McKibben, Bill Ernest (1960 – ) American Environmentalist and Writer

views updated

Bill Ernest McKibben (1960 )
American environmentalist and writer

William E. "Bill" McKibben is an American nature writer who was born in Palo Alto, California. He graduated from Harvard University in 1982 and was a staff writer and editor at The New Yorker until 1987 when he began his freelance career. He now lives with his wife in the Adirondack Mountains in New York, and this region figures prominently in his writings.

In The End of Nature, McKibben's first book, he argues that the greenhouse effect is not only part of humanity's destruction of the environment , but a symptom of Man's alienation from the natural world. He calls for an end to practices that contribute to the greenhouse effect, such as burning fossil fuels . Such practices, he writes, "will lead us, if not straight to hell, then straight to a place with a similar temperature."

Some critics dismiss McKibben's arguments as "too absolute," and "more a slogan and hyperbole than scientific insight." Environmentalists, however, praise the book, calling it the "Silent Spring of the '90s"a reference to the book by Rachel Carson which in 1962 awakened the nation to the indiscriminate use of pesticides. However, McKibben's lament over the "end of nature" is a personal account of how human activity has changed not just the industrialized centers of the world, but his own backyard.

McKibbon's second book, The Age of Missing Information (1993), is a study of the seduction of television. On one day he videotaped every show on every cable channel available in his area, more than 1,000 hours of television, and then watched it all. To contrast that experience, he spent a day camping in the woods near his Adirondack home. "This book is about the results of that experimentabout the information that each day imparted," he says. Talking about this book, McKibben says, " a very private experience, with an almost constant message of 'you are the most important, this Bud's for you.' And if you are at the center of the world, it's hard to live environmentally aware."

McKibben has also edited Birch Browsings: A John Burroughs Reader (1992). John Burroughs , a nature writer whose career spanned 60 years beginning in 1865, is credited with establishing the nature essay as a literary genre. Many environmentalists are returning to the writings of such early nature writers as Burroughs, John Muir , and Aldo Leopold to study their ideas about land stewardship .

[Linda Rehkopf ]



McKibben, Bill. Birch Browsings: A John Burroughs Reader. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.

. The Age of Missing Information. New York: Plume, 1993.

. The End of Nature. New York: Random House, 1989.

. Long Distance: A Year of Living Strenuously. Simon & Schuster, 2000.

. Maybe One: A Case for Smaller Families. Simon & Schuster, 1998.

. The Return of the Wolf: Reflections on the Future of Wolves in the Northeast. Middlebury: University Press of New England, 2000.

. Wolves in the Northeast. University Press of New England, 2000.

Magill, Frank N., ed. Magill's Literary Annual. Vol. l. Pasadena: Salem Press, 1990.

Trosky, Susan M., ed. Contemporary Authors. Vol. 130. Detroit: Gale Research, 1990.


Walljasper, Jay. "Checking in with Bill McKibben." Conscious Choice (July 1999).

About this article

McKibben, Bill Ernest (1960 – ) American Environmentalist and Writer

Updated About content Print Article