Review by New York Times Review
THERE ought to be a word, probably in German, for a book that makes the reader boil over with life-changing eco-enthusiasm only to find himself, a month later, reverting to his old Hummer-driving, planet-destroying ways. An informal survey of Germanists has failed to come up with anything. But Bill McKibben has found a planet where such books sell well. It is a world where environmental news goes from bad to worse, a place where ice caps vanish, crops fail, oceans acidify, activists rally and an oil company makes more money in three years "than any company in the history of money." The place McKibben has discovered is an unpronounceable land called Eaarth. Where is Eaarth, you may ask? Unfortunately, you're soaking in it. "Eaarth" is the name McKibben has decided to assign both to his new book and to the planet formerly known as Earth. His point is a fresh one that brings the reader uncomfortably close to climate change. Earth with one "a," according to McKibben, no longer exists. We have carbonized it out of existence. Two-a Eaarth is now our home. On two-a Eaarth, we are way past the bearable threshold - 350 parts per million - for carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, and well down the road to a devastating 650 parts per million. Our planet's vital signs are already weakening, and despite the Gore-green tide washing over the nation's documentary production houses, we have come to resemble "the guy who ate steak for dinner every night and let his cholesterol top 300 and had the heart attack," as McKibben puts it. "Now he dines on Lipitor and walks the treadmill, but half his heart is dead tissue." How we proceed with a half-dead heart is McKibben's primary concern, one that keeps even the morbidly pessimistic reader turning the pages, looking for his own not-too-hot cubbyhole on the superheated planet. Except, before we get to the cubbyhole, there is a lot of schooling and reschooling to remind us how backed into a corner we already are. Taking aim at those who talk airily of saving the world "for our grandchildren," McKibben shows how we are already standing in our grandchildren's shoes. Sunnier types like Thomas Friedman, who argues that we can shift our energy economy to renewable resources and reclaim the old, cool Earth, are dispatched efficiently. While agreeing with the sentiment behind Friedman's joie de vert, McKibben points out that even if we were to start an ecological Manhattan Project and build two million large windmills - "four times as many as we built in 2007, every year for the next 40" - we would offset only one-ninth of the carbon output necessary to make our planet vaguely resemble the one into which baby boomers like Friedman (and McKibben) were born. McKibben also gives an alarming roll call of the ancillary phenomena adding to the carbon-dioxide-caused warming, phenomena the original modelers of climate change did not necessarily take into account. The beetle-driven death and decay of the temperate forests of the Rocky Mountains (beetles spread when unusually warm winter temperatures allow eggs to hatch), which releases yet more carbon dioxide; the belching of methane, an even more effective climate warmer than carbon dioxide, from the defrosting tundra; the transformation of heat-reflecting polar ice caps into heat-absorbing water - all of these once reliable planet coolers are turning into planet toasters, rapidly accelerating global warming beyond what we can reasonably respond to. Unlike many writers on environmental cataclysm, McKibben is actually a writer, and a very good one at that. He is smart enough to know that the reader needs a dark chuckle of a bone thrown at him now and then to keep plowing through the bad news. On concluding his troubling section on the inevitable precipitous decline of our agricultural system and resulting series of food-related wars, he puckishly remarks: "Well, that's a tad grim. Not really the career I trained for, fighting other adult males over the fall harvest." This occasional lightheartedness carries the reader through the book's thesis and antithesis sections, delivering him, albeit a bit dispirited, to the synthesis part explaining how we might endure life on Eaarth. It is in this final section, called "Lightly, Carefully, Gracefully," that the real problems begin. If you are, like McKibben, a grudging optimist who believes that human society can willfully transform into a better version of itself, you might be persuaded by his arguments, some of them new, others a little old hat. Arguments that a smaller, diversified agriculture could add stability to our compromised industrial food-production system. That "growth" as an economic model is inherently flawed and will no longer be viable. That an "uptick of neighboring" will spread the sharing and implementation of practical, Eaarth-friendly how-to-ism. That the Internet could alleviate the rural boredom so many of us dread when we contemplate chucking it all and going back to the land, as he argues we must. But many of these proposed solutions inadvertently resemble the list of things Christian Lander lampooned in his 2008 best seller "Stuff White People Like": "farmer's markets," "awareness," "making you feel bad about not going outside," "vegan/vegetarianism." It's not that these things aren't important. But in the absence of some overarching authority, a kind of ecologically minded Lenin, they 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. Paul Greenberg's "Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food" will be published in July. Forget about saving the planet 'for our grandchildren.' We are already standing in their shoes.
