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Clearing The Air
by Brian Fawcett

HAVING AN OPPORTUNITY to read and review a ;clcctiol) of recently published books oil the environment at first struck me as an unmitigated privilege. No subject is more timely or urgent, and, like most people, I know pitifully little about many areas of concern. Realizing that something is important, but not having the time or inclination to find out why it is important is, of course, the classic liberal dodge. For some time I've sensed that it was becoming a dangerous one, because it was leaving the field ?? and the rivers, oceans, forests, and garbage dumps ?? in the hands of narrowly trained experts and dull functionaries. Taking oil this review, therefore, was an exercise not just in overdue selfeducation but in basic citizenship. I have to confess that the privilege has turned Out to he a mixed blessing. I discovered that the things about which I know too little are legion, mid that they're more important than my most extreme estimate. The Cumulative effect of reading these books is deeply depressing: each involves a profound crisis in the world we live in, and in the way we live in it, and each one calls out for our more or less complete attention. Many of them reveal more than one crisis and/or that the crises are interrelated. Read one after the other, the books reveal a woeful gap between crisis diagnosis and our technical and social capability to straighten out the messes we've created. That our will to begin doing so is evidently growing is good news. Finding out that we lack the cultural, political, and technical tools isn't. Thar our governments and those who control our wealth? creating apparatuses clearly lag far behind the general public in recognizing the implications of the overall crisis is pure bad news. Oil the positive side, there has been a large number of books published, and they address a wide range of specific and general environmental issues and topics, and at different levels of sophistication. Almost without exception, they are intelligent, usefully informative, and sometimes uplifting. I can recommend nearly all of them. In fact, I can and perhaps should go further than that: readers should go out of their way to read these books. Stop whatever you're doing, however urgent it may seem, and read them, and then act oil them appropriately. Your safety, and tile continued existence of the planet we live on, probably depends on it. Three major Canadian presses have produced consumer ecology guidebooks for 1990, and all ?are useful and readable. Despite the occasionally exasperating gee?whiz style, the CBC environmental reporter Marjorie Lamb, in 2 Minutes a Day for a Greener Planet (HarperCollins, 243 pages, $14?95 paper), has produced a well?organized, readable, and non?judgemental manual for what individuals call do (1) a daily basis to bell, protect the environment. Because the book is so carefully focused oil practical mid individual actions, it is among the few hooks available oil the environment that doesn't make you feel hopeless, guilty, and confused. I'm not convinced that two minutes a day will really (it) the trick ?? I've been spending a lot more than that each (Jay just soaking labels oft bottles and washing cans for the recycling box, but I'm not going to quibble over the title. If it takes two hours a day to save our own lives and our planet, (illy idiots will complain. Lorraine Johnson's Green Future: How to Make a World of Difference (Pengiun, 226 pages, $14.95 paper) is divided almost evenly between trying to convince us that there's a problem, explaining where the problem lies, and suggesting activist or individual solutions. The book is printed oil recycled paper, an I the logo on the cover advising us to "recycle this hook" raises the same confusion the hook sometimes does ?? do we pulp it after consumption, lend it to a friend, or what? Personally, I'd he happy if it were printed oil sheet metal or etched in stone, because the problems it addresses aren't temporary, ?.in(] we're unlikely to be in the position to pulp this book within the next century or So. The Daily Planet: A Hands?on Guide to a Greener Environment (Key Porter, 232 pages, $16.95 paper), by Paul Griss, is also printed oil recycled paper. It is similar to Lorraine Johnson's book, except that it is shorter, the conceptual and statistical arguments are more abstract, and the practical suggestions mole authoritarian and sparse. I agree with nearly everything Griss says, but I would have appreciated seeing more things in it I could actually get my hands on. Vision 2020: Ontario's Youth, Ontarios Future (Public Focus, 13 3 pages, $9.95 paper) is supposedly a collective expression of Ontario students' views of the environmental crisis, along with a compendium of what the kids would like to see in tile year 2020. Most of the time, unfortunately, the kids' ideas have been edited down to the consistency of thick, opaque conceptual paste that reads more like what their teachers want them to say than anything I've ever heard a child say or think. I know environmental education is crucial, but is teaching kids to think, speak, mid write like Ottawa bureaucrats the right way to go about it? On the other side of the Spectrum is the clearly written 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth (Macmillan, 160 pages, $9.95 paper). It's from the Earth Works Group of California, and offers children a series of interesting and practical suggestions about what they can do. In the Wake of the Exxon Valdez (Douglas So MacIntyre, 350 pages, $19.95 cloth), by the Alaska environmentalist Art Davidson, is a thorough and level?headed analysis of the catastrophic March 1989 oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound. Drawing his material from an astonishing array of sources, Davidson deals with both the facts of the situation and its tragic aspects. The chapters on the containment and clean?up are models of objectivity other environmental writers should follow. Those that document the effects of the spill on the eagle, sea otter, and other animal populations will make you weep. Interestingly, Exxon gets mixed reviews. Yes, it screwed UP, but the company's response to the situation was a combination of corporate foot?dragging and sometimes inspired resourcefulness that was seriously hindered by government agencies and politicians more interested in finger?pointing than in minimizing the damage. Davidson's unequivocal conclusion: "No amount of money spent or personnel deployed can control a large oil spill." Years ago, Farley Mowat did a wonderful thing, for which we should all be grateful. He spent a summer in the Arctic living among and studying wolves. He wrote a book about it, the remarkable and ground?breaking Never Cry WoIf, that did as much to change the way we see the natural world as any book ever written by a Canadian. A few years later, however, he got himself invited to the Soviet Union during the chilliest hours of the Cold War and was allowed into areas that literally