Falter, Bill McKibben’s Latest Book


Mikel Jaso

My morning hike yesterday was accompanied by Bill McKibben. We have featured him so frequently in these pages that I was surprised that I had not already known he had a new book. So I found what I could read about the book, starting with Jared Diamond’s review (snippet below), and a book talk by the author himself (above).


A floating island of solar panels in Santiago, Chile.CreditEsteban Felix/Associated Press

Solar panels and nonviolent movements are the two of the causes for hope that McKibben mentions in his podcast interview, and in the book talk in Philadelphia, and according to Diamond’s review those are substantive but not sufficient. Hope and fear are both motivators and getting the balance right is the most important task in perhaps the entire history of mankind. I highlight only this part of the review because it is an echo of what Nathaniel Rich says in an interview about his own book:



…McKibben’s book is much more about grounds for fear, which take up some 18 chapters, than about grounds for hope, which take up five. Fear will motivate some people who are currently undecided, and increase the motivation of others already convinced. But in my experience most people need a strong dose of hope to be spurred to action. Why waste effort on a hopeless cause? One group that has learned this lesson is the cancer lobby, which succeeds at raising funds for research by stressing cures that may be just around the corner more than the grim statistics of the disease’s ongoing toll.

In fact, there are reasons for hope besides those McKibben discusses. One is the change in policies of some powerful multinational corporations. I can already hear the horrified screams of many of my environmentalist friends as I say this. However, I’ve been on the boards of two of the most effective international environmental organizations, World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International, both of which are heavily involved with big, powerful corporations. I acknowledge that those corporations do some very bad things. But they also do some very good things on a large scale that their power makes them uniquely capable of doing. For example, Walmart has quietly been making efforts to manage its supply chain, its wastes and its truck fleet sustainably — partly, but only partly, because it discovered that it can save money by doing so.

You may already have closed your ears because of the bad things you know that even the best big companies also do. Listen, you extraterrestrial visitors from the Andromeda Galaxy, where companies and androids are either purely good or purely bad. Alas, here on Planet Earth, good and bad are mixed together; we don’t have companies that are purely good. If environmentalists refuse to engage with big companies, in order to push them to do more good things and fewer bad ones, we could well end up in McKibben’s worst-case scenario: human extinction…


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