Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

Thirty years ago Bill McKibben offered one of the earliest warnings about climate change. Now he broadens the warning: the entire human game, he suggests, has begun to play itself out.Bill McKibben’s groundbreaking book The End of Nature -- issued in dozens of languages and long regarded as a classic -- was the first book to alert us to global warming. But the danger is br...

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Title:Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
Author:Bill McKibben
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Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? Reviews

  • Mary

    This book should be required reading for everyone—it is by turns sobering, infuriating and eye-opening and written throughout in clear, conversational (and even at times humorous) prose that manages to make a scientific study read like a page turner. Bill McKibben begins Falter with a survey of the symptoms of climate change that are currently threatening our planet; although I was familiar with these issues on some level already, he marshals so many frightening examples and statistics that the

    This book should be required reading for everyone—it is by turns sobering, infuriating and eye-opening and written throughout in clear, conversational (and even at times humorous) prose that manages to make a scientific study read like a page turner. Bill McKibben begins Falter with a survey of the symptoms of climate change that are currently threatening our planet; although I was familiar with these issues on some level already, he marshals so many frightening examples and statistics that the urgency of the situation hit me like never before. Part 2 is a look at how we got here (the infuriating part), detailing the missed opportunities and—more insidious—the deliberate misinformation and misdirection on the part of corporations and politicians that squandered 50 years during which we might have forestalled the devastating effects of climate change we are living with now.

    McKibben then shifts from environmental threats to a discussion of more existential threats to our very humanity itself, such as genetic engineering and artificial intelligence (AI). This turned out to be the most fascinating part of the book for me—I was particularly riveted by anecdotes from Silicon Valley that would be risible were they not so frightening. Having laid out the problems in the bulk of the book, McKibben injects a (muted) note of optimism with a final section of proposed solutions such as solar panels and non-violent political action.

    As I said, everyone, regardless of their politics, should read this book (although I do wish McKibben had resisted a few political comments which—while I am in complete agreement—might alienate some readers). Not an easy topic, but a necessary discussion. Thank you to NetGalley and Henry Holt for providing me with an ARC of this title in return for my honest review.

  • Peter Mcloughlin

    Bill McKibben goes after much more than climate change in this book. He goes after the posthuman movement, libertarians, and the far right, oil companies, Ayn Rand, Ronald Reagan. This book takes in the sweeping panorama of the moment which is on the precipice and addresses most of the major players on the political stage at the moment. McKibben is an environmentalist so he knows things are dire but his analysis of what got us here is some of the best political writing of the American scene and

    Bill McKibben goes after much more than climate change in this book. He goes after the posthuman movement, libertarians, and the far right, oil companies, Ayn Rand, Ronald Reagan. This book takes in the sweeping panorama of the moment which is on the precipice and addresses most of the major players on the political stage at the moment. McKibben is an environmentalist so he knows things are dire but his analysis of what got us here is some of the best political writing of the American scene and his portrayal of major players and many of the fatally flawed visions is critiqued here. Even if you don't read environmental books this one does a good job of explaining much more than the environmental crisis but the crisis of capitalism itself. recommended.

  • jeremy

    if bill mckibben's prescient warnings had been heeded some thirty years ago, perhaps his new book wouldn't be so urgent and grievous. presuming the question asked in

    's subtitle isn't a rhetorical one,

    , a preponderance of the evidence seems to offer a resounding, unequivocal 'yes' in reply. the 350.0rg founder's writing remains incisive and engaging, but

    isn't likely to find m

    if bill mckibben's prescient warnings had been heeded some thirty years ago, perhaps his new book wouldn't be so urgent and grievous. presuming the question asked in

    's subtitle isn't a rhetorical one,

    , a preponderance of the evidence seems to offer a resounding, unequivocal 'yes' in reply. the 350.0rg founder's writing remains incisive and engaging, but

    isn't likely to find many readers among the audience for whom it would be most necessary.

    broadening the scope of existential threats beyond climate change, mckibben also considers the increasing dangers of gene editing/germline engineering and artificial intelligence. in all,

    is a deeply unsettling book and mckibben doesn't mince words when writing about the very real possibility that it's too late for our species to make the changes necessary to ensure our survival. that is not to say, however, that he is without hope, for the whole last part of the book is titled "an outside chance."

    is fascinating,

    is frightening, but, perhaps most importantly, it's unflinching in its observations of the present human moment — and the growing likelihood of a dark future waiting ahead.

  • Conor

    In some ways, this is the scariest book I have ever read. McKibben's object is questioning whether humans--because of natural limits or the consequences of our actions--are doomed to plateau, regress, or die out.

