Rather than make extensive comments about this book, I’m going to describe a few key highlights based on excerpts that I underlined when reading it, to give a sense of the overall essence, which chimes strongly with my own perceptions of where humanity has been, is now and is heading in future. Some initial quotes, to get us started:
“Put simply, between ecological destruction and technological hubris, the human experiment is now in question.”
“We’re quite accustomed to this idea of progress … there are, each day, more ideas hatched …more money invested… And yet … Pope Francis … said: The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.””
“In November 2017, fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries issued a stark “warning to humanity” … global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.”
McKibben goes on to outline the main reasons for the environmental damage humans have already caused, including greenhouse gas emissions in the last 150 years, and the many serious impacts that damage has for humans and other species who cohabit this planet, including:
Despite all the continuing debates, or all-out arguments, about AGW, as McKibben points out:
“Climate change is a negotiation between humans and physics, and [perhaps this should be “but”] physics does not compromise…”
He talks in some detail about some of the political and social barriers to addressing AGW.
“Politicians who don’t wish to deal with the issue of global warming often say “The climate is always changing.” Even those people who are properly worried often default to a truism of their own: “The earth will be fine; it’s humans who are in trouble.” Both statements are technically accurate: no system is perfectly stable… But both statements are, at their core, quite wrong: the climate change we are currently forcing will be enormous in comparison with anything our civilisation has ever known …”
He talks about the obstructive tactics of various organisations, societal segments and individuals, eg:
McKibben talks about the intersection between challenges of climate change and challenges of inequalities:
“… done right, the fight against inequality meshes powerfully with the fight against more existential threats such as climate change.”
He places quite a lot of the burden of guilt for our current predicament (or, at least, America’s part in it) on “… one tenth of 1 percent of Americans [who] provided 40 percent of the campaign contributions during the 2016 [Republican] presidential campaign [that succeeded in getting Donald Trump elected] – that is to say, 24,949 people.”
He also blames the currently dominant brand of capitalism:
“The kind of capitalism turning America into a creepy jungle … call it laissez-faire, or neoliberalism, or “getting government out of the way”, or being “corporate-friendly”. Whatever you call it, it is a particularly rapacious variant that’s causing our current problem, one that’s worth careful study.”
Some people to the right of centre in politics use fear tactics to try to block or delay actions on climate change. McKibben offers an insight into how this plays out:
“… overlearning the lessons of the past is just as dangerous as ignoring them. If you can’t distinguish between national health insurance and indentured servitude, if Denmark reminds you of North Korea, then you damage the present in the name of the past. If you must resist the Clean Air Act because of your visceral fear that it might lead to so much government that your drugstore gets taken away, then the twentieth century has become not a teacher but an irrational barrier.”
He talks about some of the solutions, eg:
He points out that:
The latest studies, from labs such as Mark Jacobson’s at Stanford, make clear that every major nation on earth could be supplying 80 percent of its power from renewables by 2030, at prices far cheaper than paying [for] the damage [caused by] climate change.”
He also points out that:
“… the opposite of [perhaps he means an alternative to?] libertarian hyperindividualism is not necessarily the Red Army kicking in the door of your father’s drugstore. It could also [instead?] be a sense of social solidarity, an ethic of “we’re all in this together.”
There is broad public support for many of the measures required to tackle climate change.
McKibben points out that this is even the case in America:
“.. around the world, polling shows that people are not just highly concerned about global warming, but also willing to pay a price to solve it. Americans, for instance, said in 2017 that they were willing to see their energy bills rise by 15 percent and have that money spent on clean energy programs – that’s about in line with the size of the carbon taxes that national groups have been campaigning for.”
McKibben is well known as an environmental/climate campaigner. However, that does not mean that his views should be discounted, as is often suggested by many who would block or delay progress in tackling climate change.
Quite the opposite – it is often the campaigners on important topics who can create some clarity on why we should take concerted efforts to address the issues they raise. That is the case with Bill McKibben’s book “Falter”.
The Planetary CFO - working towards a sustainable World Balance Sheet.