Bill McKibben, one of my personal heroes, has emerged as a world-wide advocate for ending the human species’ addiction to fossil fuels. With his groundbreaking book, The End of Nature, published in 1989, he became the first to point out to a general audience the dangers and hidden costs of our addiction. Now, almost 30 years later, McKibben has become a rockstar for the climate. He describes his schedule as “frenetic,” traveling (primarily by plane) to speak to groups, small and (mostly) large about the ways we, as a species, are fouling our nest. At rallies and protests he is relentless with the latest statistics and horrifying stories of a planet in serious trouble.
The End of Nature has a whole different tone. McKibben manages to include plenty of disturbing data…quite an accomplishment since scientific study of climate instability was in its infancy then. But the overall tone of the book is remarkable. quiet and poignant as McKibben reflects on his theme. Basically, he notes that while the American Dream of Wilderness and New Land has been long dead, our parallel Dream of Endless Economic Growth, fueled by endless fossil-based energy, is still going strong even as producing this energy becomes more and more problematic.
Building, maintaining, and expanding this parallel Dream has forever changed our world, specifically, our idea of Nature. In our selfishness, we have “blindly, crudely, but effectively rewritten the laws of nature," writes McKibben.
“If the sun is beating down on you, you will not have the comfort of saying, ‘Well, that’s Nature.’ Or if the sun feels sweet on the back of your neck, that’s fine but it isn’t Nature. A child born now will never know a natural summer or a natural autumn, winter or spring. Summer is going extinct, replaced by something else that will be called 'summer.' This new summer will retain some of its characteristics — it will be hotter than the rest of the year, for instance, and the time of year when crops grow — but it will not be summer, just as even the best prosthesis is not a leg.”
How pervasive these new laws will be is literally up in the air. We have changed the atmosphere so radically, and continue so relentlessly that the outlook is more than a little bleak.
Amyloid plaques and tau tangles are “rewriting the laws” in my brain every day and every night. No one knows when or why this rewrite began, but the outcome is less in doubt. As the Alzheimer's Association puts it, ”During this preclinical stage of Alzheimer's disease, people seem to be symptom-free, but toxic changes are taking place in the brain. Abnormal deposits of proteins form amyloid plaques and tau tangles throughout the brain, and once-healthy neurons stop functioning, lose connections with other neurons, and die.”
There is no known way to stop or slow down the progress of the disease, or to reverse any of the escalating damage to my brain neurons. The new laws are strict, if sometimes subtle. Simply said, I will be dealing with the effects of Alzheimer's every day until I stop breathing. As with The End of Nature, some of these are likely to be delicate and understated…shifts in my mind… Others, unmistakable, like hurricanes, sea level rise, nightmares and paranoia.
I have no idea how this will play out, but I plan on paying attention.