    McKibben takes a panoramic view of the poor choices we have made and the various precipices we have driven ourselves off of as a species. In the same way that Yuval Hariri (whom he name drops multiple times in this short book) chronicles all of the ways in which humans may be progressing

    In some ways, this is the scariest book I have ever read. McKibben's object is questioning whether humans--because of natural limits or the consequences of our actions--are doomed to plateau, regress, or die out.

    McKibben takes a panoramic view of the poor choices we have made and the various precipices we have driven ourselves off of as a species. In the same way that Yuval Hariri (whom he name drops multiple times in this short book) chronicles all of the ways in which humans may be progressing, McKibben gives us an oddly lighthearted survey of the dangers we face yet refuse to recognize. It's scariest and most effective as an accounting of how utterly we have fucked ourselves, by way of fucking our planet, our only home and source of resources.

    McKibben's goal of scaring his reader was so complete that when he started to introduce solutions, I wasn't even receptive to his suggestions. They seemed too much like half-measures. Massive solar panel banks? Nonviolent resistance? What in the world would make him think that such things are sufficient, given the knowledge we already have about how irreversible the damage we have done is? Instead, when he trots out ideas like "we have to genetically engineer subsequent generations to be more empathetic, to understand that the consequences of their actions accumulate and are difficult to chart out" my thought was not "atrocious! we must not sacrifice our principles!" but instead "yeah, we must just be flawed as a species to have gotten to this place; let's just change the entire paradigm."

    Probably not the goal he intended, but an evocative book nonetheless. An important read in this day and age.

  • howl of minerva

    A cri-de-coeur for the planet. All the things we work on and worry about will be brought to naught if these existential concerns are not addressed. The simultaneously worst and best thing is that the solutions exist and are feasible... The clock is running down...

  • David Wineberg

    America is being held hostage by a curmudgeonly few who insist there is no man-made climate change. Meanwhile, the vast majority of both citizens and scientists seethes. To that, Bill McKibben’s Falter proposes two solutions: solar panels everywhere, and forcing a cultural shift using nonviolent organizing. He doesn’t tackle the huge overpopulation issue, forcing gas and diesel vehicles off the road, mass extinctions, or even what to be aware of in the coming years. It is rather odd for an envir

    America is being held hostage by a curmudgeonly few who insist there is no man-made climate change. Meanwhile, the vast majority of both citizens and scientists seethes. To that, Bill McKibben’s Falter proposes two solutions: solar panels everywhere, and forcing a cultural shift using nonviolent organizing. He doesn’t tackle the huge overpopulation issue, forcing gas and diesel vehicles off the road, mass extinctions, or even what to be aware of in the coming years. It is rather odd for an environmentalist’s book.

    The first 200 pages all seem to be tangents. He talks at length about the invention of gene splicing, Ray Kurtzweil’s drugs, gene editing, inequality, artificial intelligence and libertarianism. And Ayn Rand. Lots of Ayn Rand. She keeps coming back, again and again, because of her religion of selfishness. It has spread to the political and commercial leadership of the country, and is a main cause for the country turning its back on climate change and pollution, he thinks.

    There is a special emphasis on Silicon Valley’s obsession with beating death. McKibben finds all kinds of tech billionaires putting investment dollars and purchases in having themselves frozen, or their heads frozen, or just plain planning to be around forever. That Google’s investment arm is focusing on such efforts should rightly infuriate the world. The “Don’t Be Evil” gang is wasting its resources on inhuman self-preservation, not exactly improving the planet. Not that it can possibly succeed anyway, if the human race is decimated by climate change, which seems all but a sure bet. Much surer, at any rate, than finding a way to live forever on Earth.

    Pulling salient environmental points out of Falter is not easy, but I’ve collected these:

    -Everyone should slow down, take stock and make repairs. Consider where we want to be.

    -Past history no longer applies to our future. We’re entering unknown territory, with no way out. The future is far from bright; it is totally uncertain.

    -Business is so anti-government it had to dismiss climate change, because it would require strong action by government.

    -A team of economists says there’s a 35% chance the UN’s worst case scenario is too optimistic

    -The amount of heat prevented from leaving the Earth by all the CO2 is the equivalent of four Hiroshima atomic bombs - every second.

    -Just 100 firms account for 70% of the world’s emissions

    -We are now able to put some real numbers to climate change. There are several surprises, all of them negative. Oceans are heating faster, and acidifying more than models predicted. Ice melt is proceeding at several times the rate predicted. For example, the Greenland ice sheet is melting from below as well from above, as the underlying rock heats up.

