Thursday, April 15, 2010

EAARTH: Book Review

[reposted from Willamette Week]

reviewed by PHILLIP NEIMAN

In the preface to Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (Times Books, 253 pages, $24), environmental advocate, writer and climate-change educator Bill McKibben clues the reader in to the main thrust of his new book: Global warming is no longer some distant, amorphous threat. In fact, he says, it’s “no longer a threat at all.” Not as in it conveniently vanished; as in, we’re in it full on. As in, it’s our new reality.

Whereas McKibben’s previous book addressing climate change, The End of Nature, had a philosophical bent, Eaarth addresses the urgency of the moment, the frigid fact that we’re now experiencing globally the practical effects of a climatic phenomenon we’ve created but don’t control. We’re locked into a hotter, hairier existence where storms are more frequent and more destructive and the word “drought” is no longer applicable because it implies only temporary scarcity of water. Read: Dust Bowl 2.0. Read: Katrina revisited.

McKibben’s term, “Eaarth,” is his word for this new planetary object we inhabit. The logic is that a wholly different entity requires a different signifier.

Eaarth is our only home, and we don’t have the option of writing off remedial action as we stare into the maw of a daunting future. According to McKibben, now is precisely the time to transform our scourgelike, resource-intensive collective behavior into something more in keeping with our current circumstances. Our mantra must be dig in or hunker down, as opposed to growth at all costs or higher GDP.

McKibben advocates we take our cue from warm-weather animals. Their lower-body masses are selected for survival in warmer climates, as they regulate body temperature better. We have to shrink ourselves; shrink our toxic “eaarthly” impact by downsizing our political economy, producing locally and consuming on a smaller scale. We’ll have to once peak oil comes into full effect, because a cheap and abundant energy supply simply won’t be there anymore. And energy is wealth. We’ll have to shed our psychological dependency on fossil fuels and shift to a more decentralized society by reinvesting in the community around us, reacquainting ourselves with neighbors, and using the Internet intelligently to merge demographics and generate state and local movements.

Although our atmosphere is currently 390 parts per million carbon dioxide, there is still the opportunity, first with the acknowledgment about the truth of our situation, then by abrogating the ingrained ideology of endless economic expansion, that we can return to and maintain a less volatile planet with an atmosphere of 350 ppm CO2. It will be tough, this bearing down, but let’s say we give it the ol’ college try.