I'm not giving this book my tip-top recommendation, but this should not indicate to anyone that I do not recommend this book without reservation. I hope everyone buys this book, reads it, and thinks a lot about its central message - that we simply must, as a species, move beyond our current petro-chemical consumerism dominated Industrial Age to a sustainable clean-energy, local organic food and local community-based "Green Age."
If we don't, the human race may not be headed toward extinction, but our children will increasingly find themselves struggling through dreary lives within a dirty, gritty, crowded, violent, dystopian nightmare kind of world.
So why not a full-blown rave for THE GREEN AGE? At this point you can continue to read my discussion or just drop out here and buy this book. Anyway, here I go:
I'm person who has already largely transformed my life toward living the Green ideal. I grow just about all of my own food. I am blessed to live in a remote rural area, and so I have plenty of room to maintain three modest gardens, on which I produce hundreds of pounds of vegetables. I also keep chickens which lay more eggs than my wife and I can use, and, yes, I butcher chickens in the fall for meat. My chickens have a free-range, Nirvana kind of existence, and a percentage of them meet a blink-of-an-eye end after a blissful summer of chicken fun and freedom.
I do everything without any gas-powered machines (not even a walk-behind tiller) or artificial fertilizers. My chickens supply the manure for the gardens, and the gardens in turn supply them with yummy corn and other stuff to eat the rest of the year. It never ceases to amaze me how a semi-crippled guy like me (I came down with harsh case of arthritis 25 years ago) armed only with a spade and a hoe, can grow so much fresh, organic food, and only working at it a few hours a day from spring to fall. (Our growing season here in northern Minnesota is barely 100 days).
I am also close to moving completely off the grid. I'm about 80% there. I heat my home with dead wood from the trees around my home; I never have to cut a live tree. My wood is sustainable because I can never come close to using more wood than nature can provide locally. But I still want an even cleaner source of heat because wood, while sustainable, is still carbon-intensive. Therefore, I want to advance to solar and/or wind, and I'm getting there - both for heat and basic electricity.
My wife and I grow so much food and my chickens produce so many eggs that we can easily give some away, to friends or a local food shelf. I never use chemicals to deal with insects or other pests. If I have a problem, I mix a concoction of water, garlic, peppers and a tiny bit of dish soap and that takes care of most bugs we have here.
None of the above is by any means my full-time job; I slave away as a freelance writer/journalist 10 hours a day, six to seven days a week. I haven't had a vacation in years, but then, my life is my vacation.
I do have a car; it's an 18-year old clunker that gets about 25 mpg, but I only drive it a short distance maybe once a week. I work at home so I don't need to commute. We don't make a lot of money, but we live well. My wife and I have a small one-bedroom house that's nice, clean and paid for. We have some modern stuff, such as TV (antenna) and Internet (wireless), but not much else. We don't have "big toys" like snowmobiles, motorcycles, ATVS, boats or that kind of stuff.
WHY I TELL YOU
I tell you all this because I want you to know that I am a person who has come a long way toward living the Green Age lifestyle this book is advocating. I want to assure you it's an okay life, but that it comes at a certain price, and I am doubtful that the majority of people today are, as yet, willing to pay the price.
But even if people are were willing to pay the price, there are many difficult roadblocks - practical, psychological, sociological - for them to overcome - although I am proof that it is possible, and many others have done it, and many better than me.
I tell you all this so that you understand that the criticisms I am about to offer are couched in the background of person for whom a Green lifestyle is not an intellectual abstraction, but a day-to-day reality.
The first reason I withhold a top rating is this: There is little radically new information in this book. It's more or less the same points and philosophies I have encountered in dozens of other books, which I began reading in the late 1970s when I was in high school. Back then I read Thoreau, of course, but also such books as "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carlson and "The Greening of America," by Charles Reich and "The Whole Earth Catalogs" of Stewart Brand. Moving on into the 80s I read stuff like "Limits to Growth" by the Club of Rome, and I tended to buy every issue of Mother Earth News. I am also a fan of practically-yet-poetic essayists, such as Wendell Berry, and so on.
Many other books are tangential to the Green Age concept, such as "The Tao of Physics," by Fritjof Capra and "The Re-enchantment of the World" by Morris Berman, "Critical Path," by Buckminster Fuller and "The Day the Universe Changed," by James Burke. These and other books re-examine our fundamental paradigms of time, inter-connectivity, and which call into question the efficacy of reductionism in science and society.
So the Green Age echoes what has been said in a lot of other books -- but I should give the authors a pass on this because perhaps not everyone is as widely read, and so the perspective offered here may be new and enlightening to many.
For me, the biggest drawback is the latter ¼ of the book, or so, when the authors give advice and examples from their own lives which seek to demonstrate the principles they outline.
HYBRID CARS ARE STILL NOT THE ANSWER
For example, one of the authors describes his careful driving practices using his Prius hybrid. First, anyone who wants to strike a true blow for the Green Age would not buy a Prius. He or she would not buy a car at all in favor of walking, biking and using public transportation. The next best choice is to buy a used older model car - (a recycled car!) - that gets decent gas mileage - especially like my two previous cars - the GEO Metro (no longer on the market), which has a 3-cylinder Suzuki engine with mileage that rivals the Prius without requiring the considerable amounts of rare metals and nickel-metal hydride batteries required by the Prius.
