Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bill McKibben: Eaarth

Bill McKibben is The Man when it comes to the environment. Twenty years ago he wrote (and I read) "The End of Nature" which, in my opinion, was my generations' "Silent Spring." Twenty years ago McKibben demanded change, begged us to change our ways and pay attention to the damage we were doing to the environment. Now, he's written "Eaarth" about the damage that we've done to the environment. McKibben argues that the damage is undoable, and that what we can do now is to adjust our behavior to stop our planet becoming unlivable- we can learn to live on the Earth that we've created before it's too late.

At least, that's the message I got in the first thirty pages. My freshman year in college, I took an introduction to religious studies course (not an introduction to religion class) taught by a wonderful professor who also happened to be a Jungian. I remember very little about the class except the portion where my professor said that the atomic bomb was some sort of connection between everyone of her generation, a mortal fear that affected every action. There are many theories of eschatology, or the religious belief in the end of the world, but for her, she believed that underlying every fear was nuclear warfare. I believe the environment is our atomic bomb. When I read articles by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker I feel the existential dread my teacher talked about. Sometimes I can't read the articles all the way through. I have visions of our planet, blackened, cockroaches and crows surviving, and maybe laughing.

I couldn't read McKibben's book past the first thirty pages or so. The bottom line is, we can't do what we're doing. Hybrid cars aren't going to do it. Lowering carbon emissions isn't going to do it. Fuel efficiency, better light bulbs, etc isn't going to do it. Which makes me want to give up. That's obviously not going to do it. And all of this stops me from being able to read the book. Especially when McKibben gives dates like 2050, which although it sounds futuristic, is well within my lifetime. It's scary. You can read an excerpt above, or a short piece by McKibben here. You can see horrific pictures of the receding ice on the glaciers. You can listen to a wonderful TED talk by Naomi Klein. And if you come up with anything that helps with the existential grief and angst, let me know.