Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

4.4 31
by Bill McKibben

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"Read it, please. Straight through to the end. Whatever else you were planning to do next, nothing could be more important." —Barbara Kingsolver

Twenty years ago, with The End of Nature, Bill McKibben offered one of the earliest warnings about global warming. Those warnings went mostly unheeded; now, he insists, we need to acknowledge that

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"Read it, please. Straight through to the end. Whatever else you were planning to do next, nothing could be more important." —Barbara Kingsolver

Twenty years ago, with The End of Nature, Bill McKibben offered one of the earliest warnings about global warming. Those warnings went mostly unheeded; now, he insists, we need to acknowledge that we've waited too long, and that massive change is not only unavoidable but already under way. Our old familiar globe is suddenly melting, drying, acidifying, flooding, and burning in ways that no human has ever seen. We've created, in very short order, a new planet, still recognizable but fundamentally different. We may as well call it Eaarth.

That new planet is filled with new binds and traps. A changing world costs large sums to defend—think of the money that went to repair New Orleans, or the trillions it will take to transform our energy systems. But the endless economic growth that could underwrite such largesse depends on the stable planet we've managed to damage and degrade. We can't rely on old habits any longer.

Our hope depends, McKibben argues, on scaling back—on building the kind of societies and economies that can hunker down, concentrate on essentials, and create the type of community (in the neighborhood, but also on the Internet) that will allow us to weather trouble on an unprecedented scale. Change—fundamental change—is our best hope on a planet suddenly and violently out of balance.

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Editorial Reviews

Paul Greenberg
Unlike many writers on environmental cataclysm, McKibben is actually a writer, and a very good one at that. He is smart enough to know that the reader needs a dark chuckle of a bone thrown at him now and then to keep plowing through the bad news…This occasional lightheartedness carries the reader through the book's thesis and antithesis sections, delivering him, albeit a bit dispirited, to the synthesis part explaining how we might endure life on Eaarth.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The world as we know it has ended forever: that's the melancholy message of this nonetheless cautiously optimistic assessment of the planet's future by McKibben, whose The End of Nature first warned of global warming's inevitable impact 20 years ago. Twelve books later, the committed environmentalist concedes that the earth has lost “the climatic stability that marked all of human civilization.” His litany of damage done by a carbon-fueled world economy is by now familiar: in some places rainfall is dramatically heavier, while Australia and the American Southwest face a permanent drought; polar ice is vanishing, glaciers everywhere are melting, typhoons and hurricanes are fiercer, and the oceans are more acidic; food yields are dropping as temperatures rise and mosquitoes in expanding tropical zones are delivering deadly disease to millions. McKibben's prescription for coping on our new earth is to adopt “maintenance as our mantra,” to think locally not globally, and to learn to live “lightly, carefully, gracefully”—a glass-half-full attitude that might strike some as Pollyannaish or merely insufficient. But for others McKibben's refusal to abandon hope may restore faith in the future. (Apr.)
Library Journal
"Scale matters," warns environmental author McKibben (The End of Nature) in his latest. He starts by delivering the bad news—the oceans are acidifying, the sea level is rising, and the change in temperature is killing us through flood, drought, famine, storm, and disease. And it's not just the environment that's being destroyed—increased insurance claims and infrastructure damage are contributing to the financial crisis. The solution is a matter of scaling down on everything we've come to recognize as American—big cars, big homes, big business. Eaarth, the modified planet we now live on, has been irreparably changed, and the only way to stop this change is to make carbon-emission reduction a priority above all else. McKibben's words are well researched, forceful, and well timed. VERDICT The news is tough to hear yet essential to know. Fans of Michael Pollan's books will appreciate McKibben's message; fans of our planet will want to heed his words. [April 22, 2010, marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.—Ed.]—Jaime Hammond, Naugatuck Valley Community Coll., Waterbury, CT
Kirkus Reviews
Stark, no-nonsense manifesto about global warming and its unstoppable effects. In accessible prose and a tone of wistfulness about the state of our planet, environmental activist McKibben (Fight Global Warming Now, 2007, etc.) demonstrates how global warming has already occurred and is irreversible. He describes a new "Eaarth," where the cumulative effects of the release of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have already changed the planet. If the average count of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 275 parts per million during the last 10,000 years, it is now already 390 parts per million, well over the 350 parts per million that McKibben says is the tipping point for permanent planetary transformation. The author provides sobering details about the accelerated melting of glaciers, which will eventually lead to a global water shortage as life-sustaining rivers lose their sources of water. He lucidly explains that increasingly erratic weather patterns result from hotter air that holds more water vapor, triggering higher rates of evaporation and desertification in some regions, and torrential downpours and floods in others. The reason that global warming is difficult to undo, writes the author, is because "we don't know how to refreeze the Arctic or regrow a rainforest." He bravely makes the difficult argument that we have already moved to a planet where natural catastrophes will soon be a way of life. At this point, installing wind and solar power as fossil-fuel substitutes is likely to be a futile effort, as the process to change energy sources is exceedingly slow and politically treacherous. Providing inspirational examples from his home state, Vermont, McKibben envisions a future inwhich humanity transitions from unfettered growth and a dependence on external markets for sustenance and fossil-fuel-driven energy, to smaller, self-contained communities, growing food locally and generating sustainable distributed electricity. An absolute must-read. Agent: Gloria Loomis/Watkins/Loomis Agency

