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The End of Nature

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Reissued on the tenth anniversary of its publication, this classic work on our environmental crisis features a new introduction by the author, reviewing both the progress and ground lost in the fight to save the earth.

This impassioned plea for radical and life-renewing change is today still considered a groundbreaking work in environmental studies. McKibben's argument that the survival of the globe is dependent on a fundamental, philosophical shift in the way we relate to nature is more relevant than ever. McKibben writes of our earth's environmental cataclysm, addressing such core issues as the greenhouse effect, acid rain, and the depletion of the ozone layer. His new introduction addresses some of the latest environmental issues that have risen during the 1990s. The book also includes an invaluable new appendix of facts and figures that surveys the progress of the environmental movement.

More than simply a handbook for survival or a doomsday catalog of scientific prediction, this classic, soulful lament on Nature is required reading for nature enthusiasts, activists, and concerned citizens alike.

195 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1989

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About the author

Bill McKibben

188 books706 followers
Bill McKibben is the author of Eaarth, The End of Nature, Deep Economy, Enough, Fight Global Warming Now, The Bill McKibben Reader, and numerous other books. He is the founder of the environmental organizations Step It Up and 350.org, and was among the first to warn of the dangers of global warming. In 2010 The Boston Globe called him "probably the nation's leading environmentalist," and Time magazine has called him "the world's best green journalist." He studied at Harvard, and started his writing career as a staff writer at The New Yorker. The End of Nature, his first book, was published in 1989 and was regarded as the first book on climate change for a general audience. He is a frequent contributor to magazines and newspapers including The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, Orion Magazine, Mother Jones, The New York Review of Books, Granta, Rolling Stone, and Outside. He has been awarded Guggenheim Fellowship and won the Lannan Prize for nonfiction writing in 2000. He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College and lives in Vermont with his wife, the writer Sue Halpern, and their daughter.

http://us.macmillan.com/author/billmc...

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 171 reviews
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.2k followers
December 28, 2019
I read parts of this book in 1989 when it came out, excerpted in various liberal and environmental magazines and in the NY Times. McKibben, one of the leading environmental writers of our time, wrote in The End of Nature a groundbreaking and powerful and angry book which I have now re-read in its entirety. Well, as you can guess from the title, it is not a hopeful little book about what you can do to contribute to saving the planet; it is, rather, a story documenting everything that happened because, having been warned of the coming environmental crisis already in the seventies, we have done almost nothing over twenty years to respond to what scientists continue to scream about.

Who is this "we" that I McKibben refers to? By "we" he means the West, and primarily the United States, corporations, the oil industry, politicians, who have taken the lead, of all the "developed" countries, in most resembling an ostrich (or is some more predatory and self-seeking animal?) on climate change. Things may in the last year seem to be slowly beginning to change, many countries are moving boldly to act, but in 1989 McKibben was already saying it was too late to retain any hope for continuing to embrace an idea resembling what we had thought was "nature" in, say, the early twentieth century. The dead bird on the cover says it all. Earth as we know it is dead, or soon will be, McKibben makes clear.

This is a newer edition of the book, produced 17 years later in 20o6, with a new preface to say things had--ten years ago now--only gotten worse, of course. I only read it to prepare to read one of his more recent books, Eaarth, which I have been told includes some hopeful pronouncements about the greater and louder global movement to save the planet, helped a little by the Obama administration. We'll see. I'm not optimistic about seeing a lot of McKibben optimism.

We know that the majority of Republicans in this country--the US--seem to believe (as if "belief" were something like a fact in the face of scientific evidence) that climate change is some kind of liberal, anti-business hoax. Almost no other country in the world has millions of people who (seem to?) think that everything is basically just fine, and science be damned. And how does this come about? Politicians--including most democratic politicians, are bought by the coal industry, and by Big Oil, just as they have been bought by Big Pharm and once were bought by Big Tobacco, and so on. I recall one of Reagan's first acts as President was dismantling Carter's solar panels: Solar panels, Reagan "reasoned," sends a bad message to the Oil Industry, on which we are so (suicidally) dependent, and still are.

Mid "review" rant alert: As I drove up to backpack over Labor Day weekend with my family on the south shore of Lake Superior, on the 43 miles of uninhabited Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, I heard Rush Limbaugh on the radio pontificate about the Hoax of Climate Change for an hour. It's just sunspots, a mild aberration, Rush says. Green house gases and the Ozone layer are just bull hockey the libtards have made up. Man did and does nothing bad, ever, to the planet, unless of course it's those commies, the Chinese, unless of course we need to borrow money from them then even they are okay; the point is that we need to Stay the Rapacious Course and continue to do as we have always done, using the planet's resources with wild abandon and no fear for the future. Progress, Bigger is Better, as always. Small is Beautiful by E. F. Schumacher was just a dream some of us had.

Because I listened to Rush, I also spent a couple hours doing something I never do, watching some Faux News, or State TV, the US's most watched source of television "news" which has, bought by Big Oil, that has never acknowledged there is any environmental crisis whatsoever. Both Fox News and Rush LOVE to hate Bill McKibben, no surprise. They excoriated him for this book and everything he has written since.

Trump has said he does not believe in climate change and he now appears the growing favorite to win the presidential election. When he wins, he says he will pull back on any (of the already tepid) commitments Obama made to finally work against climate change, pull out of the tepid Paris accords, and most of Trump's almost unanimous Republican supporters agree with that move, natch. Liberals and their anti-American, anti-progress conspiracies, haha. But even if Hillary wins, she is no environmental leader.

We are so screwed.

But I will read one more McKibben book in search of any hope to report here. If I can make a list of ten hopeful things I find there, I promise to share them.

McKibben did write this other book in 1995, which I haven't read, in response to the outcry that he hadn't been chipper enough, so if you wanna read only hopeful environmental books, here ya go:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...

As for me, I choose the narrow path of depressing realism. :)
Profile Image for Anna.
5 reviews1 follower
June 18, 2007
The great problem with this book was the way it approaches nature--namely that he wants to leave humans out of it. He seems more angry that we exist as a part of the world than interested in thinking of productive ways of dealing with the the concerns regarding the environment that we are facing.
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,734 reviews1,201 followers
May 13, 2007
This book presents the sobering idea that there is no longer such as thing as nature, because humans have caused such massive changes by their presence and behaviors; that humans have altered everything (including all forms of plant and animal life) on earth. I read the book when it was first published in hardback form, and it made immediate sense to me, unfortunately. I’ll never be able to look at “nature” in exactly the same way as I did, although I can still enjoy what there is of it, and feel even more motivated to protect what remains.
Profile Image for Kate.
649 reviews96 followers
December 6, 2007
Dragged myself through this puppy. It was a tough go, but I somehow felt it was the environmentally responsible thing to do. Basically he makes the point very forcefully that we really have paved paradise. Damn. I recommend putting away all sharp objects and hiding anything that can be used to hang yourself before reading this book. Dead bird on cover says it all.
Profile Image for Jessica DeWitt.
347 reviews69 followers
August 7, 2013
Firstly, I have to remark that I am an admirer of McKibben and his environmentalist work, particularly his participation as of late in stopping the Keystone XL pipeline. And the End of Nature does have some useful information and thought-provoking moments. I stand by and relate to McKibben's discussion of the inevitable hypocrisy of any modern-day environmentalist, the urgency of global warming, the disturbing possibilities that bio-engineering makes possible, the unfortunate dilemma of whether or not to bring a child into the world we live in, etc. However, I find the main premise of this book, "the end of nature," to be feeble and often contradicted within the very text of the book, particularly in his discussion of deep ecology.

