Book Review: Eaarth by Bill McKibben

I’ve just finished reading one of the most important books of our time; on the planet, climate change, the economy and the plight of humankind, so I’m going to review it here.  This should be at the top of everyone’s reading list if you want to understand what is happening to us at this moment in time.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0312541198

McKibben is an environmental writer and wrote an important book on the subject 20 years ago, called “The End of Nature”; I never read it, I guess I wasn’t reading environmental books at the time, which is a pity. Twenty years ago we still had time to do something about the state of the planet, but we chose not to.  After all, we were having a recession.  In fact an earlier landmark publication put the writing on the wall for us back in 1972 – the Club of Rome issued a report called “The Limits to Growth”.  We didn’t listen then either, or rather we stopped listening, after we recovered from the shock of the OPEC oil embargo, and we went shopping instead.  Retail therapy.

McKibben’s book starts with the simple but stark premise that the old Earth is gone; that we effectively live on a new planet, one that is not so nice, and which will get worse.  He calls it Eaarth. His reasoning is simple, the Earth is now cascading through a series of tipping points, from which it cannot now recover from, at least not within a humanly conceivable time-scale. Perhaps the chief of these is the amount of carbon we are pouring into the atmosphere; currently around 390ppm and heading inexorably to >600ppm.  The safe level for a habitable planet is 350ppm.  See the problem?

McKibben links environmental change firmly with consumption and economic growth.  As I have been writing, we are fixated on this as the only possible way of living our lives.  Of course it is true that everything is geared for growth and the inevitable consequence of no growth is failure – or so we believe.

But the book, though stark, doesn’t just fill us full of doom; McKibben believes we can, with concerted grass-roots effort, get the carbon emissions back down to 350ppm and he in fact instigated a movement, 350.org to promote – with some considerable success – the need to achieve this goal.

I am reading a number of other books on similar subjects, including Richard Heinberg’s “The End of Growth”, which I shall review in due course.

October 30th, 2012 by