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Happy Solstice, Everyone!/Go out and Orgy/Have delirious fun! [Jun. 21st, 2007|12:44 pm]

Book reviews, nonfic . . .

Terry Glavin, The Sixth Extinction: Journeys Among The Lost and Left Behind. I must confess I haven't entirely finished it yet, but I LOVE this book! I think it shall almost certainly be the best/my favorite nonfiction book I read this year. It's a depressing as hell topic, not just the accelerating into the abyss pace of extinctions among animal and plant species and sub-species, with the focus on specific examples and causes, but also the growing lack of diversity amongst humans even as we multiply like Agent Smith in the Matrix (my metaphor, not his, so don't blame the book if you hate it!). (Not that some human cultural extinctions aren't of the good -- we really didn't need foot binding or thumb screws, and we can't get honor killings, female genital mutilation, gay-bashing and a million other awfulnesses extinct soon enough . . . )

But how can you not love a book on these things that includes such passages as "It's wilder up that way . . . There is the Sruthanalunacht, the Stream of New Milk, which once ran white with milk but long ago it turned to water, they say, when a woman washed her feet in it. There are people who live at Cloonusker who say that at the end of the world, the final battle of the last war will be fought up there, above Gortaderra, in a place called the Valley of the Black Pig, and on that last day of battle the Stream of New Milk will turn to blood. . . William Butler Yeats was haunted by these things, and just as the world was carrying the great weight of dread and foreboding in his apolocalyptic poem, "The Valley of the Black Pig," so it was when I began writing this book . . . I can also confidently report that the roads and boreens that wind their way through the East Clare hills do not lead inevitably northward beyond Fossamore into the Valley of the Black Pig."

Meaning, of four possible ways of dealing w/our present future situations, two of them get us into said Valley, i.e. things permanently fucked up awfully, and two of them are more hopeful. And the book itself is hopeful even as it is awful in its catalog of human destruction, and poetic even as it discusses the pros and cons of zoos and genetic engineering and the tragedy of the "living dead" species that still exist but due to habitat/numbers loss are almost certainly doomed to not exist that much longer, w/chapter titles such as "The Last Giants in the River of the Black Dragon" and "An Apple is a Kind of Rose" and "The Singing Tree of Chungliyimti". It could be something will happen in the remaining half of the book that will make me not love it, or even hate it, but at this point surpasses Farthing as my most-loved book of the year.

Helen Caldicott, Why Nuclear Power is Not the Answer.
James Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia: The Climate Crisis and The Fate of Humanity.
Reviewing these together because the authors reference each other, and take fundamentally opposing views as to the best way out of our environmental catostrophe. I must say, she makes by far the more compelling (and more detailed) arguments, both in favor of solar (which Lovelock skips over in about a page, essentially saying "I can't imagine we can get as much power as cheaply that way as from nuclear" w/out much further discussion) and against nuclear.

Whereas previously I thought the primary problem w/nuclear energy was the problem of long-term waste disposal (and that is a HUGE, to my mind insurmountable problem w/nuclear power), Caldicott's book convinced me nuclear power plants are not environmentally friendly even in the course of their normal, no-accidents-or-unexpected-problems daily operation. Nor, when one takes into account the cost/energy/emissions of building them and building the necessary waste containment facilities and various other costs that their supporters typically fail to factor in,do they even succeed in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which so many people (including Lovelock) are these days touting them as The Best Solution To. They're not even much more (or arguably any, in fact arguably less) cost-effective, when subsidies are removed and future costs are taken into account. Nor are they quicker -- Lovelock repeatedly says we must get to work on nuclear fission plants now, as other sources are at least a couple of decades away from being reliable for the masses of people we have; he ignores that it will also take a couple of decades to get all the fission plants he wants built up and running. When/if clean-burning fusion plants are available, then nuclear will be worth talking about, but in the meantime that is far more speculative than solar or wind or even tidal. (and while I skipped the part about susceptibility to terrorist attacks because I've been flogged w/that phrase from the Bush administration sufficiently to give me an aversion, this might be relevant also, if you believe nukes vs. renewable energy sources is a close call, otherwise) As far as I can tell, Lovelock's fondness for nukes stems primarily from his having rushed into the arms of the nuclear power industry out of disgust that unspoiled English countryside was being destroyed to make room for windmills. Which is an understandable disgust, but it's led him into swallowing nuclear industry propaganda whole (tho to be fair, he tries to be fair as well, mentioning other prominent climatologists who disagree w/him, including one that I gather he was good friends with until they quit speaking over this issue a couple of years ago).

Keeping in mind that she wins the argument on that subject hands down, Lovelock's book does a very nice job -- one of the best I've read -- of explaining why global warming is a problem, and (here it does do the best job of anything I've read) exactly how big of a problem it is. It's also the best explanation of the ecosphere as a self-regulating system I've read, and clarifies the various ways in which we are damaging the ability of the system to continue regulating itself, possibly beyond repair. Lovelock thinks we may already be beyond the point of no return as far as avoiding mass devastation, and definitely are unless we start taking massive action now, and yes, I'm an easy sell on this since I'd already read all sorts of stuff that agrees with him and also made sense, but he's the first I've seen who has pointed out that unless we fix things quickly, we could wind up getting to the heat death of all life on the planet much sooner rather than later (later being hundreds of millions of years from now, if we *don't* fuck things up). One thing I'm really happy with is that he's not one of the people who dances around the point that there's simply too damn many of us for the biosphere to support already, and we can't keep expanding our population or we're gonna kill the planet and ourselves no matter WHAT we do about global warming and fuel sources. Lots of stuff to discuss pros and con w/this deeply fascinating and informative but deeply flawed book, but I want to get to others so on to . . .

Deep Economy, Bill McKibben. Points out how traditional economics as taught and practiced in most places these days fails to account for all sorts of social and environmental costs, and points the way towards a sort of economics that does these things. sitakali also has some good stuff on this in her journal and in her non-lj blog which you can link to from her lj) Points out all sorts of environmental damage beyoned global warming or even pollution or habitat destruction -- points to northern China as an example of the kind of catastrophe the whole world is going to face from diminishing water sources unless we get more responsible about our usage of this, amongst other things. And takes apart a lot of big agriculture propaganda against smaller or more localized farming.

I confess, some stuff in the book kinda rubbed me the wrong way -- while I certainly agree we have a responsibility for each other, the emphasis on community was a little too much for my taste, & I nearly quit reading when he said "the rest of this book is devoted to the economics of neighborliness" (don't stop there, btw, the rest of the book is actually really good); didn't care for his overall excessive cheeriness or his repeated mentions of being a Sunday school teacher or his being way, way way too kind in his evaluation of all sorts of people and arguments, but then, this may be exactly the kind of person/book/argumentation most likely to reach those people who still resist more environmentally/socially friendly ways of life.

[User Picture]From: kyrialyse
2007-06-21 09:33 pm (UTC)
"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?"

(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: mojave_wolf
2007-06-22 06:27 pm (UTC)
I *love" The Second Coming! & Yeats in general. One can't go wrong quoting Yeats.

Well, yes, one can. But that's getting far afield.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)