Featured Reviews, VOLUME 3

Review: EAARTH by Bill McKibben [Vol. 3, #30]

A Review of

EAARTH: Making Life on a Tough New Planet.
Bill McKibben

Hardback: Times Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

[ Read an excerpt from this book… ]

[ Watch two videos of McKibben talking about EAARTH ]

Since the release of his heralded book The End of Nature, almost twenty years ago, Bill McKibben has been leading the way in alerting us to the growing problem of climate change and pleading with us to change our consumerist ways.  Most recently, McKibben has been the spokesperson for 350, a non-profit that elevates this work of educating and calling for change.  McKibben’s new book, EAARTH: Making Life on a Tough New Planet, makes a case for the work of 350 and offers hope that we adapt to life in world where fossil fuels are not the predominant source of energy.  EAARTH (McKibben has said in interviews that we need to “channel our inner Schwarzenegger” in order to say the title: URRRTH) is basically divided into two parts, the first is an exposition of the problems that climate change is wreaking and will continue to wreak; in the second part of the book, he begins to imagine what a world less reliant on fossil fuels might look like.

The first half of the book paints a stark picture: global temperatures are rising, glaciers are melting and there is an “historic level of CO2 in the atmosphere.”  And not only are these ecological problems escalating, their effects are being felt most powerfully among the poorest peoples of the world.  In spite of all the evidence that McKibben provides, some critics will likely accuse him of exaggeration.  The question that I would pose to such critics, and especially those who identify themselves as followers of Christ, is what good and selfless reason do we have for not reducing our consumption of fossil fuels?

This question is a good segue into McKibben’s work in the latter half of the book, a rich work of imagination, in which he envisions how we can begin to live now in order to minimize the ecological crises that we are bringing upon the planet as a result of our consumptive behaviors.  McKibben’s vision is a sensible one, that is focused on weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels, by slowing down our lives and focusing our energy and resources on our local communities.  McKibben readers who are familiar with his previous book, Deep Economy ( read our review of this excellent book here ), will recognize many themes reiterated here.  Not only do we need to orient our eating and shopping into more localized patterns, but McKibben also makes the point that as much of our business as possible should be local.  For instance, he raises the poignant question about whether our banks would be in the dire situation they are today if they had met in person each borrower to whom they made a loan and heard the borrower’s story and assessed from there if they were capable of repaying a loan (as a completely local bank would be able to do)?  The two guiding principles of McKibben’s vision are “Small, not big” and “Dispersed, not centralized.”

In order to embody McKibben’s vision here, we must find ways to connect with our neighbors.  McKibben himself suggests the importance of finding ways to use internet technologies to connect ourselves more deeply with our neighbors, telling the story of the “Front Porch Forum” in Vermont, which provides an online space for neighbors to connect with one another, to share needs and to help in meeting the needs of others.  Furthermore, McKibben observes that we will need more people to work the land, we cannot remain disconnected from the sources of our food; certainly, food cannot be sourced any more locally than from one’s own back yard!  And similarly, we must learn to eat differently, not only choosing more local foods, but also choosing foods that require less fossil fuels in their production (e.g., reducing the amount of meat, and especially beef, in our diets).

Near the close of the book, McKibben summarizes the two objectives he believes we must meet if we are to avert ecological disaster and work toward a sustainable, long-term way of life.  First, we must “cut our fossil fuel use by a factor of twenty over the next few decades.” Secondly, and this point is a key indicator of McKibben’s sensibility, we must replace our use of fossil fuels with some other, more sustainable energy source.

EAARTH is an important book, and one whose message we should take very seriously.  Churches, it seems are ideally suited – as I have argued in my little book Growing Deeper in Our Church Communities (available here as a free ebook) – as hubs nurturing local culture in the direction that McKibben points us.  The first half of EAARTH reminds us that the time is coming, if it is not already here, when local community can no longer be simply an optional nicety.  Churches have the potential to be leaders in making this shift to deeper forms of local culture. God give us the courage to move boldly in this direction!

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

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One Comment

  1. I heard a sermon in Seattle two days later after you published this that referred to EAARTH several times and resonates with your review :). Notes & audio here: http://churchbcc.org/sermon-series/god-is-green-and-why-it-matters/.