Tag: al gore

Review: American Earth by Bill McKibben

american-earth“In wildness is the preservation of the world,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in his groundbreaking book, Walden.   With Thoreau as a starting point, Bill McKibben has assembled the finest, most comprehensive anthology of American environmental writing one could hope to find.  The combined work of 101 authors, running almost 1,000 pages, American Earth chronicles the changing landscape of environmentalism from Thoreau to Teddy Roosevelt to Al Gore, with 98 more thrown in for good measure.

This one volume provides a rich orientation to the world of environmental writing which McKibben contends is “America’s single most distinctive contribution to the world’s literature.”  If Walden is the book everyone claims to revere but few have actually read, American Earth offers an accessible door into not only Walden, but 100 more works of significance in the annals of environmentalism.  McKibben, himself the groundbreaking author of The End of Nature, the first account of global warming’s consequences, selects each author with the care of a conductor assembling a fine orchestra.  Some voices speak of spiritual bonds connecting humankind and nature, others tell true stories of real ecological tragedies, and some are historical markers along the environmental movement’s journey from the fringes into mainstream America.

McKibben calls upon Thoreau to set the stage for this anthology — “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover I had not lived.”    He continues with the likes of Walt Whitman, P. T. Barnum (raging against billboards), and features the classic writing of John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club.  

His list of contributors ranges from the designer of Central Park in NYC (Frederick Law Olmsted), to an  American author and journalist (Theodore Dreiser), to another writer of the depression (John Steinbeck).  Books you may have read are excerpted, such as Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities; and, Rachel Carson’s, Silent Spring, the classic that influenced Al Gore and resulted in a ban on DDT.

You will not agree with all the pieces included.  Lynn White’s essay, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” lays the blame (in 1967) for the environmental problems of the US on the Christian worldview.  Or, at least the popular Christian worldview that saw the world as man’s plaything, to use or use up as he chose.  White concludes his essay with the life of St. Francis of Assisi, and nominates Francis as patron saint of environmentalists because of Francis’ teaching on humility and his love for all of God’s creation.  The activist Cesar Chavez is also included, but on the lighter side is Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” which was set to the tune of an old Baptist hymn, When The World’s on Fire — more appropriate than even Guthrie might have thought when he chose it.    

If you want to get up to speed in Environmentalism 101, McKibben’s American Earth is the book you need.  A comprehensive survey of literature on environmentalism, the book contains scores of great quotes, real life stories, like The Fog by Berton Roueche’, and contemporary voices like Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver.  My newly discovered friend, Wendell Berry, is included, as are all of the other great names in the movement — the Nearings, Buckminster Fuller, Scott Russell Sanders, Al Gore, and Paul Hawken, plus many more.  

At  the list price of $40 the book is a great value both for its scope and breadth.  American Earth is even less — about $25 — from Amazon and other discounters, which makes it that much more of a bargain.  I have several of the books referenced by McKibben, including his Deep Economy, and a comparable library would run hundreds of dollars.  You’ll find yourself doing what I have done — pulling out American Earth to read another essay or chapter or poem in America’s great chronicle of all things environmental.

Church at the end of oil and other crises

Last November, I posed the question, “If gas hits $4/gal, what will your church do?” We are beyond $4/gallon gas now, and the future looks different than we ever thought it would just a couple of years back. But, there are other crises which will affect churches in the next few years:

  1. The gap in moving from oil to other fuels. The buzz is already out there about electric cars. T. Boone Pickens and Al Gore have both challenged America with their visions of an alternative energy future. Talk about $12-$15/gallon gas is getting serious airtime, and no one is predicting a drop in oil prices. In the transition from oil to other fuels, transportation will change from private cars to public conveyance. The entire automobile culture that we have known in America will slowly and painfully be reformed to meet new energy challenges. How will congregants get to church in the future?
  2. Increasing electricity costs. Google “rising electricity costs” and you find articles like this one predicting that electricity costs will double in 5 years. Why? Increasing demand as we move away from oil. Electric cars will only add to the demand, straining an already over-burdened power grid that is in serious need of upgrading. Imagine that the electric bill for your church, and each family in your church, doubles in 5 years. How do you cope?
  3. Rising food costs. Accompanying rising gas prices — and increasing scarcity — and rising electricity costs are rising food prices. Riots have broken out in developing countries this year over the price of staples such as rice. According to Paul Roberts, author of The End of Food, the entire food industry is facing a crisis of quality, nutrition, and cost. Roberts might be easy to ignore as “Chicken Little” alarmist, but he’s also the author of the 2004 book The End of Oil which predicted the current oil crisis. We might want to pay attention to what he says about food.
  4. Scarcity of water. If you think it’s not possible for America to run out of water, talk to the residents of Atlanta where last year Lake Lanier dried up to record lows.
  5. Economic/financial institutional uncertainty. The federal government’s “bail outs” of investment banks, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, plus the falling dollar, the increasing national debt, the war in Iraq, low consumer confidence, and the continuing subprime mortgage crisis have converged to create an atmosphere of uncertainty. The next couple of years will not be business as usual for any institution, churches included.

The implications for the future of churches are great if only one of these crises matures. But, if all continue to move toward more critical levels, then churches will have to rethink standard operating procedures. Implications include:

  1. More family income spent on basics. Food, housing, utilities, and transportation costs are all basics. If families have to spend more on these items, they will have less to spend on other things, church and charitable gifts included.
  2. Increased building operating costs. If electricity doubles, and natural gas and heating oil prices double, the costs to maintain and operate church buildings will displace staff, program, and missions expenditures.
  3. Rising unemployment or underemployment. Churches will be faced with more families needing help than ever before.

Experts are predicting these scenarios in the next few years. More tomorrow on what churches can do to transition to effective ministry as these crises unfold.