Yes, the Prius is a better choice than a new-model conventional car, but the gain is extremely slim when judged on a global scale. If given that both vehicles travel 160,000 lifetime miles, a conventional vehicle requires 6,500 Btu of energy per mile compared to 4,200 Btu per mile for a hybrid, and that's taking into account all parameters, including materials, building the cars, shipping them, etc.
So 4,200 Btus is better than 6,500 but that like a guy who weighs 400 pounds saying he is on a weight-loss plan because he is skipping breakfast once a week.
But wait! The latest Prius models will come equipped with an updated battery system which will enable owners to charge them up by plugging them into the grid, rather than relying on batteries only charged by the gas engine of the Prius. This modification will eliminate any advantage the Prius has over conventional vehicles because 45% of the nation's energy is generated by coal. In this case, a grid-charged Prius will have a net carbon footprint that is greater than a regular car.
To be fair, I think the author's larger point may have been in demonstrating the proper "green attitude" in the way he drives his Prius because he was eschewing an emphasis on time, speed and aggressive driving habits, and this serves as a metaphor for an attitude that should be applied universally to all aspects of our lives and activities.
CHANGING OUR WORLD VIEW
The example of a Prius and careful driving habits is somewhat representative of the other lifestyle examples the authors offer after they lay out their theme. They encourage us to change our general view about the way we model our world and work, and what life should be about. To that end they suggest developing goal-setting behaviors, and they also suggest that we enhance our creativity with activities like meditation and enlisting the power of dreams.
I also have meditated most of my adult life. I began my first session of Zen meditation on May 11, 1981, and have not missed a single day of Zen in more than 31 years. I also am an adept and practitioner of lucid dreaming and leveraging dreams to enrich my life and creativity. I'm all for it.
The point is, dreaming and meditation is fine and dandy - and will make the world a better place if more people practice them - BUT -- there is a certain point when the rubber has to hit the road - and you have to do something. To the author's credit, they exhort the maxim of Gandhi - you must "be the change."
Being the change means doing something solid and real. It means planting a garden, and then actually and truly displacing your "grocery store" foods with the food you grow - and I mean really displace! - it's not as easy as you might think over the long term, and to do it month after month, year after year.
You have to forego driving a car, or actually stop driving the car you have, say, 75% to 90% of the time. Not easy to do, especially if you live in the middle of nowhere like I do. We don't have any trains or buses here, so if you don't drive, you don't go anywhere. You have to be okay with that. But going Green means choosing to shift your life away from the automobile - extremely difficult to do because of the deep and fundamentally entrenched power structures of our society.
And so forth.
But my point is that after an eloquent theoretical statement of what it means to be Green, and outlining what kind of mind-sets, cultural and sociological changes that are needed to bring about a Green Age -- the authors then offer examples of practicality that come off as "Green Lite" (granted, this may be unfair and others might disagree)--
-- it's just that, to practice better driving methods in a $22,000 mass-produced hybrid car built in enormous factories using enormous natural resources simply isn't going far enough -- not nearly -- it's not urgent enough - it's just a teeny tiny nod toward having at least the right attitude -but that's not what this is going to take. (As journalist Fareed Zakaria points out, we can drive all the Priuses we want and use all the spiral compact fluorescent bulbs we can - and India will eat the carbon savings for breakfast and China will finish the leftover savings for lunch.
As for meditation -- what 31 years of daily Zen meditation has revealed to me is that meditation is not a self-help program. It's not something to make yourself feel good, nor is it a path to some kind of cosmic bliss. What 31 years of meditation reveals is that your feelings may not necessarily be altered by the way you live - whether that be the ultimate Green Age ideal lifestyle, or a carbon-intensive Industrial lifestyle. I have lived both - I am still me. Whether you are living Green or living "dirty" the central dilemma, mystery and fundamental nature of your existence will remain the same. What this means is that a Green Age WILL change society. It MAY NOT change you. It's possible that living Green may make you even more melancholy. That's what happened to me. Or you might be happier. Everyone is different. Whatever the case, you have to come to grips with it. In this sense, the Green Age is a lot like meditation. You don't pursue it to gain something. In fact, if you do pursue meditation to gain something, you'll only get lost. If we pursue the Green Age to bring about bliss and happiness for all - then we're in for a rude awakening - or I should say, we'll never awaken.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Reading a weight loss book will not cause you to lose weight - eating less and exercising will - but you have to do it - yet many people read book after book on weight loss and stay fat, and weight loss is perennially among the best-selling category of book. Reading books about the Green Age will not make it so - you have to do something.
The authors might argue that you have to first rearrange consciousness before action can follow. That may be true, but transforming consciousness does not always or even necessarily lead to real world results. Thinking or reading about change is not change. As Gandhi said you have to "Be the change." To their great credit, the authors make this clear -- and this is what I hope the readers will take most seriously.
Ken Korczak is the author of: THE FAIRY REDEMPTION OF JUBAL CRANCH