My initial thoughts on it can be found here . . .

In short, I found McKibbin to initially be very gloom and doom which, to be fair, he has a lot of reasons to be. In regards to our environment in general and global warming in particular, shit's on fire yo. While the first half of the book is doom and gloom, the last takes on more of a tone of acceptance and in some ways hope.

To give some perspective on this next part, this book was originally written right after we had our last financial collapse. The real estate market, bank and auto bailouts, that whole mess. As a result, I think there is a bit of a bias in his world view against "big." Big agriculture, big energy, big government. Now that ten years have passed and with it both the additional environmental disasters (remember last years' hurricane season) as well as technological and social developments in environmental maintenance have already changed so much. If you couple that with the outright blow of the recession healing into what best can be called a really nasty limp that flairs on a rainy day, I wonder if he wrote this book today he'd have different ideas.

Anyhow, the final chapter really stuck with me. He's basically trying to talk about how we might figure out how to get by in a post global warming world. In it, he espouses the values of small over big. He brings up a very compelling comparison in banks. During the last recession, the banks that survived were the small banks and even the ones that fell didn't hurt the economy nearly as much as they would have had they been significantly larger. He talks a lot about local farms, local alternative energy, focusing on resources being distributed instead of centralized. He brings up concepts of farmers being flexible, embracing diverse crops and strains, organic farming, and how in a lot of ways smaller is better. All throughout his explanations, he espouses over and over again, sometimes directly and sometimes subtly, the importance of community. Which, to those of you who know me well, that's like one of my favorite words.

This focus is all pretty amazing and it's a pretty refreshing chapter to read after all that doom and gloom, but I do think McKibben is a bit too dismissive on the potential benefits of big organizations. Yes, there is a lot of power and flexibility and stability when you focus on the small, but that's not to say that it's impossible for larger organizational systems to still do good in the world. I think the difficulties lie in A) knowing what those systems are good at and B) them overcoming the two very large hurdles of lack of political and economic will to make tough decisions. For all the faults of larger systems, the amount of power they possess and therefore the amount of potential they hold shouldn't be ignored. Ideally speaking tackling environmental issues should be just as much top down as it is bottom up.

I think though, if I had to say what I find disappointing, is that McKibben did so much research on what went wrong and what we're doing wrong, and only a little bit of research on what we're doing right. He really hit home on sustainable agriculture and sustainable energy, but there's still so much more out there that we're doing, because everyday there are people out there doing absolutely amazing and inspiring work. If he took the amount of attention and focus on what he did talk about and made maybe just one or two more chapters to discuss things like restoration ecology and such, I think his book would go from interesting and compelling to mind blowing and inspiring.

All in all though, it's a great book and one I'd really recommend to pretty much anyone on here. Chances are, you'll take something away from it. It obviously spoke to me, because I felt like writing about it.


rd95:

WanderingEng, here are some little excerpts that stand out to me. Any thing italicized in the quotes is italicized in the book.

His philosophy on local power.

    In one sense, though, constructing a huge national green energy system is sort of like buying organic food at the supermarket; it's an improvement, in that the fields where it's grown aren't soaked in pesticides, but that produce is still traveling an enormous distance along vulnerable supply lines. And instead of building stronger local communities, the money you spend buying it just builds the bank accounts of a few huge firms.

Your question on feasibility and cost.

    In fact, in 2008 the Institute for Local Self-Reliance published a series of studies that showed half of all American states could meet their energy needs entirely within their borders, "and the vast majority could meet a significant percentage." Wind turbines and rooftop solar panels could provide 81 percent of New York's power, for instance, and almost two-thirds of Ohio's. But since North Dakota could provide 14,300 percent of its power needs, almost entirely from windmills, you might think the most logical course would be to simply concentrate on building turbines near Fargo and then ship the energy to Akron and Dayton; after all, it's 30 percent cheaper to spin those blades in the Dakotas than in Ohio. But it turns out the math is more complicated. For on thing, the new transmission lines necessary to carry that wind power east would run at least $100 billion. The institutes analysis found that once you factor in the cost of building the transmission lines, and subtract for the amount of electricity that's lost by sending it long-distance, the cost to Ohio consumers would be "fifteen percent higher than local generation with minimal transmission upgrades."

A compelling statement on Farmers' Markets

    Eliminating all the middlemen that take most of the agricultural dollar would keep prices affordable. By some estimates, seventy-five cents of every dollar spent on supermarket food covers the cost of advertising, packaging, long-distance transport, and storage; at a farmers' market, by contrast, 95 percent of the price goes to the farmer growing the food. For poor people, the price is particularly right; since inner-city supermarkets typically charge a third more than suburban ones, and since the produce on the bodega shelf usually defines wilted, urban farmers' markets allow what one story called "ready access to wholesome and cheap food." When such a market is nearby, the consumption of fruit and vegetables increase, and recent immigrants are often the most enthusiastic customers (perhaps because they can remember what actual food tastes like). They also save money because the food's fresher: a local vegetable "might last a week in the fridge, whereas one that'd traveled might last only two days, since it's aged" says the Tufts University analyst Hugh Joseph. Since one out of four fruits and vegetables never makes it to the table because it spoils, that adds up."

This is in the very beginning of the previous chapter, but here's the bit that he said that reminds me of Steady State Economics

    We lack the vocabulary and the metaphors we need for life on a different scale. We're so used to growth that we can't imagine the alternatives; at best we embrace the squishy sustainable, with its implied claim that we can keep on as before. So here are my candidates for words that may help us think usefully about the future.

    Durable. Sturdy. Stable. Hardy. Robust.

    These are squat, solid, stout words. They conjure a world where we no longer grow by leaps and bounds, but where we hunker down, where we dig in. They are words that we associate with maturity, not youth; with steadiness, not flash. They aren't exciting, but they are comforting - think husband, not boyfriend.

Like I said, it's a really interesting book and he has a lot of ideas, many of them pretty exciting. I think there are a lot of points he brings up where, if this were a conversation in a living room, people with different experiences or knowledge bases could lean in and say things like "Yes, but blah blah blah" or "We should also keep in mind blah blah blah." Which, if I'm being completely honest, would be great. Can you imagine how awesome it would be if McKibben popped up on Hubski and you and kleinbl00 and me and whoever else was interested and really got into a dynamic conversation? It'd be awesome.

Overall though, he has a philosophy, he embraces it and can bring up a lot of points to support it. He does an amazing job painting a picture and while he might not paint the picture you or I see, or he doesn't paint it the way you or I might paint a picture, it's still an easy picture to appreciate.


posted by rd95: 9 days ago