Freelance journalist Hertsgaard (A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of the Beatles, 1995, etc.) circles the earth to gauge the extent of environmental destruction and local peoples' attitude toward it--and, by extension, whether the species will survive the 21st century. His travels have revealed to Hertsgaard that Earth's in miserable health. From the Dinka in Ethiopia and Sudan, who suffer from the twin ravages of drought and famine, to Bohemian schoolchildren who wear gas masks to class as a result of coal burning, to the unpleasantly tactile quality of the auto-fouled air in Bangkok (and any other urban area without decent public transportation), these are dark days on the environmental front. Unsurprisingly, one culprit Hertsgaard identifies incessantly is capitalism, ""predicated on continual growth, and traditionally growth has meant ecological destruction and decline."" His case is made, his point taken. The other culprit is the continuing division between haves and have-nots: ""It is easy for outsiders to warn against the long-term costs of damming Africa's rivers. . . but it is akin to a glutton admonishing a beggar on the evil of carbohydrates."" Guilt keeps the big consumers at bay (and their politicians are stymied by conflicting interests). Meanwhile, hopes for a better future, though tinged with fatalism, keep developing countries hard at developing (""I am used to if"" becomes a mantra whenever he questions folks on their revolting environment). The result: stasis. Hertsgaard advises us to cut back on consumption, promote environmentally sound industry, and shift the surplus wealth from the rich, where it languishes, to the poor, by whom he believes it will be spent. However barmy, however wishful Hertsgaard's prescriptions, he's got one thing right: when it comes to the environment, we remain the sorcerer's apprentice, and the mess only gets bigger.