Eaarth—Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by @BillMcKibben (preface)

In this post I consider the preface to his book, and in the following 4 posts, I will discuss each of the 4 chapters of the book in turn. 

Bill McKibben, the nation’s leading environmentalist and founder of the organization 350.org, wrote the book Eaarth to give a message that global warming is no longer a threat but it has rather become our reality.   The purpose for my reading this book is to look into risks involved with rising greenhouse gas emissions.   This happens to be one of the environmental risk factors that are considered to be one of the most likely risks to affect the globe in the next 10 years, according to the Global Risk Report 2012 published by the World Economic Forum.   For details on the methodology of this report, see this earlier blog post:  https://4squareviews.com/2012/05/15/world-economic-forum-wef-global-risk-report-2012-part-2-methodology-2/.

1.  Past is Prologue

In the preface, Bill McKibben states that his first book for a general audience was written in 1989, twenty years before he wrote Eaarth.   Twenty years before that, the novel Stand on Zanzibar by British science fiction author John Brunner won the Hugo award.   The novel had overpopulation as its theme, and as I read it, I hoped that the world in the year 2010 (the year the novel is set in) would not be as much of a dystopia as John Brunner described.

One passage I remember from the book on the subject of overpopulation comes from one of the short chapters interspersed throughout the book called The Hipcrime Vocab, kind of a futuristic version of Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary.  It describes overpopulation as “something which everyone talks about as if it will happen in the future, but in reality it happened yesterday when nobody was looking.”

That passage to me explains the premise of Bill McKibben’s book, which is that we need to stop thinking about global warming as a threat that might or might not happen sometime in the future, but rather something which has already started and is part of our reality whether we like or not.   In the field of risk management, risk is technically defined as an event with an uncertain outcome.   Death according to this definition is not a risk because it comes for us all with perfect certainty.    Therefore there is no risk of global warming; there is only the risk we face by not accepting the reality of the situation.

Accepting this reality is admittedly a bit of a shock; it is sometimes mind-numbing that I am living in a world that is fast becoming the kind of environmental dystopia that I was introduced to through science-fiction, whether it be Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner in 1968, the movie Soylent Green in 1973, or the later novels Timescape by Gregory Benford and David Brin’s Earth in 1990.

2.  No succor for the suckers … or for us

In the four chapters of the book, he lays his case for what can be done to mitigate not the risk, but the damage that global warming will do.   There are two types of climate-change deniers, those whom I refer to as the “weak” deniers and those who are the “strong deniers”.   The weak denier is one who admits that global warming, defined technically as the increase in average global temperature, has started to occur, but denies that the cause of the warning is excess carbon dioxide generated by the combustion of fossil fuels.   The strong denier will not even admit that global warming has even occurred, let alone that it is anthropogenic, or man-made, in origin.    The various useful idiots who prattle on about the ridiculousness of the idea of global warming after each major snowstorm in winter are strangely silent after each summer’s heatwave that kills an increasingly large number of people.

Bill McKibben has no comforting words to give succor to the open-minded public, let alone the suckers who fall for misinformation campaigns.   He offers “a valuable slice of acid-tongued reality”, in the words of the San Francisco Chronicle.   Companies that have a stake in the extractive industries that produce fossil fuels may fuel the arguments against global warming, but I assure you that the various experts that contributed to the Global Risk Report 2012 mentioned above take these matters very seriously, as do I.

Let’s listen to what he has to say…

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