John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

There’s nothing like a good dose of bad news to pump up the adrenaline of a natural-born pessimist as he examines the state of the world today.

A case in point: This year’s book by Bill McKibben, author of more than a dozen books, including “The End of Nature,” published 20 years ago, which was one of the earliest book-length tirades about the threats of global warming.

This year’s effort, for those living under a rock with no windows, Is titled “eaarth – Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.” That’s right, my fingers didn’t stutter on the keyboard, there are two of the letter “a” in there, which may or may not be a sign that McKibben thinks most of the world is a collection of a-holes.

Be that as it may, the book so far (I’m not quite halfway through it) has offered up a frightening catalogue of what we’ve been doing wrong in our efforts to combat global climate change, starting with his assertion that we are incorrectly thinking of climate change as something in our future.

Wrong, he says.

The future is now, he says.

We’ve made our global bed and, instead of looking forward to a good night’s sleep, we’re stretched out on that unsteady platform in the grip of night-terrors because our worst nightmare is playing on the ceiling in Technicolor.

That’s what McKibben says. And, as far as I can see, he’s right.

Citing study after study, by eggheads near and far, McKibben argues convincingly that the changes we’ve been predicting, and worrying about for the past few decades, are already upon us. The only choice we have now, he maintains, is to move fast to deal with the mess at hand before we make it worse, and to get ready to live on what he terms our new planetary home.

It is his thesis that we’ve so changed the Earth that we grew up on and have been so busy using and abusing for a couple of centuries, that we may as well concede that we’ve created a new planet, which he calls eaarth, for ourselves to live on. That we have to stop thinking as though the old Earth can be recaptured and we can get back to our old ways of making money, spending money, living and dying.

The plain fact of the matter, he argues, is that we’ve already burned out the old Earth and we’re just now watching as it goes into its early death spasms. What the new eaarth will look like is, of course, still to be seen, like a play for which the stage has not been set.

But the signs are there already: a planet without ice caps, with blistering global temperatures that wreak havoc on weather, agriculture and human comfort; with rising and warming seas and drowning cities on coastlines all over the globe; with dwindling plant and animal diversity, including massive die-offs among the fishies of the oceans as jellyfish take over the warmer waters; with deserts springing up where forests once stood; the list goes on, and is far too long to be repeated here.

McKibben says all this with some humor, such as when he notes that in 2008 the World Bank reported that 1.4 billion people were below the poverty line of $1.25 a day in earnings, a circumstance the New York Times called “so abject that it is hard for citizens of the industrial world to comprehend.”

Indeed, writes McKibben, “a person living at the poverty line would be 75 cents short if he tried to buy a copy of the New York Times” to read about his plight.

Ho, ho, ho. The main point is, global poverty is a big contributor to global warming in many, many ways, and must be dealt with if we are to be able to live on this planet for much longer.

As I noted above, there is too much in this book for me to begin to give the reader any kind of comprehensive retelling, but it’s a compelling read.

And McKibben, admitting that the opening pages are a bit overwhelming and paralysis-inducing, promises he will get to a more optimistic tone later, when he describes his prescription for a livable future on eaarth.

I can’t wait.