A Bit of Green Reading

Books, I can’t recall a single day of my life when I didn’t have at least one book next to me. I can escape through books and I learn from them. The past weeks I’ve read a mix of fiction and non-fiction. Today I want to share with you three green titles I found most interesting.

hundred-dollar-christmasThe Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben is a very small book where McKibben makes his case that Christmas isn’t about how much we spend or how many gifts we give or receive.  He covers how Christmas evolved, a history I was unfamiliar with, then argues that instead of Christmas being a time of stress we can make little changes in how we celebrate the holiday to bring back the joy we’ve lost.

McKibben gives examples on how to simplify Christmas and give gifts (when we choose to) that are handmade, inexpensive and more meaningful.

Instead of going into great detail here, check out Christy’s review of the Hundred Dollar Holiday she did a fine job covering all the highlights of this small book.  If you are dreading Christmas, I encourage you to check out this book.

eaarthEaarth is another book by Bill McKibben.   After reading Oil and Honey, I set out to find Eaarth.  This book was published in 2010 and while a lot has happened since in regards to climate change this book is still relevant today.

McKibben, best known as the founder of 350.org titled the book Eaarth with two “A”s to argue that we no longer live on the planet Earth, the home of our ancestors. His belief is that in a very short time, that from the industrial revolution to now, we  have changed the very existence of our planet.  We now live on a planet with acidifying oceans, droughts, increased storms, melting ice caps, etc.  and we need to learn how to live on the planet we’ve created if we are going to survive.

McKibben believes we are at a point in our lives where we need to stop what we are doing and decide what part of our lives we want to hold on to, save those parts that we can’t live without.  We will need to walk away from the parts we can live without and by doing so create new communities that can survive in the climate we need to adapt to.  He argues for instance he doesn’t want to live without his computer and availability of the internet in his home. I think he goes a bit overboard in this case.

If I had my finger on the switch, I’d keep the juice flowing to the Internet even if I had to turn off everything else…..The Net is the one solvent we can still afford; jet travel can’t be our salvation in an age of climate shock and dwindling oil, so the kind of trip you can take with the click of  a mouse will have to substitute.  It will need to be the window left ajar in our communities so new ideas can blow in and old prejudices blow out….”

Personally, if I had my “finger on the switch” I wouldn’t try to save the internet. I see the internet as a luxury I could turn off at any time. I don’t want my grandchildren’s future to be one where they sit indoors on the internet looking at places they can’t visit or don’t exist any more.  Our grandparents didn’t have the internet and they did as well if not better than we are. They were active in their communities, knew their neighbors and understood what a self-reliant life was.  McKibben believes we can convert to solar and wind, build electric cars and do a slow descent to the sustainable levels we need to be at to return to 350 ppm so people aren’t shocked by the immense job we must tackle.

While I agree with most of what McKibben has to say in Eaarth, where I part ways, in addition to his belief in the value of the internet, is with his belief that we can, with hard work, return our atmosphere to 350 ppm or less carbon in our atmosphere.  We’ve already reached 400 ppm and we know that what we are adding today will affect us for decades to come. I don’t see the United States making drastic enough changes any time soon to reduce our emissions 80% which we are told is necessary to save us, do you?

That said, this is still a good book. I do see where McKibben’s critics feel he is a bit too optimistic about our chances to power down slowly and selectively so as to live with the perception that nothing has changed.

endgameEndgame by Derrick Jensen was the most controversial book I have read in a long time, yet thought-provoking as well. Jensen believes we will never willingly give up the lifestyles we are accustomed to and advocates blowing up the current systems that contribute to climate change and destruction of the planet.

Jensen asks again and again. At what point will we say enough is enough and change our ways?  He shares a conversation he had with a friend where he was asked

What will it take for you to finally call it an apocalypse? The death of the salmon? Global warming? The ozone hole? The reduction of krill populations off Antarctica by 90 percent…..the extirpation of two hundred species per day? Four hundred? Six hundred? Give me a specific threshold, Derrick, a specific point at which you’ll finally use that word.

He’s got a point.

Not everyone would take to Jensen’s arguments because he uses sensitive subjects to make his points. Take for instance this paragraph:

“….more Americans die each month from toxins and other workplace hazards, and more Americans die each week from preventable cancers that are for the most part direct results of the activities of large corporations, and certainly the results of the industrial economy. The lack of outrage over these deaths commensurate to the outrage expressed over the deaths in the 9/11 bombings reveals much – if we care to reflect on it- about the values and presumptions of our culture.” (italics are Jensen’s).

Jensen believes that the industrial economy, civilization itself, is incompatible  with human and nonhuman life.  Yet, even as we allow ourselves to be poisoned by the toxins of our current way of living, Jensen, argues (and I agree) that we will not change how we live without a fight.  Will we give up air travel tomorrow to save the planet for the next generations? Will we give up cheap clothes and other material possessions starting now? What about our smart phones? No, I don’t see many willing to walk away from the lifestyles they currently have until we’ve done so much damage to the planet that it affects us directly and in a very adverse way.

