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Birchbark Blog

COUNTDOWN

Louise Erdrich - Tuesday, November 05, 2013

As long into the night I read Alan Weisman's urgent, eloquent, harrowing and yet hopeful, story-packed COUNTDOWN, I paused often.  How did he do this?  He trekked the globe in an all-consuming effort to see if we, humanity, will survive the twin knock out clobbers of population explosion and climate change.  He writes of saints, heroes, and the self-consuming madness of greed.  Everywhere, he finds the most fascinating person in a thousand miles, and makes a story out of what they tell us. 

Somehow, after writing The World Without Us, an elegant thought experiment that imagined how earth would look without humanity, he has written an even better book.

Weisman poses questions upon which the survival of our species hinges:  How many people can our planet reasonably support?  Since we've already passed that number, how do we humanely reduce our numbers?  Because we can't reduce our numbers quickly enough to stop eradicating other species, what species can't we absolutely live without?  And lastly, how do we design a stable world and economy for a shrinking population?

COUNTDOWN answers these questions with whirling energy.  We meet mountain gorilla stewards and a San Diego teacher who teaches the answers to the questions above by describing an Iranian carpet.  We meet the great Indian poet Sugathakumari, who despairs of the rampant development of India's model state, Kerala.  Most important of all, Weisman comes up with a single thoughtful answer to all four of the questions he poses.

The fate of our species depends on how quickly and thoroughly women become educated.  Period.  Knock out answer.  Read the book and find out why.

Spoiler alert -- the book ends at Lake of the Isles, only blocks from Birchbark Books.

Yours for Alan Weisman's world changing outlook.  Please read this book.  Take your time.  You will weep and yet be cheered.  As Alan said when he was here in Minneapolis, "there are saints out there" so let's support what they are doing and gain a little grace, each one of us.

 Louise

Happy Winter

Louise Erdrich - Tuesday, February 05, 2013

I had simply been too nice, for too long, as this is Minnesota.  So I read the Patrick Melrose Novels, by Edward St. Aubyn, practically weeping with relief.  Vicarious cruelty, sordid little lusts, an epic search to score heroin while carrying a parent's ashes, it has helped enormously. 

Patrick, on his parents vodka fueled marriage: "Perhaps, on the contrary, it was her money that had cheapened him.  He had stopped his medical practice soon after their marriage.  At the beginning, there had been talk of using some of her money to start a home for alcoholics.  In a sense they had succeeded."

The four novellas contain abuse, incest, indelicacies, vicious cuts at the person of Princess Margaret, hilarious descriptions of clothing, party swag, and the venal behavior of the British upper class.  There is also bewildered tenderness and a narrator who staggers toward something that resembles hope.  

Birchbark Books is going to Washington D.C. via train to take part in the Feb 17th 350.org action on curbing the fossil fuel industry.  We'll let you know how that goes, how the train goes, what we see and what we are reading.  

I might take the St. Aubyn and read it all again.  Or the new Karen Russell book, short stories including one about a Vampire in a Lemon Grove -- I just glimpsed an intriguing review -- 

Yours for books,

Louise

(View Louise's Facebook Page for more thoughts about the climate action in DC)

Back to Real

Louise Erdrich - Sunday, December 02, 2012

So that was a great night in New York City but home again is better, sweeter, and as everyone says "weirdly warm."  And oh, did we talk about Hurricane Sandy? Tomorrow is will be 50 degrees and this is December in Minnesota. When people speak of these warm days there is an uneasy smile, a half-laugh, "guess there's an upside to global warming", or an almost wistful, "we should get out and enjoy this before the cold hits." In the back of our minds, these thoughts: How long before it just doesn't get cold here anymore? How long before, as NASA climatologist James Hanson predicts, the southern half of the United States becomes uninhabitable? How long before the corn scorches in Iowa? How long before Lake Superior's waters warm? Before they recede ten, fifteen, twenty feet? How long before we lose nearly half the Arctic?

Oh, that was last summer when we lost the Arctic.

Back in the real we'd like to link everyone to 350.org. Bill McKibben brought 350.org's Do The Math tour to Minnesota a couple of nights ago. I was there. Ted Mann hall was packed and the event was long sold out. There were many people, but . . .   

When you were small and just falling asleep, did you ever have the sense that your boundaries blurred, that you were huge, vast, big as the earth? Bigger? A sudden sense of growing wildly beyond all possibility? I wish that was the way I felt the other night. Instead, I had the sense that this problem was that huge. I looked around at the people and we were so few, just a handful among the billions, and we were all perfectly ordinary. 

Not only that, but annoying too. Honestly? I hate the way I am sometimes, but some speakers (NOT McKibben) annoyed the hell out of me. They were right, but my heart sank. It was a little like being at a giant AA meeting where you know you're sick and doomed and, worst of all, you are in a place where you're going to hear a whole lot of platitudes. And then, horrifyingly, those platitudes will turn out to be true. And even worse -- in order to live with any decency at all, you're going to have to admit them into your own dark, anti-social, Minnesota-nice resistant, heart.  

It is true. All of us ordinary, annoying, scared, crazily hopeful people are called upon to fight, together, the greatest fight in human history. I know that sounds like a B movie trailer -- but like I said . . . true is true. The fight is simple: to keep a planet we can live on. The most important thing I took away was this: none of us really want to use fossil fuels. Given an alternative, hey, who wouldn't choose clean burning energy? But the fossil fuel industry -- giant and complex -- has blocked alternative energy. The fossil fuel industry, all of the oil companies -- Chevron, Exxon, BP, Shell, etc., have decided that immediate profit is more important than a world.

We have to stop them.  

When Bill called upon us all to pressure our colleges and universities (not to mention any wealthy persons you know) to divest, to stop investing in fossil fuels, it was like a light went on. It worked for apartheid. Let's apply the pressure. If there isn't yet a group working to divest your college, form one, join one, write letters. Join 350.org. Find out how. Let's take EVERYBODY'S money out of fossil fuels.  

We were out of time twenty years ago -- but hey -- check out Germany.  Check out China. They are going green anyway and we are behind the curve, just where big oil wants us. 

This is supposed to be a book blog -- and so here is the book part:  I want there to be a world where we ourselves, our children, our grandchildren and on and on, can lie back on a cool summer night, the windows open, myriad sighing crickets and unknown little bugs singing, a lamp, okay a solar lamp, casting a pool of radiance -- in which we are reading together.

Yours truly, Book People,

 
Louise

Join the movement at 350.org.
Read Bill McKibben's key article on climate change: Global Warming's Terrifying New Math
Purchase Bill McKibben's book Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

   


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