Hippo Manchester
November 17, 2005

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Books: The Comforting Whirlwind - God, Job and the Scale of Creation, by Bill McKibben (Cowley Publications, 2005, 73 pages).

By Lisa Parsons

J. Storrs Hall, author of Nanofuture, calls Bill McKibben a technophobe.

McKibben’s attitude toward our future is almost exactly opposite to Hall’s. Where Hall sees technology giving us new and exciting adventures, Mc-Kibben sees us trashing the planet and ourselves long before we get there.

Both writers agree that we face serious environmental problems. For Hall, the winning response is to put on the waders and plow forward through the muck, to emerge victorious on the other side. For McKibben, the response is to stop where we are and find contentment here and now. Stay on this side of this particular River of Problems, ’cause immersion would kill us.

McKibben offers an extended sermon, emotional and frequently invoking the sacred because, he says, religion is “the only institution left in society that understands some goal other than material progress.” Yes, god – nature? – gave us the ability to trash the planet, to invent spray paint and dry cleaning, but that’s just an extended ability to do what all animals do – build, consume, construct dams and paths and hoard food and so on. What god gave us that’s unique, McKibben says, is our ability to witness his creation and love it, and so that’s what we are supposed to do. We are also uniquely given the gift of conscious self-restraint, so we must use that.

Although The Comforting Whirlwind is depressing (with its descriptions of how badly we are mauling our home, this planet), its author calls for joy – joy at beaches and ostriches and pine trees and mud and air and sky; joy like when a snowstorm puts the power out and you can’t drive or watch TV or run the dishwasher and you calm down and chat with your family and neighbors and feel peace. If we start embracing that kind of joy, the hope is, perhaps we’ll pull back just in time.

McKibben says, “What we need to be figuring out, in this time of crisis, is nothing less than what the proper relationship is between people, the earth, and God.”

Hall says what we need to be figuring out, in this time of crisis, is how to build self-replicating nanomachines.

How much overlap exists between those two things, that’s for the reader to ponder.