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Hope, Human and Wild: True Stories of Living Lightly on the Earth Hardcover – Oct 1995


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 226 pages
  • Publisher: Little Brown & Co (T); 1st Edition edition (Oct 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316560642
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316560641
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 17.1 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,174,288 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 11 Jun 1999
Format: Paperback
I didn't read the whole book, but just the section on Kerala. It gives a pretty good picture about Kerala society for the outsider. Tells you why you don't need a high per capita income to have a high standard of living.
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Amazon.com: 16 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
At Last I Get It 31 Jan 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is an exploration into what's right and what's wrong with the planet and our relationship with it. It was written as a sequel to an earlier book by McKibben, "The End of Nature." In this book, McKibben starts by identifying some areas where there is hope for improvement in the environment in the future. The book is arranged in four parts. In the first part, McKibben considers examples of environmental recovery in his own region. He then turns to two parts of the world with very different local solutions to global problems. The first of these is Curataiba, Brazil, a city made famously livable by some very forward-thinking city planners. He then turns to Kerala, India, noting that a relatively high quality of life can be achieved with extremely limited resources, provided one addresses the key structural problems of society first. In the last section of the book, he reflects on his observations from the three regions.

McKibben hardly needed to look any further than his own backyard for proof that the environment can indeed bounce back to some extent from extreme abuse. His backyard in the Adirondacks is now full of trees, a condition that is now common throughout the Eastern United States. Much more common, in fact, than it was just fifty years ago. A little over a hundred years ago, most landscapes in the Northeast were treeless. The trees had been cut down to clear fields, to use for ship building and house construction, and most notably, to use for fuel. With the invention of a plow that could at last turn the thick prairie soil, many of the New England farmers pushed westward, glad to leave their cold, stony fields to grow up into forest again. But changes in fuel usage played an even larger role in the recovery of the trees. A hundred years ago, we got 90% of our energy from wood, necessitating the cutting down of millions of acres of forest per year just to keep the economy going. With the switch to petroleum-based fuels, we now rely on wood for just 10% of our energy, and as a result, the forests in the East are now thicker than they have been for over four hundred years. In tandem with the return of the trees, the wildlife are also coming back, and wild turkeys and bear sightings are now more common in this region than they have ever been since the arrival of Europeans on the continent. As petroleum fuels become more difficult and expensive to come by, we can only hope that we will stumble on a new fuel to replace oil, just as oil replaced wood.

McKibben's discussion of Curataiba is quite stimulating. He describes how ingenious local leaders made the city into a model of a livable, workable metropolis. They did this not by copying technology of developed countries, but by creating original solutions based on locally available materials and culture. Kerala also was faced with seemingly insurmountable problems of poverty, race, and class. Individual leaders in Kerala were successful in getting the community to rally around local solutions to these problems. Thus, McKibben's theme seems to be, in a world of ever-increasing globalization, where all problems are global, the solutions need to be local.

I've been wrestling with trying to understand globalization ever since the protests in Seattle. Despite reading heavily on the topic and talking to others, I just couldn't understand why the protesters made such a fuss. I even completed a discussion course on globalization offered by the Northwest Institute, and I still didn't get it. But as I read this book, the problems of an economy controlled by transnational corporations finally began to sink in. McKibben describes the shocking extent of deforestation in Maine. It just so happens that a South African company is now one of the largest owners of timber rights in the state. With a home office some 10,000 miles distant, they don't have a personal stake in what happens to the Maine environment. So millions of acres of forest in the state are being clear cut, but visitors and locals don't notice the missing trees because the companies leave 50 yard wide swathes of undisturbed forest along the roads, trails, and waterways. Along with the clear cuts comes erosion, silting of streams, and massive loss of habitat for the wildlife. After reading about Maine, I thought about a plot of land up the road that is currently being logged. Fortunately, the land up the road is owned not by a transnational corporation, but by a neighbor, who has a vital interest in seeing that the forest remains healthy throughout his logging operations; indeed, he is truly managing the forest, rather than simply cutting down trees. I now see calls for supporting the local economy rather than going with the flow of globalization in a new light-in purchasing items made in a global economy, we may unwittingly be contributing to environmental destruction on a massive scale, destruction that is magnified by the fact that the decision makers in the production process have no personal interest in the environment that they are damaging. And the ones who do have a personal interest in that environment are powerless to fight the big companies. If, on the other hand, we support local producers and local economies, we can directly influence how the producers treat the land. At the same time, the local producers have a very personal interest in not causing damage to their own homes and livelihood. Indeed, there is plenty of food for thought in this book.
39 of 47 people found the following review helpful
Hope -- Human But a Little Glib 16 Jun 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Hope, Human and Wild: True Stories of Living Lightly on the Earth
Bill McKibben (Little, Brown, 1995) 239 pp; $ cloth

