“The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices – Practical Advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists” by Michael Brower

ISBN 0 609 80281 X. Full Title “The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices – Practical Advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists”. Written by Michael Brower and Warren Leon (both PhD). Published by Random House in 1999. Well, if you, like us, had never heard of the ‘Union of Concerned Scientists’ then there is a little section at the back to explain – an independent NGO the UCS (in the U.S.) conducts studies and public education in order to influence government policy for a ‘healthier environment’. Whatever that is. The book kicks off with an amazingly dumb anecdote about how a group of keen recyclers drove a car stuffed with newspapers all over someplace in hicksville USA looking for a recycling center. The anecdote has no point to make about wasting finite fossil fuels or your carbon footprint – no. The book is so steeped in North American mega-consumption culture that this simple matter never arose. Much to our astonishment. The book continues in a similar fashion even if the intro was a lamentable low point that they do (thankfully) recover from. For readers in Central Asia, the far East, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Africa, well… Anywhere outside the USA, this book is mostly irrelevant. Its research (for what it is) is scientific but parochial. America is an exception to the rule. American’s consume in a fashion that leave the average European as bewildered as European habits would bewilder a Sub-Saharan African. Hence many of the basic rules we learn as European low-carbon lifestyle devotees simply don’t seem to apply to Americans. Some advice seems completely irrelevant and some is just plain wrong. At a time when tanker loads of precious Fossil Fuels can be saved by using bio-mass energy to heat our homes one of the primary recommendations of this report is that Americans must stop burning wood! Simple wood-burning stoves exist in Europe that meet strict no-smoke regulations. Apparently no such thing exists over the pond. On the other hand some of the reasoning is applicable. They correctly identify the American love of the automobile as a primary cause of Global Warming but seldom talk of cars. Americans now drive things called “light trucks”. They have so far to go. In Europe our fridges have a low carbon footprint but in the USA they seem to guzzle energy like crazy for some reason. Likewise American spending patterns include categories for “firearms” and “swimming pool heaters”. The book is out of date, lightweight on matters of resource depletion, and based on a couple of questionable studies. It is a vaguely useful read and the topic deserves far more research. It needs something like this for all major regions of the world. So, if you believe (as we do) that pollution and biodiversity threats are almost irrelevant in the face of Climate Change and Peak Oil then you will find this book next to useless. It does show how far America has to go to come even close to catching up with the rest of the Planet….

About post-carbon-man

A passionate advocate of a peaceful transition to a sustainable political-economy, Mark hails from a working class farming background. Today he is a Company Director and Chairman of the Low Carbon Chilterns Co-operative. Whilst at University (Engineering Masters) he was active in Conservative Student politics but has had no affiliation since. He has travelled widely on business covering the USA, Europe, Middle East and Central Asian Republics. In 2007 Mark founded Post-Carbon-Living and a year later co-founded Transition Town High Wycombe. He lives with is wife & daughter in a home they retrofitted to be carbon-neutral. Today he blogs about surviving politics on a shrinking planet and is passionate in his rejection of Nationalism.

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