Bill McKibben and Edward Abbey are both modern environmental writers who have had a noticeable impact on the environmental movement. One of Abbey’s novels, The Monkey Wrench Gang, was an inspirational piece for some of the founders of Earthfirst!, a far-left environmentalist group. McKibben’s most famous novel, The End of Nature (1989), is more widely read than any other nature book since Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring. Abbey, who is commonly associated with the Southwest,a has often been described as possessing a bitter but passionate attitude. A past including careers as a ranger and a firefighter indicate his attachment to the wilderness that he considers “our natural home” is something very real to him. His concept of “Eco-Defense”, in which he gives environmentalists a right to protect their home, is an original and unique way of thinkng of environmental protectionism. McKibben shows us the damage we have done to the natural world and makes a plea for an end. He was born to two journalist parents, married a journalist, and wrote for and edited the The New Yorker . Abbey and McKibben write differently but they are bonded in that they both demand change.
Abbey and McKibben would agree that something is wrong with America’s attitude toward the environment. However, Abbey’s writing invites doing battle with those who invade the forests while McKibben simply tries to point out that there is a problem and that something radical must be done to eliminate it at its base. Abbey’s essay, Eco-Defense, and McKibben’s essay, Not So Fast both ask the reader to act radically. However, Abbey writes as if to de-emphasize the radicalism of his solution while McKibben is blunt as he explains that the only sane option is something that is contradictory to societies current values. Both McKibben and Abbey’s audiences have proven them to be effective as persuasive writers. What is it about their writing that makes it work?
Abbey’s writing is intended to stir the reader’s instincts. He begins his essay with an example of self-defense in the home. This is something that most people can come together and agree on. Abbey writes, “Self-defense against attack is one of the basic laws not only of human society but of life itself, not only of human life but of all life.” This principle is the basis of the entire essay because it is the moral justification for what he later asks the reader to do. The rest of the essay focuses on applying the concept of home to the wilderness, and the concept of the invader to those who contribute to the eradication of the wilderness.
Abbey writes with little factual basis. It is possible he considers himself writing to an audience that already is knowledgeable about how the government, media, and “three-piece-suited gangsters” of corporate America are essentially slashing and burning our natural home. Instead he uses his passion to appeal to those who may be in the mindset of an environmentalist but needing an activist shove. One could not read this essay and learn anything about the destruction of the American woodlands. However, if they were already involved in this topic they may be provoked by the example of self-defense, and by the words like, “invading, bashing, attacking, and assault” to feel more strongly about the issue.
Abbey ends the essay with a specific request to spike trees with nails that is an example of the type of self-defense he is writing about. He glorifies this action in how he writes about it, “risky but sporting; unauthorized but fun; illegal but ethically imperative.” “You won’t hurt them,” he writes about the trees well being, never mentioning that the reason that “loggers hate nails” is because it can kill them. He leaves the essay with a light-hearted image of his Aunt Emma doing it in a way that is nothing but beneficial. Abbey’s essay would manipulate almost anyone who is not a careful reader to only look at this issue from one angle.
McKibben’s essay is written more as a conclusion based on certain premises he has gathered. His argument in the opening paragraphs is backed by strong scientific proof. It also parallels his later theme, which is that there are environmental problems, which are both externally and internally woven into our way of life. Not So Fast is written to give an uncommon view to a commonly considered problem.
This writing is fairly straightforward. It is difficult to pick out important facts that would add to the integrity of the essay or lack thereof. In a sense it is a report on the environmental state of America and of the world. The issues of CO2 versus CO and of energy conservation are highlighted because they are applicable and are examples of the macro-environmental problem that most people fail to see. The emphasis is not that we have a moral issue to change but that we must.
McKibben gives us a journalistic viewpoint, which cannot be ignored. He quotes an interview he had with Al Gore in which Gore said, “The maximum that is politically feasible, even the maximum that is politically imaginable right now, still falls short of the minimum that is scientifically and ecologically necessary.” If this is true then why do so many people fail to recognize it? McKibben sums it up in one powerful phrase, “Change frightens us”.
Abbey and McKibben have influenced the environmental movement in two different ways. Abbey gives those who are already involved some of his passion and has inspired many people to sacrifice for what they come to believe in. It is a hot-blooded brand of environmentalism. McKibben presents us with information that we should not be able to ignore with good conscience, attempting to change our minds without manipulating them. Either way, both writers have been successful in the purpose they are writing for.