Bill McKibben

American Environmentalist
2011 Sierra Club John Muir Award

birthdate: ?
Palo Alto, California


"Right now, plenty of people feel the peacefulness of their lives degraded by sprawl, or worry about the way consumerism has eroded the quality of our communities. For them, the idea of enough is not completely alien or distasteful, though it remains difficult to embrace. We've been told that it's impossible – that some force like evolution drives us on to More and Faster and Bigger. 'You can't stop progress.' But that's not true. We could choose to mature. That could be the new trick we share with each other, a trick as revolutionary as fire. Or even the computer.

...They'll lead us bit by bit toward the revolutionary idea that we've grown about as powerful as it's wise to grow; that the rush of technological innovation that's marked the last five hundred years can finally slow, and spread out to water the whole delta of human possibility. But those decisions will only emerge if people understand the time for what it is: the moment when we stand precariously on the sharp ridge between the human past and the posthuman future, the moment when meaning might evaporate in a tangle of genes or chips.

...We believe that we live in the 'age of information,' that there has been an information 'explosion,' an information 'revolution.' While in a certain narrow sense that is the case, in many more important ways just the opposite is true. We also live at a moment of deep ignorance, when vital knowledge that humans have always possessed about who we are and where we live seems beyond our reach. An unenlightenment. An age of missing information.

...The greenhouse effect is a more apt name than those who coined it imagined. The carbon dioxide and trace gases act like the panes of glass on a greenhouse--the analogy is accurate. But it's more than that. We have built a greenhouse, a human creation where once there bloomed a sweet and wild garden.

...Our comforting sense of the permanence of our natural world, our confidence that it will change gradually and imperceptibly if at all, is the result of a subtly warped perspective. Changes that can affect us can happen in our lifetime in our world--not just changes like wars but bigger and more sweeping events. I believe that without recognizing it we have already stepped over the threshold of such a change; that we are at the end of nature. By the end of nature I do not mean the end of the world. The rain will still fall and the sun shine, though differently than before. When I say 'nature,' I man a certain set of human ideas about the world and our place in it.

...Human beings--any one of us, and our species as a whole--are not all-important, not at the center of the world. That is the one essential piece of information, the one great secret, offered by any encounter with the woods or the mountains or the ocean or any wilderness or chunk of nature or patch of night sky.

The Achilles’ heel of consumer society is that it hasn’t made us happy as it promised it would. Although Americans have tripled their prosperity since the mid 1950s, the percentage who say they’re “very satisfied” with their lives has declined. In face, only about a quarter of Americans now say that they’re “very satisfied,” When you think about it, this is pretty sad considering the unbelievable amount of resources and energy that we have consumed—and waste we have produced—in the last fifty years. We’ve pursued the American Dream to no real apparent end.

Community is as endangered by surplus as it is by deficit. If there is too much money floating around it enables people to have no need of each other.


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