In his writings, his many speeches and bullhorn exhortations, Bill McKibben comes across as one of the least cynical people on the battlefield of public opinion. He’s passionate about solving problems others have given up on, about building a better world and particularly about climate change, the issue that has made him the Paul Revere of alarm about our fevered planet.
Growing up, he actually sang “Kumbaya” around a campfire — “always earnestly,” he says. He won the Gandhi Peace Award and the Thomas Merton Award. One day, perhaps, he’ll win the real Nobel to go with the so-called alternative Nobel, which he’s already been awarded, the Right Livelihood Award. As is sometimes said about effective environmentalists, he’ll make a great ancestor.
His latest book is a slim cri de coeur about the rot at the base of his biographical foundations. McKibben finds his country, his religion and the suburban lifestyle of his youth to be so flawed that he’s ready to divorce much of his past.
“I’m curious about what went so suddenly sour with American patriotism, American faith and American prosperity — the flag, the cross and the station wagon,” he writes. “I’m curious if any of that trinity can, or should, be reclaimed in the fight for a fairer future.”
He doesn’t stay curious for long. This memoir reads like an extended argument against the idea — oft cited by Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama, among others — that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. He says at one point, in reference to how that phrase applies to the evolution of religion, that “it’s just as easy to make the opposite argument from history: that Christianity is a baleful force, baptizing oppression and sanctifying the unspeakable.”…
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