Environmentalist Bill McKibben has been writing about climate change since publishing The End of Nature in 1990. In his 10th book, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future (2007), he argued for the importance of local food systems and local culture in the fight against global warming.
His new book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, centers on how much closer the planet is to environmental catastrophe than scientists and activists have projected. But that's not all of it, says McKibben, who will speak at Isthmus Green Day on April 17, 11 a.m., at Monona Terrace.
The ease with which people and goods can travel far distances has not only polluted the earth, it's destroyed a sense of community, McKibben feels. As we grapple with ways to combat global warming, he predicts humans will return to a more local- and community-based life and commerce.
"We're going to be reacting much of the time, dealing with trouble as much as trying to prevent it," McKibben writes via email. "I imagine that's where the real change will come from."
The strange title for the book - "earth" with an extra "A" - is supposed to differentiate between the old earth and the realities of the new planet. "I liked the almost sci-fi overtones. It's hard for us to conceive of the idea that we've actually gone and changed the planet we were born onto," McKibben says.
On "Eaarth," the key word will be "local" - local food, local economies, tighter communities. The current food system is complicit in global warming; McKibben is adamant about the damage caused to the environment by producing food so far from the people who eat it.
The good news, says McKibben, is that the importance of food to the environment "is increasingly being understood. Ten years ago, I taught the first course I know of at any college on local food supply. Now, thanks to Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver et al., the idea has spread."
Among the obvious moves people can make are planting a backyard garden and supporting a local farmer or farmers' market. But McKibben also urges people to think about big steps rather than small ones: "Think commodities that really count: food, energy and culture. Those are what we need to re-localize." (Not completely, he adds - world music and curry powder are okay - but we do have to "reverse the trajectory we've been on.")
McKibben also encourages people to organize politically "in an effective way." He cites his own group, 350.org: "Last fall, we had 5,200 rallies in 181 countries - CNN said it was the 'most widespread day of political action in the planet's history.'"
Now McKibben is preparing for more action, scheduled for Oct. 10, 2010, when a "global work party" is planned to put up solar panels and create bike paths.
But even more important, he says, is to bring this message to politicians: "We're getting to work, what about you? If we can get up on the roof of the school to put in a solar panel, we expect you to get up on the floor of the Senate and legislate."