Roy Scranton, author of “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene”, with a snarky review of “Falter” and “Uninhabitable Earth”

I ran across this dual book review of the latest books by Bill McKibben and David Wallace-Wells, and was hit with the almost immediate level of snark and “cherry-picked” analysis (“cherry picked” in that Scranton seems to have skipped most of each book, thus failing to get how his critiques fall flat).

“Indeed, there are moments when changing the stories we live within is the only way to keep going. Today, facing worldwide ecological collapse, we find ourselves in such a moment. ” 

I’m still reading this, but the author starts taking issue with McKibben’s “Human Game”, in a way that I consider far too “semantics-trivia”. So I will read on, definitely. But I’m not exactly endeared to what may follow, given my sense of indebtedness to McKibben.

“Since [his first book “The End of Nature”} , he has been a leading voice in framing the problems climate change poses, yet his solutions lean always toward the homiletic. ” 

This is yet another note that has me thinking: “Does he even know that any sense of morality derived from reading on a topic , makes that writing “Homiletic” “?

Then he lays into David Wallace-Wells: “the problem Wallace-Wells presents is so overwhelming, so comprehensive, so frightening, and so far beyond the grasp of current political institutions that you wonder how the author will confront the abyss toward which the story seems headed. Disappointingly, Wallace-Wells flinches.”

And that is surprising? Most good writers are well aware that we are absolutely right to “flinch”. There is a sense of awe that comes with such existential threats (as far as what we really know about such threats, since this one is so far beyond anything we have experienced prior, it too can naturally “cause pause”). 

I am finding myself unconvinced by the critique of this review.

“Wallace-Wells seems to have decided that anyone who takes seriously the possibility that climate change has slipped out of our control isn’t worth seriously considering.”

I didn’t get that sense at all. Again, this author seems to be cherry-picking from a different overall reconstruction of the book that I read.

Now this bit is something which I can pounce upon:

“In his conclusion, Wallace-Wells writes:

The emergent portrait of suffering is, I hope, horrifying. It is also, entirely, elective. If we allow global warming to proceed, and to punish us with all the ferocity we have fed it, it will be because we have chosen that punishment — collectively walking down a path of suicide. If we avert it, it will be because we have chosen to walk a different path, and endure.

Here’s the crux: climate change is our choice, for we have all the tools we need to stop it.”

Nope. We CAN’T “stop” it. We can only try to help point us and be dedicated to the actions that will give us a sporting chance to avoid the worst of it. And again, I didn’t get that from Wallace-Well’s book. The matter of “how we receive” the realities of the science and how we now have “Eaarth” (McKibben’s name for the “Tough New Planet” on which we find ourselves having to “make a life”)

“The solutions Wallace-Wells offers are familiar ones …but he doesn’t spend much time thinking about the practical steps such policies would require. “

Ah, the old —
“he didn’t include enough of what I wanted him to include, even though it didn’t really fit the intended scope of his book” 
— trick.

I have that happen ALL THE TIME here on Facebook. People take me to task because I have “left out” or “not realized” something that they are now going to “fill us in” about. Also known as “You’re stupid, I’m smart, and here’s why”.

“ultimately both [McKibben and Wallace-Wells] adhere to the same basic narrative: things are bad, but they can get better if we’re good.”


“insisting that in spite of such dire prognostications, we have the capacity to avert the worst and bend the course of human history back from the abyss.”

This is FAR from what McKibben does. FAR from it, for anyone who has spent much time not only reading him, but listening to him.

“Both The Uninhabitable Earth and Falter swerve in their final pages into this “unless,”*** in equally desperate and unconvincing ways. “

*** [from the quote from the Lorax story from Dr..Suess: 
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” ]

I don;t know where this writer expects writers to end with something like this.

“While Wallace-Wells subscribes to the standard checklist of proposals to fight climate change, he neglects to present a convincing case for how policies such as the Green New Deal, a carbon tax, or massive global investment in direct air capture technology might be enacted and put into practice.”

????? That has literally just come out, and even it is not “filled out” as a complete policy, which is admitted by the architects of it. It’s been getting filled in at a rapid and energetic pace, but this writer would probably be all over them for not “filling us in” on enough background, and also the implications of implementing it.

“McKibben’s “unless” relies less on contemporary language of empowerment than on a mashup of 1960s social activism and 1970s techno-utopianism. “

Seriously? He’s actually trying to pin McKibben with “techno-utopianism?” Did he really read “Falter”?

“Solar panels, on their own, cannot meet global energy needs, and will not solve the problems caused by CO2 currently in the atmosphere and oceans”

And McKibben never said that. I’m sorry, but this guy, as smart as he obviously is, needs to focus more (to give him a critique of the kind he is giving to McKibben and Wallace Wells) on simply casting a much wider net around the narratives supplied by each of these two books, and so avoid judgments like the above quote.

The final arrogance unleashed by this reviewer: 
“Asking hard questions about who that “we” is, how “we” make decisions, how power works, and the limits of human freedom are beyond the reach of both writers, because such questions lie outside the narrative they’re both trapped in.”

and “Climate change is bigger than any individual moral choice.”

Again, something which neither book can be said to be unaware. But somehow, Scranton thinks so.

“The all-too-real possibility we must confront — and which David Wallace-Wells and Bill McKibben notably refuse — is that the story we’re living is a tragedy that ends in disaster, no matter what.”

McKibben does confront that and holds that out there , constantly. 

A little bit of “homiletics” here, no? The narrative that Scranton seems intent on winning the day (and which neither book author ever denies as distinct possibility (the other side of which is probability or certainty)

Sometimes eco-journalists and writers can be so “anal” about their specific intricate details, and accuse the presentations of others as being “not enough of this” and “seem unaware of”…….blah blah blah. I had seen the Scranton book and had it on my “Want to Read” list. But this is a disappointing indicator. I’m sure that I would gather a lot of valuable insights from it, but this review makes it hard to get excited. But then again, I may be doing the same thing of which I accuse him in the above comments. Sheeesh…..

Wow, this article really got me going. I was glad to find a tweet stream Scarnton stirred up on this same issue with replies from McKibben , Hayhoe, Gavin Schmidt, Andrew Revkin (who launched a stream of his own) ….

McKibben’s tweet (pictured above) is found in this longer thread, which you can see by clicking the link below that says : “78 people are talking about this” (See some of the ones I found most interesting below that in this post)


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