Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben
(Times Books, 2010)
Reviewed by Elizabeth McCullough
Bill McKibben comes out swinging in his new book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, and he doesn’t let up for the next hundred pages. He claims his point is a simple one—“Global warming is no longer a …threat.... It’s our reality”—and should you doubt him, here’s a tsunami of data to persuade you. The last hundred and fifty years or so have been a petrochemical paradise of technological magic, global travel, and global trade, but the party is drawing to a close. McKibben wants us to understand that we no longer live on the planet whose stable climate made this great civilization possible. We live on Eaarth, where extreme weather events, mass extinctions, rising sea levels, and rising temperatures are the new normal.
The heap of examples, anecdotes, reports, and data in the first half of the book make the case that it’s already too late to make the easy changes; time, money, and resources are running out too fast for us to be able to rewind the film. Looking back over the missed opportunities from the Carter era to the present, McKibben writes with barely restrained outrage. His fire-breathing style won’t appeal to everyone, but I don’t think he’s trying to make friends with this book.
The last half of the book feels like a reward for making it through the first half without collapsing in despair. Because any other choice is unthinkable, McKibben advocates learning to live on the new Eaarth “lightly, carefully, gracefully.” He begins by exploding our modern mythology of growth as an end in itself, and talks about people in the US and in other countries who have already begun the work of building good lives and good communities around principles of restraint, self-sufficiency, and sustainability. He challenges his readers to grow up and face the new facts of life the way our grandparents faced two world wars and a great depression. I would have liked even more stories about these pioneers of a new way of living—a whole book full wouldn’t be too many.
If you like your climate news wrapped up in assurances that it’s all going to work out, this isn’t the book for you. If you’re ready to hitch up your pants and face the future, then—welcome to Eaarth.
Elizabeth McCullough lives with her family in Charlottesville, Virginia. Her work has been published at Blogcritics.com, C-Ville Weekly, Home Education Magazine, and Internet Review of Books. Her current projects include CvilleWords.com, a local blog with a literary focus, and BookBalloon.com, a discussion forum for people who love books. She is a founding member of WriterHouse in Charlottesville.