- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 17, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195393538
- ISBN-13: 978-0195393538
- Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 0.8 x 5.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,853,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Author and environmental studies professor Orr (The Nature of Design) presents an alarming look at climate change, predicting a best-case scenario (a sharp reduction in our carbon footprint) that belies the hopes of the green movement at large: "Climate change... is not so much a problem to be fixed, but rather a steadily worsening condition with which we must contend for a long time." Even this, however, depends on a political realignment sufficient to meet the severe challenges of the coming decades and centuries, including famine, drought and population displacement. Rather than a matter of reprioritizing, Orr contends that we must reshape our deepest held values; citing the case against abortion, he suggests that "the same kind of arguments apply to the right to life of future generations... as our present use of coal, oil, and natural gas will kill into the far future." Finding hope in "the connections that bind us to each other, to all life and to all life to come," Orr maintains a guarded optimism that never forgoes the possibility that "we are irreversibly en route to extinction"; for his expertise and crystal clear vision, Orr's disturbing message is hard to ignore.
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"A terrific book . . . nowhere is the challenge of our moment more clearly expressed." --Senator John Kerry
"Orr acknowledges [the] dire circumstances, but does not wallow in despair or defeatism. His book is a clear-sighted view of what we need to change now...Orr's book will do much to help achieve the required cultural transformation, hopefully just in time."--Nature
"If you want to read the latest, and one of the most streamlined yet comprehensive accounts of our predicament, I'd recommend Down to the Wire by David Orr, an Oberlin College professor who has long been one of the country's leading environmental thinkers. He lays out the dangers, and he lays out the plans that would be needed to counteract those dangers; it's all there in simple and unavoidable prose." --Bill McKibben, New York Review of Books
"If climate change were not an issue, what you would have to say would be undiminished in its urgency....I thank you for not giving up, for staking out the ground of 'authentic hope,' and for reinvigorating that indispensable term, 'maybe.'"--Wendell Berry, from a letter to the author
"Although his research findings are well referenced, Orr's integration and interpretation take the book beyond the typical academic treatise...Refreshingly candid regarding heroes, villains, and difficult decisions, Orr writes with exceptional elegance and passion...Highly recommended."--CHOICE
"Powerful and prophetic."--Thomas Berry
"A dazzling intellectual sweep across the causes and solutions to our mounting 'long emergency.' Orr shows convincingly that leadership and good governance, not just technological solutions, will all have to be part of the mix if we are to save the planet in time."--Stephen H. Schneider, Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies, Stanford University
"A sweeping synthesis of science, politics, history, and public policy--shaped by extraordinary wisdom, reason, and conviction--this very important book envisions a roadmap to a livable future."--Ray Anderson, Founder and Chair, Interface Inc., and author of Confessions of a Radical Industrialist
"David couples realism with optimism to create an honest look at how we consider the environment, povery, and equality. If he believes that humans can rise to the occasion of our global climate crisis, so can you. Thanks, David!"--Majore Carter, Economic Development Consultant, MacArthur "Genius" Fellow
"Lucid, richly documented, and powerful."--George M. Woodwell, Director Emeritus, The Woods Hole Research Center
"It is rare to find so many fresh insights between the convers of one book. We are all indebted to David Orr for his incisive thinking."--Lester R. Brown, President, Earth Policy Institute, and author of Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization
"Down to the Wire takes the reader beyond the viewpoints which are standard fare in the climate literature: technological optimism and sustainability on the one hand, or techo-criticism, lament and despair on the other. Orr foresees a pathway to solving our dilemma, one marked by political leadership and respect for human dignity."--Michael Oppenheimer, Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, Princeton University
"Deeply informed by wide reading, practical experience, and many years of passionate teaching and activism, David Orr's cogent arguments provide leadership both to meet the climate disruption that our foresight has been insufficient to avoid, and to help avoid worse. Highly recommended!"--Herman Daly, Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland
"One of the great scholars in the climate change and clean energy debate, Orr's new book sets out a challenging and hopeful agenda for real change in how we reshape our nation, our energy policies, and ultimately our personal lives, for the long haul battle against climate destabilization." --Jeff Biggers, Huffington Post
"Orr adroitly weaves environmental science and policy together with perspectives from history, philosophy, political science, legal studies, and communications to contextualize climate change as a symptom of other problems that, if confronted, can be addressed. The result is a touchstone for anyone interested in engaging constructively in social change." --ClimateEdu Newsletter, National Wildlife Federation
Orr's book is gracefully written, with a lucid and comprehensive vision it is important that everyone reads it, because it is about our future, which is likely to be very different from the present. --North Coast Journal
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I also found it sadly dated. Though filled with topical references to the impending Obama adminstration, the events of the fifteen months since his inauguration made many of the proposals about transforming governance and launching a revolution in Washington seem painfully overoptimistic. Nevertheless I decided to give it another try, either to be able to articulate specifically what I found wrong with the book or to give it a more sympathetic and engaged reading.
