THE PLANET WE LIVE ON is changing so fast — and so relentlessly — that, according to Bill McKibben, it needs a new name. McKibben dubs our increasingly hot, hungry, and disease-prone globe “Eaarth.”
Twenty years ago, McKibben wrote the first book about global warming for a popular audience. The End of Nature was prescient. In the late eighties, it was hard to find tangible evidence of climate change; nevertheless, McKibben saw the dangers ahead and warned the world. Now, as he documents in Eaarth, the evidence of climate change is so overwhelming there’s no avoiding it (although denialists still try to). The fire season in California is nearly three months longer than it used to be; the glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park are disappearing; and millions of acres of forest in the Rockies have been killed off by beetles that, in a warmer world, can complete their lifecycles in half the time that it took them just a few decades ago. In McKibben’s home state of Vermont, “heavy precipitation events” — the kind that can drop several inches of rain in a single day — once were rare occurrences. Now they happen pretty much every year, and sometimes more often. (Since warmer air holds more water vapor, “heavy precipitation events” are linked to higher temperatures.) In the summer of 2008, one such storm destroyed the only road through the town McKibben lives in. This is “our reality,” he writes. “We’ve changed the planet.” Further damage is not just likely; it’s inevitable.
So what are we to do? First off, McKibben argues, we’re going to have to stop pursuing growth — at least the kind that takes the form of bigger houses and bigger cars and more stuff. Instead, we need to start the process of deliberately scaling back. We can’t continue to depend on commodities shipped halfway around the world, but must learn — or, really, relearn — to grow our own food and to rely on our neighbors. We have to live and also think differently — at once more modestly and more locally. The transition isn’t going to be easy. But, as McKibben points out, it’s our best hope on a new, less hospitable planet.
“Eaarth represents the deepest of human failures,” he concludes. “But we still must live on the world we’ve created — lightly, carefully, gracefully.”