Issue Date: November 16, 2007
A durable future
By THOMAS C. FOX
In our runaway economy, “more” no longer means “better,” says Bill McKibben, an American environmentalist who frequently writes about global warming. Beginning in the summer of 2006, he organized the largest demonstrations against global warming in American history.
McKibben grew up in Lexington, Mass. Immediately after college, he joined The New Yorker magazine as a staff writer, and wrote much of the Talk of the Town column from 1982 to early 1987. Eventually he left the magazine and moved to the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York.
His first book, The End of Nature, was published in 1989 after being serialized in The New Yorker. It is regarded as the first book for a general audience about climate change and has been printed in more than 20 languages. Several editions have come out in the United States, including an updated version published in 2006.
His most recent book is Deep Economy: the Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, about the negative consequences of our growth-oriented economy. His organization, Step It Up (www.stepitup2007.org), sponsors a yearly national climate day of action. The most recent was on Nov. 3.
NCR interviewed McKibben for a podcast. To listen to the podcast, go to www.ncrcafe.org.
NCR: Youve written 10 books in the past 17 years, by my
count. In each of them I find a message that humans have gone too far and need
to take a new direction, together with a strong reverence for
Were in dire straits. James Hansen, the nations foremost government climatologist who works with NASA, said recently we probably have 10 years in which to begin serious efforts at putting less carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. That means gearing up now to make the most ambitious changes weve ever had to make in our economy, and in our personal habits. Its going to be difficult; much of the world is using more fossil fuel all the time. Its a test for human beings, and hopefully not a final exam.
For the first time in human history more is no longer synonymous with better.
A recent sampling of Forbes magazines richest Americans showed they have identical happiness scores with Pennsylvania Amish, and are only a whisker above Swedes taken as a whole, not to mention the Masai hunters in Africa.
As we got more affluent, we lost a lot of our social connections and communities. We moved to the suburbs, built big houses and filled them with screens to stare into. Its no wonder the average American has half as many close friends as 50 years ago.
Whats your prescription for getting out of this
This concept is already blossoming around the world with striking results, from the burgeoning economies of India and China to the more mature societies of Europe and New England.
So the road map is both political and personal?
If we get enough moral passion behind this, like we did with the civil rights movement, then weve got a shot.
There is both a moralistic tone and a spiritual base to your writing.
What kinds of spiritual formation took place in your life?
The global climate change underway decisively violates the Gospel injunction to love our neighbors as ourselves. In fact, we are busy drowning our neighbors, making it impossible for them to farm croplands that are already marginal.
Its clear now that oil is going to be harder to get. As we begin to run out, its going to be tempting to use more coal. That will be hard for people in the southern Appalachians who watch their mountaintops cut off and flattened, and sad for the world, because burning coal produces even more carbon dioxide.
In the future people will want community and an economy that is less dependent on far-flung lines of supply, on the Pentagon managing Mideast politics, on food that is handled through huge concerns like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland. They will probably want more self-sufficient communities rich in human relationship. I dont know anyone who thinks they have enough community. Many know they have more than enough stuff.
In a country where storage lockers are the biggest growth industry, its obviously time to balance those scales.
Thomas C. Fox is NCR s former editor and publisher.
National Catholic Reporter, November 16, 2007
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