A Planet's Fate

January 5, 2022 | Paul Richardson

Bill McKibben, who speaks at Festival Boca on March 8.

In a recent look back on The Year in Climate, Bill McKibben offered this searing, and sobering assessment, after recounting the horrific heat wave that hit the Pacific Northwest last June:

“The reason all this is so frightening is that it suggests fundamental parts of the way that the planet works have begun to shift, allowing for physical phenomena we’ve never seen before. It suggests, that is, that the predictions provided by global-climate models—which are frightening enough—may be too optimistic…. The world is clearly more fragile than the models have led us to believe. And that’s what was terrifying about 2021.”

Three decades ago, in The End of Nature, McKibben (pictured, right) warned the world about the dangers climate change pose for our planet. And while the issue has certainly gotten more attention in recent years, thanks to celebrities like Al Gore and Greta Thurnberg, far less has been done than is necessary to bend the climate curve back toward stability. The world continues to get hotter, continually showing even scientists’ worst-case predictions to be insufficiently dire.
 
And yet, that is not all.
 
McKibben added a new layer of concern with his 2000 book, Falter. In it, he noted that, even as climate change shrinks the space where our civilization can exist, new technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics threaten to bleach away the variety of human experience. Falter tells the story of these converging trends and of the ideological fervor that keeps us from bringing them under control.
 
With works like this, one might expect McKibben to be a dour, dark soul, no fun to read or be around. Yet the words reviewers continually use to describe McKibben and his work are: lucid, engaging, funny, witty, never hectoring or hyperbolic, among a very few of our most compelling truth-tellers.
 

Bill McKibben brings a very important voice to the study of our planet’s present and future, because all that he writes, all that he does, is grounded in hope.

 
Indeed, in Falter, McKibben shows that, despite our orb’s ominous, perilous, terrifying state, there are ways out of the trap we face. While we are unquestionably at a bleak moment in human history, if we confront that bleakness, if we take concerted action, we may not have to watch the civilization our forebears built slip away.
 
Will the hottest year on record cause more to listen, to be concerned, to finally take action? Will nations put their internal problems in a perspective that gives climate cancer its due? These and other questions are at the center of McKibben’s concerns. His important Authors & Ideas talk at Festival Boca on March 8 is one you don't want to miss.

 

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