to green chaos, before it is too late.

The Tree   John Fowles | The Ecco Press 1983