Monday, November 21, 2011
In this year's discussions, we have explored our understanding of our world--our world view--and how it affects the uses we make of the earth, our wanderings across it, our settlements on it, our confrontations with the elements and animals that inhabit it, and our confrontations with each other. For our final book of 2011, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben, we will take a wide-angle view of the entire planet and consider McKibben's argument that what we do locally really does matter globally.
In 1989, McKibben wrote The End of Nature, widely regarded as the first book for a general audience to address the possible effects of global warming. In Eaarth--note the extra "a"--he argues that we have waited too long to address climate change, that we have created a new planet that is fundamentally different from the one we have known. Many of his predictions are now a reality, as he summarizes on his website on the page titled From the End of Nature to the Beginning of Eaarth.
While McKibben intends for his book to be sobering, he also hopes to rally readers with practical suggestions for how to build civil and sustainable societies and economies. His most world-view-challenging argument is that endless economic growth is not only unsustainable but also unnecessary to our well being and happiness. And he believes passionately in the value of individual effort. He is a founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org, which has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009 with the goal of creating awareness of the need to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 392 parts per million (ppm) to 350 ppm.
What do you think? We didn't pay attention 20 years ago, and we are all too willing to consider the arguments of those who claim climate change is not driven by human behavior. Why is it so difficult to shift our understanding on this issue to the point that we take action? Will our individual and communal actions be enough? Can we ethically require the same actions from developing countries that have not had the chance to create a materially more comfortable life through economic growth? As Paul Greenberg, writing for the New York Times Sunday Book Review, notes, "in the absence of some overarching authority, a kind of ecologically minded Lenin, [these solutions] will remain hipster lifestyle choices rather than global game changers. Which I suppose in the end is part of McKibben's point. Eaarth itself will be that ecological Lenin, a harsh environmental dictator that will force us to bend to new rules. The question is whether we will be smart enough to bend ourselves first."
We hope you will join the discussion: Tuesday, December 6, at 6:30 at Main Library; Thursday, December 22, at 11:00 a.m. at West Ashley Branch Library; and here on the blog.