The moth snowstorm, a phenomenon Michael McCarthy remembers from his boyhood when moths “would pack a car’s headlight beams like snowflakes in a blizzard,” is a distant memory. Wildlife is being lost, not only in the wholesale extinctions of species but also in the dwindling of those species that still exist.
The Moth Snowstorm is unlike any other book about climate change today; combining the personal with the polemical, it is a manifesto rooted in experience, a poignant memoir of the author’s first love: nature. McCarthy traces his adoration of the natural world to when he was seven, when the discovery of butterflies and birds brought sudden joy to a boy whose mother had just been hospitalized and whose family life was deteriorating. He goes on to record in painful detail the rapid dissolution of nature’s abundance in the intervening decades, and he proposes a radical solution to our current problem: that we each recognize in ourselves the capacity to love the natural world.
Arguing that neither sustainable development nor ecosystem services have provided adequate defense against pollution, habitat destruction, species degradation, and climate change, McCarthy asks us to consider nature as an intrinsic good and an emotional and spiritual resource, capable of inspiring joy, wonder, and even love. An award-winning environmental journalist, McCarthy presents a clear, well-documented picture of what he calls “the great thinning” around the world, while interweaving the story of his own early discovery of the wilderness and a childhood saved by nature. Drawing on the truths of poets, the studies of scientists, and the author’s long experience in the field, The Moth Snowstorm is part elegy, part ode, and part argument, resulting in a passionate call to action.
In this mesmerizing combination of memoir, treatise, and paean to the natural world, British environmental writer McCarthy (Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo) weaves the personal with the political and the local with the global to create a compelling examination of Earth's current ecological crisis. Whether he is recounting being seven years old and encountering a buddleia bush festooned with hundreds of colorful butterflies or introducing his 17-year-old son to the iridescent blue of a kingfisher, McCarthy shares the absolute sense of joy he feels. It is joy of this sort that he believes can end the devastation humans are wreaking on the natural world. Contra sustainable development or "ecosystem services," he argues forcefully for joy to become a third way in defense of nature. McCarthy asserts that all humans have the propensity to love nature and to experience the same joy he has. The imperative for immediate action is dire, he argues, hauntingly describing the "great thinning" of wildlife in Britain as well as the destruction of the Saemangeum estuary flats in South Korea and the collapse of bird populations that previously depended upon the area to fuel their migrations. McCarthy's call is unlikely to shape real policy, but his writing is beautiful, sincere, and powerful.