Oil and Honey (Bill McKibben)

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Bestselling author and environmental activist Bill McKibben recounts the personal and global story of the fight to build and preserve a sustainable planet

Bill McKibben is not a person you’d expect to find handcuffed and behind bars, but that’s where he found himself in the summer of 2011 after leading the largest civil disobedience in thirty years, protesting the Keystone XL pipeline in front of the White House.

With the Arctic melting, the Midwest in drought, and Irene scouring the Atlantic, McKibben recognized that action was needed if solutions were to be found. Some of those would come at the local level, where McKibben joins forces with a Vermont beekeeper raising his hives as part of the growing trend toward local food. Other solutions would come from a much larger fight against the fossil-fuel industry as a whole.

Oil and Honey is McKibben’s account of these two necessary and mutually reinforcing sides of the global climate fight—from the center of the maelstrom and from the growing hive of small-scale local answers. With empathy and passion he makes the case for a renewed commitment on both levels, telling the story of raising one year’s honey crop and building a social movement that’s still cresting.

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America has half as many farmers as prisoners. Half.

This is one of the startling facts I learned while listening to Bill McKibben’s Oil and Honey.

I didn’t know too much about this book before I picked it out. I knew it was about the environment and that I had been meaning to read it for a few years. It takes place over several years, but begins just about the time that I was starting university. I majored in environmental studies/science, so it was particularly interesting to me to review major environmental movements that were taking place as I was learning the foundations at school.

A sad fact that McKibben repeats often is that environmental victories are always temporary. Nothing is ever defeated permanently, just put off for awhile. The fight never ends. And environmentalists seem to be on the losing side more often than not. This is why it is so exhausting to be an environmental rights activist, or even just someone who cares. The fight goes on and on, and unfortunately, big money is not on “our” side.

For example, in 2010, the Keystone XL pipeline was on the main stage in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential election. Considerable pressure was on Obama to approve it and McKibben was one of the key activists trying to activate a grassroots response that would threaten Obama’s re-election if he did approve the pipeline.

Today, in 2019, this pipeline is still an ongoing battle in Canada.

The fights goes on.

Listening to this book took longer than I expected. It has been a while since I listened to something environmentally focused, and I forgot how angry these issues make me. How exhausting the failures can be when they add up. And the victories feel few and far between. I couldn’t listen before bed – it made me too frustrated to sleep – so I had to pick and choose the moments that I would listen.

I will say, something helpful I learned is the process of arrest at a political demonstration. That was reassuring in case I am ever in a similar situation. And humorous in a dark sort of way.

Climate change is global. Environmental disaster has zero respect for political borders. These issues are universal. However, most of the direct issues that are taken up in this book are based in America or Canada, so I believe that residents of these two countries will get the most out of it. Alberta’s tar sands are one of the biggest environmental disasters in the world. They are barely tapped, and already more earth has been moved than was moved in the construction of all the mega-dams in the world.

That is insane.

One of my favourite quotes from Oil and Honey, comes from McKibben’s account of the Keystone protests outside the White House. While in jail, he reported

“we don’t need sympathy, we need company”.

Narrator Kevin Collins has a smooth, relaxing voice that made the book pleasant to listen to, even if the topics were difficult to get through at times.

I am planning on watching McKibben’s interviews on The Colbert Report and his Ted Talk now. You can learn more on the website, 350.org.

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

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Well I finally finished reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.  I had read part of it years ago as a pre-teen, when I was lured in by this evocative cover, but it was too heavy and intellectual for me at the time.

I was motivated to read it again now because of the tv show airing on Bravo. Once again, it was the visuals – in this case the trailer – that drew me in, but book nerd that I am, I had to read the book first. I read it in two sessions, but those sessions were a couple of months apart.

I loved the premise behind this story, the post-apocalyptic world that Atwood imagines, and its beginnings eerily reflect some of the current news circling the world.

Unfortunately, I didn’t love her writing style. And I really detested the end of the book. This story was largely character-based, but it is the plot that drew me in. In effect, essentially nothing happens throughout most of the story, and the ending felt like a huge cliffhanger. I felt as if I should only be halfway through the book when in actuality I was finished.

If you are a reader who likes to delve into the nuances of a character and reader the minute internal emotional journey they undergo, this is probably a great book for you. If you are more of a plot-based fan who wants things to move along at a faster clip, try the show instead. I am loving it much more.

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