First, I confirmed what I suspected about the book's process of composition. Most of the material here was previously published in the form of essays that Orr writes for the journal Conservation Biology and others. Many of these can be found at the website, [...]. That accounted for and in a way justified the sense that each chapter recovered much of the same territory and started from scratch rather than building on what preceded. Viewed from this perspective, each chapter had the coherence and scope of his remarkable speeches, such as the one I heard at the organizing conference for Focus the Nation in Las Vegas <[...]>And even when general points were repeated, Orr seemed in each essay to summon up different examples and sources.
A second reading also revealed an overall structure of chapters that moved forward from beginning to middle and end despite the backtracking. Preface and Introduction both state the predicament and his solutions. We are facing what has been called a long emergency or a bottleneck, a worldwide period of crisis brought on by the environmental degradation and climate change that misguided human impacts have produced over the last 200 years. The way out will be long and arduous, and only possible with strong, transformative leadership, primarily in the presidency but also at all levels of government and society. Leaders have three leading tasks: move the citizenry out of a state of denial to a recognition of the dangers, develop energy policies that reverse our dependence on carbon and promote renewables, and foster a deepening of public morality emphasizing fairness, compassion, nonviolence and a sense of purpose and reverence for nature grounded in appreciation and gratitude.
These three mandates are reaffirmed throughout the book.
The three chapters of section I, Politics and Governance, assert that Government is the only agency strong enough to effectively address the emergency but that government needs to be transformed. Chapter 1, Governance, asserts that the challenges of mitigating and adapting to climate change and its associated catastrophes can be faced by reversing the trend toward unregulated corporate power, trivialized and ineffective journalism, excessive consumerism and rule by lobbyists. This can be done by redistribution of wealth and privilege, publicly funded elections, smartening land use and agricultural policy, promoting universal access to communication media and promotion of small community autonomy. But first government itself must be transformed from its present corrupt and dysfunctional state to a just, effective and elevating one. This will have to be accomplished through a mechanism like a new Constitutional Convention and the establishment of a new consensus.
Chapter 2 is a meditation on democracy, the form of government most likely to succeed despite its faults, the failures of its alternatives, like natural capitalism, and unregulated free-market capitalism, and the proposal of a legal, constitutional framework for instituting the kinds of social transformation needed to address climate change based on the new idea of the legal standing of future generations.
Chapter 3, Leadership in the Long Emergency, compares today's crisis with those faced by Lincoln and Roosevelt, and concludes that Obama can learn leadership lessons from both his great predecessors, which include the necessity of understanding and framing those crises both as legal-constitutional issues requiring preservation of law and tradition and as moral issues requiring deep personal insight and unshaken commitment. Orr repeats the laundry list of reforms mentioned earlier that Obama needs to accomplish. Chapter 4, Leadership, defines true leadership, like that of those predecessors, as the capacity to energize and give direction to the populace.
