Book Review – Green Gone Wrong

Joanna Schroeder

Everyone has an opinion about the veracity of global warming, except, maybe global governments who are pursing economic improvements on the back of climate change. The quest for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and predominately carbon dioxide (CO2) has led to a spurt of new research around the development of more sustainable practices and technologies. But at what cost to the environment? This question is asked and answered in the new book Green Gone Wrong, by Heather Rogers.

This question may on the surface sound like an oxymoron. How can you be developing technologies to reduce CO2, yet hurt the environment at the same time? According to Rogers, this is in fact happening every day, all over the world. Rogers breaks up the offenses into three categories: food, shelter and transportation.

The crux of the food section studies what organic farming really means (or doesn’t mean) and the movement to “beyond organic”. The next section discusses green building and the last section studies transportation, where I will focus. One element that is weaved throughout this section, is the discussions of the validity of carbon offset programs.

Many of the arguments she presents in the section are not new. She writes about biofuels, “As for ecological sustainability, biofuels have been widely discredited. The energy efficiency achieved with ethanol is dubious and a source of much debate. While some researchers say more energy goes into making ethanol than the alt-fuel can supply, others estimate a positive energy balance. A commonly cited figure is that for every gallon of fossil fuel used in production, only 1.3 gallons of corn-based ethanol can be refined. Either way, by now it’s apparent that biofuels pressure both ecosystems and the access to food.”

If biofuels aren’t the way to go, should we move forward with plug-in electric vehicles when they draw power from a grid that uses fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas? (The answer is ambiguous.) But what Rogers focuses most on in this section is why America’s three auto manufactures are lagging so far behind in producing more environmentally friendly cars. According to the big three, hydrogen is years away if ever coming to market (and most hydrogen programs use natural gas which is a CO2 producing fossil fuel) and hybrids are mainly being offered in gas-guzzling SUVs. Even with the hybrid technology, they can’t meet the new CAFE standards, so in reality, what have we achieved?

Ultimately, Rogers points out that, “the major leaders continue with policies and practices that so obviously exacerbate the situation, including promoting ecological themed but ineffective products. By accepting green consumer goods as a way out, we consent.”

She ends by saying, “But we can do things differently. Viable solutions in all realms are out there. We suffer no shortage of knowledge or ideas, no dearth of entirely levelheaded and realistic possibilities that aren’t just a new range of products to buy.”

If you’d like to learn more about what is going wrong and how to change course, then Green Gone Wrong is a good place to start.

book reviews, Environment