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St. Martin's Press
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First Edition
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5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

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I'm writing these words on a gorgeous spring afternoon, perched on the bank of a brook high along the spine of the Green Mountains, a mile or so from my home in the Vermont mountain town of Ripton. The creek burbles along, the picture of a placid mountain stream, but a few feet away there's a scene of real violence a deep gash through the woods where a flood last summer ripped away many cubic feet of tree and rock and soil and drove it downstream through the center of the village. Before the afternoon was out, the only paved road into town had been demolished by the rushing water, a string of bridges lay in ruins, and the governor was trying to reach the area by helicopter.

Twenty years ago, in 1989, I wrote the first book for a general audience about global warming, which in those days we called the "greenhouse effect." That book, The End of Nature, was mainly a philosophical argument. It was too early to see the practical effects of climate change but not too early to feel them; in the most widely excerpted passage of the book, I described walking down a different river, near my then-home sixty miles away, in New York's Adirondack Mountains. Merely knowing that we'd begun to alter the climate meant that the water fl owing in that creek had a different, lesser meaning. "Instead of a world where rain had an independent and mysterious existence, the rain had become a subset of human activity," I wrote. "The rain bore a brand; it was a steer, not a deer."

Now, that sadness has turned into a sharper-edged fear. Walking along this river today, you don't need to imagine a damned thing the evidence of destruction is all too obvious. Much more quickly than we would have guessed in the late 1980s, global warming has dramatically altered, among many other things, hydrological cycles. One of the key facts of the twenty- first century turns out to be that warm air holds more water vapor than cold: in arid areas this means increased evaporation and hence drought. And once that water is in the atmosphere, it will come down, which in moist areas like Vermont means increased deluge and flood. Total rainfall across our continent is up 7 percent,1 and that huge change is accelerating. Worse, more and more of it comes in downpours.2 Not gentle rain but damaging gully washers: across the planet, flood damage is increasing by 5 percent a year.3 Data show dramatic increases 20 percent or more in the most extreme weather events across the eastern United States, the kind of storms that drop many inches of rain in a single day.4 Vermont saw three flood emergencies in the 1960s, two in the 1970s, three in the 1980s and ten in the 1990s and ten so far in the first decade of the new century.

In our Vermont town, in the summer of 2008, we had what may have been the two largest rainstorms in our history about six weeks apart. The second and worse storm, on the morning of August 6, dropped at least six inches of rain in three hours up on the steep slopes of the mountains. Those forests are mostly intact, with only light logging to disturb them but that was far too much water for the woods to absorb. One of my neighbors, Amy Sheldon, is a river researcher, and she was walking through the mountains with me one recent day, imagining the floods on that August morning. "You would have seen streams changing violently like that," she said, snapping her fingers. "A matter of minutes." A year later the signs persisted: streambeds gouged down to bedrock, culverts obliterated, groves of trees laid to jackstraws.

