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Book Review: "Eaarth"

April 24th, 2010 Comments off

“Eaarth” by Bill McKibben

“Eaarth” is really two books in one.

The first book is a forceful, dispiriting survey of how completed screwed we are. Page after page, and chapter after chapter, the author covers the myriad ways that mankind has thoroughly upset the natural environment on our planet, in such a way that effectively threatens civilization. Even worse, he is quite clear that even if the 6 billion inhabitants of Earth (or Eaarth) all tomorrow turned into Al Gore clones, intent on doing everything they could to save things, it is too late. The die has been cast, and we are headed for ruin. There’s no magic new technology or alternative energy that will save us, and recycling and switching light bulb technology won’t do a thing. Honestly, the first half of this book had me ready to go out and buy a bunch of guns and a cabin in the wood (that is, if climate change doesn’t destroy the forests!)

Just when all hope is lost, McKibben pirouettes in the second half of “Eaarth” into hopey changey mode. His main thesis is that, in spite of what he just spent half the book telling us, that yes, some hope is possible – we just have the reorient our civilization to be more lightweight and local, to live gracefully. To be fair, the author is not polyanna, and he is aware of the limitations and downsides of his prescriptions. After a paean to the joys of local living, neighborliness and small towns, he acknowledges the downsides of looking inward (intrusiveness, lack of opportunity and bigotry). He is still hopeful, however, that we can do better, and after a while, I really started to believe him.

The book overall is well-written, smart and humane, and I did end the book with a tiny drop of hope. It’s to the author’s credit that this result was possibly given the catalog of doom that marked the first half. I would recommend this book – it is a good alternative to both techno-utopian optimism and complete pessimism, if only because both are touched on and wrapped up in one volume.

There will certainly be a future for humanity on “Eaarth” the question is only what kind of future it will be.

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