The legendary environmentalist who wrote the first popular book about climate change expands his focus examining how much the country has changed for the worse since the 1960s and early 70s. McKibben uses the flag, cross, and station wagon as metonymies for patriotic history, traditional Christianity, and suburbia–all of which now seem tainted and his boyhood perspective naïve. His summer job as an adolescent was as a Revolutionary War tour guide, but he only recently learned of his town’s historical racism thanks to the 1619 Project–particularly the tortured enslaved person whose body hung prominently in a gibbet for over 100 years in the center of town. When the Vietnam Vets Against the War arrived, they and much of the town including his father and every member of the clergy were arrested for protesting. But just a couple of years later his town voted against affordable housing in the privacy of the voting booth. And he zeroes in on how post-war suburbia created the most pollution of anything ever in the history of the world. A brilliant informative book that looks to the past and its failed promises, and looks, perhaps even with a little hope, to what we can do now. — Dafydd Wood
Bill McKibben—award-winning author, activist, educator—is fiercely curious.
“I’m curious about what went so suddenly sour with American patriotism, American faith, and American prosperity.”
Like so many of us, McKibben grew up believing—knowing—that the United States was the greatest country on earth. As a teenager, he cheerfully led American Revolution tours in Lexington, Massachusetts. He sang “Kumbaya” at church. And with the remarkable rise of suburbia, he assumed that all Americans would share in the wealth.
But fifty years later, he finds himself in an increasingly doubtful nation strained by bleak racial and economic inequality, on a planet whose future is in peril.
And he is curious: What the hell happened?
In this revelatory cri de coeur, McKibben digs deep into our history (and his own well-meaning but not all-seeing past) and into the latest scholarship on race and inequality in America, on the rise of the religious right, and on our environmental crisis to explain how we got to this point. He finds that he is not without hope. And he wonders if any of that trinity of his youth—The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon—could, or should, be reclaimed in the fight for a fairer future.
Bill McKibben is the author of more than a dozen books, including the best sellers Falter, Deep Economy, and The End of Nature, which was the first book to warn the general public about the climate crisis.
He is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College and the winner of the Gandhi Prize, the Thomas Merton Prize, and the Right Livelihood Prize, sometimes called “the alternate Nobel.” He lives in Vermont with his wife, the writer Sue Halpern. He founded the global grassroots climate campaign 350.org; his new project, organizing people over sixty for progressive change, is called Third Act.
“We do inhabit the same world, after all, and to see it for a while through Bill McKibben’s eyes is good medicine.“
“If we survive the interlocking plagues of climate change, right-wing authoritarianism, and savage inequality, future generations will utter the name of the New England moral visionary and activist McKibben with the reverence we speak of Emerson, Thoreau, and Garrison. This sparkling little diamond of a book illuminates the all-American boyhood and education of a radical Christian environmentalist in love with a broken world that, frankly speaking, may or may not exist at all a century from now. May McKibben's golden pen continue to flow swiftly and conquer—with both love and reason—the dangerous enemies of human civilization.“
—Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD-8)
“Plainspoken, direct, conversational, and inspiring, Bill McKibben offers us generous insight into who he is and how he has been shaped by his middle-class upbringing in the suburbs. We see through inner and outer choices, struggles, and influences, why one of the world's most effective and humble leaders in the climate justice movement committed himself to an activist's life on behalf of a warming planet. The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon is more than a memoir, it is a bow to the power of social justice movements and a smart and savvy historical reflection on what has brought us to this crucible moment of climate collapse. Bill McKibben is an every-day hero who continues to show us not only what is possible, but necessary to our survival, the survival of our democracy, and all life in the places we call home.“
—Terry Tempest Williams, author of Erosion: Essays of Undoing
“What went wrong with America in the 1970s? In this searching book, Bill McKibben wrestles with a generation that lost its way, and why, and how to find the way back.”
—Jill Lepore, author of These Truths: A History of the United States
“Bill McKibben has written a great American memoir, using the prism of his own life to reflect on the most important dynamics in our society. Bill McKibben’s writing is poignant, engrossing and revealing. His message is a clarion call for a generation to understand what happened to their American Dream, and to fight for our common future.”
—Heather McGhee, author of The Sum of Us: How Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together
“Bill McKibben is such a heroic and consequential leader in the fight for the climate on behalf of all humankind, it's easy to lose sight of his humanity. As usual, this book is a thoughtful critique of wrong turns America has taken, but this time refreshingly and revealingly intertwined with his personal story. As a fellow former suburban boy who has also tried hard to figure out ‘what the hell happened,’ The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon was like listening to a wise old pal preach.”
—Kurt Andersen, author of Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America
“The prolific writer and activist finds some of the causes of our societal meltdown in the idyllic suburbs of his youth. . . . McKibben capably picks apart long-ago history to find present themes.”
“Adept at factual storytelling and connecting the dots, earnest, caring, and funny, McKibben dovetails personal reckonings with an astute elucidation of our social justice and environmental crises, arguing wisely that facing the truth about our past is the only way forward to a more just and sustainable future.”
—Booklist, starred review