    It is only in the final 50 pages that McKibben swings into action on his opening premises. Solar will help immensely, if we would just deploy it. But it has two things going against it: the fossil fuel industry, which will be hurt by it and can find no profitability in it, and that it is mathematically impossible for solar and wind to replace much more than a fraction of our energy consumption (Though McKibben doesn’t point that out).

    As for nonviolent actions, he talks about the first Earth Day in 1970, when, he says, 20 million came out in support. That was 10% of the population. Today, there are similar marches all over Europe in support of the Earth, but the USA is dormant, ruled by the minority.

    The whole book is framed by what McKibben calls the human game. He looks at the effects of various factors by how much or little they might affect the human game. There are three great existential threats to the human game: nuclear war, destroying the ozone layer and climate change. Gene editing and artificial intelligence: a lot, space travel: not so much.

    From all his cited factors, there is one glaring absence that quickly became obvious and was never explored. What we really need is a functioning democracy.

    David Wineberg

  • Annie Rosewood

    This book presents a good overview of what McKibben refers to as the human game - human life and our responsibility to the planet as well as future generations, and the factors that are shaping the present moment and threatening our future: climate change, AI, corporate greed, gene modification. McKibben makes some excellent critiques and his writing is engaging enough that it kept me interested throughout. I particularly liked the notion of the "game," even if it does seem rather romantic. What

    This book presents a good overview of what McKibben refers to as the human game - human life and our responsibility to the planet as well as future generations, and the factors that are shaping the present moment and threatening our future: climate change, AI, corporate greed, gene modification. McKibben makes some excellent critiques and his writing is engaging enough that it kept me interested throughout. I particularly liked the notion of the "game," even if it does seem rather romantic. What is the objective of our game? Can we agree to the rules collectively?

  • Michael

    Sprawling and messy,

    haphazardly examines two of the biggest threats to civilization today: climate change and technological overreach. Author Bill McKibben first surveys the (ever-worsening) ecological catastrophe wrought by climate change across the globe and then considers the threats posed by rapidly developing, unregulated forms of technology, from artificial intelligence to human genetic modification; finally, he considers how humans mig

    Sprawling and messy,

    haphazardly examines two of the biggest threats to civilization today: climate change and technological overreach. Author Bill McKibben first surveys the (ever-worsening) ecological catastrophe wrought by climate change across the globe and then considers the threats posed by rapidly developing, unregulated forms of technology, from artificial intelligence to human genetic modification; finally, he considers how humans might resist and reverse these troubling trends, though he worries that we might already be out of time to save "the human game" (i.e. global society) from ending in ruin. The writer's aims are well intentioned, his climate activism over the past thirty years admirable, but this book lacks anything approaching an argument and often reads as a jumbled set of alarmist claims, quotes, and statistics. While McKibben rightly critiques Republicans' brazen assault on the working class and environment over the past half-century, as well as Silicon Valley's amoralism, he refuses to consider structural political or social change. Most already know the world's faltering, and this book doesn't offer a comprehensive vision for the future.

  • Radiantflux

    57th book for 2019.

    I would like to find nice things to say about this book, as I am sure McKibben's heart is in the right place, but this book is a hot mess.

    McKibben's basic contention is that the human dream—whatever that is—is 'faltering'. We are rushing at high speed into climate change, designer babies and AI superlords, and this all has to do with the 1% having been weened on the cold dry objectivist nipples of Ayn Rand. His solution, which isn't really spelt out in any detail, is solar pa

    57th book for 2019.

    I would like to find nice things to say about this book, as I am sure McKibben's heart is in the right place, but this book is a hot mess.

    McKibben's basic contention is that the human dream—whatever that is—is 'faltering'. We are rushing at high speed into climate change, designer babies and AI superlords, and this all has to do with the 1% having been weened on the cold dry objectivist nipples of Ayn Rand. His solution, which isn't really spelt out in any detail, is solar panels and collective action.

    Mixing in designer babies and AI super-intelligence as worries with global warming does a real disservice tackling the existential threat that is climate change. His proposed solutions are unfortunately presented so superficially to have the weight of a bumper sticker.

    2-stars.