McKibbon's declaration of the end of nature relies on three assumptions that I find to be incorrect. Firstly, it is based on the assumption that man is separate from nature. McKibben suggests that anyone who claims otherwise does not really believe it. I wholeheartedly disagree. The environmental mess that we find ourselves in today has been caused by this attitude; a denial that we are in fact just like any other animal, a part of nature. McKibben, in my opinion, places too much power in the hands of humanity. Humanity may think it can tame nature, but it can't, no matter how much scientific, techno-junk and theory we produce. McKibben's insistence on this point seems to stem largely from his Christian background which peppers the text and to which I hold no loyalty.

Secondly, (a point that it is tied to the first) McKibbon is working with a definition of wilderness that equates it to only that which has been untouched by the human hand. This definition of wilderness is illusory and not based in reality. One must look to nature everywhere, as Cronon discusses in Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. McKibben too easily casts aside the importance of the changes that humanity has been bringing upon the earth for thousands of years. To him, the only environmental change that has truly mattered is global warming, a change which he directly relates to white, western culture. He makes no reference to the changes that Native Americans and other similar populations around the world have been making to the environment for generations(such as Native Americans creating the Great Plains through the use of fire). However, to admit that these changes are significant would debunk McKibben's argument, because they would demonstrate that separating man from nature is impossible because man is a part of nature.

Lastly, McKibben seems to be working with a conception of nature as a static entity, something that has remained unchanged for as long as humanity can remember. Nature has ended, according to McKibben, because this static nature no longer exists. This, I would argue, is failed logic because nature is, has and always will be dynamic. McKibbon claims that "old nature" was "utterly dependable" and that "new nature" is unpredictable. This claim is ridiculous, nature has always been unpredictable. Nature is continuously evolving. McKibben's most important piece of evidence for his argument is the unpredictability and violence of weather under the influence of global warming. I, personally find this piece of evidence to be the strongest argument against McKibbon's "end of nature." Surely the violence of today's weather is a sign that nature is alive and reacting against man's actions, not bowing down and succumbing to man's supposed scientific superiority. Although the Gaia theory may not be entirely correct, I don't think it should be knocked down so readily. Nature will continue on in ways we cannot foresee long after humanity no longer exists.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,522 reviews5 followers
January 22, 2014
Read this one several years ago, but it's been much on my mind lately so I thought I'd put up my review. In 1988, a 19 year old me was living quite happily in a cloud of pot smoke in Orono, Maine. My roommate, a great guy we called Woody (because that's what he was) was waving a copy of this book around and explaining to me an idea he'd just learned about in one of his tree-hugger classes (he was a Forestry major) called 'the green house effect.' Apparently, Woody told me, mankind was releasing all of this CO2 into the atmosphere, which served to trap heat and would raise global temperatures enough to cause unpleasantness upon our planet. Twenty-six years ago, Woody told me I should read this book.

Woody now lives off the grid in Vermont with his wife and three kids. They use solar panels, they homeschool, and they pretty much live the Little House on the Prairie lifestyle that I so admire. About three years ago, I went to Vermont for the weekend and brought a copy of this book, which served as both an introduction to the work of Bill McKibben and a hat tip to my woodsy friend from long ago. I was reminded of this book, and of McKibben's rumination on the idea of nature (vs. actual nature) as I've been reading another book by Wendell Berry.

In any event, all of this was gelling together in my head this morning: Maine, greenhouse gases, nature, Woody, Bill McKibben, and Wendell Berry. So there you have it. It is a great book. I wish I had read it when I first saw it. I wish I had paid more attention to environmentalism when I had the time to get myself arrested at a protest, or live in a burrow with my hippy friends. Sadly, I am now firmly ensconced in the machine. Ah, youth. It truly is wasted on the young.
Profile Image for Carol Storm.
Author 28 books174 followers
February 26, 2018
Makes a lot of important points, but I could do without the holier-than-thou attitude and the constant undercurrent of hysteria. Oh, and this guy name drops the wild animals he runs into in the woods the way Donald Trump name drops the lingerie models he slept with in the Eighties.
Profile Image for Thomas Ray.
866 reviews302 followers
December 8, 2021
The End of Nature, Bill McKibben, 2006, 195pp., ISBN 0812976088, Dewey 304.28.


Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. --Joni Mitchell


xvii Michael Crichton did a lot of damage, giving fuel to climate-change deniers, with his /The State of Fear/, 2004.. https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/mi...

xviii Extreme weather events that were once seen as acts of God can now be seen as acts of humankind.

xxi A bipartisan effort to do nothing has been wildly successful. The Clinton-Gore administration oversaw the conversion of the American vehicle fleet from cars to semimilitary vehicles, with 15% more heat-trapping emissions. [If manufacturers build cars, they must meet high corporate-average fuel-economy standards. If they build vehicles on truck chassis, they need meet only low CAFE standards. In either case, to earn the right to sell a large, safe vehicle to a wealthy anti-environmentalist, they must sell a smaller, less-safe vehicle to a poorer person or to an environmentalist. Corporate-average fuel-economy standards began in 1975; they've been revised several times, but the above has always been true.]

xxii Our crusade, if we ever mount it, will be on behalf of a relatively-livable world: not on behalf of the world we were born into. There's no getting it back.

He wrote the introduction, above, in 2005. His 1989 book follows, with my updates from 2021 NASA, NOAA, & other websites.

4 Evolution has taken billions of years to create us from slime. [Progress? Or not?]

8-9 Scientists have known since the 1800s that increasing heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere, as we were even then doing, could dramatically warm Earth's atmosphere. They've known since 1957 that the ocean can absorb very little excess CO2.

11 From 800,000 years ago until WWII, atmospheric CO2 fluctuated between 175 ppm and 300 ppm.
https://climate.nasa.gov/climate_reso...
In 2021, it's 417 ppm. https://climate.nasa.gov/
The atmosphere has warmed 1.18 degree C, 1880 to 2021. Most of that change since 1975.
https://climate.nasa.gov/climate_reso...

15 Atmospheric methane concentration has increased from 1630 ppb in 1983 to 1995 ppb in 2021. In the past 160,000 years, levels fluctuated from 300 ppb to 700 ppb. The rate of increase has increased to 15 ppb per year.
https://gml.noaa.gov/ccgg/trends_ch4/
Due to melting permafrost, deliberate burning of Amazonia, rice paddies, cattle, termites, forest fires.
Methane (CH4) traps much more heat per unit weight or per molecule than CO2 traps.

