Reduce fossil fuel consumption now, or our grandchildren will suffer." That's the old wisdom, and it has its critics. Some think environmentalists exaggerate; Bill McKibben believes they don't go nearly far enough. Global catastrophe, he says, is already here. The earth has changed so radically that it needs a new name: he suggests Eaarth.
McKibben has been dubbed "probably the nation's leading environmentalist" (The Boston Globe) and "the world's best green journalist" (Time). He is also a churchgoing, Sunday-school-teaching Methodist who has written that church people should be at the fore of the environmental movement, because Christianity teaches social justice, creation care, and selfless concern for others (The Christian Century).
In his newest book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (Times Books) , McKibben argues that "the earth has changed in profound ways, ways that have already taken us out of the sweet spot where humans so long thrived." For 10,000 years we bumped along quite nicely with 275 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Then we started burning fossil fuels, and the CO2 level began to rise. Respected scientists now estimate that the maximum safe level is 350 parts per million. According to McKibben's website, 350.org, we are currently at 387.
The results are already devastating. If we were able to turn back the clock and reduce CO2 levels to 350ppm or lower, we would still have a thawed Arctic, acidified oceans, changed rainfall patterns, and higher temperatures. "We're not … going to get back the planet we used to have, the one on which our civilization developed," McKibben writes."We're like the guy who ate steak for dinner every night and let his cholesterol top 300 and had the heart attack. Now he dines on Lipitor and walks on the treadmill, but half his heart is dead tissue."
Despite his somber warnings, McKibben is no doomsday prophet. Unlike Frank Fenner, an Australian scientist who recently prophesied the extinction of mankind within 100 years, McKibben believes we can thrive on Eaarth, though not if we continue to make a god of economic growth. We can and should develop alternative energy sources, but there's no way we can afford the number of projects we would need in order to pursue our relentless rush to Bigger and Better.
McKibben's solution, by contrast, is Small and Local. Instead of hauling food around the world, we should foster family farms. Instead of constant flying and driving, we should keep in touch through the Internet. Instead of building giant centralized power plants, we should develop many local power sources. Instead of relying on the government for everything, we should strengthen our communities.
In this book, McKibben does not relate environmental concerns to biblical teachings, as he has done in articles online and in Harper's magazine. His recommendations, however, fit well with Scripture's respect for creation and concern for the poor, its scorn for riches and praise for contentment, and—underlying everything else—its requirement to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The biblical lifestyle sharply contrasts with the Western pursuit of money, possessions, and personal fulfillment. The American gross domestic income is over $46,000 per capita (the world average is about $10,000), and most of us want more. What would happen if millions of prosperous Christians chose instead to live more biblically, looking for ways to share Eaarth's dwindling resources with all?
LaVonne Neff blogs at Lively Dust and The Neff Review.
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Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet is available from Amazon.com and other retailers.
Previous Christianity Today articles on climate change include:
Cool on Climate Change | New Christian coalition says fighting global warming will hurt the poor. (September 26, 2006)
Climate Change Is Here to Stay | Debate over global warming has only intensified since conservatives targeted Cizik. (March 30, 2007)
Climate Change Briefing Brings Together Christian Aid Groups | Rising temperatures will disproportionately affect the poor, say analysts. (October 1, 2004)
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