Humor and dry wit lighten a travelogue of the most polluted and ravaged places in the world.
Through seven nasty sites, journalist and filmmaker Blackwell teases out complex environmental issues and the history and cultures that surround them. The author conceived of the book because “to chase after the beautiful and pristine was to abandon most of the world.” Ultimately, he writes, “instead of finding degraded ecosystems that I could treat as though they were beautiful, I was just finding beauty.” The author engagingly chronicles his many adventures: canoeing near Chernobyl, museum-hopping by the oil sands of Northern Alberta, and piloting a ship through the Sabine-Neches Waterway in Port Arthur, Texas, “the pungent centerpiece of America’s petrochemical tiara.” Along the way, we meet colorful characters and learn what fuels these toxic places. Blackwell then sails off for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, formed by a vortex of currents that gathers buoyant plastic into a huge floating mess. Moving on to the Amazon, where issues are far from black and white, the author delves into the issue of why rain forest destruction is so complicated, particularly when the forest is inhabited. The author also visited Linfen, China, the heart of the country’s coal-producing region and reputedly the most polluted place on the planet. The final chapter covers a pilgrimage of sorts along the sacred Yamuna River in India, or at least the former channel of the river—the water has been diverted and its bed is filled with sewage and waste.
In each chapter, Blackwell finds he loves the polluted places for all the ways they aren’t ruined. With great verve, and without sounding preachy, he exposes the essence and interconnectedness of these environmental problems.