Sunday, July 18, 2010

ADVOCACY: Eaarth Book Review by Josh Kigel

Book Review Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

The concept of “too big” is pervasive in modern society; from our banks to our Ford Expeditions to our waistlines. Between the near financial collapse and the ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Bill McKibben’s mantra of scale back and slow down seems particularly sage advice.

For 253 pages in his most recent book Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, McKibben explains the finer points of the “scale back/slow down” program, which turns out to be less suggestion, and more mandate. McKibben’s mandate is not the kind of government mandate Fox News might frantically label “interference.” This is a mandate from a planet that knows no political affiliation. Eaarth itself will be…a harsh environmental dictator that will force us to bend to new rules. The question is whether we will be smart enough to bend ourselves first. In essence, McKibben says we have “pushed nature around” and now nature is “pushing back with far more power.” McKibben suggests that we have so profoundly changed the planet it needs to be renamed, hence the second “a”.

The book is an easy read, which might temper the sense of urgency were the situation not so dire. McKibben can write in a pleasantly conversational style because the facts of the case and the magnitude of the consequences speak volumes on their own.

Readers will be introduced to a new magic number; 350. As in the upper limit of safety for carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is 350 parts per million, and the 650 that would be devastating to humanity. We are currently at 390.

So what can we do? Read chapter 4 and learn to live Lightly, Carefully, Gracefully. One of McKibben’s tenets of particular interest to members of a CSA is the need to adjust our eating habits in volume and substance. In pointing out that it takes 11 times as much fossil fuel to raise a pound of animal protein as an equal amount of plant protein, McKibben espouses reduction in meat consumption. Chubby Bunny vegetables anyone? McKibben does not argue for local food as a matter of taste as much as environmental necessity.

Far from condemning us all to a post-apocalyptic world, McKibben describes how ordinary people can get us back to 350, scaling back modern American society. This is artfully illustrated in his depiction of the Farmers Diner in Vermont, where all ingredients are from small local farms. Owner Tod Murphy competes with the economics of industrial farming and the preconceived notions about food held by a population that has grown up under the regime of industrial food. Murphy is “constantly working to solve the problem presented by the need to get food from the farmer to the customer at a price point that everyone could live with,” or the need to educate his customers that cream from a cow raised naturally isn’t necessarily white. Murphy’s struggle is a microcosm of the “food issues” facing modern diners on planet Eaarth.
“Like someone lost in the woods, we need to stop running, sit down, see what’s in our pockets that might be of use, and start figuring out what steps to take.” You are already a member of a CSA—what other ideas might McKibben turn you onto?

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