The book under review here I the author's third. It follows The End of Nature, which argues that human society has now become big enough to alter "the most basic vital sign of the planet, its climate," and The Age of Missing Information, a book in which two dramatically divergent experiences are juxtaposed: watching 2,000 hours of consecutive cable television broadcasts, and spending 24 hours camped beside a pond on a mountain. McKibben aspires to write a kind of essay that is journalistically vivid, but also very personal - even, to use an old-fashioned phrase, "soul-searching."

The search in this new book is reactive as well as affirmative. Like many of his likely readers, McKibben is deeply distressed by his knowledge of the damages human beings have visited upon the natural world. As a writer who has covered political and social issues for dozens of national magazines, he has gone to some effort to grasp the scientific analyses by which contemporary ecology measures the dimensions of our catastrophe. The other primary factor in setting McKibben's new book in motion, as he explains lucidly in the first chapter, is love for the landscape and people of his Northern Forest home, a very small town in the Adirondacks.

Having found himself "depressed" by the writing of his previous books, McKibben deliberately set out to find occasions for hope, beginning with the astonishing recovery of the forests of the northeast. He recalls the observations of Timothy Dwight, who in the early 19th century traveled from Boston to New York City and passed no more than twenty miles of forest on his 240-mile journey. Of the denuded New Hampshire landscape, Dwight wrote, "The forests are not only cut down, but there appears little reason to hope they will ever grow again."

McKibben responds: "Less than two centuries later, and despite great increases in population, 90 percent of New Hampshire is covered by forest. Vermont has gone from 35 percent woods in 1850 to 80 percent today, and even Massachusetts has seen its woodlands rebound to the point where they cover nearly two-thirds of the commonwealth." McKibben deftly recounts the haphazard settlement process whereby the northeast was virtually abandoned for more easily subdued agricultural and forest lands further west. In presenting the reforestation of northern New England and the Adirondacks as an ecological success story, the author stresses that this rejuvenation was the result of careless historical displacements, not conscientious human endeavor. And yet: "If you're looking for hope, this unintentional and mostly unnoticed renewal represents the great environmental story of the United States - in some ways, of the whole world. Here, not far from where `suburb' and `megalopolis' were added to the world's vocabulary, an explosion of green is underway. In the therapeutic terms of the moment, this is the first region on earth to hit bottom and then, blessed with adequate rainfall, go into recovery."

Again, like many of us, McKibben has been asking himself the very personal question of what it means to live in such a gorgeous and relatively unpopulated place, where seeing seeing bear or bobcat is always a possibility, and where one can walk or even drive for hours and never leave the woods. What are the responsibilities that our residence here presents to us, day by day? The most moving sections of this book, chapters 1 and 4, are those in which McKibben describes the tensions between this region's mesmerizing beauty and his awareness of impending disaster around the globe, as we risk exhausting forever our potable water, our topsoil, even our very atmosphere. Part of the force of these chapters is the candor with which McKibben describes those sometimes awkward, improvisatory ways in which people in the northeast are coming to terms with one another and with their landscape - finding new ways to be neighbors, new ways to log and mill wood, new ways to grow and market vegetables.

