Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on June 4, 2013
Nordhaus, T, Shellenberger, M. 2009
Break Through: Why We Can't Leave Saving the Planet to Environmentalists
[ISBN: 9780547085951]

Break Through: Why We Can't Leave Saving the Planet to Environmentalists

In the title alone, the controversy begins. And while the book does not approach any singular aspect of environmentalism, it does approach environmentalism as a whole. The methodology used speaks volumes. From the birth of environmentalism, to the greatness of human possibility, this book provides something obviously lacking in the world today. That something is more than hope, and something more than rhetoric. The book prods humanity to relinquish the outmoded means of progress, and instead asks us to reinvent ourselves. This reinvention is the catalyst we need to begin the long journey of the many environmental challenges we face, not only as a nation, but also as a world interconnected by globalized concerns.

The book begins with a beautiful analogy using a speech by Martin Luther King as an example. The question posed is: What if Mr. King had given the `I have a nightmare,' speech instead of the `I have a dream speech?' The question is apropos to todays environmental ideology. The positivity of that speech encouraged people. Anything less would have put his agenda in a much different light. It is this sort of positivity echoed throughout the book. The same set of circumstances is upon us. We are at the crossroads of polarization. On one side of the fence are conservative progressives who want to develop natural resources to compete in a global economy. On the other side are people who denounce protective measures and could care less about the environment. Then we have the preservationist ecologists who believe the world is in immediate peril unless we do something drastic to stop environmental destruction due to the unbridled use of nonrenewable resources. For too many years environmentalism has been seen as the chicken little of the political spectrum. And conservationists have been labeled as the one per centers, determined to maximizing profits at any expense.

While some of the above labels may be true, these sorts of generalizations have a negative affect on the true issues we face. We would be hard pressed to find anyone who is willing to admit that economic prosperity, or environmental integrity, is not important. What we do find is most people believe that the two are incompatible. How can we expand the world economy without impacting the environment? After all, the world economy is what it is today only because the discoveries of oil that led to the industrial revolution, a revolution preceding the 40-hour workweek, ad nausea. We can argue that our current lifestyle can be directly attributed to those prosperous years. And argue further that those prosperous years led to the birth of environmentalism in the first place. But is that all that matters? No. First we must recognize that it is the developed North that is the benefactors of said revolution. And without some sort of equality spread among the developing nations, we cannot begin to approach true environmental protections. Unless people, poor people especially, have some sort of security for their basic needs, then any argument for sustainability is moot. The developing world must be allowed to develop. Without this basic understanding by the developed world, all the environmental protocols are destined to fail.

The book is well organized. It exposes the circumstances that allowed environmentalism to become an issue in the first place, what allowed it to prosper, how it has evolved, and why the idea has lost momentum. It then goes on to explain the mechanisms that are a hindrance to further environmental protection. It ends most unexpectedly. The information contained in the first part is quite illuminating. The background provided is invaluable for anyone hoping to understand the importance of any given ideology. If someone hopes to understand the driving force that allows a movement to begin, they must also understand the mechanisms that allow that force to change with time, and to therefore survive. Not unlike evolution itself, environmentalism is a thing. It is a thing that has a life of its own, a force that could die if not encouraged by continual adjustment to certain factors that will inevitably affect its ability to be a viable entity. Particularly useful are the real world examples used to highlight exactly what people need to know in order to understand the forces that determine environmental enthusiasm. Without these real world examples, it is easy to become mired in the 'us verses them' mentality that is so pervasive in the divisiveness so rampant in today's political arena. It is in this light that I found the book most compelling. The education offered left this reader with a new understanding of what it means to call myself an environmentalist. I no longer think of myself as some crackpot tree hugger who is inflexible in determining what I stand for. After evaluating all that is said within these pages, I realize there is no reason to take a rigid stand against anything. Instead, it is far more important to see the forest though the trees, as opposed to being blinded by one idea, such as preservation at all costs.

Of particular note are the parallels offered in class. Understanding that there many people competing to influence the environment for different reasons compels us to begin understanding those reasons intellectually. By allowing each other a voice in the process, we begin to accommodate each other in our quest to solve the many difficulties facing us as a species. Although I have found many people believe compromise is a sign of weakness, I believe the book does an excellent job in proving that compromise is not only a sign of deterministic strength; it is also a sign of genuine concern.

To anyone interested in the current state of the environment, not so much from an ecological view, but from a geopolitical standpoint, this book is a must read. The book authors are both well-versed environmentalists who obviously see the need for mainstream environmentalism to evolve into something more than its current status as just another lobbying group, or better yet, reactionaries with no clear agenda regarding progress. Environmentalists make a mistake if they argue against economic growth and prosperity. It can be said that prosperity is the vehicle that allows us to focus on the environment. Trying to unite all of the many vested interest groups, with an eye toward compromise and sustainable business practices, is a lofty goal. A goal that can be accomplished by bringing together businesses, consumers, and politicians with an attractive message: By developing the right technologies, and the right policy tools, economic growth and environmental resources can find a sustainable medium.
7 people found this helpful
11 comment Report abuse Permalink

Product Details

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5
14 global ratings