Bill McKibben, eaarth

As part of the Reading Series, Bill McKibben’s new book, eaarth was launched to a sold out crowd at U of T Bookstore 

Bill McKibben's, eaarth

 last night.  Margaret Atwood had a conversation on stage with him.  There are only about a dozen books left in the store today – I think almost everyone bought one. 

Before the event started a man ran into the store and desperately wanted to purchase McKibben’s book because he had heard him speak on CFRB and Canada AM earlier that day.  We asked him if he’d like to leave it with us and we’d have it signed for him, but he said, “No, I just really need to read it”.  Need.  

Need indeed. 

All of us need to read Bill McKibben’s book, eaarth.  It’s written for a general audience (meaning, while it’s full of facts it doesn’t read like an essay, technical journal or a manual).  In fact, it’s dripping with sarcasm, with ideas never thought of – such as the impact the environment has on the psyches of war torn countries and sooo, so much more.  eaarth is not about changing our light bulbs – it’s bigger than that, it’s about needing to ask governments to change environmental legislation and not renege. 

Well, I needed to read it before the event yesterday.  I was the MC for the night.  I raced through Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and The Year of The Flood – they were great reads, as we usually come to expect from Margaret Atwood.  I read the advanced reading copy of eaarth last.  I have to admit the reason I had read it last was that I thought it was going to be a daunting affair, that my brain, being more artsy than science-based, wouldn’t be able to fully comprehend, that I’d have to sit beside my computer to look stuff-up. I knew Bill had a huge following and that he was the top dog at www.350.org, but I thought the book would be about proverbial “flux capacitors.”    

Well, as fate would have it – I needed to read that book.  It was a great read, chocked with things that have made me see the world around us a lot and I mean a lot differently. I was absorbed in the book, like a child full of wonder.  The week before I read eaarth, I wouldn’t have thought twice about the weather in Toronto, last week.  Now I think, last weekend I wore shorts, during the week I carried an umbrella for three days rain and then yesterday, the day environmentalist, Bill McKibben was in the store it snowed.  The “creative” side of my brain couldn’t have thought up that type of punctuation to begin my intro on stage when he covers things like that in his book. 

Previously, I skimmed through the “environment-type” issues in The Metro, on my commute in to Toronto on the Go Train.  There seems to be information overload on environmental stories, like health stories – what to eat, what to do, what not to do, wine is good for you, wine is bad for you type stories.  Last week, on one day in the paper there were two big environmental issues… 

“The death toll hits 100 in Brazil from rains and mud slides – the heaviest deluge on record.  In our own Toronto city, Grassy Narrow, residents came 1800 kilometres to march in front of the legislature because, and I quote, “the water has stopped flowing in a clean way and it has become our poison.  Mercury poisoning in the First Nation is worse than in the late 60s, early 70s when a paper mill dumped the equivalent of 9-thousand kilograms of mercury into the Wabogoon River.  McKibben’s book speaks to what big business has done in regards to mercury and how it affects the planet as we know it. 

I’m not saying I would have not read the stories in the paper – I like to keep up on current events.  What I am saying is how reading one book, that I needed to read for work, changed my thoughts.  Look what we’ve done to our world.  Global warming does exist and those 100 people in Brazil may be alive today if we didn’t have more rain.  Grassy Narrow residents are fighting for what we in Toronto take as fact…we turn on the tap and clean water comes out. We did this, government policy did this. 

I needed to read this book, I needed to see the world differently – I needed to change.

Desert Island Picks

Surviving ParadiseI’ll start by saying that I’ve never been on the ocean, nor over it–I’ve waded into it, but I don’t think that really counts.  On top of that, I’m actually afraid of the idea of the ocean; I’m not a great swimmer, and the idea of hundreds of metres of water between me and the bottom scares the daylights out of me.  So it’s maybe surprising that I really enjoy books about remote islands–the remoter the better.  I have a dream of visiting Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, and read a great book this year (Curious Little World by Rex Bartlett) about a Canadian couple who went my dream one better and actually moved to Saint Helena from Winnipeg.

Peter Rudiak-Gould, author of Surviving Paradise: One Year on a Disappearing Island, had an entirely different motive when he moved to Ujae in the Marshall Islands, situated halfway between the Philippines and Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.  He went to teach English for a year on this remote island in a remote archipelago which is a protectorate of the United States.  As the only foreigner on an island whose nearest neighbour is 30 miles away, Rudiak-Gould faced special challenges.

The author was only twenty-one when he landed on Ujae for the first time, committed to spending a year there teaching English to students in one of the worst schools in one of the worst educational systems in the entire Pacific.  He not only faced the challenges of teaching children who were largely unmotivated, but parents who didn’t seem to care that much about education either.  Outside of school, he faced a culture very different from his own, seeming to treat its children with a disregard that was shocking to him.  It was far removed from the tropical paradise he had imagined when he signed up to teach there, and the language barrier, food, lodgings, and climate all challenge him greatly.

Rudiak-Gould writes well–passionately and intellectually–about his experiences and frustrations, and comes to understand his new home to a degree which seemed impossible at the start, although ultimately he realizes the island and its culture are too different from his own for him to become truly at-home there.  Like the best travel literature, Surviving Paradise teaches us as much about our own culture as about the foreign culture within which the book immerses us.