Our town of barely more than five hundred people has been coping with the damage ever since. We passed a $400,000 bond to pay for our share of the damage to town roads and culverts. (The total cost was in the millions, most of it paid by the state and federal governments.) Now we're paying more to line the creek with a seven-hundred-foot-long wall of huge boulders riprap, it's called where it passes through the center of town, a scheme that may save a few houses for a few years, but which will speed up the water and cause even more erosion downstream. There's a complicated equation for how wide a stream will be, given its grade and geology; Sheldon showed it to me as we reclined on rocks by the riverbank. It mathematically defines streams as we have known them, sets an upper limit to their size. You could use it to plan for the future, so you could know where to build and where to let well enough alone. But none of that planning works if it suddenly rains harder and faster than it has ever rained before, and that's exactly what's now happening. It's raining harder and evaporating faster; seas are rising and ice is melting, melting far more quickly than we once expected. The first point of this book is simple: global warming is no longer a philosophical threat, no longer a future threat, no longer a threat at all. It's our reality. We've changed the planet, changed it in large and fundamental ways. And these changes are far, far more evident in the toughest parts of the globe, where climate change is already wrecking thousands of lives daily. In July 2009, Oxfam released an epic report, "Suffering the Science," which concluded that even if we now adapted "the smartest possible curbs" on carbon emissions, "the prospects are very bleak for hundreds of millions of people, most of them among the world's poorest."5

And so this book will be, by necessity, less philosophical than its predecessor. We need now to understand the world we've created, and consider urgently how to live in it. We can't simply keep stacking boulders against the change that's coming on every front; we'll need to figure out what parts of our lives and our ideologies we must abandon so that we can protect the core of our societies and civilizations. There's nothing airy or speculative about this conversation; it's got to be uncomfortable, staccato, direct.

Which doesn't mean that the change we must make or the world on the other side will be without its comforts or beauties. Reality always comes with beauty, sometimes more than fantasy, and the end of this book will suggest where those beauties lie. But hope has to be real. It can't be a hope that the scientists will turn out to be wrong, or that President Barack Obama can somehow fix everything. Obama can help but precisely to the degree he's willing to embrace reality, to understand that we live on the world we live on, not the one we might wish for. Maturity is not the opposite of hope; it's what makes hope possible.

The need for that kind of maturity became painfully clear in the last days of 2009, as I was doing the final revisions for this book. Many people had invested great hope that the Copenhagen conference would mark a turning point in the climate change debate. If it did, it was a turning point for the worse, with the richest and most powerful countries making it abundantly clear that they weren't going to take strong steps to address the crisis before us. They looked the poorest and most vulnerable nations straight in the eye, and then they looked away and concluded a face- saving accord with no targets or timetables. To see hope dashed is never pleasant. In the early morning hours after President Obama jetted back to Washington, a group of young protesters gathered at the metro station outside the conference hall in Copenhagen. It's our future you decide, they chanted.

My only real fear is that the reality described in this book, and increasingly evident in the world around us, will be for some an excuse to give up. We need just the opposite increased engagement. Some of that engagement will be local: building the kind of communities and economies that can withstand what's coming. And some of it must be global: we must step up the fight to keep climate change from getting even more powerfully out of control, and to try to protect those people most at risk, who are almost always those who have done the least to cause the problem. I've spent much of the last two de cades in that fight, most recently helping lead 350.org, a huge grassroots global effort to force dramatic action. It's true that we've lost that fight, insofar as our goal was to preserve the world we were born into. That's not the world we live on any longer, and there's no use pretending otherwise.

But damage is always relative. So far we've increased global temperatures about a degree, and it's caused the massive change chronicled in chapter 1. That's not going to go away. But if we don't stop pouring more carbon into the atmosphere, the temperature will simply keep rising, right past the point where any kind of adaptation will prove impossible. I have dedicated this book to my closest colleagues in this battle, my crew at 350.org, with the pledge that we'll keep battling. We have no other choice.

