Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben wrote one of the first books on global warming (a title I do not like, so from now on, I will call it climate change) back in 1988.  He warned us all that if we did not change our ways, in 100 years or so we would be living on a very different planet.  Well, he was wrong.  We’re living on that different planet now.  A planet so different, but that still sort of looks like the planet we all know and love, that we might a s well call it Eaarth.

Let me explain why I don’t like the phrase global warming.  Whenever I would tell people that I was reading a book about global warming, they would invariably say something along the lines of, “Global warming?!  It’s 25 degrees outside!”  But, if I said that I was reading a book about climate change, people automatically changed their response.  They would say things like, “Oh yeah, the weather is really different now than when I was a kid!”  Or, “Did you hear about that [insert strange weather formation]?”  People just respond better to the term climate change, for all its ambiguities.  If I could change one thing about the way we talk about climate change and global warming, it’s that we would simply refer to it as climate change.  Would that solve all our problems? No!  But it might help.

Okay, back to Eaarth.  The bottom line of this book is simple: Look at what we’ve done to Earth, look at what we can do to help.  It is organized very succinctly into 4 chapters.  The first two chronicle the changes that are already occurring and what will happen in the coming years.  The second two chapters, and last 100 pages, talk about changes that need to be made and includes some practical real world examples of how our society is already changing to accommodate our new world.

I am of two minds of this book.  I think it is excellent and I think it should be required reading but I do not think it can stand alone. I also don’t think McKibben intended it to, but I found myself wanting more.  I thought it easily could have been 4oo pages instead of 200, because I wanted more practicality.  I agreed with most of what McKibben said, and even though he really did use a lot of real world examples, there were some things that I wanted more explanation for.  I hope that there are many books to follow demonstrating how we can change our world for the better with a more practical, rather than idealogical, approach.

All in all, I learned a lot.  I was terrified, and then incredibly hopeful for the future.  The idea is that we will no longer be able to support constant growth and big government and big farms, so we will have to return to small communities.  If we make this political (which it shouldn’t be, because this will be everyone’s problem) I think both liberals and conservatives will find things to latch onto in this book, something I wasn’t exactly expecting.  I also very much approved of McKibben’s stance on the internet as a big, magical community that should never go away.  Amen to that.

Though this book does feature the efforts of other countries, it is very US centric, but Eaarth never pretends to be otherwise, so I didn’t really find this to be a flaw.  This is the first book about climate change that I have ever really read and it has made me eager to read more and to do more, which was probably its secret purpose all along.  Please go read this book, it is important.

Favorite quotes:

“Don’t let your eyes glaze over at this parade of statistics (and so many more to follow).  These should come as body blows, as mortar barrages, as sickening thuds.  The Holocene is staggered, the only world that humans have known is suddenly reeling.  I am not describing what will happen if we don’t take action, or warning of some future threat.  This is the current inventory: more thunder, more lightning, less ice.  Name a major feature of the earth’s surface and you’ll find massive change.”(5)

“As we’ve seen, though, scientists are far more guilty of understatement than exaggeration, and our economic troubles are intersecting with our ecological ones in ways that put us hard up against the limits to growth.  This book has been dedicated, so far, to the idea that we’re in very deep trouble.  Now we must try to figure out how to survive what’s coming at us.  And that survival begins with words.

We lack the vocabulary and the metaphors we need for life on a different scale. We’re so used to growth that we can’t imagine alternatives; at best we embrace the squishy sustainable, with its implied claim that we can keep on as before.”  (102)

“Community may suffer from overuse more sorely than any word in the dictionary.  Politicians left and right sprinkle it through their remarks the way a bad Chinese restaurant uses MSG, to mask the lack of wholesome ingredients.  But we need to rescue it; we need to make sure that community will become, on this tougher  planet, one of the most prosaic terms in the lexicon, like hoe or bicycle or computer.  Access to endless amounts of cheap energy made us rich, and wrecked our climate, and it also made us the first people on earth who had no practical need of our neighbors.”  (133)

There were so many more quotes that I would like to include here.  Bill McKibben knows how to terrify and he knows how to inspire.  From this book, I’ve already been inspired to start composting and being more diligent with recycling (which I should have been already), but beyond that, I am just so entirely hopeful for our future world.

So go read this!:  now| tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

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4 thoughts on “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben

  1. Great review! I think you captured the feeling of the book perfectly.

    And good call on “climate change.” I myself listened to Eaarth while running in (very) cold Florida mornings. Warming was not a term people would have understood.

  2. I read one of his other books (Deep Economy) and very much liked it. I tend to avoid books on climate change (and I loved your discussion of that phrase v global warming), but I might have to give this one a go!

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