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400 Years Of Freethought
Samuel Porter Putnam
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
Jon Meacham
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version
Philip Pullman, Jacob Grimm
Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson
Jennifer Michael Hecht
The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th-Century America
Paul E. Johnson, Sean Wilentz

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet - Bill McKibben In the preface to his 2010 book Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, Bill McKibben admits “It’s true that we’ve lost that fight, insofar as our goal was to preserve the world we were born into” (p. xv). We grew up on a planet astronaut Jim Lovell described as “ ‘a grand oasis.’ But we no longer live on that planet” (p. 2). So “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”(p. xiv). As you might expect, the first part of this book, where McKibben explains how the old world has been destroyed, is much more detailed than the second part, where he offers some suggestions on how we might move forward. The scientific consensus is alarming: “We now know that the climate doesn’t have to warm any more for Greenland to continue losing ice,” says a climatologist from the University of Ohio (pp. 4-5). There’s a “50 percent chance that Lake Mead, which backs up on the Colorado River behind Hoover Dam, could run dry by 2021 (When that happens, as the head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority put it, ‘you cut off supply to the fifth largest economy in the world,’ spread across the American West (p. 6). And “glaciers could disappear from the central and eastern Himalayas as early as 2035, including the giant Gangotri Glacier that supplies 70 percent of the dry-season water to the Ganges River. That would leave 407 million people looking for a new source of drinking and irrigation water” (p. 7). In other words, we have a solid timetable for the water war.The oceans are “more acid than anytime in the last eight hundred thousand years, and at current rates by 2050 it will be more corrosive than anytime in the past 20 million years (p. 10). “Coral reefs will cease to exist as physical structures by 2100, perhaps 2050.” If I recall, that’s where pretty much all the ocean’s remaining biodiversity is. McKibben is famous as the man behind 350.org, but even in 2009 as he was writing this he said “we’re already past 350—way past it. The planet has nearly 390 parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We’re too high. Forget the grandkids; it turns out this was a problem for our parents…the last time we had carbon levels this high: sea levels rose one hundred feet or more, and temperatures rose as much as ten degrees” (pp. 15-16). And contrary to what others are claiming, McKibben quotes scientists who believe “changes in surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level are largely irreversible for more than a thousand years after carbon dioxide emissions are completely stopped” (p. 17). And then there’s peak oil. “One barrel of oil yields as much energy as twenty-five thousand hours of human manual labor—more than a decade of human labor per barrel. The average American uses twenty-five barrels each year, which is like finding three hundred years of free labor annually” (p. 27). “So does modernity disappear along with the oil?” he asks (p. 30). Already, as only the earliest changes were beginning to be noticed, the World Bank announced “1.4 billion people, it found, lived below the poverty line, 430 million more than previously estimated. What defines the poverty line? $1.25 a day” (p. 76). No wonder “The U.S. military… costs more than the armies of the next forty-five nations combined; the Pentagon accounts for 48 percent of the world’s total military spending” (pp. 144-145). But will that save us at home? According to Nobel winner Steven Chu, “the rapid melt of the Sierra snowpack means ‘we’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California…I don’t actually see how they can keep their cities going’ ” (p. 156). “And if our societies start to tank, we’ll be in worse shape than those who came before,” McKibben warns. “For one thing, our crisis is global, so there’s no place to flee. For another, most of us don’t know how to do very much—in your standard collapse scenario, it’s nice to know how to grow wheat” (pp. 98-99).So what’s all this mean? First, we have to stop looking to idiots like Larry Summers, “treasury secretary under President Clinton, now Obama’s chief economic adviser: ‘There are no . . . limits to the carrying capacity of the earth.’ ” (p. 95). (This guy has been president of Harvard!) And Jerry Falwell: “I can tell you, our grandchildren will laugh at those who predicted global warming. We’ll be in global cooling by then, if the Lord hasn’t returned” (p. 12). (Hitchens was right! Religion ruins everything!) And Barack Obama: “speaking about the upcoming Copenhagen climate talks… ‘We don’t want to make the best the enemy of the good.’ ” (p. 81). (That should be his campaign slogan this time around!)But really, it’s a little hard to see how McKibben navigates from this to a very short description of localism and community-building ending with a retelling of the 350.org event in October 2009. Maybe he wouldn’t have been allowed to publish the book if he had suggested what the world is going to look like. Better to leave to the imaginations of the reader what he means by “dispersed and localized societies that can survive the damage we can no longer prevent” (p. 212). After all, he did mention Mad Max (p. 146)…