Falter – Book Review

We don’t have to falter.

In his latest book Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? Bill McKibben is asking us to get real, get to work, and to have hope.

As soon as I spotted Falter on the bookshelf at a Barnes & Noble in downtown San Luis Obispo, CA, I grabbed two copies and headed to the checkout counter without even looking at the table of contents or reading the book jacket.

One copy was for me and the other one was destined to become a raffle prize at the SLO Climate Coalition event my spouse and I attended later that evening.

At the time, I was already reading two books in preparation for a post called Environmental Impact of Sugar, so when we got home I put Falter on a bookcase shelf in the living room.

Book Review

A few weeks ago, I took Falter off the shelf to read it.

After reading the book jacket, I thought “Hmm…This seems rather dismal.” Then I flipped to the table of contents and saw that the book begins with a prologue entitled “An Opening Note on Hope.” So, I read that part.

“A writer doesn’t owe a reader hope—the only obligation is honesty—but I want those who pick up this volume to know that its author lives in a state of engagement, not despair. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have bothered writing what follows.”

Okay, now I was willing to dive in.

Falter Book Cover

Readers, in this book you will learn about and explore the climate crisis, genetic engineering, and artificial intelligence.

How do these three topics interconnect? Good question. Read the book.

Here are a few highlights.

Part One: The Size of the Board

This first section will give you a good sense of how the climate crisis is unfolding, not in some distant time, but now. You will also get a synopsis of how we got to this point.

“Climate change has become such a familiar term that we tend to read past it—it’s part of our mental furniture, like urban sprawl or gun violence. So, let’s remember exactly what we’ve been up to, because it should fill us with awe; it’s by far the biggest thing humans have ever done.”

On page 43-45, McKibben quotes parts of a poem by climate activists and poets Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner (Marshall Islands) and Aka Niviana (Greenland). I wanted to read the whole poem so I searched on the Internet and found this video. It is beautiful and heartrending speaking to the very essence of what is at stake.

Part Two: Leverage

Money and power provide leverage. This part of the book puts that maxim into the context of the climate crisis.

“The first thing to say is that current levels of inequality are almost beyond belief…The world’s eight richest men possess more wealth than the bottom half of humanity.”

McKibben devotes a fair amount of page real estate to Ayn Rand and her 1957 book Atlas Shrugged. He suggests that this book is required reading for the people who control the money and power in our country and around the world.

I was intrigued so I checked the book out of my local library. If you are interested in what I thought about that book, read the note at the end of the post.

Part Three: The Name of the Game

Genetic engineering and artificial intelligence enter the dialogue at this point. Here you will get a good overview of the topic as well as McKibben’s opinions.

“For our game, the real power of CRISPR comes with the ability to change people.” (CRISPR is a genetic engineering technology)

Part Four: An Outside Chance

Hope returns to the narrative in this section. McKibben points out that we already have the technologies and tools we need to address the climate crisis, like solar panels and nonviolent movements.

“Even in what seems like the very clinical world of environmentalism, mounds of research and data aren’t ultimately decisive: the fight over climate change is ultimately not an argument about infrared absorption in the atmosphere, but about power and money and justice. Given that industry has most of that money and hence most of that power, it usually wins—unless, of course, a movement arises, one capable of changing hearts as well as minds.”

The Bottom Line

Thirty years ago, Bill McKibben published The End of Nature which is often credited as being the first book about climate change intended for the general public. Since then, he has published 17 more books including Oil and Honey, Eaarth, and Radio Free Vermont (a delightful fiction book). McKibben is a prolific journalist, the co-founder of 350.org, and scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

McKibben’s choice to frame the discussion in Falter using game language and concepts seemed kind of weird to me but somehow it works. He writes as if he is having a conversation with you and explains technical stuff in a way I think many people could understand. I like that. I think it makes his work accessible to a wide audience.

I recommend Falter to any human wanting to continue playing the human game and who wants to protect the game board for their children, grandchildren, and the people who come after them.

A Note about Atlas Shrugged

I wanted to read Atlas Shrugged because I feel it is important to try to understand where people are coming from, especially people with different perspectives and beliefs than me. I also enjoy debate (as long it is friendly).

In short Atlas Shrugged is a fiction book written as a sort of treatise on libertarianism taken to the nth degree.

I slogged away until I got to page 291 (of more than 1,200 pages) and then I took the book back to the library. The subject matter was not a problem for me but the book is so poorly written I just could not go on.

