Of the books I have read this year, most point to an apocalyptic future, where artificial intelligence - like in some Hollywood movie- comes to take over humanity and then orders its destruction. While all that might come true in the future, a more realistic disaster waiting to happen is the environment.
Despite witnessing the changes to it and bearing its ill-effects, we have chosen to ignore the issue. So, from Elon Musk to Bill Gates, all have discussed technology, taking positions on either sides, and, amid all these, the response on environmental issues has remained rather muted.
This is also evident from the recent CoP25 summit, where despite failure of all involved to reach a solution, none from the corporate world raised a voice. Most were silent on what nations are doing. Not that President Trump or Brazilian premier Jair Bolsanaro have not been facing criticism, it just hasn't been powerful enough to force them into action. To put things in perspective, more people will die of floods and hunger before artificial intelligence even reaches a stage where it can surpass human understanding.
Bill McKibben, an environmentalist, in his book Falter: Has the Human Game has Begun to Play Itself Out? stresses on environmental challenges facing the earth.
For those familiar with McKibben's work, there is nothing new. But the author has detailed how humanity has failed in containing the environmental disaster.
More important, he stresses on how even the little things -production of tiles for instance - have been damaging our ecosystem. Then there are big issues like deep-sea drilling and oil extraction. He does throw in the threat of the odd nuclear disaster, but the book is more focused on the environmental ones.
Divided into four sections, the author details the dangers to civilisation from falling food production, rising population, rising sea levels, ocean warming.
More than the issues, McKinnon focuses on the examples, which make the topic interesting. The second section is directed towards the interests of multinational corporations and the role played by climate naysayers like President Trump, Silicon Valley, Koch Brothers. There is a crisp discussion on Ayn Rand (focus being on Atlas Shrugged), poverty and role of the government that is far more interesting. McKibben also details the new-age solutions, which form the third part of the book, although he does not repose much faith on technology like artificial intelligence and robotics in providing a solution to today's problems. The debate veers more towards the possible side effects from such solutions. The last part details the solutions, which, McKibben believes, largely lie in non-violent movement and forcing leaders to take action - none of which has happened on a large scale till now. McKibben also details the benefits of solar panels and renewable energy sources. But it's surprising how he negates technology in one instance, only to come back to rely on it later.
On the whole, the book is well-drafted and nowhere reads like an academic exercise. There is generous deployment of insights and examples, all to keep the reader engaged. But there are far too many contradictions as well. McKibben is clear about whom to vilify, but has problems deciding on whom to accord the hero status. He does point to the work done by organisations like 350.org - his own NGO - but there is no clarity on how far they have been able to go in convincing the world. Take the case of recent CoP summit, McKibben's predictions do come true that the world is not ready to act yet, but given that he knew about the lost chances, neither his nor any other agency was able to exert enough pressures for countries to reach a workable solution. Similarly, in the case of corporates, the author does applaud their efforts, but also criticises them for not doing enough. It seems more a criticism of the capitalist framework than today's government, which, he thinks, has rendered the world helpless. McKibben does not shy away from calling his work bleak and gloomy, and does well to concentrate on problems rather than solutions.
With most authors trying to focus on solutions, they lose sight of the problem. Until the world does not know what the problems are, no one would work toward a solution. But this discussion should not remain limited to the book. If change has to come, it shall come from the social space. McKibben's book is a good read to start with and the idea is noble. Scare the people, so that they have no option but to start looking for a solution.