16 Warmer air holds more water vapor, itself a potent greenhouse gas.

30 Heat, drought, storms, insects and fungi are killing forests.
Germany:
https://www.deutschland.de/en/topic/e...
United States:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/arti...
(The German file is a straight, "here are the facts." The U.S. researchers focus on themselves, to emphasize their value and their need for continued funding.)

35 The vision of underarm-deodorizing our way to destruction led to a U.S. ban on chlorofluorocarbons as aerosol propellant.

38 If ozone levels fall 20%, 2 hours in the sun will blister exposed skin.

39 The Roman Empire meant nothing to the Arctic or the Amazon. Now, we alter every inch of the globe.

42 William Bartram, U.S. naturalist of the late 1700s
https://www.goodreads.com/author/list...

44 George Catlin painted portraits of Native Americans
https://www.goodreads.com/author/list...

45 Bob Marshall, 1930s, nearly the last to see previously-unseen-by-humans places. https://www.goodreads.com/search?q=Bo...

49 Cattle graze 70% of Western federal land, producing 3% of America's beef. The leasing program doesn't pay for itself; it's tax-subsidized. The cattle destroy the natural plants and wildlife, and erode the soil. [And turn dry grassland to desert.]

54 Lynn Margulis, microbiologist, 1938-2011 https://www.goodreads.com/author/list...

59 Backcountry backpacking in national parks is in demand in 2021, in contrast to the author's observation in 1989: https://thebigoutside.com/10-tips-for...

60 In 1890, the American frontier closed, with the extirpation of the last free Native Americans. --Frederick Jackson Turner. https://www.goodreads.com/author/list...



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Profile Image for Ashley.
187 reviews5 followers
April 25, 2022
This is not an easy book to read. It's not that it's dense or overly technical. In fact, it's admirably brief and succinct. Closer to a long essay than a full-fledged nonfiction book. It's the experience of reading it that's so tough. The context of McKibben's classic is key--it was written in 1989 by a young man (28). So it was both prophetic and ahead of its time, while also being the work of a writer who had not yet reached maturity. (This latter point is acknowledged by McKibben in the introduction to this edition.) The first section of this book (The Present, containing "The New Atmosphere" and "The End of Nature") is probably the most emotionally difficult to read for anyone who thinks about climate, nature, and the future of this planet. It is stark in outlining what we've done, as carbon users, to the natural world around us. Along with climate change, McKibben spend a great deal of time on the ozone hole (remember that!?). At the time this book was published, this was of grave concern: like climate change, it had been a disaster caused by humans, and like climate change, it could have adverse effects. However, we know, reading this, that humans acted and these disasters were averted. But what sits with you is knowing that climate change cannot be solved in the same way. Its complexity, its maturity as a problem, its touches-every-living-thing character, and the unlikeliness that we will change any of the habits that created it makes is distressingly different from a hole in the ozone. So there's a weird irony to reading the book, along with the way it stimulates climate grief, shame, and hopelessness.

Know this going in: there's little to no hope in this book. And if McKibben had no hope in 1989, you can imagine how that reads now. Yes, some of the worst of the predictions have not yet come true by the time he thought they might, but as you look around you now, you can see that being off by a matter of a couple decades really matters little. Another area he explores is genetic engineering, something that I feel is a bit of a red herring, though we only recognize that now, all these years later. So McKibben's fear that we'll have robot rabbits in the forest or chicken farms consisting only of living chicken torsos were not realized and seem a little silly in retrospect.

I give this book four stars because of its importance in terms of being the first work of popular nonfiction to address climate change frankly. But in terms of the argument, I have many quibbles. I don't like the premise of "the end of Nature." I don't think it works. McKibben argues that because we have altered Nature, via many means but mainly through things like climate change, insidious chemicals in our air and soil, and (I'm adding this because it wasn't an issue in 1989 bus now) microplastics in our oceans, fish, the bodies of animals. So Nature is dead. Because it has interfaced with humanity and been altered by it, it no longer exists. And the reason it no longer exists, according to McKibben, is because it can no longer be separate. That is the premise of Nature to him--something wholly apart from us. I disagree with this idea entirely and consider it weirdly hubristic. That's because Nature cannot end. Nature can end us, and at the moment, it certainly looks like that's what it is justly trying to do. But at the same time, our strengths as a species also makes us uniquely poised to aid and help Nature. McKibben takes a very dark view of the efforts to set aside vast tracts of wilderness in the U.S.--in this book he says that it's a selfish motive, because the tracts were set aside so humans could enter them and experience solitude. I think that's reductionist and wrongheaded. There are countless people who agree with him that Nature should exist for its own sake, not just for what it can offer human beings in terms of resources (physical or emotional). But what I see in that is the possibilities in the human mind and in human hands to correct, to heal, to help. One example of this is in the efforts of a former Texas businessman to restore a degraded landscape (David Bamberger , video here ). Here is someone who took a natural environment that had been nearly killed by human beings, and restored it using the human ingenuity that caused its destruction in the first place.

McKibben quotes Walter Truett Anderson: "We find now that the human predicament is not quite so devoid of inherent purpose after all. To be caretakers of a planet, custodians of all its life forms and shapers of its (and our own) future is certainly purpose enough." McKibben ridicules this idea, saying it "depresses me more deeply than I can say." His argument is that by being custodians of what he calls a "managed world" we strip the mystery from the natural world. Yes, if we do this on some sort of sci-fi global scale, sure. But is this how he would characterize what David Bamberger is doing? What I'm doing with my own forest, growing trees from pinecones and seedlings and then transplanting them around my property in order to create shelter for my animal neighbors? Picking up a pinecone on a walk and then bringing it back to your yard and planting it--how is that any different than what a squirrel does with an acorn? What a bee does with pollen. Are squirrels and bees "custodians"? Yes, they are. Just like the many different animals that work within their ecosystem to propagate other species. That is management--that is custodianship. And I think that idea is a key to getting people to act. I found it interesting that McKibben, a religious man, found this idea so odious, when the Bible instructs human beings to be custodians of their world.

More and more I realize that it is that feeling of separateness from Nature that McKibben extols in this book that keeps people from doing anything about this looming catastrophe. If we could figure out a way to get people to understand that they are part of Nature, that we owe it to the natural world to try to restore it, to protect it, to love it so that we don't harm it, then maybe people would act. Maybe they wouldn't drain the marsh and build the enormous megamansion. Maybe they'd consider the electric car when their old car breaks down. So when McKibben says it would be better to adhere to Sartre's "neutral purposeless" than to caretake the planet, it falls flat for me. And that is what I mean when I say that this is not the work of a totally mature writer. And frankly, it made me angry because it felt like a very privileged world view.

That all being said, I suspect much of his ire about caretaking came from his concern about genetic engineering, a subject that distresses him and which did not seem to unfold in the ways he feared. I don't consider that caretaking Nature. And it's not a great fit in this book. I found it to be a distraction.

