earth: making a life on a tough new planet
© 2010 Bill McKibben
Oh, we’re in trouble. For two decades, forward-thinking politicians have made noise about climate change. “We’ve gotta do something to save the world for our grandchildren,” they say. But the consequence of our actions as a global society are no longer the future‘s problem. The future is here. We’re living on a new Earth, one considerably more unstable and less congenial to our kind of life than the one which has existed for hundreds of thousands year prior. This new Earth, which McKibben dubs eaarth, won’t be kind to us, or anyone else. Life as you know it is over, and the sprawling governments of Earth can’t possible adapt quickly enough. The good news is, there there are no solutions, there are ways to minimize the damage. After establishing how utterly up the creek we are, McKibben delivers an impassioned case for the revival of localism and citizen-led change.
Change will come regardless of our attitude, but we’re really not ready for the four horsemen of the developing climate catastrophe — pestilence, drought, flooding, and famine. We’re starting to run out of the energy we use to make changes, including the kind of changes responding to this new eaarth requires. This is doubly problematic considering how much we rely on petroleum, now peaking, to keep our global food network going, trucking food hither and yon and processing it into all manner of fun things with unpronounceable ingredients. Starvation isn’t imminent: it’s now. The amount of food per acre is decreasing, while the rate of malnourished is on the rise — and somewhere in the shadows of history, a vindicated Thomas Malthus laughs bitterly.
Chaos is going to be the new normal; we can’t fix it, we can only ride out the wave, but maybe if we start early enough we can find ourselves someplace worthwhile when all is said and done. In the second half of his work, McKibben offers ideas as to how we can keep people feed, maintain a functioning electric grid, and stay online. McKibben advocates a more fine-grained approach: instead of having great big farms of monocultures, grow different kinds of foods everywhere you can, using ecology to work for your behalf: eliminate waste by turning it into compost. Stop using gadgets that constantly drain power, and start generating your own by covering the roof with solar panels and turning streams into little hydropower plants. People all over, and especially Americans, have to start doing this because the national government is now completely dysfunctional beyond blowing up kids in Pakistan or spying on its citizenry: the changes to be made have to be made by us.
eaarth is simultaneously alarming and invigorating.