How To Save The Earth According to Bill McKibben And His Environmental Politics

In an interview with the New York Times, Bill Mckibben tells us that “Global warming is no longer a philosophical threat, no longer a future threat, no longer a threat at all. It’s our reality.” Filled with startling information, his book Eaarth represents that fact wholly. It is a visual into what is really happening on this planet with regards to the changing climate. Stating facts like “one barrel of oil yields as much energy as twenty-five thousand hours of human manual labor”, Eaarth is an information-packed explanation of what our planet could possibly be like if humans don’t start being more environmentally conscious.

Human-kind populates a small planet called Earth, one that is prosperous in a multitude of natural systems, and currently the only one we can survive on.

However, humans have polluted this same planet, our only home, so much that these natural system are almost fully depleted, and we are left with Eaarth; not something completely different, but something different enough that is worth a new name.

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On this new planet, McKibben explains that things like annual billion-person famines and daily hurricanes could potentially be events by the middle of the present century. Imagine the flow of the Euphrates and Nile rivers declining to barely a stream, and doing so in the near future. The melting of glaciers in the Himalayas and Andes could cause the water supplies of billiohow rons to dwindle within decades. Unfortunately for us, this could very well be our reality, if we don’t start thinking about the damage climate change has and will do as a whole.

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McKibben makes strong arguments in the book, but some of the evidence he uses to back up his points an be questioned, as he makes points but gives no examples. Though I agree with what he conveys as his main points throughout the book, he can tend to get slightly opinionated and over-enthusiastic. Bill McKibben is an author and environmental activist currently living and working as a professor at Middlebury college, who writes solely on the topics of climate change and environmentalism. He does not have a background in sciences, but is a religious, passionate and self-proclaimed “naturist” who is so strongly set in his ways, and also created and leads an anti-carbon campaign group known as 350. In an interview with The Huffington Post, McKibben explains that for him, religion, specifically the Methodist Church, allowed him to use free speech to “bring people together, towards a cause”; in this case, his cause is climate change. Because of how set in his ways he is, McKibben can get very excited at times, and leave things out, making the point he is trying to convey confusing and unclear for his readers. At other times throughout the book, he sometimes goes off on related and passionate, yet jumbled tangents. Passion is good, it makes books more interesting to me, but too much passion can sometimes leave crucial sections of the idea or fact out, therefore confusing readers, and in some cases, changing the point one is trying to make, which happened in Eaarth a few times.

McKibben talks about problems and solutions to what he views as “impending doom by climate change” by focusing on the issues he discusses separately. First, his descriptions of our world show the current conditions of Earth; once a beautiful natural wonder, and now it may as well be “trash as far as the eye can see.” By stating, “No one is going to refreeze the Arctic for us, or restore the pH of the oceans, and given the momentum of global warming we're likely to cross many more thresholds even if we all convert to solar power and bicycles this afternoon.” , McKibben explains to readers that humans have to be the ones to make the change for the better, since we were originally the ones who created the problem. He also uses factual references to show how polluted, trash, air, and water-wise, humans are. For example, McKibben tells us that six of the 12 largest corporations in the world are fossil-fuel providers, and four others build cars, therefore showing how much we rely on massive pollutants for our everyday lives. It also talks about the fact that we are having more natural disasters in one year, than ever recorded (he singles out the wildfires in California).

We are in such a different environment now than what Earth originally was, we may as well be on a different planet, and though McKibben talks about other factors in the rest of the book, this is the point that he really sticks too, and tries to relate everything back too. After all, it is the core meaning of the title. This is interesting, I think, because of how far to one extreme McKibben is leaning. He makes a strong point about how unhealthy our current environment is, which may be true, but what’s to say we cannot change it for the better, getting back our “old Earth” ? Personally, from my experience of growing up in a city, I was always aware of a lack of greenery and somewhat more pollution than average, but I generally thought that was the case for every city. But increasingly, I am seeing cities in the US get worse and worse, while cities in Europe are getting better and better. Take Denmark for example; not only do they have one of the “happiest populations on the planet” according to CBS, but they are one of the most green cities in the world; they even have more bikes in the city than people. In the US, that is becoming a bigger and bigger problem, as in recent years, there has been a trend towards urbanization.