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [May 2, 2010]
Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* For 20 years McKibben has been writing with clarity and zeal about global warming, initially in the hope of staving it off and now in an effort to lessen its dire impact. With climate change under way, we now live on a far less hospitable planet than the one on which our civilizations coalesced for 10,000 years amidst resplendent biological diversity. McKibben postulates that because today's planet is so much hotter, stormier, and more chaotic with droughts, vanishing ice, dying forests, encroaching deserts, acid oceans, increased wildfires, and diminishing food crops, it merits a new name: Eaarth. Although his meticulous chronicling of the current cascading effects of climate change is truly alarming, it isn't utterly devastating. That's because McKibben, reasonable and compassionate, reports with equal thoroughness on the innovations of proactive individuals and groups and explicates the benefits of ending our dependence on fossil fuels, industrial agriculture, and the unbalanced, unjust global economy. What distinguishes McKibben as an environmental writer beyond his literary finesse and firm grasp of the complexities of science and society is his generous pragmatism, informed vision of small-scale solutions to our food and energy needs, and belief that Eaarth will remain a nurturing planet if we face facts, jettison destructive habits, and pursue new ways of living with creativity and conscience.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2009 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
The world as we know it has ended forever: that's the melancholy message of this nonetheless cautiously optimistic assessment of the planet's future by McKibben, whose The End of Nature first warned of global warming's inevitable impact 20 years ago. Twelve books later, the committed environmentalist concedes that the earth has lost "the climatic stability that marked all of human civilization." His litany of damage done by a carbon-fueled world economy is by now familiar: in some places rainfall is dramatically heavier, while Australia and the American Southwest face a permanent drought; polar ice is vanishing, glaciers everywhere are melting, typhoons and hurricanes are fiercer, and the oceans are more acidic; food yields are dropping as temperatures rise and mosquitoes in expanding tropical zones are delivering deadly disease to millions. McKibben's prescription for coping on our new earth is to adopt "maintenance as our mantra," to think locally not globally, and to learn to live "lightly, carefully, gracefully"-a glass-half-full attitude that might strike some as Pollyannaish or merely insufficient. But for others McKibben's refusal to abandon hope may restore faith in the future. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
"Scale matters," warns environmental author McKibben (The End of Nature) in his latest. He starts by delivering the bad news-the oceans are acidifying, the sea level is rising, and the change in temperature is killing us through flood, drought, famine, storm, and disease. And it's not just the environment that's being destroyed-increased insurance claims and infrastructure damage are contributing to the financial crisis. The solution is a matter of scaling down on everything we've come to recognize as American-big cars, big homes, big business. Eaarth, the modified planet we now live on, has been irreparably changed, and the only way to stop this change is to make carbon-emission reduction a priority above all else. McKibben's words are well researched, forceful, and well timed. Verdict The news is tough to hear yet essential to know. Fans of Michael Pollan's books will appreciate McKibben's message; fans of our planet will want to heed his words. [April 22, 2010, marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.-Ed.]-Jaime Hammond, Naugatuck Valley Community Coll., Waterbury, CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Stark, no-nonsense manifesto about global warming and its unstoppable effects. In accessible prose and a tone of wistfulness about the state of our planet, environmental activist McKibben (Fight Global Warming Now, 2007, etc.) demonstrates how global warming has already occurred and is irreversible. He describes a new "Eaarth," where the cumulative effects of the release of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have already changed the planet. If the average count of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 275 parts per million during the last 10,000 years, it is now already 390 parts per million, well over the 350 parts per million that McKibben says is the tipping point for permanent planetary transformation. The author provides sobering details about the accelerated melting of glaciers, which will eventually lead to a global water shortage as life-sustaining rivers lose their sources of water. He lucidly explains that increasingly erratic weather patterns result from hotter air that holds more water vapor, triggering higher rates of evaporation and desertification in some regions, and torrential downpours and floods in others. The reason that global warming is difficult to undo, writes the author, is because "we don't know how to refreeze the Arctic or regrow a rainforest." He bravely makes the difficult argument that we have already moved to a planet where natural catastrophes will soon be a way of life. At this point, installing wind and solar power as fossil-fuel substitutes is likely to be a futile effort, as the process to change energy sources is exceedingly slow and politically treacherous. Providing inspirational examples from his home state, Vermont, McKibben envisions a future in which humanity transitions from unfettered growth and a dependence on external markets for sustenance and fossil-fueldriven energy, to smaller, self-contained communities, growing food locally and generating sustainable distributed electricity. An absolute must-read. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.