Eaarth: Bill McKibben Interview

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Our planet is still the sweet spot for human existence, but it won't be for long, Bill McKibben warns. We've polluted it drastically. More than 22 years ago, the writer foretold The End of Nature. While that death is not complete, it's a process that has led to a transformation so profound, he argues, that our world is no longer the same, comfortable, amenable environment it once was. Welcome to Eaarth, as McKibben calls it in his new book. And brace yourself.

–Aileen Torres

This book has an alarmist tone. Why spend so many pages telling people our planet is changing for the worse environmentally–won't the people who pick up this book already have the same thought?
Actually, it's not alarmist at all. The End of Nature was alarmist–I was sounding the loudest alarm I knew how. Didn't work–and now we're into the rapids. So, we've got to deal with that new world. The first half of the book explains that new world, the second half gives some thought as to how to deal with it.

What audience would you like to reach? Those who are already environmentally conscious, or climate-change skeptics with an open mind?
People who are curious about the world, I think.

You propose some strategies for living on a damaged Earth. What are the first things you want people to do after reading your book?
Think hard about the spectrum that runs from individuality to community. We've been very trained to be hyperindividuals, which is not such an excellent strategy for the tougher world we're moving into.

You advocate a radical simplification of daily life. How do you think such a massive cultural transformation can come about in the U.S., where bigger is seen as better?
We're already seeing this shift–farmers markets have been the fastest growing part of the food economy for a decade. Seed sales shot up 40% last year as people started growing vegetable gardens anew. Record sales are tanking, but local live performance is gaining rapidly. All these sorts of good trends will accelerate when we take one policy step: put a price on coal, oil, and gas that reflects the damage they do to the atmosphere. When that happens, industrial agriculture will become less economically advantageous, and so on. That's why we campaign so hard for climate legislation at

Even if developed countries were to scale back their national economies, what about developing nations? How will they be kept in check when the desire to grow is natural?
One reason we need to scale down is to give very poor places a little bit of room to scale up. But not by following our precise path–instead of export industrial ag[riculture], for instance, really smart local farming, and so forth.

Problems will inevitably crop up with the push toward localizing economies. For example, the shortage of slaughterhouses putting a damper on the local food movement has made the news. What are your suggestions for dealing with such issues?
This is where government should be concentrating. We've got a candidate running for governor in Vermont, Matt Dunne, promising to build slaughterhouses. I think it's going to be a winning issue.

Is there an infrastructure in place for the solutions you offer? What will it take from the government to make certain changes happen? What will it take from individuals?
It has to be built, but less from the center than from the periphery. That is, we need policies that make it easy to put solar panels on half the roofs in the country. The government can use the tax code to help people do the things they need to do.

What does the future of America look like to you–the way you'd like it to be, and the way you think it will be, say, 50 to 75 years from now?
Difficult. We had a sweet planet, and we've blown it pretty profoundly. We can keep it from getting any worse than it has to get, but we also need to start thinking hard about how we're going to adapt to those changes we can't prevent. The only way to do that is to build stronger communities–which is the single silver lining to a pretty dark cloud.

What will you do this Earth Day?
Organize for We've got a huge Global Work Party scheduled for October 10, and we'll have thousands and thousands of events all over the planet. But that means a lot of hard work in advance.

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