When reading Earth Abides by George R. Stewart I would much more consider this a book a “soft apocalypse” novel than a book on climate change. Even Stewart writes, “the almost complete removal of man…had not in the slightest affected the earth’s relation to the sun….or any other factor influencing the weather.” (98) What we did affect though, was everything else. Some of the most interesting parts of the book were in the italics, when it would describe the world outside of what Ish knew, and how it broke down because of humans, or instead because humans weren’t there to keep it working properly. This goes for both animals (such as the sheep) “thousands of years ago they accepted the protection of the Shepard and lost their agility and sense of independence.” (55), as well as, mechanical failures like power. Stewart says that no one bothered to make the governors which controlled the generators automatic. He goes on to say “these could survive and function only because men were constantly at hand to repair..” (95). Racheal Carson sums it up nicely by quoting Albert Schweitzer in her article Silent Spring, “Man can hardly even recognize the devils of its own creation.”
In Earth Abides, it wasn’t clear what virus started the “Great Disaster.” It could very well be one of the “500 new chemicals to which the bodies of men and animals are required somehow to adapt each year,” Carson refers to. In her article she states “Everywhere was a shadow of death.” This could also very well describe Earth Abides. Not only people, but animals, rodents, insects and crops. As quick as they arrive, they disappear through lack of food, survival of the fittest, or otherwise. It was especially important to rid their environment in Earth Abides, of all of these that could be carrying disease (even people), as Carson points out “especially under conditions where sanitation is poor, as in time of natural disaster or war or in situations of extreme poverty and deprivation.”
In our present day, a lot of companies are trying to rid crops and other produce of disease carrying insects. One such corporation is Monsanto, which has come under fire lately for its “herbicide, Roundup, could be linked to a range of health problems and diseases, including Parkinson’s, infertility and cancers.. ” a Reuters article suggests. It also says, “Environmentalists, consumer groups and plant scientists from several countries have warned that heavy use of glyphosate is causing problems for plants, people and animals.” This strikes me as very familiar to these chemicals that Carson describes that “combine into new forms that kill vegetation, sicken cattle, and work unknown hard on those who drink from once pure wells.”
In Earth Abides, a few children die from a sort of poison that went uncovered. Stewart writes, “Even when dead, civilization seemed to lay traps.” (140). The question begs to be asked, is everything that Monsanto doing now laying the trap for the generations to come. Forbes Magazine reports, “In 2011 Monsanto has been fined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for contaminating water supplies near one of its rural U.S. facilities…” Soon, the contamination by these companies will force people to migrate and desert the land they once inhabited. This is also what Ish found throughout his book, and similar to the story A Fable For Tomorrow. The story says the “people had done it to themselves.”
The most haunting aspect of Earth Abides was the realism behind it, how it wouldn’t take much to slip into a primeval state of society. The human condition, and how it relates to this new world, that is essentially healing itself is front and center. It is a delicate balance, and early in the book Ish was looking for “small things that showed how the wilderness was moving in to take charge.” (78). Earth Abides paints a very pragmatic view of what could happen in this scenario, how be adapt and carry on with our lives. Ish tries to bring the “American” way of life to the children and new tribes, but eventually they will discover their own traditions and beliefs. Even the hammer that is seen as the power symbol, which never left Ish’s side. Who would have thought something so simple would be the one thing that could carry on through generations. Simplicity can also relate to climate change, and how we can start making our current world better on step at a time.