In 1989, Bill McKibben — then a journalist who had recently quit a five-year stint at the New Yorker — published a landmark environmental text called The End of Nature. One of the first books to attract mainstream attention to the subject of climate change, The End of Nature warned that human materialism and the exploitation of natural resources would be disastrously harmful to the planet.
Thirty years later, McKibben has become one of America’s most renowned climate change activists, and he’s out with a new book, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? While The End of Nature focused on the impact of climate change on our physical planet, Falter explores what these changes will mean for the humans who live here. McKibben is interested in the fate of what he calls the “human game” — “the sum total of culture and commerce and politics; of religion and sport and social life; of dance and music; of dinner and art and cancer and sex and Instagram.”
Falter is a sprawling book, but it leans on two distinct lenses through which we can understand our future: climate change and the rise of artificial intelligence. McKibben tells OneZero that we’re “well past the point where we can stop climate change,” but with enough effort, we can slow it down. We’re currently doing a bad job of that: Last year, carbon emissions rose by 3.4%, the largest annual jump since 2010. McKibben explores how we arrived at our current predicament, and his diagnosis echoes an increasingly mainstream conclusion: Since the Reagan years, the wealthy and politically powerful have been fueling global warming at the expense of the rest of us.
McKibben is generally skeptical of “Big Tech” and certain technologies currently in development. He’s concerned that while computers may be able to perform some tasks “better” than we can, it’s important to preserve “the experience of being human — which is precisely the thing that’s disappearing.” But he’s not a tech pessimist, either. He’s hopeful that avoiding the dangers of automation “is at least possible,” and he says that “watching the rapid spread of a technology as world-changing as…