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Eaarth 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
plappen More than 1 year ago
Mankind has irreparably changed the Earth's climate and weather conditions. This book gives the details, and tells how to survive on this new world. The Earth that mankind knew, and grew up on, is gone. A new planet needs a new name; hence Eaarth. It is a place of poles where the ice caps are severely reduced, or gone. It is a place where the oceans are becoming more acid, because of excess carbon absorbed into the water, not to mention the toxic chemicals and other pollutants being dumped into it. It is a place of more extreme weather patterns. The average person might not care if an entire glacier completely melts away, like the Chacaltaya Glacier in Bolivia. Those living downstream, dependent on that glacier for their water supply, will certainly care. Since 1980, the tropics have expanded worldwide by 2 degrees north and south. Over 8 million more square miles of land are now tropical, with dry subtropics pushing ahead of them. The chances of Lake Mead, which is behind Hoover Dam, running dry in the next 10 years, have reached 50 percent. The residents of an oceanside town in North Carolina are spending up to $30,000 each to place large sandbags in front of their homes to keep the ocean at bay. The times when America, or the world, can simply grow its way out of its financial problems are gone forever. Building enough nuclear power plants to get rid of even a tenth of the climate change problem will cost at least $8 trillion. According to one estimate, America needs to spend over $200 billion a year for decades, just on infrastructure, to avoid the kind of gridlock that will collapse the economy. A small village in Alaska is being evacuated, because of rising sea levels, at a cost of $400,000 per person. There is not enough money on Earth to evacuate everyone threatened by rising sea levels. What to do? Some people are taking another look at small-scale agriculture, getting away from a dependence on artificial chemicals and fertilizer. Eliminate the middlemen, like advertising and transport, and put more money in the farmer's pocket. Along with local agriculture, consider local power generation. This is a really eye-opening book. The first half is pretty bleak, showing just how bad things have gotten. But, there is plenty of hope in the second half of the book. It is very much recommended.
isbjorn More than 1 year ago
Finally, a book that really sums up our building environmental situation without so much confusing scientific clutter. As a student of environmental law, I have learned to navigate my way through the lingo, but most people find it somewhat alienating and abandon any notions they may have had to try and understand climate change. This book is filled with important information that is explained clearly and concisely. Also, there are few sources that can be trusted more than Bill McKibben when it comes to this subject matter. His heart and his priorities seem to be exactly where they should be. He walks the precarious line between economic viability and environmental responsability very clearly, while too many others leave issues muddied and confusing. I have gifted this to many already and will continue to get it into the hands of as many people as possible this year. This really is a book I think everyone must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bill McKibben says the reason his book's title has an extra "A" is we're already living on a different planet, because so much has changed in such a short time. We have to look at our world in a different way to understand this. His easy way of writing, laced with humour and unforgettable images, make this book readily understandable for everyone. And it's short: You can read it in just a few days. In the first half, he explains how life on our planet today has been changed by global warming, Some of what you read will surprise you and even shock you, but all of it is interesting. On page 99, he starts writing about solutions -- possibilities for our future and methods for adapting to our new environment. He writes, "Like someone lost in the woods, we need to stop running, sit down, see what's in our pockets that might be of use, and start figuring out what steps to take." He tells us how we can manage the changes that will be affecting our lives, rather than just let them happen to us. He says, "We've got to make our societies safer, and that means making them smaller. It means, since we live on a different planet, a different kind of civilization." He describes how we can make this very different world workable -- "how we might keep the lights on, the larder full, and spirits reasonably high." Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us, writes, "With clarity, eloquence, deep knowledge, and even deeper compassion for both planet and people, Bill McKibben guides us to the brink of a new, uncharted era. This monumental book, probably his greatest, may restore you faith in the future, with us in it." I'll give this book five stars any day. My children and grandchildren will be getting copies to keep by their bedsides, to be read and re-read in the years to come.
Sean257 More than 1 year ago
Excellent thought provoking book about the environment, consumerism and the what is happening to our world as we currently know it. You'll want to read it twice.
Christiane Erwin More than 1 year ago
I wasnt going to read this book because of the silly title, but I was pleasantly surprised. After tiring of the collapsitarian and doomer scenarios in other books, McKibbens book is a pleasant reminder of the benefits of slowing down a little, appreciating stuff less and people more. There are no grand save-the-earth schemes here, no deus ex machina, just common sense about our need to be resilient, patient, and neighborly.
Hikerguy More than 1 year ago
Anyone wishing to learn what is coming for the world and how to work to reduce the global warming which is already here, must read this book. McKibben takes a complicated issue and reduces it to simple actions we can take to help avoid a catastrophe.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book over a year ago, but the earth's climate is changing quickly. Do believe that we can turn around now and reduce CO2 to below 350 ppm is a fallacy. Otherwise this book was very informative and I applaud Mr. McKibben for his work.
fred007cartoon More than 1 year ago
watching the news and reading this book bill mckibben hits the nail on the head definite reading for everyone if we want to save the world we live in
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I will admit I sped through the middle a bit, but I will definitely use this in the classroom. Excellent start for a debate and fact verification. On a more personal level it made me just that more vigilant about turning lights off, driving less, etc.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you still think there is no such thing as global warming, then your not living in the real world. This book sums up what is happening in are world with FACTS and personal account of whats going on atmospherically. This is effecting our ecosystems all over the world. Which in turn effects all of humanity, you and me.
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