Featured Image at Top: A hand flipping wooden cubes from the word “change” to “chance – photo credit iStock/marchmeena29.

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4th of July – Patriotism and the Environment

Protect the people and the land that you love.

As 4th of July Independence Day celebrations draw near, I find myself contemplating the intersection between patriotism and environmentalism.

At its most basic patriotism is love for one’s country.

What patriotism means to you, me, and every other American is deeply personal. To me, patriotism and environmentalism are complementary isms. I feel there is a strong connection between loving my country and protecting its people, land, water, air, and non-human denizens.

This post probably has its roots in 2012. I do not remember specifically what set me off (probably 4th of July sales), but I had reached a point where I could no longer stand being referred to as a consumer by the media and my own government. That year, I wrote a post entitled I am an American Citizen not just an American Consumer.

That post has led to other 4th of July posts exploring the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Statue of Liberty. By combining ideas from these three posts, I hope to illustrate my point that patriotism and environmentalism do intersect.

Declaration of Independence with a Green Twist

Every kid who goes to school in the United States studies the Declaration of Independence. I did, but it was a long time ago.

In honor of the 4th of July in 2013, I decided to reintroduce myself to the Declaration of Independence. After researching its history and reading the original Declaration of Independence, I created the green version below.

Declaration of Independence of 2013

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve corporations and laws that enable special interests to control our government and destroy our planet, we should declare the causes.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness, and a Habitable Planet.

We are not disposed to suffer evils any longer and require corporations and our government to change and serve the greater good or face extinction. We submit these reasons.

  • Corporations are allowed to pollute our land, air, and water.
  • Corporations make and sell products that harm people and the planet.
  • Corporations enable the wealthy few to become wealthier at our expense.
  • Corporations waste Earth’s resources and generate mountains of trash.
  • Corporations spend millions of dollars to finance political campaigns and elect politicians that will serve their interests, not ours.

We have appealed to our government to seek redress for our grievances but the government continues to allow these injustices to occur and in some cases actually abets them.

We mutually pledge to current and future Americans and other citizens of the world, that we’re not going to take it anymore.

We will use the freedom hard won by our nation’s founders to fight our oppressors with our actions, our voices, our smartphones, our wallets, and hopefully not our lives.

If you are interested, you can read a brief history of the Declaration of Independence in the post 4th of July – Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

11th Amendment to the Bill of Rights

Another year, I refreshed my knowledge of the Constitution of the United States and the events leading up to the Bill of Rights.

During my research, I discovered that 12 amendments had been proposed but the states only ratified 10. Therefore, the third amendment on the list became the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights guaranteeing the personal freedoms and rights of individual American citizens.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

In the post 4th of July – Be a Green Citizen, I provided a historical overview of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights as well as proposed an 11th amendment to the Bill of Rights (it would be the twenty-eight amendment to the Constitution).

Group of Kids Playing at a Park

The people have the right to a habitable planet with clean air, clean water, fresh food, and nontoxic places to live, study, work, explore, and play.

The Statue of Liberty and Diversity

In 2017, I was reflecting on what it means to be an American and urging readers to do the same.

That year, I looked into the history of the Statue of Liberty, which is recognized around the world as a symbol, perhaps the symbol, of freedom and democracy.

Statue of Liberty Holding Torch and Tablet of Law
The Statue of Liberty holding a torch and tablet of law – Photo Credit iStock/EG-Keith.

You can read about the Statue of Liberty in the post entitled 4th of July – What Does it Mean to be an American?

The beautiful and powerful sonnet below is engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus

Today, the United States of America is home to a wondrous mix of people all seeking freedom, opportunity, equality, liberty, independence, democracy, and a chance for happiness.

Diversity is strength.

Mother Nature believes this, too. The healthiest ecosystems are those with the most biodiversity where different plants and animals live together, sometimes competing, sometimes collaborating, but somehow managing to find a balance for the good of the overall community.

I believe it is going to take the entire kaleidoscope of American people all working together with other people around the world to grapple with the climate crisis and to learn how to live sustainably on Earth.

Let us live joyfully and in harmony with other people and the balance of nature, so that we can all flourish on Earth now and in the future.

Happy 4th of July!

Featured Image at Top: A pile of buttons with a U.S. flag background with the saying “Planet Earth First” – photo credit iStock/cbies

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