no Westerner had seen except from surveillance aircraft. The result was an unforgivable book about vodka, and about what great drinkers the Soviets are. The balance of Mowat's opus ranges between the sublime and half?sober, sentimental silliness. Despite its goofy title, blowhard introduction, and a general overabundance of self?aggrandizing exclamation marks, Mowat's book of interviews with environmentalists, Rescue the Earth! (McClelland & Stewart, 282 pages, $26.95 cloth), leans distinctly toward the sublime. Mowat turns out to be a capable interviewer and has provided a series of useful portraits of our leading environmental activists and their range of concerns. It's good reading, and will make an excellent Christmas gift for corporate executives who still think that environmentalists are a bunch of star?gazing nitwits and malcontents, and that their concerns can continue to be bulldozed in the name of shortterm profits. Elizabeth May's Paradise Won (McClelland & Stewart, 320 pages, $27.95 cloth) is the season's most heavily publicized environmental book, and to my mind, the most troubling to read. It is the story of the "eco?warriors" who fought to create the South Moresby National Park in B.C.'s Queen Charlotte Islands from 1974 to the park's designation in 1987. For all its bright and buzzy veneer, this book has a number of very murky subtexts to which the author, a former federal government environmental policy analyst, seems annoyingly oblivious. Paradise Won reads like a cross between a thriller and a teen adventure novel, with one?dimensional characterizations and amateurishly framed and painted sets that are guaranteed to thrill the already?thrilled, and alienate the skeptical or hostile. I was personally convinced that most of the people from the Queen Charlottes who conceived the idea of a park and opposed (or fronted) the logging ?? people like the Haida activist Gary Edenshaw, the environmentalists Thom Henley and John Broadhead, or the logger Frank Beban ?? were on the same planet as the rest of us. But the abstract intergovernmental and bureaucratic drama that takes up the bulk of the book, and most of the people involved in it, simply scared the hell out of me. May herself (apparently) played a leading role in bringing the park to reality, but she did it without ever having been to the islands, and she operated with a messianic certainty that was as unflinching as one of Frank Beban's bulldozers. Watching her supporting cast of Tom (the former PC environment minister Tom McMillan), Fraze (PC House Speaker John Fraser), Maz (Deputy P.M. Don Mazankowski), Jim (Skeena NDP M.P. Jim Fulton), and the gang at the PMO outslick the B.C. government (who are depicted ?? probably correctly ?? as a gang of chainsaw?swinging Neanderthals) was too much like watching one horde of fundamentalists overrun another. The good guys won, but there were far too few educative moments on either side to make me feel good about it. There's entirely too much thumbing the nose at the losers going on in this book. Just Linder the surface of this drama is an unintentionally chilling portrait of an old?boy network penetrable only by professionals like May herself, and it doesn't exactly build ones faith in either due process or governmental competence or flexibility. Securing the South Moresby area as a national park is a real enough victory, but the paradise won is small, isolated, and pretty exclusive. The process by which it was obtained also leaves me wondering about a number of things. Shouldn't we remember that the destruction of the B.C. environment goes on unchecked? Do we really have time for these kinds Of gleeful and partisan eco?games, where the wins are all guerilla victories against enemies who remain in control of the larger field, and must be convinced that their true enemy is their own collective consciousness! The 200?year degradation of the Great Lakes ecosystem is among the most serious crises North Americans face. In Great Lakes, Great Legacy? (Institute for Research on Public Policy, 301 pages, unpriced) the Conservation Foundation (U.S.) and the Institute for Research on Public Policy (Canada) have produced a rather dry but thorough analysis of the problems faced and actions needed. Unfortunately, they've done it all without being adequately clear about how to secure the public and governmental will needed to avert the total collapse of the Great Lakes ecosystem. Someone should tell these people that the question in their title isn't a rhetorical one. Green Cities: Ecologically Sound Approaches to Urban Space (Black Rose, 240 pages, $19?75 paper, $39.95 cloth) is a series of essays, edited by David Gordon, which was prepared for the Pollution Probe Foundation International Symposium Of Greening the City. It is aimed mainly at spurring the imaginations of architects, urban planners, and other design professionals toward reintegrating human settlements within the ecosystems they have thus far in history thoughtlessly altered, overrun, or simply destroyed. Much of the book is pretty dry and technical, but on the whole the ideas it contains are so sane and sensible that you'll end up wondering why civic politicians and officials have been dragging their heels on green issues for so many years. Global warming may he the ecological crisis that brings the entire network of systems down, because it involves nearly every part of the network of atrocities we're perpetrating on the planet. Planet Under Stress: The Challenge of Global Change (Oxford University Press, 352 pages, $18.95 paper), edited by Constance Mungall and Digby J. McLaren, is a distinctly Canadian view of the crisis. It is beautifully organized, coherently written and illustrated, and on the whole utterly fascinating for the general reader. Perhaps because it contains the widest view of the general ecological crisis we are facing, it is also the most depressing of the books noted in this review. Mitigating this, however, is a series of wonderfully coherent sidebars that dot the text, including a lucid little essay by Ursula M. Franklin, "Reflections on Science and the Citizen," that is so incisive that it almost lifts the pall. This is an important book that manages to avoid being wishy?washy or overly partisan. It would he nice if the federal government could show that it recognized the gravity of the environmental crisis by, say, cancelling orders on one or two of its ridiculous and crash?prone F?18 fighter jets and using some of the money saved to send every citizen in the country a copy of this book along with their tax?return notices. Suggesting this may Sound either silly or extreme. But the fix we're in ?? all Of LIS ?? is so serious that much more radical programs than anything yet dreamed of will become virtual necessities in the next 10 or 15 years. We'd better get used to that possibility, and we'd better hope to see them become realities sooner rather than later. In the meantime, buy and read some of these books. Our lives depend on it.

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