Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben. Alfred A Knopf Canada 2010.
My 84-year-old aunt doesn’t believe in climate change. Here’s the thing, though. Climate change is a lot like gravity. It doesn’t matter one whit whether you believe in gravity. When you jump up in the air, you’ll still land on the ground. It’s the same with climate change. You can not believe all you like, but you will still be affected.
Bill McKibben is a long-time believer. The End of Nature, now marking its 20th anniversary, was one of the first popular books to warn of world warming. While the lack-lustre, criminally negligent politicians currently running the show here in Canada continue to play the denial game, McKibben observes that it is already too late to head off serious trouble. Climate change is already well underway, and if we would avoid the very worst the need to act is ever more urgent.
McKibben’s title, Eaarth, is intended to convey his message in a single word. The old planet that we grew up on, that the human race has enjoyed for thousands of years, no longer exists. The days when the weather was reliable and predictable are ending. It used to be that extreme weather events were rare. Now, catastrophic, previously unheard of weather events are becoming common place. Less conspicuous are changes to old weather patterns that cause unsettling shifts in age-old routines.
Eaarth is divided into four parts. In the first two, McKibben looks at changes already underway, and how they are affecting our lives in the present. In the second two sections, McKibben first looks back to the roots of American government and the struggle between power held at the state level and big government represented by the federalists. When America was young, there were grand challenges that required big government: opening the west, building the interstate highway system, representing the nation on the international stage. Now that many of those big projects are finished, a return to smaller, more local governance makes sense.
McKibben looks to his home state of Vermont for encouraging examples of the growth of small and the growth of the local economy. He argues for the return of the small farm, and finds that a new outlook is taking hold. Companies like High Mowing Organic Seeds are finding a niche for themselves. While for decades, more and more people have left the land to move to big cities, a modest reversal is underway. In New England, where farms have been dying for 150 years, the number of farms grew from 28,000 to 33,000 between 2002 and 2007. The numbers are starting to shift back.
You might expect Eaarth to be a downer, but it’s not. McKibben’s writing is easy and accessible and reading Eaarth is like enjoying an extended conversation with a friend or neighbour. Eaarth is an interesting read with plenty of food for thought.
Here’s a short video of Bill McKibben and Noam Chomsky. A more extended talk by Bill McKibben on his book Eaarth is also available on Youtube.