Far less effective are chapters 2 and 3, in which McKibben attempts to provide some perspective and corollary for the ecological recovery of his "home place" by including the rather amazing examples of Curitiba, a Brazilian city that has transformed its relationships to transportation and garbage, and Kerala, a state in southwestern India that has a per-capita income of $330 per year, yet a life expectancy, literacy rate, and healthy birthrate as high as our own. What's frustrating about these chapters is how interesting they could be; sadly, McKibben's writing in the middle of the book loses much of its vigor and depth, as the prose settles into breezy mannerisms, more reminiscent of a press release or grant proposal than of the rest of this book. Curitiba and Kerala are sketched out superficially in anecdotes and summaries, and these chapters lack the intensity of detail and probing narrative that would yield lessons both unforgettable and applicable.

McKibben's failures here are hardly unforgivable. Anyone who has ever attempted to deliver good news while fully acknowledging the gravity of an ongoing emergency will recognize the difficulties he faced. As readers, we want to know that the gambit isn't over yet; we need to know about worldly instances where contemporary people - our neighbors in the much-lauded global marketplace - are inventing ecological solutions to problems we share. But for such reportage to be useful, we need specificity and detail.

Yet McKibben's evocations of the northern forest will be welcomed by readers of this magazine. And its missteps notwithstanding, McKibben's book will touch readers who have been trying to find words for those ligatures between our home in the woods and the world at large.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Great, but many missed opportunities 8 Jun 2001
By Mark Dempsey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book's descriptions of Curitiba Brazil, and Kerala India are priceless, and unavailable most anywhere else. If you're not a botanist, the third of the book that talks about the reforestation of the U.S. may be a little tedious.
What irks me is that this stuff is very important if we're serious about "living lightly," but McKibben doesn't do such obvious things as include photos. The entire book could use a serious edit just for readability...
Don't get me wrong; the book is definitely worth reading, especially for the account of Curitiba. We're deprived, here in the U.S., compared to those third-worlders.
A real eye-opener about civic possibilities.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
The End of Nature's Sequel 25 Oct 2004
By Seachranaiche - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Hope, Human and Wild is a kind of sequel to The End of Nature in which Bill McKibben highlights some positive, hopeful examples of sustainable human activity. He quotes Al Gore as saying, essentially, that our environmental problems now exceed our political ability to solve them. This is a deeply disturbing statement, so McKibben profiles a pair of cities in Brazil and India where sustainability and quality of life movements have taken hold and are actually succeeding. The implications are obvious: if two Third World cities can pull this off despite long odds, both political and environmental, then why can't we?

McKibben's studies of Curitiba, Brazil, and Kerala, India are both informative and uplifting, containing concrete examples of what creative thinking and political courage can achieve. We long, then, for a chapter or so in which these examples are applied to American urban centers; we long for a roadmap of possibilities applied to our culture of greed and consumerism. We long for an idea-or even the hint of an idea-we can use to break our cycle of destructive consumption. Instead, McKibben returns to his beloved Adirondacks and editorializes about the need for community, local economies, and so on. He demonstrates (I believe correctly) that sustainable agrarian communities beget sustainable wild lands and open space as well as a healthier human psyche. Trouble is, though, succeeding on this small scale will not make a dent in the larger problem.

McKibben does not use this book to explore a more global vision. The seeds are there, but once the harvest begins he falls back upon his mountains and the good, community life one is often able to achieve when living on an urban income in a rural area. He begins to proselytize and sound more like a politician: we need to do this, and we should do that-these are obvious goals, but how do we get there? McKibben's Jeffersonian ideals are just that, ideals, and the idealistic will make them work. What we need now is a program of ideas that can build toward a sustainable world while countering the effects of the tragedy of the commons.

Despite this, McKibben's work is vitally important and should be read. His body of work will one day define our era.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Up from poverty 16 April 2005
By James Ferguson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Bill McKibben offers a more hopeful set of scenarios in this book, pointing to cities like Curitiba and regions like Kerala as examples of how communities can achieve sustainability and raise standards of living without big money projects. Closer to home, McKibben shows how forests are being regenerated in the Northeast allowing wolves, moose and other wild species to reinhabit this region. But, something seemed to be missing in this volume. It lacked the focus of The End of Nature and didn't seem to go very far beyond surface observations. Nonetheless, I am thankful to McKibben for drawing attention to Curitiba and Kerala, showing that in many ways the so-called Third World has achieved greater sustainability than many parts of the so-called First World, leading him to make the salient observation that maybe we should re-examine our priorities here in the United States.
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