Part II, Connections, is transitional in the overall structure of the book, but provides a sample of some of Orr's strongest qualities as a writer, manifested when he lets a more imaginative, associative principle guide his design. Chapter 5, The Carbon Connection, juxtaposes two powerful narrative descriptions: nature's devastation of humans in New Orleans by Katrina, presumably caused by climate change, and humans' devastation of nature in Coal Companies' mountaintop removal, causing climate change. This is connected to Chapter 6, The Spirit of Connection, which explores spiritual and religious perspectives on Climate Change, differentiating the apocalyptic fundamentalism that both affirms and brings it on with the subjective experiences of wonder, reverence and gratitude for the gift of life that provide meaning and hope for those struggling to protect it.
Part III, Farther Horizons, contains three chapters overlapping earlier chapters and one another in content. Chapter 7, Milennial Hope, lists factors blocking us from taking the steps necessary to confront and deal with the coming crisis and solutions, psychological, political, and spiritual, concluding with a story of Gandhian non-violence displayed by Amish toward a mass murderer who shot a number of their children. Chapter 8, Hope at the End of our Tether, expands the emphasis on anti-militarism, Gandhian Satyagraha and other Gandhian principles like anti-materialism--shift from wealth to happiness--social justice, and localism.
The final chapter, The Upshot: What is to be Done? echoes both Aldo Leopold and Lenin, verbally in the titles of two of their well known works, and thematically in calling for the creation of a community that includes natural beings and systems and in calling for a total revolution to be initiated by a vanguard of leaders, giving direction and energy to an awakened populace. The first section covering the same ground as the preceding chapters, this chapter and section ends with a powerful vision of a desireable outcome from the long emergency only ten years in the future, located in his home town of Oberlin Ohio, where the very specific programs he has set in motion as an activist and educator have run their course. The vision is startlingly similar to the kinds of programs and visions activists at Cal Poly and in San Luis Obispo County have dedicated themselves. More than anything in this book, these few pages (212-215) provide some of the grounds for hope that present conditions don't encourage in regard to most of the books larger recommendations.
"Postscript: A Disclosure" is vintage Orr. It's a recollection of the extraordinarily hot summer of 1980 when he and his brother worked like slaves on a farm in Arkansas, as the temperature reached 111 degrees and stayed there. It was then that he became interested in climate change. He says he felt it viscerally, the memory recorded in his body. That's why it's presented as a disclosure. But the impact of that memory, I'm afraid is unlikely to be felt until the rest of us consistently experience such nasty conditions, and by then it's likely to be too late.
"leadership"--is Obama like Lincoln and Roosevelt, sticking to the moral vision, keeping legal and constitutional integrity at the fore, reaching the people?
Seemed so at inauguration, but less so now, largely because of loss of confidence resultant from bailouts and compromises, failure to seize the opportunity with courage--e.g. Copenhagen
The long emergency--less perceivable now than in 2006, when much of this was written and when Katrina and An Inconvenient Truth and IPCC and oil spike converged to shake people up.
Non-violence, Satyagraha--true, and a manifestation of deeper humanity, but desperation is less likely to bring it to the fore, especially when the rulers and perpetrators are becoming more brazen
Coupling peace, justice and sustainability has advantages but also makes any progress seem hopeless, because it will leave so much undone.
I was also hoping for a bit more quantitative data on the issue as well, and the book also lacked in this area. The author does list his website a couple times throughout the book ([...]) which does lead you to some data, and I feel had he included some more of that info in the book it would have been better.
Kind of a gloomy book; I'm not sure that we will manage to change our ways enough to prevent climate destabilization in the future.
No. But not because there is anything wrong with its content. I don't have any complaints about the material, except to say Orr hasn't written this book for Joe and Jane Public. Trust me. This is not a book for those who enjoy American Idol's preliminary screenings!
David Orr says climate change is coming. This is not news, since every (and I mean EVERY) professional scientific organization, from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to the American Geophysical Union (AGU), agrees that the climate is out of wack, and getting weirder. There are many popular books that say this as well.
Orr's book is more of a... complaint? Work on the issue faster and harder? Take it more seriously? Blame Bush and the industries in bed with the petro-companies?
