Combines Holistic Thinking with Drill-Down Detail
August 1, 2010
This is a solid five in my view because the author goes beyond weaving a story about green gone wrong in three main areas (food, shelter, transportation), providing what almost all other books miss: the systems of systems “its all connected” and “what's good for one part of the system may be very bad for other parts,” both views developed by, among others, Buckminster Fuller, Robert Ackoff, and Herman Daly.
As much as I read, I can say up front that I found no false notes or glibness in this book, and found many nuggets that were new to me. Among the concepts covered by the book that were new to me were “food miles” (a portion of “true cost”), Eathship, Passivhaus (Passive House), Baugruppe (families hiring community builders directly, cutting out the middlemen developers), Agro-Ecology, Socio-Ecology, and the Jevons Paradox (conservation savings get poured back into expansion, nullifying the savings).
Two bottom lines up front:
EDUCATION of both the public and the politicians, and of all those associated with creating anything, is the sucking chest wound in our society. Green to Gold, Cradle to Cradle, Sustainable Design, Ecological Economics, all of this is going nowhere unless we can ramp up the speed and depth of public education on these topics.
GREEN TECHNOLOGY MAINTENANCE & REPAIR is the other sucking chest wound. The momentum is not there yet, meaning that well-intentioned groups can buy in to ecologically-sensible technology, but the company that installs it is generally not local, and there are no local green maintenance & repair skill sets on call. This struck me as a huge opportunity for community colleges.
In discussing the need for Political Will the author is better than most in going back into history, to Science Magazine in 1913, to point out that the knowledge of need has always been with us, but it is the politicians and the complacent public that have refused to connect with the knowledge and take (or demand) action.
Organic costs more because it integrates all of the true costs, whereas conventional farming externalizes true costs to the public and future generations
US department of Agriculture is totally hosed–the regulations are written to favor the industrial-size “dirty” operations–and its definition of “organic” is so totally corrupt that the serious organic farmers have opted out of USDA certification. STATES NEED TO NULLIFY FEDERAL REGULATIONS for state-only organic farmers, butchers, and others. It's time to take the federal government OUT of state enterprises and its time to eliminate a great deal of inter-state commerce along with absentee landlords, IMHO.
Third party certifications of everything are totally hosed and generally corrupt. US economic and agricultural policy is not only not working, it is killing what DOES work.
Big problem amenable to Internet/Information Communications Technology is the gap between many small farmers with small loads, and buyers that need multiple small loads to meet their aggregate larger need. We are still not doing enough in business-to-business matchmaking on the Internet.
Ancient farming systems are now coming back into mode as people discover that they worked without all of the “modern” poisons that we seek to use to alter systems we do not understand for temporal profit.
Using case studies, the author illuminates multiple really fascinating approaches to nested residence and working environments that are “passive” in taking in heat from the sun during the day and releasing it at night (or during the day for hot water), using wax filled-walls to melt heat in and then harden heat out, all very very interesting.
This is where it becomes critical to plan for maintenance and repair.
Bio-fuels are destroying hundreds of thousands of acres and ultimately cost more and emit more–one ton of palm oil, the author tells us, emits 33 tons of CO2, or ten times as much as petroleum.
Indonesia, which is one of the eight major demographics of the future, is a case study in how decentralization of government power has given rise to massive corruption at the provincial and local levels, with huge plantations entering to destroy fragile agro-forestry systems that have been working for centuries.
Plantations being in tons of fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides.
The author slams the World Banks International Finance Corporation (IFC) for doing loans that ignore its own internal studies on how bad those loans will be to the larger outcomes sought by the World Bank and others.
The author fails the US auto industry on green vehicles, and I cannot help but contrast this with the hypocrisy of President Obama recently declaring them a success story.
The author goes back in time to discuss how both the oil and automobile companies deliberately and with malice aforethought, bought up public transportation companies across America, and then put them out of business so as to promote automobiles and gasoline as the only options.
I had heard of water as a source of hydrogen energy, but the author adds details unknown to me, including an overview of Stanford R. Ovshinksy, who uses solar power to achieve electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen.
The author's view on carbon trade as fraud coincides with mine–this is subprime mortages for the entire Earth. The author shows in detail a couple of examples in India in which fradulent claims are made all along the line in self-contained fraud systems.
QUOTE (176): The carbon credit system–a series of convoluted financial instruments that serve Wall Street and the City by allowing them to use Earth's atmosphere as a casino–is poised for mass adoption.
QUOTE (186): When I went to the places where green products are made, I encountered industries with insatiable appetites for raw materials. I saw corporations collaborating with government officials who abused their power to facilitate unfettered resource extraction that also mauled indigenous and peasant communities. I witnessed the unremitting evisceration of native forestlands, and the broadsiding of successful solutions such as beyond-organic farming and low-emissions vehicles. While in developing countries, I glimpsed how plundering ecosystems continues to make perfect economic sense, even for businesses that are green. Environmental responsibility practiced this way looks more like camouflage to enable ongoing destructive practices rather than a break from the toxic past.
The author ends with the observation that the market system got us into this mess, it cannot be relied upon to get us out. For that she recommends a combination of bottom-up local action (to which I would the immediate nullification across every state of federal regulations that impede small business success), and learned government mandates that set standards, such as 2000 watts a day per person.
The author is weak in a number of areas such as those addressed by Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America and The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters but on balance this is a SOLID FIVE and makes me look forward to reading the author's first book, next on my list, Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage.
Rather than list a number of other books I want to point to my books lists at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog, because from this one book any reader might want to go in a number of related directions including: Capitalism (Good & Bad); Corruption; Environmental Problems; Environmental Solutions; History (e.g. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus; Nature, Diet, & Design; Values; Voices Lost, etcetera. All my reviews there (at Phi Beta Iota) lead back to their Amazon page.