In his goal of making the personal political and the political personal, Mother Jones contributor Bill McKibben has so far taken on the issue of environmental decay (The End of Nature, Anchor, 1990) and intellectual rot (The Age of Missing Information, Plume, 1993). With his new book, Maybe One: An Environmental and Personal Argument for Single-Child Families (Simon & Schuster, 1998), McKibben writes about his 5-year-old child, Sophie, and what it means to make a truly intimate commitment to fighting overpopulation. Along the way, he debunks myths about only children and about population studies.
Q. You've always argued that there are no simple solutions to environmental problems.
A. One of the things I've been trying to do is think of some of the ways we might get out of this fix, and the first thing to say is that even if we did all of them, it's too late to get out of the fix completely. We've already altered the world around us in deep and dangerous ways. Recycling, which is one of the main environmental activities of most Americans, is a wonderful thing but it's like doing calisthenics compared to running a race. If only the solutions were all as simple as that. There was a book called 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth (Earthworks Press, 1995), a very popular and good book, which had many good ideas, but it's such an American idea that (a) we'll save the earth and (b) the things that'll be necessary to do it will be simple. The long book that I keep writing in different installments is something like "Five Incredibly Difficult Things You Can Do That Might Help a Little Bit."
Q. In writing about your daughter, Sophie, you bring the topic of overpopulation to an intensely personal level. Why?
A. That's a good question. Aside from getting married and having a child in the first place, this was the most important, difficult decision my wife and I made. I guess this book is so personal because the effect of reading vast quantities of social science studies is to make you deeply aware of how they have no impact on anyone because they're almost bizarrely abstract. When we talk about population, we talk about birthrates, fertility levels—as if it all operates on this grand statistical level—but, of course, in any real sense, it's about how many kids you or anybody else decides to have.
And for me, it's not enough to begin with the situation, with the physical facts around us in the world, and then think about how to deploy those facts rhetorically. Instead, you have to think: "What does this mean to me? How do I feel, in all the senses of that word, about this?"
The Soul of Sex By Thomas Moore. New York: HarperCollins, 1998. 320 pages. $25. In these days of biotechnology and cloning, it's nice to know someone still enjoys sex. Mother Jones contributor Thomas Moore reveals that there's more to sex than simply propagating the species in The Soul of Sex, which expands on the essay "Sex (American Style)," published here in September/October 1997. Considering the sexuality of everyone from Jesus to Marilyn Monroe, he illustrates the importance of "the role of the spiritual in sex." The book is due out in July. [J.W.]