Book review: Eaarth, by Bill McKibben

By Bill McKibben
Published by Times Books, $16.95

No, it’s not a typo. McKibben spells it “Eaarth” to emphasize that we are not living on the same planet as we used to, thus its new name. It’s quite a sobering idea, but one you’ll find almost irrefutable after reading all of McKibben’s facts, figures, and stories. If you are new to McKibben, he is a journalist and the author of more than 12 books, including The End of Nature and Deep Economy, and is the founder of the environmental organizations Step It Up and

In my zeal and enthusiasm for this book, I’d like to tell you every great thing I learned, but mostly I just want you to read it yourself. In fact, I’m begging you to PLEASE read this book, because we all need to get up to speed on the real state of the planet’s health, the factors at work, and what can be done about it. As an avid environmentalist, I thought I knew a lot about the planet’s woes. I was wrong. I had no idea how serious it is.

Reading the book brought up feelings of deep grief and alarm at what we’ve done and are doing to our beloved, beautiful home. It was also a wake-up call from God urging me to get more serious in my Earth care efforts. And the good news is that there is plenty that all of us can do. Creative solutions are springing up everywhere, so it’s not time to party ourselves into oblivion because there is no hope.

I challenge any global warming deniers to read this book and the documented sources for all of McKibben’s facts, and still say it isn’t real. I just read a letter to the editor in the Kansas City Star this week where someone calls global warming a lie, just because we’ve had a record cold winter. If that is the level of knowledge of the problem, we are in real trouble.

McKibben says we don’t inhabit the stable, hospitable planet we’ve known for thousands of years because its huge physical features are changing rapidly due to the damaging amount of carbon dioxide we are putting into the air. He says the Arctic ice cap is melting with disconcerting speed. The oceans are 30% more acidic, their level is rising, and they are warmer, which means hurricanes and cyclones are more powerful and destructive. The inland glaciers in the Andes and Himalayas are melting fast, and the water supply to billions of people living downstream is threatened. The great rain forest of the Amazon is drying on its margins and endangered at its core. The great boreal forest of North America is dying in a matter of years. The storehouses of oil beneath the earth’s crust are now more empty than full.

All of this has vast negative consequences for the global food supply, for the displacement of millions of people who cannot survive where they once did, for the industries and the modern way of life that depend on oil, and for the economy and infrastructures, which cannot handle the exorbitant costs of life on a planet out of whack.

The way out of this mess, McKibben argues, is to scale back and to create smaller, more diverse and resilient communities to help adapt to a harsher life on the new planet. It was heartening to hear of all the creative projects already being initiated worldwide. I found the last half of the book, with chapters entitled Backing Off and Lightly, Carefully, Gracefully, thrilling and exciting because, in spite of the upheaval and hardship involved, I could see humanity calling forth deep reserves of spiritual and creative energies to accomplish this task, giving a purpose to life that materialism never could.

I trusted McKibben in this book to guide me safely through a kind of “dark night of the soul’ regarding the earth and he did not disappoint me. His sober, compassionate, knowledgeable look at the facts without a hint of hopelessness or bias empowered me to want to renounce “business as usual” and work harder for real solutions.

As people of faith, we owe it to ourselves and the planet to face the truth with courage, even if it’s alarming and of an almost incomprehensible magnitude. For we believe that God and grace are at work, including through us, even when things look bleak. I highly encourage you to read Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. And if you already have, let us know your reactions.