Given the terrifying knowledge he possesses, it cannot be easy being Bill McKibben. McKibben writes in an indefatigable effort to alert us all to the ecocatastrophe already well underway. His compelling book “Falter” is the most recent contribution to his vital mission. It is as timely as it is disconcerting.
McKibben is an inveterate environmentalist, political activist and author. He is a founder of 350.org, an organization dedicated to eliminating fossil fuels and weaving clean renewable energy into the world’s economy, led by the promise of solar power.
Last month, he was arrested during a modest act of civil disobedience protesting Donald Trump’s immigration policies. McKibben is resolute: “The climate crisis and the immigration crisis are tightly linked. Through no fault of their own, increasing numbers of people around the world find themselves unable to raise food — it’s now too hot or too wet or too dry. Their numbers will grow, staggeringly in the course of this century. So we should probably think about how to justly deal with that fact, instead of erecting walls and building cages.”
Despite the ever-present threat of earthquakes in our region, it can be easy for residents of Puget Sound to feel insulated and far from ravages afflicting other parts of the planet. Many are disinclined to ponder the proliferation of plastic pollution, the increasing frequency of destructive storms such as Hurricane Dorian or the immolation and denudation of the mighty Amazon forest. As frightening as these developments are, McKibben’s wise credo is that it’s necessary to be aware of such dangers filtering throughout the natural world and human society.
Consider that rapidly rising temperatures across the Arctic are melting majestic glaciers. Recently, Iceland dedicated a plaque to a formidable frozen entity, the first to dissolve — a 700-year-old glacier dubbed Okjokull. Eventually, Iceland may have no ice at all. With unprecedented celerity, ice is disappearing from the topography of Greenland as well. All that fresh water makes its way into the ocean, further ensuring the rise in coastal sea levels, while greenhouse levels of atmospheric carbon and methane continue to mount.
It has been noted that July of this year was the hottest month ever recorded. This warming poses serious threats everywhere. The entire country of India and whole cities in Africa are confronted by an alarming shortage of water. In the United States, the states of Nevada and Arizona have had an increase in heat-related fatalities. Elderly citizens, as well as the unsheltered homeless, are especially vulnerable. (Yet, the homeless population of Maricopa County — which includes the city of Phoenix — has increased annually by 25 percent over the past five years.)
Portentous headlines and news stories are daily media fare, calling attention to planetary peril and the possibility of irreversible wreckage. Last month, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their latest report pronouncing the diminishing time frame available to address ecological deterioration impacting our finite Earth. The Seattle Times blared, “World’s food and water supplies at dire risk.”
Large numbers of people are endangered by ongoing desertification and soil erosion. the lack of a thorough global intervention on land and sea guarantees the expansion of environmental chaos accompanied by dreadful social and economic costs. The World Bank has estimated that unabated climate disruption will displace 143 million refugees by mid-century. That’s a mere three decades away.
In a recent interview, longtime ecological advocate Denis Hayes of Seattle’s Bullitt Foundation spoke bluntly: “Bottom line, in 2021, if the U.S. and major carbon emitters don’t dramatically change direction, we’ll have made the decision to permanently impoverish the planet.” This past June, Dan Coats — at the time he was director of national intelligence — asserted climate change is unquestionably among the greatest threats to national and international security. Even Russia’s long-ambivalent Vladimir Putin now acknowledges the severity of the issue.
Contrarily, Donald Trump avoided the session on global warming at the recent G7 gathering in France. Teamed with his boorish Brazilian clone Jair Bolsonaro and Britain’s Brexit-beleaguered Boris Johnson, they compose a most-benighted threesome. It is tragic that such venal men occupy positions of great power when authentic visionaries of intelligence and imagination are desperately needed in positions of influence.
In “Falter,” McKibben tackles head-on topics pertinent to the embattled biosphere as well as the accelerating rates of change suffusing our technosphere. He is clear that the parlous road ahead is unprecedented and fraught with challenges of an order unseen before in human history. Writes McKibben: “Put simply, between ecological destruction and technological hubris, the human experiment is now in question. The stakes are very high, and the odds very long, and the trends very ominous. So, I have no doubt that there are other books that would offer readers a merrier literary experience.” Yes, McKibben writes plainly about seismic shifts already unleashed and rippling throughout our world. These distress signals will shake and awake those who traverse McKibben’s riveting pages, which is the author’s intention.
He is the physician who provides an honest, albeit dreary, diagnosis. Still, McKibben eschews despair. His trenchant remedy is a tocsin call for organizing, educating, engagement and activism. In the wake of the IPCC’s report, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for a Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23. Participants will explore the approaches required to bring about a sustainable global economy based on the imperative adoption of clean energy and the peaceful cooperation between nations. Perhaps a quixotic quest, but nothing short of it will wrest us from disaster.
McKibben’s “Falter” will cause many who read it to squirm. But read it. Then, consider what to do to help ourselves and other species, and salvage our unique home in the cosmos.
Read the full September 18 - 24 issue.
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