As the holiday season approaches, we expect bookstore displays full of new Christmas titles. But it may come as a surprise to discover among them a work by environmentalist Bill McKibben '82. What's this--the author of The End of Nature offering tips for recipes and gift-giving? Well, not quite, although the book does contain brief references to sausage-making and Tupperware. Everything he writes, McKibben says, flows from his concern for the earth's environment, and Hundred Dollar Holiday (Simon and Schuster) is no exception.
The title refers to the amount McKibben would like American families to set as their limit for holiday spending. One way to inflict less environmental damage--he speaks of "living more lightly on the planet"--is to lead a life with fewer possessions. (As often as not, the production and distribution of all those things we own have consumed large amounts of energy.) McKibben would like to see us change our ways, without coming across as a Grinch himself. He stresses the gratifications of the simpler life he describes. "Fear and guilt alone will not succeed as motivators for change," he points out. "We change when we think something else might be better, more pleasurable."
"It was in college," McKibben recalls, "that I began my return to some kind of religious understanding of the world, which is closely related to my scientific understanding of it. The effort of each of us to make ourselves the most important thing in the world is damaging, and you can read it in every cubic meter of the atmosphere." He says he also owes a lot to the Crimson and the tools he acquired there: "First, the ability to report, to find things out, and second, the self-confidence--you might call it overconfidence--that Crimson editors acquire. Harvard was a wonderful place for people like me who knew just what they wanted to do--in my case, report and write. Harvard sent the message that it was all right to think about the world in very large ways."
McKibben has kept on thinking about large problems, but in Hundred Dollar Holiday he often uses homey details--the walking sticks and soaps he has made for presents, children's activities at his church--as jumping-off points. When he suggests that adults give tapes of themselves reading a child's favorite stories, or "certificates" for future outings, he makes the projects so appealing that any benefit to the environment appears almost incidental. Enthusiastic readers must remember one small caveat, however: they can purchase only eight copies of his book as holiday gifts if they want to stay within his budget.
~ Deborah Schneider