Whew. So anyway--this is written by someone who admires McKibben greatly, considers him a prophet of sorts, an important science communicator. I admire his willingness to tell us the uncomfortable truth. I've followed the way he's changed over time. One thing that hasn't changed is in the dire threat climate change poses to the world and the fact that we seem to be unwilling to change. We're going to follow this ship all the way down, aren't we? We'll take some of the natural world with us. But the natural world will survive us, even if we won't. It will shake us off, like the parasites we've become, and it will reinvent itself. There is the end of species, perhaps us, but there is no end of nature.
Profile Image for Marie Evanston.
39 reviews1 follower
September 17, 2020
This book was not what I was expecting. I was expecting it to be about the various ways humans are disrupting ecosystems, causing mass extinctions, polluting natural resources, and generally destroying the planet – the end of nature in this sense. There is some of this, certainly, but it’s not McKibbons main point. McKibbon defines “nature” in a different sense. (Thankfully, he makes this clear on page 5 of the text). He is talking about a certain idea of nature, a particular meaning which nature/natural places have to people. This idea holds that what is most essential and defining of nature is that it is separate from us. “Nature’s independence of us is its meaning; without it, there is nothing but us.” It is this loss, this “death”, which McKibbon argues for – convincingly, I think, since climate change leaves nothing untouched. However, I think McKibbon is worrying about the wrong thing.

It’s worth mentioning that I read The End of Nature after reading Braiding Sweetgrass, and the perspectives of Robin Wall Kimmerer informed my judgment of TEoN. In short, I do not think McKibbon’s definition of nature is a helpful one. In fact, I think that it is a symptom of a larger mindset which itself is the real problem. It is the mindset that humans and nature are fundamentally at odds, that the only way for nature to exist is to be pristine and untouched by humans. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly grounds for this idea in reality! Humans have done immeasurable and irreversible harm to the natural world. But my point is that this does not need to be the case; it is not an essential part of humanity that we are necessarily at odds with nature. Rather, the destruction of nature at human hands is based on a mindset that devalues nature, and this is based on a still deeper mindset that believes people and nature are fundamentally at odds. It is this idea of separateness that leads humans to believe that we owe nature nothing, that at worst we need to conquer nature, and at best we can use nature for our own purposes. But of course this mindset is not inherent to human nature; it is cultural, and therefore changeable. It is this mindset which needs to be changed. Ultimately, I think our goal should not be mourning the loss of a nature which is separate from and untainted by people; our goal should be to realize that humans and nature were never really separate in the first place, that we need each other, and that our relationship can be harmonious and mutually enriching. It is this relationship which needs fixing, and the idea that nature is “separate” from humans is a symptom of this broken relationship.

McKibbon begins chapter 2 (also called “The End of Nature”) by describing how modern notions of nature (in his sense of the word) were informed by the experience of the American frontier as a pristine, unblemished land. Already, we can see his definition of “nature” unravelling. The America Europeans found was surely more “pristine” than it is today, but it was not because there weren’t any humans there to ruin it – there were people there! The relevant difference was not the presence or absence of people, but how the people related to and treated the land. In other words, the American wilderness was still “wild”, still “natural”, not because no one had touched it, but because they had touched it gently. McKibbons talks about European explorers feeling (emphasis on “feeling”) like they were the first to see American lands, and the particular joy that came from seeing truly “wild” land. Again, this reveals the mindset that any contact with humans is inherently corrupting. All we have to do is once again remember that there were in fact people living in America to realize that this mindset is false. The land was “wild” not because it has been separate from humans, but because humans had a particular relationship with it.

With all this said, of course climate change is a category all its own. None of what I am saying is denying the damage we have done, or the scale on which we have done it. My point is rather that I think part of the solution will be changing how we relate to nature, and this fundamentally involves realizing that we are not separate from nature. And climate change demonstrates this better than anything. Everything we do has an impact.

I do understand, at least partly, why McKibbons mourns the idea of “nature” in his sense of the term. There is something humbling, even sublime, about experiencing raw forces of nature, and knowing that these are forces that you cannot control, forces which you can only be swept up in. But recognizing that we are always intertwined with nature does not need to undermine this. After all, part of being in a relationship means that you are not totally in control. (And certainly, we are not totally in control of climate change! We have impacted the earth, but we are still at her mercy.) Recognizing the reciprocity of humans and nature, and being more actively and consciously involved in that reciprocity, can be richly rewarding. Climate change forces us to recognize the reciprocity, to be involved with nature in this way, and it forces us to confront the fact that we were never really separate in the first place.
Profile Image for Camille.
15 reviews1 follower
April 8, 2017
This book holds a lot of truth and McKibben's argument is convincing and strong, and thus it may be the most depressing book I've ever read.
Profile Image for Ian Robertson.
82 reviews29 followers
August 13, 2017
Bill McKibben has become a force in the environmental movement through his writing and his leadership at the climate change advocacy and activism organization ‘350.org’. His first book, The End of Nature, is an important call to action to combat climate change, and a natural successor to Rachel Carson’s seminal book, Silent Spring, which focused more narrowly on the impact of pesticides on the environment. McKibben’s book is, given the additional twenty years of environmental impact studies and the emerging understanding of human caused climate change, appropriately broader in scope than is Carson’s. It is also, given its broad scope based upon emerging science, a less focused and more aspirational call to action than Carson’s pesticide-based alarm bell.

For example, when the book was first published there still existed scientific debate about whether the climate was warming or cooling, and though McKibben gives space to both points of view, distilling the key points from reputable scientific bodies (NASA, NOAA, various universities) he leans towards the warming trend. We know now that climate change is a more apt description than global warming, because the latter implies to most that it will be a gradual increase with similar impact everywhere - consistent with McKibben's linear examples - and not the unpredictable and variable impact we are currently experiencing.  (For example, due to oceanic and atmospheric patterns, sea level increases have been shown to be localized and much larger around Florida and the Carolinas than in many other areas).

Despite his caution that the subject is complex, and that the outcomes are wildly uncertain, McKibben nonetheless resorts often to simple cause and effect examples, such as "The ocean rises; I build a wall; the marsh dies, and, with it, the fish."  In fact, McKibben does this so often that The End of Nature at times almost verges on speculative fiction, something better left to Margaret Atwood (see for example, The Handmaid’s Tale).

Written 30 years ago, the book is also a bit dated in its examples, and in its repeated references to nuclear weapons - a threat which hasn't diminished (perhaps even increased with the rise of certain rogue states), but which has generally shifted from an awestruck horror to a grudging acceptance within society.  Still, though they are dated, the nuclear references are natural and appropriate comparators to our potential destruction of nature.  And on another front McKibben is ahead of the curve warning that our prolific genetic engineering is a looming, additional End of Nature.

