Friday, May 28, 2010

A review of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet



Bill McKibben in Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet argues that the world we once knew no longer exists because of global warming, which currently includes a one-degree Celsius rise in temperature and an increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Although the atmosphere currently contains 390 ppm of carbon dioxide, McKibben believes that the amount of carbon can brought down to 350 ppm, an amount that scientists see as the upper limits of that safe range. McKibben devotes the first chapter to accounts of how global warming has affected climate by examining not only extreme weather events, particularly stronger and more devastating rainfall, but also disappearing glaciers, losses in sea ice, and permanent shifts in climate patterns. These manifestations of global warming will only become more widespread and more destructive. Countries located in the northern hemisphere can reduce the amount of carbon used, he says, by increasing the cost of both gasoline and coal. Those developing nations will ultimately use fewer amounts of fossil fuels if those nations in the northern hemisphere offer alternatives by providing green energy—e.g., wind turbines. Unfortunately, America is too saddled with debt to make significant changes nationally. McKibben also believes that the American government has grown too large because of large nationwide projects like the construction of the interstate system. Now the federal government needs to shrink in size while individual states learn to create their own energy and their own food. This call for simplicity, while also requiring the end of consumerism and complexity on many levels, can allow people to make changes not only locally but also nationally and globally by communicating via the Internet and by working together to make the new world that we inhabit a somewhat more welcoming kind of place. McKibben has created an important book that makes radical statements and that calls for drastic actions. As Americans, the world’s largest consumers and largest users of fossil fuels, we have no choice but to change how we live on this planet.

At times, particularly in the later chapters, it seems as if McKibben wrote the book in haste, perhaps because of the urgency to get the book into print and to make others aware of the topic. It was difficult at times to discern the direction of his third chapter, which is one of four chapters. Personally, I would have preferred more attribution for some of the quotes because some of them are simply dropped into the prose and accompanied with a footnote when the quote, if it deserves to be used, really should be identified within the prose. Despite these criticisms, the book needs to find a wide audience so that others can learn of the severity of global warming and what we can do as a nation, as a community, and as individuals.