While I agree with Jensen on his assessment of where we stand and even his statement that our economy is in direct conflict with living on a healthy planet I have to admit that when confronted with his conclusion that the only way to save humanity is by blowing it all up (and admitting many will still die if we blow it up today, because we blow it up)  I felt in my bones a deep conflict.  a part of me knows he is right and another part of me sat here and contemplated how I or my loved ones would survive with the sudden loss of the creature comforts we are accustomed to.

To consider the world left after we blow up the dams, power plants, roads, factories and so on I admit I wouldn’t be one of the survivors.  If I, who says I will do anything to save the world I knew for my grandchildren, cannot face the idea of a world without central heat (and electricity to power my wheelchair) then Jensen has proved his point. We won’t give up the things most required of us to give up to have a healthy home for future generations.  At this point, I thought back to Eaarth and McKibben’s belief that it is still possible to return to 350 ppm carbon in the atmosphere and if I wasn’t sure McKibben was wrong when reading Eaarth, I was now. It’s too late for us to restore the earth to the way it was.

Have you read any of these titles? Are you optimistic like Bill McKibben or pessimistic like Derrick Jensen?




  1. Well… I came to the conclusion years ago that we’re toast. Certainly, we are past the point where a reduction in emissions can solve the problem. Even Jensen’s idea of “blowing up civilization” would not be enough, because there’s already enough CO2 in the atmosphere to push us over the edge into out of control feedback loops.

    CatMan is holding out hope for some sort of gee wiz geo-engineering solution, but I think that’s unlikely to succeed for a variety of reasons. First of all, any sort of geo-engineering project large enough to affect change on the scale that is needed, is sure to have unintended consequences that might be just as dire as global warming itself. But more importantly, things would have to be REALLY bad before the “powers that be” would be willing to commit the resources necessary for such an undertaking. The problem is, that once things start to get bad enough to have an impact on the day to day lives of ordinary people (I’m talking food shortages, catastrophic weather events, etc.) civil unrest will take over, and everyone will be so busy dealing with the social upheaval (think riots, civil wars, and the like) that the government(s) will have no time or energy to devote to anything but tamping down the violence and dealing with the crisis du jour.

    I think that the situation is Syria is a good example of what we have to look forward to. It’s not been widely publicized, but the event that really precipitated the conflict there was the most serious drought the region has endured in nearly 1000 years.

    Granted, there were other factors as well, but I think when people are hungry and angry, civil unrest is not far behind.

    Anyhow, that’s my pessimistic take. But hey, if you want to read REAL pessimism, check out the work of Guy McPherson. I’m not actually recommending that, BTW, but he makes all of us look like Pollyanna!


    • Exactly! Only a handful it would seem of the people in the US know that Syria’s problems began with drought conditions which resulted in food shortages and let to unrest.

      Usually I agree with most of CatMan’s views but on geoengineering I part ways. First I agree with you that nothing would be started until it was too late. But….even if we decided to try some sort of geoengineering I fear we would make it worse. They would wait until there were no other options and then would roll out something untested that in all likelihood would only cause more environmental destruction.

      Aside from the environmental issues, I truly fear a civil war sometime in the next four years because of who will be sitting in the White House, but that’s a discussion for another time.

      Too late, I’ve already read Guy McPherson. Last I heard he believed the end would be 2020, has he changed his opinion?


  2. So depressing…but vitally important to share these books and viewpoints as you have here, Lois, as I think most of the population is living with rose-colored glasses on and have no clue what we’re facing. But unfortunately, I think a great deal of people simply do not care because they think they won’t live long enough to see the most frightening damage and therefore it’s “other people’s problem.” (In other words: their children and grandchildren!) And some people, including the president-elect (who I think will go down in history as the worst president ever, and that’s really saying something considering the competition for that title), will continue to deny that there’s any real problem at all with the environment. I haven’t read these books but have read others that share the viewpoint that we are an incredibly wasteful lot who just won’t give up our lifestyles. It drives me mad that scientists are trying to figure out how we can colonize Mars, mostly because we are making this planet completely uninhabitable.


    • Joy, I share your thoughts on this. These books were depressing but I’m still glad I read them. As for the people, many do act as you’ve pointed out and I have no clue how we will reach them. Schools aren’t helping either, if they did it might start a conversation between the children and the parents. I won’t hold my breath the schools ever will.

      I’m still very afraid of the next four years but here’s a bit of good news for you. Obama banned oil drilling in the Arctic and most of the Atlantic Ocean, which turns out is binding and not able to be overturned by future presidents. It’s being referred to as an arcane provision in a 1953 law you can read more here if you haven’t heard about it. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/arctic-atlantic-drilling-obama-ban-permanent/

      I had a conversation a while back with my son on the subject of colonizing Mars. I hold the opinion that we shouldn’t colonize anything until we learn to live sustainably here, he feels we’ve already doomed this planet and will need to colonize other bodies to survive but that we will destroy each planet we colonize. Sad commentary on human beings.


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