On December 24, 1968, while orbiting the moon aboard the Apollo 8 spacecraft, astronaut William Anders took one of history’s most famous photographs. As the ship rounded the grey, lifeless surface of our satellite, a pale blue-and-white dot appeared against the blackness of space; Anders picked up his camera and snapped its shutter. “Earthrise,” as the photo would come to be known, was the first widely published image of our planet taken from space. Never before had humanity seen such a view of our collective habitat.
But that planet no longer exists. In the forty-two years since “Earthrise” was taken, we have done so much damage to our home that, some say, we need a new name for it. Environmentalist, educator, and author Bill McKibben suggests “Eaarth,” which is the title of his new book. In 1989, McKibben published The End of Nature, a groundbreaking work in the study of climate change. More than a dozen books have followed, each with the unifying theme of coping with change. In 2007, he started the Step It Up program, which organized 1,400 simultaneous global warming demonstrations in all fifty US states. As a result of this action, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, then in the heat of their presidential campaigns, signed on to the group’s target of an 80 percent cut in carbon emissions by the year 2050.
In the wake of this success, McKibben helped launch 350.org, “an international campaign dedicated to building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis.” The group is founded on the notion that any level of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration above 350 parts per million is dangerous for all life on the planet. This only sounds like an obscure point of reference until you learn that the number currently stands at around 390 PPM and rising.
Eaarth is about living on this new planet that we have created for ourselves, and trying, perhaps in vain, to return to the one seen in “Earthrise.” I recently interviewed McKibben at Random House’s offices in Toronto. (more…)