From a former environmentalist teacher, now a conservationist steward
I once proudly called myself an environmentalist. Now I am a conservationist and a steward.
I believe some wild spaces should be saved. I recycle (A lot!). I coordinate my school's paper recycling program. I own several of those little fluorescent bulbs and I use them every day. I don't spray chemicals all over my yard. I don't dump motor oil down the drain. I pick up garbage when I walk the dog. I go camping. I go to the Earth Day celebration in downtown Indianapolis because it's a great place to get information on clean-up events and they give away free trees! I also love it when they assume that I must be an ultra-liberal just to be there!
Now that I've said all of this, let me say that I am not an environmentalist. I used to be. Way back when, when I first started teaching, I showed movies to my kids in world geography that said the world as we know it is going to end by the year 2000. Mass flooding, all of the fish dead, mass starvation, etc. They were older versions of An Inconvenient Truth that featured Hollywood stars and quoted heavily from Gore's Earth in the Balance.
I am now embarrassed by all of that.
Why? Because I fell for the hype and did not do simple things like check sources and see if what I was being told was backed up by other testimony. Sometimes, simple facts get in the way (like Ehrlich's Population Bomb book predictions never quite came true, like those predictions in the videos I showed to my class) and make it hard to follow that line of reasoning any longer.
So, here are the 7 environmental catastrophes Murray describes in The Really Inconvenient Truths:
1. DDT & Malaria in Africa
2. Ethanol as fuel
3. The "Pill" and its effect on fish downstream from water treatment plants.
4. The burning of Yellowstone and other National lands
5. The Cuyahoga River burning
6. The Endangered Species Act "Shoot, Shovel and Shut up!"
7. The Aral Sea
This book is extremely well-written and approachable. It is also well-documented with more than 300 footnotes.
His commentary on Al Gore (do as I say, not as I do) and what he characterizes as the Church of Eco-Paganism are brilliant. He builds on Michael Crichton's commentary along the same lines and calls it a form of eco-Lutheranism (not to insult Lutherans - I am one and thought it was brilliant) since it is based on "Not on works, but on Faith alone," which is why the high priest of the movement, Al Gore, can use more than 20 times the electricity of the average Tennessean, own 2 more homes and jet around the world while telling us to cut back - he has the Faith!
The commentary on the Endangered Species Act was strong and largely built on an essay by the author of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, Steven D. Levitt. It studies the unintended consequences of the Endangered Species Act in which some people kill endangered species or destroy their habitats so they don't lose their property rights to a series of federal mandates.
His commentary on ethanol is strong, but goes overboard. His math sometimes does not make sense. He claims (correctly, I'm pretty sure) that all of the gasoline must be 10% ethanol. A few pages later he notes that if this were to happen an extra 55 million acres of corn would have to be planted. Well, we're already doing it. He also cites sources that claim we'd have to clear cut forests to plant all of this corn. I live in the cornbelt (Indiana) and I grew up on the farm. Every farmer has fields that are devoted to hay, straw or pastureland that will be converted to fields before we start clearing forests. Plus, increased yields (an achievement Murray points out in this chapter) will make up some of the difference as well.
The Aral Sea disaster (it was drained to provide water to meet Soviet cotton crop targets) is awful, but can only loosely be placed at the feet of environmentalists. He cites it as an example of poor choices of central planning and a cautionary tale to central planning schemes like Kyoto or carbon credits, but this is a loose association at best.
So, in sum, this is a pleasure to read. Well-cited, but not a perfect book.
I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.
This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Really Inconvenient Truths.
Reviewed on August 9, 2008.