IN THE GREEN MOUNTAINS
BY ROBERT BRENNEMAN
“The most powerful testimonies come not from
Washington but from local communities where neighbors
and ecological entrepreneurs are carving out community
and even opportunity right here on plant Eaarth.”
he jig is up. That is the simplest way to summarize Bill McKibben’s newest book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. Even the jacket design is menacing. A giant black “X” on a white field covers all but a sliver of the planet’s marbled image. The time for cautionary tales is over, says McKibben. We have officially missed our chance to “save the planet” because the planet we once lived upon—planet Earth—is gone.
Marshaling evidence from all over the globe, McKibben argues that global warming has already changed the planet beyond recognition. “We’re running Genesis backward, de-creating,” he says, and so we need a new name for a “new” planet: Eaarth. Noting that the average global temperature has already risen about a degree Celsius, he points to evidence of changing weather patterns that have caused spikes in famine, drought, flooding and tropical storms, resulting in billions in losses and hurtling tens of millions of poor people into malnutrition
Far worse outcomes await, though, now that the polar ice caps have accelerated their melting, releasing huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the air from beneath the sea. But McKibben is trying to make his old message newly emphatic, so his argument is that we’ve long ago crossed the threshold. Now the best we can do is to adapt to life on the new planet Eaarth in order to keep it from becoming entirely uninhabitable.
If the first half of the book is gloomy, the last half is, if not bold, at least uplifting. That’s because there are already signs of hope. McKibben believes that while the cause of our current dilemma was national ambition and an unshakeable belief in “Progress,” the cure for our predicament must be both modest and local. Vermont, not Silicon Valley or Wall Street, can show us the way toward living “gracefully” on the new planet.
As a recent transplant to the Green Mountain State I can appreciate the examples he shares. Walk into one of Burlington’s thriving locally owned restaurants and the first thing you will notice is that the description for each dish on the menu runs at least a paragraph, since it takes that much space to name the multiple local farms that produced the to-die-for pizza you’re about to order. Farmers markets are teeming with people and bikes are everywhere—even in winter. In short, the most powerful testimonies come not from Washington but from local communities where neighbors and ecological entrepreneurs are carving out community and even opportunity right here on planet Eaarth.
Adopting a local mindset is certainly urgent, but it doesn’t have to feel like work. One thing’s clear: It sure tastes good.
Previously printed in Edible Michiana Fall 2011