Next, McKibben focuses on growth and progress, stating “On our new planet [urban] growth may be the one big habit we finally must break”. He uses examples like big car corporations, and oil manufacturers like Exxon Mobil that “ made more money in 2006, 2007, and 2008 than any company in the history of money” to make his point clearer. Here, McKibben gives readers a political perspective on these issues, something different than the scientific persona he takes on in the remaining majority of the book. He does this by explaining the world’s economic and environmental situation, but in a political way, like that of a politician. For rich nations like the US, addressing climate change can be as simple as allocating funds, or a publicity campaign, but poor nations need fossil fuels to urbanize and try to raise their income; the green technology is much too expensive, which makes any attempts to address climate change more challenging. Already, there is conflict over environmental conditions brought on by climate change. In the U.S. especially, we have always imagined unlimited growth, and imaginations are powerful, potentially dangerous things. We have assumed that the future will resemble the past, when in reality, the past has completely changed the future.

This portion of the book, to me, seemed like the US and the rest of the world not making very much environmental effort was making excuses for not becoming “greener”. Some of these countries have very valid excuses; unfortunately, with the current standings of our world, economic value takes a much higher priority than environmental. But there doesn’t need to be such huge change, like McKibben at first suggests. Starting small is something even the poorest of the poor countries can do; as long as effort is being made, change will eventually come. This is important, I think, from both an environmental and social aspect. Environmentalism has increasingly become a popular movement in our modern world, and though many countries are ahead of the US, and our current administration doesn’t really advocate for it, the citizens of the US are taking steps—granted, small ones—in the right direction. For example, my apartment building just joined the rest of the buildings on my block in creating a building-wide compost take-out; now there is not only trash and recycling, but compost as well. Though small things will not reverse carbon in the air, if enough people do something small, change can happen.

Now, you may ask, how can we basically turn our economy completely around, and still thrive economically? Since this is essentially what Mckibben is telling us to do, in a very exciting way, no less, the idea can become jumbled, and therefore must be carefully plucked out of his words. I wanted to know if there were ways that we could do this in the near future, because most of McKibben’s ideas had solutions that could only be implemented through government action, and/or would take years to see the effects. Starting small, McKibben thinks, with solutions to small, social things, will alleviate some of the pressure off the masses to go from one extreme to another. “Thinking slower, digging in, becoming resilient” are some examples he uses to convey his solutions. The book conveys that urbanization has allowed us to believe that bigger, faster, louder is better, but still warns that, “We’ve got a lot of work to do if we’re going to survive on this Earth, but most of it needs to be done close to home. Small, not big: dispersed, not centralized.” Most importantly, it must be a group effort. Not just a territory wide, region wide, or even country wide effort; the planet must be in agreement for change to 100% come, and for it to actually work.

I think that there is a big misconception of the power humans hold because of technological advancements. Humans imagine that we are independent and invincible; of the earth, each other, and any potential danger, and the solution to any problem is to just “advance further”. I’m guilty of that thought as well, everyone is. Though it’s a nice thought, it’s also slightly ignorant at the same time, when you put it into perspective. We’re going to need the world to work in harmony, and we need to redirect the limited resources towards the quality of life internationally instead of war and death. McKibben, while talking about this, goes through basic natural systems such as water, agriculture in specific, and food. He offers a glimpse into what life on our Earth could possibly end up as. Where and how our produce is grown, as well as how we get our meat and fish, are questions we must always have on our mind when they are not even a second thought for the majority of the population; I’m not talking about expense wise, but environmentally. Is it fresh? It is healthy? Where did it come from? Another important factor we must take into consideration is energy. It will have to be dispersed both nationally and internationally, hopefully, powerful enough to keep our basic systems running, like HVAC and the internet, important because it gives humans a global platform to think in any way possible. Most importantly, McKibben stresses—and I will now think about wherever I go—that we need a sense of community in order to push forward.


Earth is a powerful, transformative, and at times frightening account of where humans are, why we are on Earth, not Eaarth, and what we are doing to our precious planet, but also ways we might possibly be able to save it. Saving a changing world is expensive—think of the money that goes to repairs from natural disasters like New Orleans or Haiti. We can't rely on old habits any longer. It may be true that “Eaarth represents the deepest of human failures”, but we are a resilient and creative species; we’ve proved it before with all the technological advancements we’ve made. Humans are capable of extraordinary things on every front, so let’s get to work.

Updated: Jan 14, 2022
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How To Save The Earth According to Bill McKibben And His Environmental Politics. (2022, Jan 14). Retrieved from

How To Save The Earth According to Bill McKibben And His Environmental Politics essay
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