In this book, McKibben draws attention to the changes that human activity has wrought upon the natural environment, and not for the better, as he remarks. He posits that humans have, in fact, changed nature irrevocably, brought it to an end, in a sense. As well as being a general lament for the demise of nature, the book discusses the science behind the issue, particularly that of global warming.
Chapter 1, ‘A New Atmosphere,’ examines how modern human activities – principally the constant burning of fossil fuels – have dangerously increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The next chapter, ‘The End of Nature’, sorrowfully observes how human beings have marred nature, spoiling its purity and beauty, and have, indeed, learnt to master it:
We have built a greenhouse, a human creation, where once there bloomed a sweet and wild garden.
Chapter 3, ‘A Promise Broken,’ examines the deleterious effects that modern human civilisation has had on the natural cycle and rate of change; nowadays these changes occur more swiftly, with the result that animals and plants struggle to adapt to the altered conditions.
Chapter 4, ‘The Defiant Reflux’, analyses the reluctance of human beings to change their ways, despite the cost to nature. McKibben argues that humans in modern societies simply don’t want to give up the material security and comfort of modern living. Hence the reliance, indeed ‘addiction’ to fossil fuels. The final chapter, ‘The Path of More Resistance’, continues in this vein. Humans are too set in their ways, rely too much on artificial amenities and man-made, rather than natural, solutions, and so the planet continues to suffer. What is needed, according to McKibben, is a fundamental change in attitude.