The End of Nature

by Bill McKibben

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The End of Nature, written by Bill McKibben, deals with climate change and the loss of the natural world to man-made habitats. His series of essays focuses on global environmental concerns such as the rapid depletion of natural resources, energy dependence on fossil fuels, and acid rain. The collection is a detailed look at how man has permanently changed the natural landscape.

Many of McKibben's arguments focus on the need for a radical shift in Western consumer culture. He writes that the pending environmental crisis will be the end of the materialistic, consumer-oriented culture of the West. To that end, McKibben says that the whole of the human population will need to be able to sustain themselves on a finite amount of resources. We'll have to find new ways to recycle and will need to make better use of all sources of water. This underscores McKibben's thesis, which is that environmental restraints must dictate all economic behavior.

The author is correct to point out the gravity of the pending environmental crisis. However, his suggestion to address this issue essentially boils down to the entire world needing to live a more rural, self-sustaining lifestyle. This may not adequately address how the world can shift from its current, globalized economy to one that is more regional. Can we do it at all? If so, how? These are questions that McKibben leaves unanswered. Still, The End of Nature is an excellent look at how the world is going to change in the coming years and offers some novel suggestions for how to deal with it.

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The arguments presented in Bill McKibben’s End of Nature justify the book’s title. As the author points out, artificial nature, which can be controlled by humans, has replaced true nature, which was free from human control. The changes humans have made to their environment, McKibben notes, are reflective of a clumsy hand as opposed to a guiding one. The new natural world humans have created, synonymous with varying sea levels and temperatures, will become somewhat violent and unpredictable as compared to the previous natural world. To avert the looming danger, the author proposes that we will need to embrace the natural world (“humbler world”) and abandon our material world (i.e., clothes, houses, and vehicles). In a natural world, humans will be less controlling of their environment, and perhaps, the once independent, eternal nature might be re-established. Although such a vision looks comforting and fascinating, the author himself thinks that achieving it is nearly impossible. He takes note of the value humans put on their interests, which significantly diminishes the chances of having our natural world back. Notwithstanding, the book ends on an optimistic note; it neither spells doom nor gives feasible solutions. Rather, it unravels the environmental crisis we are currently facing and poses thought-provoking questions to keep us mentally engaged.

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The End of Nature by Bill McKibben is about the environmental issues facing the world. The author gives an account of recent developments as well as the shortcomings in the fight against environmental harm. He argues for sustainability and claims that there has to be a shift in people’s attitudes to ensure that nature is preserved.

McKibben discusses environmental issues such as acid rain and greenhouse gas emissions. According to him, nature does not exist anymore. The author asserts that human beings have changed everything, including plants and animals. According to him, nature has always been beautiful and organized. Furthermore, McKibben addresses the impacts of environmental degradation, such as climate change, and stresses that there could be little left for future generations if nothing is done.

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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.

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