These reviews were published 10/28 in the Honolulu Advertiser in a version edited down for space, so I’ve included the full text of each review below. Also see my slightly different review of BREAK THROUGH in the current issue of Plenty Magazine.
The Death of Environmentalism and the Politics of Possibility
By Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN; 306 pages; $25
Back in 2004, two well-known environmentalists released a pamphlet at a donor and grantee conference calling on greenies to replace “doomsday discourse” with a powerful, positive vision ala Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. To their surprise it was debated not just among insiders, but by a diverse global audience including NPR, internet forums, corporate executives, and students. Now fully conscious of their influence, Nordhaus and Shellenberger have expanded their treatise in BREAK THROUGH, examining why current environmental politics must “die,” but also offering a practical vision of how to better address the global warming crisis.
With Austen-ian chapter titles like “Greatness” and “Pragmatism,” this methodically researched book provides a structured atlas of the cultural and philosophical underpinnings of environmental issues. But it also breaks down why sacrifice-based solutions such as simply reducing emissions won’t succeed, and instead presents specific, thoroughly investigated plans centered on caring for people and investing in technological innovation. One of these, Health Care for Hybrids, has gained the support of Senator Obama, a proposal to invest in car makers’ health care in exchange for production of better fuel economy vehicles.
The authors unabashedly and eloquently make their case, and the book’s remarkable audacity in critiquing fundamental shortcomings—everything from misguided attempts to save the Amazon, NIMBY-ism, and Al Gore’s solution-bereft “An Inconvenient Truth”—is matched by a clear and optimistic voice with a pinch of humor. Whether or not you agree, these contentions are ripe for discussion—because instead of arousing guilt and negativity, the aim here is to inspire.
THE UNNATURAL HISTORY OF THE SEA
By Callum Roberts
ISLAND PRESS; 435 pages; $28
Fish have long served as a religious food, mark of status, and means of making a living, its oil the parent of our current petroleum dependence. But whereas many still view fish as a seemingly inexhaustible resource, Callum Roberts, professor of marine conservation at the University of York in England, asserts in his new book that society’s collective amnesia has created disastrous consequences for our oceans. With accessible, intimate prose, Roberts sets out to remind politicians, fishery and environmental managers that the current depletion of marine life is far from normal, and without attention fish may soon be unavailable for human consumption.
By anchoring this call to action in evocative excerpts from historical diaries, printed chronicles, archaeological record, and descriptive eyewitness accounts, Roberts reminds that our current state of overfished oceans is actually rooted in the emergence of commercial sea fishing in 11th century Europe. From there the book spans centuries, charting changes in fish consumption and trade patterns, mainly in Europe and the New World, while detailing explorers’ exploitation of sea life—from whaling to walrusing, sealing to trawling—through to resulting extermination of aquatic species today. These accounts provide compelling comparison benchmarks and expose the harm done by mankind’s continued view of wildlife solely as commodity.
But THE UNNATURAL HISTORY OF THE SEA isn’t at all “a requiem for the sea,” for Roberts not only shows how we arrived at this oceanic nadir but also underscores his optimism that there is still time to restore past productive conditions. Roberts outlines a seven-point plan for rebuilding, culminating in his advocacy of networks of large marine reserves, like the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Monument, so that abundantly diverse sea life may once again thrive.
GUARDIAN OF THE SEA: Jizo in Hawaii
By John R. K. Clark
UH PRESS; 192 pages; $19.95
Perhaps one reason books by former Deputy Fire Chief and one-time Sandy Beach lifeguard John Clark are so admired is, paradoxically, because he keeps himself out of them. Instead of interpreting history for us, Clark focuses on unearthing root source material to channel the story through those who actually experienced events. For his latest book, Clark interviewed over 300 people and fossicked through countless microfilm reels of Hawai`i’s English- and Japanese-language publications, to recount how the Buddhist bodhisattva Jizo came to guard Japanese fishermen and all islanders.
If Clark plays the role of objective historian, then the environment, particularly the Koko Head, Bamboo Ridge, and North Shore areas of O`ahu, is his principal source. These cliffs and shores perfect for catching ulua also see the biggest waves, so issei fishermen began dying the moment they began fishing. “When the situation on O`ahu became intolerable, it triggered an unusual response,” writes Clark in his typically lucid, unassuming style. Members of the Honolulu Japanese Casting Club erected three statues of Jizo, as well as wooden obelisks at the site of each drowning—a practice modeled today by Honolulu Emergency Services at the Portlock Point cliffs—to serve as memorial and warning.
GUARDIAN OF THE SEA offers a thorough history of Jizo—though its separate sections instead of chronological structure leads to significant repetition—including Jizo’s role in Japan, statue locations on each island, and the history of the three erected by issei. But the book is foremost a distinctive map of our environment, through which the history of the plantation era, Japanese immigration, wartime internment, and the persistence of Japanese culture unfolds. By collecting dynamic, true stories from everyday people, Clark makes certain that when people are no longer alive to recall these stories firsthand, his book will stand for them.