John Colson: Hit and run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

This is part two of my continuing look at a book published this year, titled “eaarth,” that examines the state of our planet and the likely future of both the planet and us, its ruling species.

The first part of the book lays out author Bill McKibben’s view that we have so altered the planet of our birth, known by the quaint moniker, Earth, that we can justifiably be said to be living on an entirely new planet called eaarth (that’s right, with two of the letter “a”).

On our new home planet, the global temperatures are warming, causing massive upheaval in weather patterns, the melting of the polar ice caps, the gradual desertification of large swaths of once-temperate terrain, and a worldwide rise in sea levels.

McKibben, who has written about the fate of the world in this “climate-change” era for a couple of decades, catalogues a wide-ranging list of examples that show the world as we knew it has been replaced by a world that we don’t know at all.

And, he posits, unless we get to know the realities and rules of our new world, and start acting on that newly acquired knowledge, we’re in for big trouble. Take a look at the flooding in Pakistan, the rise in the frequency and severity of hurricanes and cyclones, as well as the droughts afflicting various nations on the planet, and judge for yourself.

He also points to the looming loss of petroleum resources, as evidenced by the fact that we have to go farther, dig deeper and pay a lot more for exploratory and extractive efforts just to keep pace with worldwide demand. Which we are not really doing, anyway, and as reserves disappear, we can expect a monumental disruption of our petroleum-based culture, and soon.

It’s a causal loop that we must somehow break through, McKibben exclaims, or face some pretty dire consequences.

But, as he promises through much of the fist half of the book, all is not lost. There is hope.

And that hope, he says, lies primarily in our willingness to get small. We must reduce our consumption of resources, to transform our economies from vast, overly complex systems based on centralization of everything from food production and distribution to energy.

Getting small means turning to more locally based food production and distribution that is based on organic principles, proven crop-rotation and interplanting techniques that once were the basis of farming.

It is clear that our centralized agriculture and food production systems are not working, in part because they rely on petroleum for everything from fertilizer to pesticides in the fields, to the fuel needed to transport the food thousands of miles in order to reach consumers.

Locally oriented agriculture is one of McKibben’s answers. By turning to small gardens or farming plots, in the country and in the cities, which rely on self-sustaining crop rotations and natural pest-prevention, we cut out the need for the massive consumption of petroleum both on the mega-farms and on the highways.

Such a revolution already is happening in some parts of this country, and around the world, McKibben states. Urban gardening, a growing phenomenon, can supply much of the food needs of the urban population and there are signs that the steady loss of small farms over the past few decades may be reversing. Renewable energy initiatives are springing up in many places around the globe too. All of these developments can be seen, in microcosm, right here in the Roaring Fork Valley, and we should be proud.

McKibben, who is much more optimistic than I, believes we can, as a race, reduce and perhaps reverse the rapid poisoning of our atmosphere with greenhouse gases, that perhaps we can stabilize or slow the climate changes we are already observing, and soften the effects of those changes.

It won’t be easy, the kind of behavioral changes we must make. But if we can manage to reverse our addiction to huge, centralized, world-wasting activities, and begin to get small again, it just may be that we’ll begin to get healthier and happier, too, more comfortable with our place in the world, less angry and less anxious about inconsequential things.

I don’t know, it could be that we’ve simply taken things too far, and we are due for some harsh, rude awakenings in the not-too-distant future no matter what we do. But for McKibben – and for me, I guess – it makes more sense to try to fix this mess than to just let things keep deteriorating without taking any action in a new direction.

So, in closing, I’ll quote writer Barbara Kingsolver’s comment about the book, which is, “Read it, please … Whatever else you were planning to do next, nothing could be more important.”