  • Randall Wallace

    Scientists believe the end of the Cretaceous period came with a “rock larger than Mt. Everest traveling twenty times faster than a bullet” slammed into the Gulf of Mexico leading to a 1,000ft tall tsunami and a “blizzard of meteorites”. Scientists believe the end of the Cretinous period, will when Americans stop believing in endless growth on a finite planet. A barrel of oil is equal today to 23,000 hours of human labor. Unburned methane that escapes to air, traps heat 80x more efficiently than

    Scientists believe the end of the Cretaceous period came with a “rock larger than Mt. Everest traveling twenty times faster than a bullet” slammed into the Gulf of Mexico leading to a 1,000ft tall tsunami and a “blizzard of meteorites”. Scientists believe the end of the Cretinous period, will when Americans stop believing in endless growth on a finite planet. A barrel of oil is equal today to 23,000 hours of human labor. Unburned methane that escapes to air, traps heat 80x more efficiently than carbon dioxide. 270,000 sharks are killed every day. Without the oceans to cool the heat, the temperature on the planet since 1955 would have risen a whopping 97 degrees Fahrenheit. Bill says of Obama that “He was elected to run a political system based on endless growth.” Ten years before Hansen’s report, Exxon knew it was destroying the planet. Their public affairs manager released in a secret memo, “Emphasize the uncertainty”. That disinformation campaign costs us ten vital years to try to save the planet. The cool new term for that greedy stuff is “predatory delay”. When you fight a right-wing Ayn Rand fan, ask if they know that she was scathing about Christianity. Donald Trump said Ayn Rand’s “Fountainhead” is his favorite book - yes, right after “Stuart Little”. Bill very coolly reduces the entire American Right’s and Ayn Rand’s mindset into: “If greed warps your life, you assume it must warp everyone’s”.

    Then Bill goes AWOL for five chapters (15-19) and he starts speculating how many humans will become genetically enhanced while regular people will be called “Naturals” and will work as our servants. How this will somehow happen after a global total financial collapse worse than the Great Depression, fishery collapse, electrical grid collapse, or routine extinction level events, Bill does not say. During the five-chapter blackout, Bill waxes on about AI and high-tech stuff that has no business being in this book. En route, will he dare mention that Silicon Valley has more Super Fund sites than anywhere else? No. On page 231, Bill dismisses the entire subject of scale in a single paragraph (will explain later). Thankfully he mentions the steady-state economy but only briefly and refuses to tell us about CASSE or Herman Daly or steady state thinking today. This book gave me more cool Jeopardy style answers to questions, than it made me think about our collective future. Two 2019 much better books, by Dahr Jamail and David Wells, took far more risks than this book did. Last cool fact in this book: spaceflights are risky for so many reasons, but you may have a bigger chance of cancer by cosmic radiation bombardment while you are up there than dying by a flight accident. Wow. But more important for Jeopardy than saving a carbon-constrained planet.

    Bill McKibben was the Climate Change Voice #1, whatever happened? In 2008, Pat Murphy’s book “Plan C” had it all: 90% reduction in energy use by all us in the west was needed immediately, end of subject. Does Bill talk here about needing 90% reduction in our profligate energy lifestyles? No. Does Bill see our future problem as critically compounded by overpopulation, inequality, the end of growth, upcoming collapse, capitalism, permanent war, industrial agriculture, or failure of BOTH parties, -no. He mentions none of these. Evidently Naomi Klein’s anti-capitalism’s stance is far to the Left of Bill. Will he even remind his many rich followers of the costs to the planet of their plane rides and explain why Greta takes the train? –no Bill won’t.

    And how can Bill write this book and not mention the obvious elephant in the room: Green energy cannot save us because it CANNOT be scaled up sufficiently. Whether you read Ozzie Zehner’s book, “Green Illusions” or Derrick Jensen’s unpublished book on the Myth being saved by green energy, the answer is clear. You cannot scale green energy up to the scale of industrial civilization – Bill apparently cannot conceive of the role of scale in our green future. Green energy requires fossil fuels for their manufacture. Rare earth and elements will disappear if you really scale up green energy. Energy intensive to make, turbine blades need maintenance and replacement. Some say, ramping up solar to just 10% uses up all the silver in the world. Try doing that to every element needed and scaled up for a Green Economy. Then do the math and/or envision the actual mining. Bill ignores the Peak movements (running out of) in this book which we are experiencing right now: Peak Water, Peak Sand, Peak Oil, Peak Soil, Peak Resources, and the list goes on. But, will Bill mention any of them in this book? No. It is wildly irresponsible for Bill not to mention that all of us must strive to live to lower our energy footprint (90%), as well as the footprint of our all-consuming capitalist nation. Bill Richardson and Jimmy Carter were destroyed for suggesting Americans self-sacrifice but that is what the future demands of us, so why doesn’t Bill McKibben stand up here and say so as well? And why not write in 2019 about climate change like Naomi Klein, by attacking the #1 culprit: Industrial Capitalism? I thought Bill knew there was no green future without at least 90% reduction, without addressing structural inequality, and that green tech can’t save us. Oh well. I had high hopes for this book, but honestly, I don’t even know its point; apparently it was to fulfill a publishing contract and keep his name out there.

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