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A Moment on the Earth: The Coming Age of Environmental Optimism Paperback – March 1, 1996
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This is a well-documented examination of the effects of human society on the global environment. Easterbrook's conclusion: Things are getting better, not worse. Not surprisingly, this book has generated considerable controversy in many circles of environmentalists and ecologists, and many of his arguments only apply to overly-developed nations. For example, he stumbles badly when dealing with tropical rainforests, completely ignoring the fact that clearcutting in tropical environments leads to essentially irreversible loss of soils and a sterile clay pan. But all in all, I recommend this book highly to everyone interested in the proper interpretation of long-term ecological trends. In my opinion, he is as often right as wrong, and habitual doomsday-sayers would do well to seriously consider and possibly adopt some of his positions on ecorealism.
From Publishers Weekly
Journalist Easterbrook's optimistic account of humanity's impact on the environment, in which he argues against ecological doomsayers.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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But this is doesn't really injure his main point, which is that the environmental movement needs to stop crying wolf. Since the 1960s they have managed to win over the majority of the American public (perhaps even more so in western Europe), and Easterbrook feels that the public no longer needs to be frightened into supporting further environmental regulations. The battle is won; enough people see the wisdom of regulating industry and land use so that describing the real consequences of not protecting the environment is a better approach.
When he wrote this book in the mid 1990s Easterbrook was a climate change doubter. He has since revised his opinion; the evidence has won him over. His doubter stance is one of the many anachronisms in this book, but it also interesting to see how many of his predictions have been borne out. He was confident that renewable energy technologies would become cheap enough for wide adoption. That is more true with each passing month. That, in fact, is his main point: that technological fixes have ameliorated a lot of environment-damaging practices and environmentalists don't acknowledge this often enough. Instead they go on to the next "sky is falling" scenario. He wishes they would cut that out, and they haven't yet.
Overall, the book contains some valuable perspectives and insights, though is of mixed quality. For instance, chapter 14 discusses chemical risks. Easterbrook mentions Alice Ottoboni's view that dose and exposure determine the body's responses to chemicals, regardless of whether the substance is synthetic or natural. He mentions the insights of Bruce Ames and Lois Gold that thousands of chemicals, natural and synthetic, are carcinogens. "Cancer risks from common foods are much greater than from synthetic chemicals for the simple reason that exposure to common foods and everyday activities is higher." Nonetheless Easterbrook offers his opinion that "zero toxic discharge will be the standard for developed nations." If all molecules are toxic at some dose, as they are, this prophecy seems odd,at variance with the cited teachings of Gold and Ottoboni. The environment is chemically complex, abounding with detectable pollutants at ultra low levels. In an eco-realistic vision, Easterbrook suggests "almost every pollution issue will be resolved." This optimistic prophecy is as implausible as it is unexplained.
Nonetheless, this is a useful book, because of breadth, accessibility, and some provocative perspectives. One such perspective is the humbling enormities of time and Natural forces. Set against these, our moments on earth are brief and our environmental impacts are sometimes less consequential than some fear them to be.
"A Moment on earth contains so many serious errors that it has spawned a virtual cottage industry among scientists trying to correct them. Typical were the comments of entomologist Jack Schultz of Pennsylvania State University: A Moment on the Earth "contains some of the most egregious cases of misunderstood, misstated, misinterpreted, and plainly incorrect 'science' writing I've ever encountered." Ecologist Thomas Lovejoy, Undersecretary for External Affairs at the Smithsonian Institution, wrote: "I was stunningly disappointed by the book's rambling prose and profusion of inconsistency and error." Physicist-ecologist John Harte of the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley, stated, "On far too many pages of this vexing book, I found examples of . . . misquoted and misinterpreted segments of scientists' writings, and of illogical thinking."
From Erhlich, Paul and Anne. Betrayal of Science and Reason: How Anti-Environmental Rhetoric Threatens Our Future. (Island Press: Washington, DC, 1996) Page 40.