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Down the Charles River in Pursuit of a New Environmentalism

by David Gessner

Pub Date: July 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-57131-324-9
Publisher: Milkweed

Gessner (Creative Writing/Univ. of North Carolina, Wilmington; Soaring with Fidel: An Osprey Odyssey from Cape Cod to Cuba and Beyond, 2007, etc.) argues that true environmentalism starts in our own backyard.

The author debates the controversial views of Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, who contended in their 2007 book Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility that the environmentalism of the past—shaped by figures such as Rachel Carson—cannot not address global warming, and that doomsday scenarios about the end of the world can be so overwhelming that they induce passivity. While Gessner agrees that “the old guilt-ridden, mystical envirospeak just isn't cutting it,” he suggests that the lives of Carson and Henry David Thoreau offer an effective alternative. A living example of the kind of effective environmentalism that he espouses is the work of his friend Dan Driscoll, a planner who began working for the State of Massachusetts 20 years ago. Driscoll conceived and directed a program to clean up the Charles River and plant native plants on its bank, transforming it from a repository for trash to a green pathway through Boston and its environs. Gessner writes about a 26-mile canoe-and-camping trip that he and Driscoll took down the Charles, savoring mornings when the river was covered in mists; they spent days paddling and watching the hawks and herons and other small animals—an unexpected and enchanting wildness in an otherwise urban area. In the author's view, the first step in building an effective environmentalist movement is helping people fall in love with the natural world in their own backyards and recognizing their kinship with other animals.

An engaging book with a serious message.