There are more comprehensive books about climate change out there. There are books with facts and models and hard science. There are scarier books, too, with more dire predictions about what will happen. It might seem hard to imagine what this little book’s niche actually is, its role in the ecologist’s reading canon, until you remember that it was written in 1989. It was written years before an Inconvenient Truth, years before Gore, years before Bush dismantled the Kyoto Protocol, and years before the age of global terrorism. It was a time when “global warming” was still more often referred to “the greenhouse effect.” This book was written in an entirely different era.
And for that reason alone, I feel it is required reading.
As author Bill McKibben notes in his new introduction (itself now ten years old, having been written in 2005), this book is a product of its time. It is uneven in places, alternating wildly between talking about the facts of global climate change and more poetic musings on the nature of, well, nature and humanity’s role within it. And yet it’s undeniably fascinating to look back on the state of environmentalism in the late 1980s and compare its predictions to what has happened in the almost 30 years since then. Unfortunately, there’s a strong feeling that we’ve been asleep at the wheel for too long. We knew about this stuff in the 1980s! How the hell did we late it get this bad?
And yet we’ve also seen some victories: Keystone XL, of which the author himself was a leading protester. Everyone knows about climate change now, even if many deny it. We’ve come along way from the fringe environmental movement, when this book was written. We still have a long way to go and it’s easy to feel despair, especially after seeing what we knew in 1989. Nevertheless, this book is a testament to environmentalism’s history and for that reason alone, it’s worth reading. Beyond that importance, it’s still a good read on its own merits; the idea of the end of nature might more accurately be described as the “end of wildness,” the end of nature as an untouched force, and regardless of whether or not you agree with the argument, it’s still interesting to consider.