His writing style, and this book, is not for the Outdoor Life crowd. It is more for the Atlantic Monthly crowd. And since it, in many places, is critical of that same crowd, what is Orr expecting? "The 'American way of life' is thought to be sacrosanct. In the face of a global emergency, brought on in no small way by the profligate American way of life, few are willing to say otherwise. So we are told to buy hybrid cars, but not asked to walk, bike, or make fewer trips, even at the end of the ear of cheap oil. we are asked to buy compact fluorescent light bulbs, but not to turn off our electronic stuff or avoid buying it in the first place. We are admonished to buy green, but seldom asked to buy less or repair what we already have or just do without. We are encouraged to build LEED-rated buildings that are used for maybe ten hours a day for five days a week, but we are not asked to repair existing buildings or told that we cannot build our way out of the mess we've made. We are not told that the consumer way of life will have to be rethought and redesigned to exist within the limits of natural systems. And so we continue to walk north on that southbound train" (p. 186-187).
"We are now engaged in a global conversation about the issues of human longevity on Earth, but no national leader has yet done what Lincoln did for slavery and placed the issue of sustainability in its larger moral context. It is still commonly regarded, here and elsewhere, as one of many issues on a long and growing list, not as the linchpin that connects all of the other issues" (p. 88).
This depends on who you talk to, of course. If you are talking to the Deer Hunting with Jesus crowd, or the Dittohead crowd, there's no conversation even on a local level. In the US, global warming is not considered an issue by the millions of poor (although it will certainly affect the poor), and seemingly only a fund-raising opportunity for the right-wing political pundits (who milk this cow very successfully). Prius owners may think they speak for the trees, but for the tens of millions on government assistance, or in need of assistance, they are simply considered owners of an elite car. By the way, I don't own a Prius, but I did buy a used Civic Hybrid, as well as an ultra-low emission conventional gas car. I normally bike, bus, or carpool to work (except car-free Fridays... no cars).
What else does Orr claim?
"There is no simple remedy for public apathy, carelessness, ignorance, or meanness, but there is a steep price to be paid if such qualities become the national character. ...Whether or not we have reached the level of farce or tragedy, it is clear that the press is no longer the alert watchman it once may have been and that it no longer plays the role the founders thought necessary for a healthy democracy" (p. 61). The New York Times and the Washington Post don't play this role? This seems to be an indictment of the broader issue of "dumbing down" the news. Thank you, FOX Broadcasting!
"It is clear by now that we have seriously underestimated the magnitude and speed of the human destruction of nature, but we seem powerless to stop it" (p. 122). Agreed. Why? "We tend... to see things that are large and fast but not those that are small and slow. It is harder for us to see and to properly fear long-term trends, such as soil erosion over centuries or the nearly invisible disappearance of species. ... We know, too, that we are prone to deny uncomfortable realities at both the personal level and the societal level" (p. 163).
"A great deal now depends on what we do to develop the stamina, vision, and institutional resources necessary to carry the best of civilization through to the other side" (p. 160). And who defines "the best of civilization"?
"What do I propose? Simply this: that those who purport to lead us, and all of us who are concerned about climate change, environmental quality, and equity, treat the public as intelligent adults who are capable of understanding the truth and acting creatively and courageously in the face of necessity - much as a doctor talking to a patient with a potentially terminal disease" (p. 189).
So, if I can sum up Orr's message, it is these sixteen words: "We need to do something about climate change. Now. All of us. Leaders and leadership welcome."
I expect to be dinged for, of all things, not giving Orr's book five stars. So it goes. However, it's worth the paper it is printed on (and the carbon it took to produce) IF some readers don't use it as another justification why, with their Prius, they can commute to their work 40 miles away everyday (and 40 miles back) and think they are doing what it takes to solve the climate crisis, IF local, state, and national leaders find their backbones, or IF every reader, every day, does SOMETHING to support a sustainable world. I believe Orr would pass this test. I think I do. But there are millions of people who listen to talk show hosts every day repeating the mantra that the climate change crowd is unAmerican. Somehow, I don't think Orr's book has an answer to that. And I wish it did.
AND "Veganist", by Kathy Freston.
We can change the world pretty quick (and our own health) by radically changing our - VERY destructive - diets.
Have a look!