Earth Abides is a shockingly quiet and slow burning novel that shows an eerily realistic depiction of Earth after most of humanity has been wiped out by some sort of disease. The title is a sort of backhand to people feeling to comfortable with their own invincibility, saying that human and all life will eventually die off, but Earth will be there still. Judging by the mood of the novel and context clues from other readings, Earth will abide as humans slowly kill themselves off without even understanding how.
While it’s never explicitly stated what killed the human population in Earth Abides, it’s made quite clear that humans were the cause of it in one way or another. In Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, she states that humans are creating a massive chemical imbalance that is far from what is naturally an acceptable environment for life to survive. She mentions in the second chapter that a chemical that is being overused is DDT and other kinds of pesticides and insecticides. These are chemicals to kill pests, but how much is too much when it comes to controlling unwanted creatures? Even in Earth Abides, wether it was put in consciously or not, Ish is guilty of using DDT to a sort of outrageous degree at the point where ants and rats are invading his house.
Reading this after reading and discussing Philippe Squarzoni’s Climate Changed was kind of like reading a fictionalized representation of the warnings predicted by the scientists Squarzoni interviewed. Both of these works have similar themes in terms of controlling what we are producing (although that is pretty implicit in Earth Abides) and working together to adapt to the circumstances that we are given. There’s a point in the novel that reminded me a lot of people I know when they are confronted with the ideas and implications of climate change. Ish is becoming uncomfortable with how lax everyone is and how no one ever acts on certain ideas to make life better. He keeps saying that something is going to happen that no one is prepared for.
Surely enough, there is a water shortage one day forcing everyone to act even though they are unprepared. At this point, the characters do work together and adapt to the issues, but it should have never happened in the first place. That can be said about what happens in the real world. There are people who claim they want to protect the environment and stop the climate change that is hurting us, but it’s all hollow or half hearted promises. Surely enough, when disaster happens, as it has in the past, everyone comes together to help, but it could have been stopped altogether. To me, this was the most relatable and important part in the entire book because I could clearly see George Stewart’s warning hidden in the guise of a fictional narrative.
While Earth Abides is a slow moving and sometimes impossible book, there are lots of ideas and opinions presented when it was first published in 1949 that still hold up very well. There are many natural things that can hurt us in this world, so it is against our better interests to create more and more by the hundreds each year. Humans need to either stop or at least control what they are producing or how they are living or adapt to a much more hostile environment. Unfortunately, there’s no way we’d be able to adapt faster than airborne chemicals and poisonous environments. So what is it we can do before it’s too late?