The bestselling author of Deep Economy shows that we’re living on a fundamentally altered planet — and opens our eyes to the kind of change we’ll need in order to make our civilization endure.
Twenty years ago, with The End of Nature, Bill McKibben offered one of the earliest warnings about global warming. Those warnings went mostly unheeded; now, he insists, we need to acknowledge that we’ve waited too long, and that massive change is not only unavoidable but already under way. Our old familiar globe is suddenly melting, drying, acidifying, flooding, and burning in ways that no human has ever seen. We’ve created, in very short order, a new planet, still recognizable but fundamentally different. We may as well call it Eaarth.
That new planet is filled with new binds and traps. A changing world costs large sums to defend — think of the money that went to repair New Orleans, or the trillions of dollars it will take to transform our energy systems. But the endless economic growth that could underwrite such largesse depends on the stable planet we’ve managed to damage and degrade. We can’t rely on old habits any longer.
Our hope depends, McKibben argues, on scaling back — on building the kind of societies and economies that can hunker down, concentrate on essentials, and create the type of community (in the neighborhood, but also on the Internet) that will allow us to weather trouble on an unprecedented scale. Change — fundamental change — is our best hope on a planet suddenly and violently out of balance.
The world as we know it has ended forever: that's the melancholy message of this nonetheless cautiously optimistic assessment of the planet's future by McKibben, whose The End of Nature first warned of global warming's inevitable impact 20 years ago. Twelve books later, the committed environmentalist concedes that the earth has lost the climatic stability that marked all of human civilization. His litany of damage done by a carbon-fueled world economy is by now familiar: in some places rainfall is dramatically heavier, while Australia and the American Southwest face a permanent drought; polar ice is vanishing, glaciers everywhere are melting, typhoons and hurricanes are fiercer, and the oceans are more acidic; food yields are dropping as temperatures rise and mosquitoes in expanding tropical zones are delivering deadly disease to millions. McKibben's prescription for coping on our new earth is to adopt maintenance as our mantra, to think locally not globally, and to learn to live lightly, carefully, gracefully a glass-half-full attitude that might strike some as Pollyannaish or merely insufficient. But for others McKibben's refusal to abandon hope may restore faith in the future.