Self-styled environmental “adventure story” makes an impassioned plea for greater understanding and commitment.
Discover magazine columnist Kostigen attempts to show how our habits and consumption cause problems all over the world. Among other places, he visits Mumbai, India, to which the West exports enormous quantities of hazardous waste, and Borneo, where the global demand for palm oil is causing deforestation. “We are contributing to our own demise and health hazards by the products that we buy and the choices we make,” he writes. As an example, he points to the remote Alaskan village of Shishmaref, “the first community in the world to succumb to climate change,” where houses fall into the sea due to erosion of the permafrost; he agrees with residents’ assertions that this erosion is caused by pollution from “the lower forty-eight.” Kostigen illustrates the effects of Americans’ obsession with cheap goods by visiting Linfen City, China, “the dirtiest place on earth,” where coal plants fuel the manufacturing boom. He finds the tail end of consumerism in the Pacific Ocean, where he joins a researcher tracking a spiral of debris “twice the size of Texas” that generates plastic fragments that are replacing zooplankton in the oceanic food chain. The author’s approach produces mixed results. Colloquial prose conveys a great deal of information in a manner that often seems scattershot. Readers learn about per capita paper use, personal carbon emissions (a pound for every mile we drive), rates of recycling, the size of New York’s Fresh Kills landfill (world’s largest man-made structure), the effects of soybean farming upon the Amazon (negative) and many other subtopics. When Kostigen connects the dots to demonstrate the effects of human action, he often sounds pedantic, despite the melodramatic asides. Similar in content to Fred Pearce’s Confessions of an Eco-Sinner (2008), this is a less engaging book.
A somewhat muddled clarion for readers wishing to transform their impact upon a battered planet.