Bill McKibben. The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon

Bill McKibben. The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon. A Graying American Looks Back at his Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2022

Bill McKibben is the author of more than a dozen books, including the best sellers Falter, Deep Economy, and The End of Nature. He is also founder of the environmental organisation 350.org. The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon is a mirror that reflects some of the most serious problems in modern society: racial and economic inequality and the climate crisis. It poses two questions: ‘What went wrong with America after the 1970s?’, and ‘What is the generation to which McKibben himself belongs, i.e. those in their sixties, going to do to help turn the tide?’ While McKibben does not pretend to have all the answers, he has one important message: his generation, i.e. those in their sixties, must back up the excellent work young people are doing to raise awareness of the present critical situation of the planet and its people before it is too late.

McKibben reminds us that it is groups of young people who have transformed the fight for a more healthy, just and harmonious planet – members of such organisations as the Sunrise Movement and Fridays for Future. But now, he argues, young people ‘need those of us who are older to back them up’. Older people with resources; people who wish to invest in the future of their grandchildren. ‘We’re about to be the first generation to leave the world a worse place than we found it. We’re foreclosing, every day, the possibilities for our descendants’ by exploiting natural resources that are not endless and only give short-term profit.

The NIMBY (not in my back yard) attitude needs to be changed to the YIMBY: ‘yes, in my backyard.’ We must not suppress the truth of our past but overcome it. We must stand up to authority and to history. We must ‘open new chapters in the human story, ones that have some hope of redeeming what came before’. These new ‘chapters’ are the key to health, happiness and survival.

An intensely personal narrative, The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon is also very much a national as well as an international story. It is a story that gives us ‘some hope of redeeming what came before’. If we do as McKibben advises, we will open new chapters in our story: chapters that rectify the many mistakes we have made, learn from the past, and harness the resources of those who can make a difference and help the planet and its people to head in the right direction before it is too late – and before the home we call Earth is no longer able to sustain life. We need to find our way back to the past in order to understand the problems of the present and write a more sustainable story of, and for the future. Those of us in their sixties must back up the young people and help them to write a better conclusion than the one we are currently heading for.

Jane Ekstam, September 2022

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