Book Review: Eaarth (Bill McKibbens)

Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet.  Bill McKibben, Times Books, 2010.  (Kindle Edition.)

The point of the Pagan Reading Challenge is to take time to develop spiritually and study what others have to say.  However, as a Pagan who worships the natural world… nature and studying nature is studying the divine.  So, while this isn’t a New Age or especially pagan book I think Eaarth is a deeply spiritual book.  For me, as I’ve previously stated, my environmentalism is integral to my spirituality. I believe it is my responsibility to do these things.  Even as the climate changes and Gaia seems to turn her back on people, it’s our responsibility to look after her – perhaps if we had not done so much damage things wouldn’t have happened in the same way. That at least, is proven.  (For the record, I don’t see the Earth as particularly masculine or feminine but since Gaia seemed the best concept fit for that I used the feminine pronoun.)

McKibben’s 2010 book Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet sets out an optimistic blueprint for fighting and surviving climate change. The purpose of this book is to explain the science of climate change and to move folks into taking action to make suggested changes in their communities to weather the storms of climate change. The author states that climate change, the result of global warming, has created a new environment on this planet other than that which humans have evolved to live on.  In order for people, and our societies, to survive we need to take actions now to save our future.  The first section of the book focuses on global warming and lays out the science behind global warming.  The most important point made in this section is that “global warming” estimates were inaccurate in one big way: in the amount of time we had until these changes start happening. What everyone assumed to be far in the distant future has already taken place. The corner has been turned and McKibbens lays out the science in an accessible way for everyone to understand how we got here.  He then takes on the economic systems built on infinite growth and resources but explains that fossil fuels are not, actually, infinite. McKibbens makes economics accessible to a general audience using everyday analogies and by simplifying supply chains.  The arguments are easy to follow, and often funny. Lastly, he argues we need to make changes in our lives now, at the personal and policy levels, to ease society and ourselves into the new planet’s environment.  The last section of the book looks at ways to alter our food, energy, economic, and social systems to better adapt to life on our changed planet.

McKibbens advocates for small, local, decentralized solutions to these huge problems just now on the horizon.  Already we suffer the effects of climate change, but many people ignore or don’t see, the connection between climate change and high gasoline (petrol) prices. McKibbens makes these connections easy to see and gives real life, accessible solutions. The author advocates localized, organic farming as a solution to the food supply problems and explains how industrial farming is dependent on fossil fuels – which are in short supply. Also, he advocates for local economies to avoid more economic disasters.  Finally, he points out the need for green energy solutions but in decentralized ways that are not as vulnerable as the current green energy solutions favored by policy makers.  The last changes the author advocates are social system changes: back to small communities that work together.  While he admits that the anonymous nature of modern life liberated people in important ways he insists that a return to that sense of community will be necessary in the brave new world we have created. By decentralizing our food, energy, and economic systems we will indeed need to create tighter communities with the ability to come together.  This is the premise of McKibbens’s idea for the future of “Eaarth”.

Bill McKibbens is the founder of 350.org and Eaarth is a manifesto of sorts for the 350 movement. It explains the meaning and science behind “350” (350 parts per million of carbon in atmosphere as the ideal environment for life). The book also outlines the movements goals and principles: small, local, decentralized, but connected. “Think globally, act locally.” This book is intended for general audiences and is easy to follow even for people who are not scientists. Many other climate publications and articles are hard to follow for the general public but McKibbens breaks the science behind climate change into easy to digest facts. That being said, I am not sure how well this book could convince global warming or climate change deniers because science-literacy will be necessary to double-check his sources. So, while I think it is a worthwhile read for the other side of the debate I’m not sure that the message will be well received.

Overall, I enjoyed both reading this book and found it to be a useful tool in living a more environmentally responsible life. However this not a book on organic farming, composting, or a guide to making green energy policy changes.  The book touches on these areas with the authors own suggestions but simply lays out the argument for *why* it’s necessary to overhaul our food, energy, economic, and social systems. I would recommend the book to everyone really, for its focus on both the science of climate change and global warming as well as for its emphasis on the main areas to focus policy and action on to survive after climate change. While I don’t agree with all of McKibben’s methods: he seems to be a of a more liberation bent than I. I believe decentralization is a wonderful thing but that strong centralized governmental policies are necessary for change as well.  However, the book makes a complex debate accessible to the general public in a way most other books don’t and focuses on disaster survival without the apocalyptic doom and gloom or fear mongering of other texts.

Full Disclosure: I purchased this book. All views and opinions expressed in this article are mine alone and I was not paid or asked by author or publisher to write this review.

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About Pixie

I'm just your average 20-something trying to figure it out. I am also a theologian, yogi, witch, pagan, dirty hippie, activist (progressive politics), feminist, knitter, environmentalist, and friend. I've also been accused of being a hipster - I am not sure about that. I am sometimes happy to be Gen Y (go Harry Potter) and most of the time confused (seriously guys... ) by everyone else. My hobbies including knitting (and maybe crochet), quilting, recycling, cooking, writing, reading, and biking. I'm finishing up a masters in public policy and when I worked worked in political nonprofits as an activist.
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4 Responses to Book Review: Eaarth (Bill McKibbens)

  1. Pingback: Pagan Reading Challenge | Pixiecraft: Adventures of Magick and Devotion

  2. SpiderGoddes says:

    Thank you for this fabulous review. I have added this book to my wishlist.

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