Published on September 23rd, 2013 | by Andrea Bertoli1
Book Review: Oil and Honey by Bill McKibben
Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist by Bill McKibben is a revelation– and a joy– to read. This book was just published a few weeks ago, and Green Living Ideas was thrilled to be offered a copy to review. Though I’ve read McKibben’s groundbreaking work in the past, this book reads differently, and strikes a different cord. It’s engaging and exciting, chronicling his busy weeks on the Keystone XL protest route, momentous amounts of work (and lack of sleep) and galvanizing speeches and plays that set him up as the activist he has become– though he is hesitant to take on the role.
Oil and Honey is the story of his work founding 350.org– the turmoil, the steep learning curve and the excitement of creating a global climate change movement. McKibben says at no other time in history is it more apparent that this global warming is indeed global, and his work with 350.org is grounded in the international. His colleagues are scattered across the globe, offering peaceful demonstrations and protests to bring the frightening truth of climate change to the forefront of political debate.
And yet the movement is also increasingly LOCAL. Though all of his work with 350.org, McKibben continually returns home to the sanctuary of the Vermont mountains to learn the art of beekeeping from a neighbor. The practice of beekeeping instills in him the value of small-scale, community movements; it is the small, resilient communities that will fare best in our changing world of wild storms, torrential rains, unprecedented droughts and climate deniers. The juxtaposition of the extreme local with the global makes for a very interesting book indeed. As McKibben says of his friend’s beekeeping business, “This new operation would not change the world, both of us knew that. But it would, you know, change the world. The sum total of a million of these kind of small shifts would be a different civilization, one you could just begin to sense emerging as farmer’s markets spread across the nation […] and the number of farms in America was no longer falling.” (pg 8).
Though Oil and Honey is mostly a narrative, it is also filled with startling facts about our failing climate: one of the most startling facts I learned was three important numbers: 2, 565, and 2,795. The first is 2; two degrees Celsius [is] the only figure the world has ever agreed on about climate change. The second of these numbers is 565 gigatons. That’s roughly how much more carbon dioxide scientists say humans can pour into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. But the “scariest number” is 2,795, which is the amount of carbon contained in the proven coal, oil and gas reserves of all fossil fuel companies and countries. This is the amount we’re planning on burning– and the key point is that 2,795 is FIVE TIMES higher than 565. This, and hundreds of other statistics about intensifying hurricanes, persistent droughts and rising tides is inspiring and galvanizing. McKibben makes it clean that everyone can– and should– play a bigger role in this monumental movement that can save our planet.
“In this elegant and deeply inspiring book, Bill McKibben has given us something remarkable: a front row seat in the global battle against the fossil companies that are wrecking the planet, and an intimate glimpse into the intensely local life and landscape for which McKibben himself is fighting…A gift.” —Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine
McKibben the author of many foundational works on climate change and the environment, including The End of Nature, Eaarth, and Deep Economy. He is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the 2013 winner of the Gandhi Prize. He lives in Vermont with his family.
Green Living Ideas would like to thank Henry Holt Books for sending a review copy of the book.