There are many biblical references in book, which is a bit surprising for a secular subject and a pluralistic audience, though perhaps that's just a sign of the book's age.  The effect is a subtle yearning for a lost era – not just for when our environmental footprint didn’t loom so large, but also for when a Western European ethos ruled in America.

The quibbles noted above are minor, though, and can be forgiven as the message McKibben delivers has only become more important over the past 30 years. The End of Nature is an important call to action from an important environmental figure. It should be read today by all with an interest in the environmental movement and the signature works that have helped advance the cause.
Profile Image for Dillon.
24 reviews2 followers
January 23, 2021
A good book that clearly explains our understanding of the climate crisis in 1989. McKibben's thesis is that all natural phenomena, climate and the weather, have been tainted by the work of man and we no longer live in a completely unaltered natural state. It is also supposedly the first work that sought to explain the greenhouse effect and anthropogenic climate change to a general audience. I found it interesting to get an overview of what people at the time generally thought, what leaders thought, where the research was at, and what the modelling was predicting. For a short book it does this well. It was also a good reminder of how little we have come in 30 years (if you really want to spiral into despair a good contemporary companion piece would be David Wallace-Wells' The Uninhabitable Earth).

I chose to read this book after McKibben came to speak in one of my classes (virtually). I subscribe to his newsletter, but I had not read any of his books nor heard him speak at length. He spoke much like he writes: condensing large complicated topics into plain English while inserting small jokes and pithy wisdom. He told our class that most of the time it is better to "screw in the senator before you screw in the light bulb." In an email or listening to him speak it is entertaining, but by halfway through this book I just found it tiring.

Nonetheless, it was interesting to read some of McKibben's earliest work and compare it to where he is now. In The End of Nature his tone is neutral to disappointed, but not quite admonishing. He also ends the book on a pretty positive note. Yet, in class he was pretty blunt in his assessment of where we are as a society. Which was disappointed, to say the least. When asked how he deals with despair, he responded that he tries not to ruminate for long and then continues to plot the downfall of Big Oil and their financial backers. I would like to read one or two of his more recent books to see how this anger comes through at length.

If you desire to dive deeper into the the canon of environmental writing or even just McKibben's personal work, the book is worth reading. However, if you want a book that gives a more up-to-date assessment of the climate crisis I would check out the Wallace-Wells' (mentioned above) or just look elsewhere. Ones on my list for the year include: Merchants of Doubt, Rising, Don't Even Think About It, & Windfall.
Profile Image for Rashi Gupta.
5 reviews1 follower
July 22, 2020
This book combines extraordinary level of scientific detail with hints of philosophy. It tries to make the man of 2005 see reason and the future of his actions detailing how one cannot postpone taking radical decisions in context of nature to their future gens.

Reading this book in 2020 hits differently - an year which is a constant reminder of wrath of nature with pandemic, wildfires, floods, droughts and what not. It allures me to imagine indigenous, unadulterated forests of the past and details how we have left our imprint now on every inch of it. I could not help gazing out of my window every now and then, wondering if the trees and birds outside were sick and the polluted rain making them sicker.

The book however is based on the experiences of US and UK and the "we" therefore is a Western man.
Profile Image for Aurélien Thomas.
Author 9 books101 followers
December 31, 2019
We have by now pumped out so much toxic gases into the atmosphere that a significant increase in temperature and its effect upon 'Nature' is inevitable.

And?

Published in 1990, this book is interesting for more than a reason. First, written at a time when climate change and its expected dramatic consequences were not as mediatised as now, you have to salute the author for its foresight: he here predicts all the toxic effects to come of our industrial societies; effects that we can clearly see all around (unpredictable and dangerous weather, natural catastrophes not only multiplying themselves but being more and more intense, increase in some medical conditions -allergies, asthmas, cancers...). Then, and most importantly, because he advances here an original and striking theory: we have in fact affected our environment in such a dramatic way, that the concept of 'nature' itself as we knew it will be on its way out.

Indeed, if our ancestor defined nature as 'savage', 'wild', 'virgin', in a word free from the interferences of human civilisation, for younger generations and the ones that will follow such concepts will be meaningless and anything but true. Echoing Rachel Carson who had made the point before him, he is here stating the now well-acknowledged fact that even in the most remote corners of the globe the impact of human activities can be deeply felt - you don't need to have human beings actually living in those parts for their ecosystems to be out of balance. So much, then, for 'wild' and 'virgin'!

Now, being of a different generation, he, of course, regrets such redefining and loss. Well... I personally confess, though, to have found him here uselessly dabbling with rampant sentimentalism (maybe readers of my generation or being younger will have the same attitude as mine?). Who cares indeed for a Walden-type of life? I don't.

I don't, yet it doesn't mean his argument is irrelevant to me. In fact, as always when concepts are being redefined, the consequences can be massive, and in that case they talk to us all.

'Nature' is indeed more than a word, and as a metamorphosing idea it brings to the fore a few questions we will all have to face. Natural 'cycles' becoming more and more meaningless, then how are we are going to cope? What will be the impact of a weather now being so deregulated that it has turned unreliable; for example on agriculture? The author strikes here another chord: like it or not, most of the solutions will be brought about by science and technologies... and it thus close his point very nicely by nailing it even further! Our reliance on science and technologies will indeed makes what is perceived as 'natural' even more obsolete too (don't we see this increasingly happening with our food?).

Here's a fascinating read. Yes, I was a tat annoyed by his over-sentimentalism and nostalgic outlook towards a past now way gone. He certainly is right about climate change and the fact that nature has been affected beyond repair, but then it's time to get on with it! Being sorrowful should no longer be on the agendas. Yet, and this is what makes it such a necessary read, this is not a condemnation or an indictment. Here's just a statement of fact: as a result of climate change, the concept of 'nature' itself is changing, and such a change has consequences on how we should deal with our environment. You could be excused to have questioned him thirty years ago; but, now, such rethinking has become quite urgent and necessary.

Here's an interesting and insightful argument.
Profile Image for Richard Reese.
Author 3 books151 followers
April 14, 2015
Long, long ago, in scorching-hot 1988, Bill McKibben was busy writing The End of Nature, a book that cranked up the global warming warning sirens. It was the first climate change book written for non-scientists, and it was a smash hit. It makes an eloquent effort to convince those entranced by the dominant culture to radically change their thinking and lifestyles, this week if possible, because the biosphere is more damaged than we think. It’s about living with great care, fully present in reality, and pursuing the healing sanity of voluntary self-restraint.

The root issue is that human cleverness has succeeded in creating so many brilliant ideas that we’re blindsiding nature. This does not mean we’re eliminating all life on Earth. It means that humankind has spawned powerful cultures that no longer blend in smoothly with the rest of the family of life. The biosphere can no longer run on autopilot, because humans are fooling around in the control room and, despite good intentions, are piling up an impressive collection of devastating misjudgments.

If we look at the world of 500 years ago, we can observe a number of blotches resulting from human activities, but the atmosphere remained fairly close to its original condition, as did the oceans, and much of the planet’s land surface. The seas were loaded with fish, and millions of bison thundered across North America. Overall, the world largely remained the domain of Big Mama Nature. It was able to shake off the punches from human activities.

