This is an extract from a review by Graeme Gourlay in Geographical of Bill McKibben’s latest book, Falter: has the human game begun to play itself out?

In 1978, James F Black, one of Exxon’s senior scientists, told a group of company executives that by doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we would increase average global temperatures by two to three degrees Celsius.  He had already informed the same executives of the world’s largest oil company that there is a ‘general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.’

That secret internal briefing was circulated to the highest levels of the company more than ten years before the issues of climate change were widely understood. One of the first to alert the general public was Bill McKibben in his ground breaking book The End Of Nature, which became a global best-seller and clearly stated what the oil companies had already known for a long time – that fossil fuel extraction and use posed an existential threat to human life on this planet. Thirty years and dozens of books and decades of campaigning later, McKibben’s latest broadside is set to resonate equally powerfully.

Again, McKibben seems to have written the right book for the time.  The End of Nature became a clarion call for a generation of environmental campaigners. It was stark in its appraisal of the problems we faced but optimistic that we had the time and possibly the wit and wisdom to resolve them. In an interview with the LA Times, he confessed that at the time he and many others thought we had maybe a hundred years to set things right.

On a recent trip to Greenland, McKibben realised as he watched vast chunks of ice plunge into the sea, that the planet is now unravelling in front of us. He said: ‘Most people are more or less aware that something bad is happening.  I don’t think everyone is aware how quickly it’s happening.’

It is that sense of urgency which imbues Falter with a timely energy.  He spends the first half of the book setting out the problem in a fresh and, at times, deeply alarming manner. He starts with a warning that the prognosis is bleak, that despite being fully aware of the extent of the problems we have squandered opportunities, delayed and procrastinated and undoubtedly made things far, far worse.  …”


Falter is published in hardcover (291 pages) by Henry Holt and Co.  To read the rest of the Geographical review click on the link in the top line.

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