Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by @BillMcKibben—Lightly, Carefully, Gracefully

Eaarth—Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by @BillMcKibben—Lightly, Carefully, Gracefully

This post is on the last chapter called Lightly, Carefully, Gracefully of Bill McKibben’s book Eaarth.

According to Bill McKibben, the most effective way of mitigating the risks due to climate change is through decentralization. The current situation according to the World Economic Forum in its Global Risk Report 2012 is given in the following diagram, where the most prominent global risks are given in various categories: environmental (green), societal (red), economic (blue), technological (purple), and geopolitical (yellow).

How would Bill McKibben’s preferred strategy of decentralization work to mitigate these risks? Here’s a summary of what measures can be taken to implement this strategy based on the five categories of risk listed above:

1. Urban Farming (societal)

Using undeveloped urban space for the growing of fruits and vegetables is not radical; it was done at another crisis point in our recent history, which is World War II. The food output in Britain almost doubled due to the implementation of these measures.

2. Supporting Credit Unions (economic)

Having the government support measures which help break up the big banks would make our system more robust, since the top six banks now have assets equivalent to more than 63% of GDP. However, waiting for the government to act on this in an election year is unrealistic. One way to support the decentralization of economic power is to encourage people to take their money out of the big banks and put it into more locally-controlled banks and financial institutions such as credit unions.   This is not explicit mentioned by Bill McKibben but is an example I thought of which would be consistent with his decentralization theme.

3. Conservation (environmental)

Americans could save three-fourths of the electricity they use by adopting relatively inexpensive conservation measures. This is probably the most promising area for decentralization, because it reduces energy consumption in the most local area of all: your own home.

4. Social Media/Meetups (technological)

To spread information about conservation and other measures, social media and the internet can be used, but Bill McKibben encourages local meetups and other forms of local neighborhood interaction to spread information. It will reduce our reliance on the government, and promote societal ties at the neighborhood level.

5. Reform (geopolitical)

Finally, to decentralize the power of both government and business it will be necessary to promote those reforms which do so, such as the Dodd-Frank law. To push those reforms in an election year will require people power.


All of these measures are things that can reduce our dependence on the centralized system of distribution and control which will make it easier for people to survive the shocks to the system that Bill McKibben feels are coming.   In the series of science-fiction novels by John Barnes called Daybreak, a technological terrorist attack debilitates the Federal government in the first novel called Directive 51, but the second novel called Daybreak Zero shows that the ordinary people of small-town America are the main force driving the reconstitution of civilization.    That is why I found the series terrifying in its initial implications, but ultimately uplifting in its faith in the power of ordinary people to band together and persevere in the face of adversity.

It happened before, when people in this country rode out the dual shocks of the Great Depression and World War II, and the government helped steer the country successfully between the political Scylla and Charybdis of communism and fascism that overtook Europe.    This fueled a sense of optimism after the conclusion of the war which took us from here to the Moon.

I look now at our nation’s capital and all I hear is the language of diminishing dreams.   I do not have faith in our current governmental system to steer us to anything but a standstill during this election year.   However, as Nietzsche once said in the quote that opened this series, “The fates lead those who will–those who won’t, they drag.”   We have received a repeat of the economic shock that started the Great Depression, but the enemy we face is more implacable than anything we faced during World War II, namely the cold equations of physics and chemistry, which are preparing for us a shock of an order of magnitude greater than we have ever seen before.    We must stop relying on the large, complex systems within which we live, and start forging links with our neighbors like the struts of a geodesic dome in order to withstand what is coming.

There may be resistance to these ideas, but ask yourself if the place the resistance is coming from has a vested interest in the debate.   I think this is perfectly illustrated by a Jules Pfeiffer cartoon which has the picture of someone in a business suit sitting at a large desk in an office saying, “you want oil? We own the oil fields.  You want coal?   We own the coal mines.  You want nuclear power?  We own the uranium mines. You want solar power?  We own the … we own the … it’s just not feasible!”

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