In the last 200 years or so, this has changed. Human cleverness is now capable of causing disturbances that are global in scale. These include DDT, ozone holes, radiation, acid rain, and an unstable climate. The dominant culture is discharging pollutants that affect the biosphere everywhere. Humankind has (temporarily) forced nature out of the pilot’s seat. This is what is meant by “the end of nature.” Legions of radicalized consumers are now vigorously rocking the boat, to a degree that exceeds nature’s ability to compensate and maintain balance.

In recent decades, our techno-juggernaut has invented a new and improved way of suppressing nature, genetic engineering. This represents an enormous advance in our mistake-making talents. By fooling around with gene splicing, we are beginning to interfere with evolution’s autopilot. Highly specialized mistake makers have pushed us beyond the amateur level of mere biosphere destroyers. They now strive to control the future of the family of life, by fooling around with matters that were once the sole domain of the Creator. What could possibly go wrong?

Genetic engineering gave McKibben intense nightmares. It’s a technology with fabulous potential for creating multitudes of unintended consequences; bizarre surprises that the mad scientists could have never imagined. Some manmade organisms might survive for millions of years, affecting the biosphere longer than nuclear waste. Obviously, GMOs are absolutely unnecessary for our long and challenging return to balance with nature.

McKibben is a good thinker, a good writer, and a good-hearted human being. He’s an environmental wordsmith who is also a Christian, providing a perspective that is not common in green literature. The end of nature deeply offended his beliefs. Many Christians don’t get much farther than the instructions to “multiply and subdue,” which imply that God made the world for us to dominate and exploit. McKibben knew that the scriptures could be annoyingly inconsistent. He was fond of the Book of Job, which teaches that humans are not the center of the universe, and wilderness is not ours to trash.

As the dominant culture furiously thrashes the planet, glaring questions arise — why doesn’t God stop us? Did he die, or move away? McKibben sidesteps the sixth chapter of Genesis, where God realized that creating humans was a huge mistake, because they turned out to be remarkably wicked. God corrected his blooper by bringing “a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.” Today, humans are the ones executing the end of nature, not the Creator. No other species is so clever — or so willing to mindlessly imitate a pissed-off sky god.

The End of Nature is also notable because it does not reek with a pungent anthropocentric stink. The path to healing requires the abandonment of human superiority, a deadly brain fever. McKibben concurs with Dave Foreman, “Each of you is an animal, and you should be proud of it.” It’s not easy for us to accept that we are delicious two-legged meatballs wandering around in the food chain, and that the rest of creation is at least as important as we are.

Green wordsmiths rarely reveal a profound love for the natural world, maybe because it’s unprofessional, or because they have no spiritual connection to life, the norm in this society. The focus for many green thinkers is finding a way to maintain our “high standard of living” while leaving no scars on the ecosystem, an absurd and impossible quest. Usually, their primary objective is generating enough electricity to keep their gizmos glowing and humming. Food is lower on the list, and population reduction is nowhere to be seen.

Lately, hysterical electricity addicts have been hallucinating that nuclear energy is the silver bullet solution. McKibben noted that if we quit burning fossil fuels to generate electricity, and switched to nuclear, our carbon dioxide emissions would only drop 30 percent, because much of our economy cannot run on electricity (ships, planes, trucks, trains, etc.). Furthermore, carbon dioxide is only half of the greenhouse gases we are releasing. Alas, there is no free nuclear lunch.

McKibben loved nature. While writing, he lived in the Adirondacks, and he gushed with adoration for the surrounding forest and mountains. Outdoors, he felt the presence of God far more than when he sat indoors among a congregation of holy rollers. God created nature, not cities. One of God’s great delights was annihilating cities, according to the scriptures.

McKibben confessed that he’s also an American who enjoys the cool things that modern living provides, and he has no desire to live in an unheated cabin. Modern living is so comfortable. Unfortunately, it’s beating the stuffing out of nature. There is a vast chasm between the way of life we enjoy, and a sustainable life. If we were rational, we would leap into “an all-out race to do with less.” Instead, we desperately cling to a blind faith in technological miracles that will magically eliminate all need for living intelligently.

A memorable portion of the book describes the author’s sincere struggle to find answers, tirelessly wrestling with hordes of demons and inconvenient truths. He tries so hard to find workable approaches, but there are no quick and easy solutions. Centuries will pass before balance returns. But our biggest obstacles are psychological, and radical change is not impossible, in theory.

The nations of the world actually cooperated in sharply reducing the use of DDT, and ozone-eating CFCs, because the risks clearly exceeded the costs. Fossil energy is different. Billions of people literally cannot survive without oil. Therefore, the radical changes we need will not happen anytime soon, if ever. We can continue living like there’s no tomorrow, or we can make a heroic effort to encourage a gentler collapse — McKibben’s preference.

To recharge his sanity, he enjoys stepping outdoors at night, and gazing at the stars. The rest of the universe is still as wild and free as it ever was. What could be more inspiring?

Profile Image for Guy Barnhart.
6 reviews5 followers
June 27, 2018
Be prepared for an incredibly depressing read. This book was originally published in 1989, which was when I was a toddler. While many of the predictions in this book have come true, we're still finding out how much of an impact climate change will have on our planet, from increasing ocean acidity, to mega droughts and powerful hurricanes which are already exacerbating other issues. Obviously, this book will feel dated in some sections if you've been keeping up with the growing body of knowledge surrounding climate change, but it is helpful seeing how these issues were understood nearly 3 decades ago.

The depressing parts? Well, the fact that in the last 30 years since this book was published, we've barely changed our behavior or our consumption of petroleum-based products, despite growing awareness of how severe the effects of climate change will be on the economy and the environment. Even though McKibben was already preaching the "end of nature", wider society has seemed to not care. Animal species continue to go extinct, plastics pollute everything and ice continues to melt at both poles.

Why read books like this? I haven't really uncovered an answer yet. These types of book are always incredibly depressing, especially as an American who looks around and sees how utterly beholden I am to the mega industries destroying our planet. I guess it helps keep me aware of the future that is rapidly approaching, this knowledge helps me reevaluate my behavior as a consumer, to do with less. It informs the kinds of politicians I vote for. And maybe when the conversation comes up with climate change skeptics, I can present some type of non-controversial evidence to let them know, it's about to get a lot worse on this blue planet we call home.
Profile Image for Rachel.
149 reviews4 followers
October 26, 2019
I follow Bill McKibben on twitter and much of what he says there is also said in this book. Except now it's 30 years later and almost nothing has changed. He says near the end: "The choice of doing nothing - of continuing to burn ever more oil and coal - is not a choice, in other words. It will lead us, if not straight to hell, then straight to a place with a similar temperature." That was published in 1989 and yet I still feel like that's true today. We're continuing to burn oil and coal and somehow people are still fighting about IF climate change is real (it is) or IF they "believe" in it (except science isn't a belief system). Which is all absurd to me. It's long past the time where action should have begun yet we're still bickering over if we should do something, or the cost of doing something. The cost of NOT doing something outweighs it all. We do nothing and like Bill McKibben says - we go "if not straight to hell, then straight to a place with a similar temperature". As in, a future where the climate has changed and the earth is warmer and hotter and it's a future we've built for ourselves and are somehow slow to repair. I'm rambling a bit but the point is I think Bill McKibben laid out everything cleanly and with imperative in 1989 and the world still didn't change. 2019 is different, for sure - there's more green energy, more fuel efficient vehicles - but it's also the same. We have to demand climate action now. And it's heartening to see the younger generation below mine demanding that action, striking for the future, and being educated about the problem and speaking up.
Profile Image for Andrea Bauer.
30 reviews
November 15, 2022
This was a tremendously hard book to read, devastating really, because it's a warning from 1989 about how grievously humankind had already altered the nature of nature -- and about what was to come, in one of the pioneering works about global heating. And now look at where we are.

