Eaarth- book review

(By Bill McKibben)
Review by Louise Smithers

About the Author

Bill McKibben is an environmentalist and writer. He has written numerous books about global warming and climate change including, “The End of Nature” in 1989 which was the first publication for a general audience about the causes and effects of climate change. His latest book, Eaarth, is definitely worth checking out, and will keep you thinking long after the final page has been read.

So you thought you were pretty lucky living on Earth right? I mean, we’re located in the “sweetest of sweet spots”- our unique position in the solar system means we are just close enough to the sun to ensure somewhat temperate conditions, allowing for food growth and sufficient water supplies. And just the right amount of gravitational pull means there is no danger we will accidentally float away from our comfy homes.

As well as this it seems as though our atmosphere was tailor made to suit our every whim and guarantee our happiness here. Oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, the list goes on. Earth is our perfect match, our love connection, the Romeo to our Juliet.

As far as we know, Earth is the only viable spot in the universe where we can thrive. But, as McKibben outlines in his latest book, our prime piece of real estate has been almost completely destroyed… by us.

Bill McKibben

The celestial body formally known as Earth, or ‘Eaarth’ as McKibben has coined it, is- “an increasingly inhospitable place,”- characterised by stronger storms, acidifying oceans, epic ice-cap melts, increased rainfall and flooding. A place where crop production struggles, rivers dry up and mega-fires reign.

McKibben’s main concern discussed throughout the book is the unnatural level of carbon pollution circulating around Eaarth.

Scientists claim that 350 parts per million CO2 in our atmosphere is the limit at which our planet can remain healthy and sustainable. We are currently closer to 400ppm!

How we can get this number down is McKibben’s main goal and he suggests a change in thinking is a good place to start. Instead of viewing global warming as our children’s or grandchildren’s problem he warns, “…global warming is no longer a philosophical threat, no longer a future threat, no longer a threat at all. It’s our reality.”

The first half of Eaarth could be mistaken for just another doomsday prediction, filled with alarming facts and figures about the demise of our planet. However, McKibben’s humour, personal anecdotes, and colourful style are enough to help readers sift through the mountain of problems we face on our new planet.

One such problem is the potential for starvation and famine, and not only in the Developing World. In 2003, for example, Europe suffered its most destructive heat wave in modern history, claiming over thirty thousand lives and severely damaging corn, fruit and wheat harvests.

Another example McKibben shares, and one which almost brought me to tears, was the alarming statistic that, “By 2007 half of Australia’s farmland was in a declared drought, and a farmer was committing suicide every four days.”

The list goes on. As temperatures rise, so too do cases of dengue fever and malaria. As temperatures rise, hurricanes become more frequent and destructive. As temperatures rise, poverty increases, especially in the Developing World. As temperatures rise, mega-fires dominate, as was evident in Victoria in 2009 and California in 2008. As temperatures rise, “…the sea ice goes…with the mirror of white ice replaced by sun-absorbing blue. And the permafrost melts, and the methane escapes, and peat bogs dry out and add to the load of carbon.”

But believe it or not there is a light at the end of the tunnel and McKibben spends the second half of the book exploring our possible options; a way out of the mess we’ve created.

To start with McKibben argues that we all need to change our habits, especially politicians and world leaders. We need to stop thinking in terms of growth and focus more on sustainability. As McKibben puts it, “We’ve got a lot of work to do if we’re going to survive on this Eaarth, but most of it needs to be done close to home. Small not big, dispersed, not centralised.”

He envisages small, local economies, where neighbours actually know each other’s names and converse with each other! Imagine that. In these new communities, regional food economies and small scale agriculture will ensure we all remain fed. Farmers markets will thrive, and we may even need to start composting dead cattle to produce energy.

We will all need to ride our bikes more, some will have to move back into rural farming areas (what McKibben refers to as reverse migration) and most of us will need to eat less meat because, “…it takes 11 times as much fossil fuel to raise a pound of animal protein as a pound of plant protein.”

Without stable weather and cheap oil we will need to spend more resources on renewable power such as wind turbines and solar panels.

And how will we manage to cope with these shifts in behaviour and lifestyle? Why the Internet of course! McKibben argues that online interaction will offer small, community based individuals a vehicle to socialise, educate and entertain themselves.

Whatever the answer, Eaarth offers some unique and simple solutions to the biggest problem we have ever faced. Through his use of both fear and hopeful optimism, McKibben ensures that his latest publication stands out in an already overflowing bounty of environmental literature filled with doomsday prophesies.

Readers will not only be left worried, but empowered; to know that the future of this beautiful planet rests in our hands, in our actions, in our willingness to tread upon Eaarth ever so, “…lightly, carefully, gracefully.”


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