FALTER by Bill McKibben


Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
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The noted environmental activist reprises his proposals to save humanity.

For the past 30 years, McKibben (Environmental Studies/Middlebury Coll.; Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance, 2017, etc.), founder of the environmental activist organization 350.org, has been issuing urgent warnings about the consequences of climate change and the need to promote sustainable energy sources. In Enough (2003), he added to his concerns genetic engineering and artificial intelligence, which he sees as posing dire threats to humanity. Ticked off by “a dozen high profile books devoted to the idea that everything in the world is steadily improving”—notably Enlightenment Now (2018), in which Steve Pinker demonstrated his “trademark perkiness”—McKibben underscores his arguments and proposes cautiously hopeful solutions. He blames the fossil fuel industry, headed by greedy energy moguls such as the Koch brothers and Exxon executives, for impeding reforms that could stave off disaster. Offering ample evidence of the damage caused by climate change, the author feels certain that people around the world “are not just highly concerned about global warming, but also willing to pay a price to solve it” by seeing their energy bills rise, with the money spent on clean energy programs. He cites a study that concludes that “every major nation on earth could be supplying 80 percent of its power from renewables by 2030.” McKibben is less persuasive in his analyses of the threats of artificial intelligence and gene editing, mainly because he gleans his information from newspaper and popular magazine articles rather than peer-reviewed scientific studies that would give his assertions more weight. Against both technologies, he recommends nonviolent resistance. Although open to the idea that new jobs will emerge when robots replace people for much work—solar panels can be installed only by humans, for example—he would like us all to take it slowly. Similarly, we need to resist gene-editing technology. While now such techniques can repair or eliminate genetically caused disease, he sees, in a dystopian future, the creation of designer babies.

A compelling call for change that would benefit from stronger sources.

Pub Date: April 16th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-250-17826-8
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2019


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