The book is a hard-hitting, passionate discussion of things like acid rain and ozone depletion as well as climate warming. It is a snapshot of what environmentalists and concerned scientists understood about the situation 33 years ago.

In an introduction written in 2005, McKibben acknowledges what I see as one of the main problems with the book. As he writes, "I focused on individual human efforts — smaller families, reduced consumption, and so on." To me, just as serious a problem is that in The End of Nature he identifies the source of the problem as something baked into human DNA.

As he writes, "The tidal force of biology continues to govern us, even when we realize ... that we're doing something stupid. The genetic inheritance from millions of years ago when it did make sense to grow and expand can't simply be shrugged off." I believe that the overmastering impulse to grow and expand, the one that is causing so much devastation, isn't a trait of human nature, but a trait of an economic system engineered to produce greater and greater profits at any cost.

It's interesting to me that the human nature question also marred my enjoyment of Octavia Butler's novel Dawn, which I finished recently and posted a review of. Societies over the ages have had many different "human natures."

In his 2010 book Eaarth, as I remember, McKibben ended by emphasizing the struggle to get elected officials to do the right thing. Spoiler alert (not for the book): they are not going to. If we want to adjust to this new world with the fewest casualties — human, animal, and natural — we need to fight for and create an entirely different social system.

7 reviews
March 19, 2020
An interesting point of view on the environmental crises we face/faced and even more interesting to read 30 years post-publish. McKibben argues his point that nature has ended, in the sense that there is no longer any natural aspect of our world that still exists without any human signature. For example, the most remote parts of the world now experience weather that is influenced by our greenhouse gas emissions, or by the anthropogenically increased acidity of rain. I disagreed with Bill at many points, but overall the message was thoughtful, poignant and articulated well by McKibben. Although this book was designed to be the “Silent Spring” of climate change, and although it is beyond its time, it evidently did not hit its marks.

A fantastic book, would definitely recommend.
338 reviews1 follower
August 15, 2019
2 stars. I’m sure someone who has an easier time with nonfiction might rate this higher than me, but this took so much conscious work for me to get through that I’m in the middle on it. The good things: it’s a topic that interests me, I feel much more informed about the details of climate change versus just having a vague idea of it, and I appreciated the various angles McKibben took to this topic. The less good: this book felt long (much lengthier than its actual length), and it was difficult not to grow tired of McKibben as the narrator. He’s in a tricky position, as the science tells us how scary the situation is, but he is so doom-and-gloom throughout the book that it’s tough to continue. I wonder how many people are left feeling like the issue is beyond hope. I think I’d rather get informed through an interview in an article or podcast.
Profile Image for Sean Chick.
Author 4 books1,032 followers
April 23, 2018
A poetic and meandering meditation on the future of a world transformed by humanity, written before the really bad stuff happened. His thoughts on genetic engineering have not come to pass (yet) but the world he feared, one of runaway environmental destruction and climate change, has occurred. This book will likely be studied by the monks of the new dark age just peeking over the horizon. That said, knocked off a star for his romantic musings on raw nature that he sprinkles in the text. I get it but I think it broke up the flow of the chapters.
Profile Image for Andrew.
289 reviews13 followers
January 27, 2019
Still important reading, 30 years later.
68 reviews
August 13, 2009
This long essay asks two questions: What would our lives be like if nature were not bigger than us? And what would it be like to imagine ourselves smaller?

The first question -- which takes up the first half of the book -- is fascinating. McKibben argues that a core part of what Nature does for us is let us know that the world has rhythms, predicability. That there is beauty out there that transcends us. It gives us a sense that there is something more than us out there. He has a very nice section where he acknowledges that this is what religion does, or, for many of us, once did. Nature can help take some of burden off our shoulders, by reminding us as individuals that, even if we screw everything up, the sun will still set gorgeously. But, he asks provocatively, what would we lose if that were no longer true? And he makes a powerful case -- one that has come to feel more like common sense in the two decades since he wrote -- that our large scale changes to the environment, particularly via the green house gases, are creating a world that is more volatile. Moreover, it is more volatile because of what we did. Beyond all the palpable damage those changes will cause, knowing that we did it will take away from us the solace of nature.

This may be overstating the point a little -- the Grand Canyon's going to be impressive for a long time, as are the brilliant red of the cardinals that live in the hedge outside my door -- but the point is there. I came across McKibben's book when it was repeatedly references by Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods. Louv makes a more modest case, but one so persuasive that, over a few years, it changed my approach to fathering, and had a large role in where we currently live. Louv argues that children need, at a very deep level, to be a part of nature. Not "Nature" like on t.v. or in an aquarium -- that is, Nature as some abstract bit of environmental knowledge, possibly at risk, certainly over there somewhere. Instead, they need to have nature -- things growing, unpredictably -- somewhere close, where they can palpably interact with it. This lead to a lot more hikes in my family, and lot of wandering off paths and poking at things. Nature as a body-contact sport. I feel like my kids, and I, are better off for it, even if we got some scratches and scars to show for it. And this interpretation of McKibben that Louv offers is particularly compelling, in saying that we need to not imagine ourselves separate from nature.

And that is the sense in which McKibben challenges us to be smaller, to live more simply. To imagine living as if we had NOT been given dominion over the land. My profession makes that hard. It's an enormous challenge to figure out how to enact a more humble way of living. Biking around town helps, sure, but it hardly seems like enough. McKibben seems less compelling here -- he gestures towards Deep Ecology, but doesn't seem himself to really know how to fully do it. He reads the science too carefully, I think, to really believe half measures are enough. But, is a half-measure, a bit less carbon release, enough? I'm not sure myself, and struggle with it. McKibben sharpened that struggle, but it sits unresolved. I end up feeling like the Oncler, "Perhaps...."
Profile Image for Robin Drummond.
273 reviews3 followers
January 16, 2022
In 1988, Bill McKibben looked at all the scientific information, studies and analyses he could find on the subject of climate change, a phrase making its way, slowly, into everyday parlance. What McKibben found disturbed him greatly. He saw clearly that our globe was headed toward disaster, with but a small chance of avoiding what appeared to be an inevitable, terrible future.

McKibbon understood that almost nobody would undertake the research he had. He decided to distill this information into a logical overview of climate degradation and include a blueprint of sorts so everyone would have access to a) the problems and b) some available solutions (that did not include 'waiting for future technology to save us.')

Twenty-plus years on, we've done nothing much to mitigate a wretched future. We can, however, look around us, wherever we are, and notice that the nature we once knew is different. It's changed, diminished.

Every single reader of this review can notice that the nature of our childhoods is no longer with us. The acid rain had altered the environment, and thus the plants and animals living in it, and rising temperatures have assisted the spread of opportunistic pests. Clean, untreated water is nearly a fantasy for most of the world. We are, each of us, swallowing micro-particles of plastic every day. We breathe in chemicals we cannot pronounce and whose effects are poorly understood.

We were never going to have our previous world back, McKibbon says. He was right. More right than he knew.

My best illustrative example from my childhood: my family lived on a dirt road, in a small community at the edge of the Potomac river, upstream of Washington, DC. Even in the middle of the last century the water wasn't safe to drink and we seldom swam in the river and never ate the fish we caught. I NEVER saw a white-tailed deer in that enclave along the C & O canal. Once in a while we might find a few hoof-prints, but never scat or shed fur or discarded antlers. I returned to this area sixty years later. The road is still dirt, the canal is still there and the understory is largely gone, eaten by deer. The population has exploded and the landscape is changed. It's still not a good idea to swim in the river and you really ought not eat any fish you catch. Local environment watchers have been reporting a great many zoological anomalies in and around the Potomac: strange-looking frogs with multiple defects (two heads, extra legs), fish that exhibit sex traits both male and female in a single organism, far fewer persimmon and pawpaw trees along the riverbanks. It's never coming back.

McKibbon thought that if he provided the information to an educated public, those readers would demand action. The altered environment would be too alarming to tolerate. Sadly, McKibbon seems to have been an environmental Cassandra and is still crying out to be heard and heeded.
Profile Image for AJ.
1,400 reviews109 followers
November 15, 2014
This book was okay... McKibben's main thesis is that humans have done such a grand job dominating nature that it is no longer natural. Thanks to climate change, our weather is no longer due to nature, it's due to human activity, which is why the book is titled The End of Nature.

I think that Michael Pollan offers an interesting counter-argument to this idea in Second Nature A Gardener's Education, where he asks, what is nature when man has been playing around with it for so long? Is man truly disconnected from nature?

I read the 1990 edition, which was interesting. I'd like to compare it to the recent editions which I'm sure he must have edited (if only to remove the Soviet Union references).

The chapter about biotechnology and genetic engineering was something else. I didn't realize it was satire at first (I hope it was satire!), which made it kind of shocking coming from an environmentalist. He did seem to hold some hope in the genetic engineering of plants to help us get through hot, dry weather, but now that we have enough evidence to the contrary maybe he'll realize that was sort of a pipe dream.

Overall the book doesn't really offer any concrete ideas for change, it doesn't shake the status quo too much, and McKibben even admits that he would find it hard to change his lifestyle, because it is comfortable and he's used to it. I kind of just feel ambivalent about this book, just as I felt ambivalent about his recent "upload a photo of yourself with 3 numbers to stop global warming" movement.

I guess I just feel like, if this is all our environmentalists can come up with, this planet is screwed.

(Also, side note, this was a library book and a previous reader circled the name Thoreau every single damn time it was written in the book. WTF?)
Profile Image for Ryan.
963 reviews
February 16, 2020
"We are no longer able to think of ourselves as a species tossed about by larger forces--now we are those larger forces."

Originally published in 1989, The End of Nature mostly holds up. McKibben relies on the carbon dioxide measurements coming from Hawaii to demonstrate concern about a warming climate. The warmest years on record at the time were 1988, 1987, 1983, 1981, 1980, and 1986. Hansen appears, and after his testimony, McKibben notes that "the columnist George Will had spanked the then presidential candidate Senator Albert Gore of Tennessee for his long-held interest in the greenhouse effect and other issues 'that are in the eyes of the electorate, not even peripheral.'" McKibben is already worried about methane releasing from the permafrost, and he is further beginning to study ways of communicating climate science to a lay audience. There are already climate models, talk of accounting for various feedbacks, and the ocean's ability to regulate temperature is already being discussed.

There is more concern over the ozone layer and acid rain than today, mostly because we responded to those problems. One gets the sense that Carson's Silent Spring, and the movement against DDT it championed, was still a recent memory. (The yellow warbler on the cover alludes to her book's cover.) McKibben reports Hansen's worry that there won't be birch trees within twenty years, which has not come to pass (though he was broadly correct to suggest trees are stressed by heat).

End of Nature's central argument, that nature-as-something-that-is-larger-than-us has in some way passed, is correct. Although blizzards and hurricanes threaten us, we are the dominant species on the planet. As much as I still am able to feel that sense of transcendence while in the woods, and as much as climate change seems like a threat to millions of humans, the planet is now, for better or worse, in many ways an artwork.
13 reviews
March 13, 2013
The end of nature is a enviromental awareness novel about the end of nature as we understand it. We have ended nature through our need for growth.

Bill shows that it is not nature itself that is ending but rather the nature that has been blossoming for years. Through genetic engineering we may be able to save our world, but this created world will lack the beauty of the old world. We will have trees and plants but these genetically modified versions of our trees and plants will not do justice to the beauty of a natural forest.

He says (in 1989) that the end of nature is already inevitable so there is really no point to try to stop it and it is a shame that our grand children may never know what it looks like to see a sky without sodium sulphate, or what it looks like for a forest to have a diversity of trees.

Our world was and is beautiful, but we will never be able to return to an age where the temperature, animals or any other aspect of nature cant be manipulated for our benefit.

We hope to learn enough to save ourselves but we must begin to limit ourselves, though it will be difficult to do.

I cannot say I agree with all the points he has made, but this book is also (at the time of this writing) 24 years old. We are experiencing some of the problems, but others were greatly exaggerated. Overall it is a good book, but it is extremely outdated.
Profile Image for Michael.
36 reviews
June 27, 2009
Written in the late 80's, this is a disturbing book to read as we approach the second decade of the 21st century. Disturbing because so little of our dialogue about climate change has progressed beyond what was being discussed two decades ago. Doubly so because McKibbin's nightmare, that we might delay action for 20 or more years, is precisely the course we have chosen, and the consequences are sure to be all-the-more dire because of it.

Much of this book is dated now... The science, for certain (An Inconvenient Truth is a far better source for more recent research). But on the whole, the book and McKibbin's perspective remains relevant as we, every day, make the choice between action & inaction regarding our impact on what remains of the natural world. This book is a reminder of what we are losing and, sadly, what we have already lost.

Two decades later, it's still worth the read.
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