Book Review Suggestions

Humanity’s Environmental Future: Making Sense in a Troubled World
William Ross McCluney, Ph. D.
420 pages ISBN 09744461-0-6 $44.95

Getting to the Source: Readings on Sustainable Values
William Ross McCluney, Ph. D., editor
317 pages ISBN 09744461-1-4 $39.95

Available from Amazon.com Baker and Taylor, YBP Library Services, Lightning Source, and other distribution outlets.:

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Relevance to Current Affairs – Rising gasolene prices in the U.S.

“Are the price increases permanent, or just the result of price gouging by the wealthy oil companies?”

“At $3.50 per gallon, should we be ashamed for complaining, as some have suggested?”

In the chapter on Energy in Humanity’s Environmental Future, scientist/author Ross McCluney addresses the issues underlying such questions in some depth, pointing out that current energy price increases are only the beginning, as the world approaches and passes through its peak in petroleum production within this decade. “Drilling more oil wells and pumping them faster may provide modest temporary relief,” he says, “but these actions just hasten the day when we start running out.” The United States passed its peak in petroleum production in 1971, when we had used approximately half our domestic supplies (the “discovery” of new oil peaked in 1930). Now, 32 years after the production peak, our ratio of proved reserves to past production is only about 13%, according to the November 2002 newsletter of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil. It’s no wonder that the U.S. is so dependent on foreign oil, McCluney points out, or that we find ourselves using military force to protect oil supplies in the mideast. As if this were not enough, he explains, various petroleum geologists are predicting that the world will pass its peak of oil production in this decade and thereafter the production will decline toward exhaustion.

In his new book, Dr. McCluney proposes a steady increase in the price of fossil fuel energy sources, adding that this increase needs to be slow, steady, and incremental, rising each year for a decade or more. This would give the economy time to adjust and would provide increasing price signals toward greater energy efficiency and toward increased reliance on renewable energy. Both are necessary and urgent as we face increased competition from the developing nations around the world for the soon-to-be declining petroleum supply.

“These price increases should continue until gas costs around $5, $10, or even $15 per gallon,” McCluney writes, adding that “This same increase should be reflected in all other forms of petroleum-based energy.”

This “heretical” proposition is justified, McCluney thinks, by the fact that petroleum is a finite, limited resource of very high energy density. It is used for more than just gasolene, supporting the entire petrochemical industry and the production of such various “essential” products as plastics, paints, industrial chemicals, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, and textiles. As the long-term supply of petroleum dwindles, the price for it can only go upwards. This is both a natural market consequence and a good thing for our futures, because higher prices stimulate conservation, reducing both the pollution generated by burning these valuable resources and U. S. dependence on foreign sources of them.

Is McCluney in the pocket of the major oil companies? Hardly. He’s a principal research scientist at the Florida Solar Energy Center, a research institute of the University of Central Florida. Far from suggesting greater profits for BP or ExxonMobil, he proposes that the extra revenue from oil sales flow into government treasuries and be used to promote the necessary economic transitions.

In the light of these important energy policy issues, McCluney says we shouldn’t be complaining about rising energy prices. Instead, we need to embrace the increases, for the reasons he cites in his new book and mentioned above. To avoid severe economic disruption, we can work at controlling the price inflation, making it slow, steady, and relentless, and making sure increased revenues go toward improved energy conservation and renewable energy prospects rather than just further enriching the oil companies.

General Review Suggestions

Humanity’s Environmental Future: Making Sense in a Troubled World is an original work by Dr. Ross McCluney, Principal Research Scientist at the Florida Solar Energy Center. Dr. McCluney was a student leader in the University of Miami’s 1970 observance of the first national Earth Day environmental teach-in. He has been a member and occasional leader in several environmental organizations, including two local chapters of the National Audubon Society and a member of the Board of Directors of Florida Audubon Society. He has served on the National Advisory Board of the Environmental Ethics Institute of Miami-Dade Community College since 1990. His first book was The Environmental Destruction of South Florida, published by the University of Miami Press in 1971. McCluney has written and lectured widely on energy and environmental subjects. In this new book, he presents a comprehensive delineation of the problems facing humanity and offers a number of chapters dealing with the new manners of thinking and other capabilities humanity will need to develop if it is to avoid self-induced extinction. The book ends with several chapters offering solution strategies, things we can do to alert the public and begin dealing in a more systematic way with the threats facing us.

Getting to the Source is a collection of essays Dr. McCluney assembled to illustrate and spotlight the writings of a number of thinkers and scholars in the intellectual reform movement. These range from excerpts of the writings of early thinkers Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson, to the radical views of 1970s Gene Marine, and more recent writers Thomas Berry, Paul Hawken, Daniel Quinn, and scientists E. O. Wilson, Garrett Hardin, and Al Bartlett. This book is intended as an anthology of important readings to supplement Humanity’s Environmental Future.

Taken together, these two books offer access to essential information and ideas Dr. McCluney deems necessary for anyone to consider themselves truly educated, or Earth-literate, in today’s world of extreme environmental distress.

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Early environmentalists viewed what they called “the environmental crisis” mainly in terms of repairable problems. Birth control could stop population growth. Stronger laws and better technology could stop toxic pollution of air, ground, and water. Setting aside large wilderness areas could save species and valuable habitat. All these actions are being used and are effective. They are even necessary. But they are not sufficient, says Dr. Ross McCluney in Humanity’s Environmental Future: Making Sense in a Troubled World.

We are just now discovering the insufficiency of the first environmental movement, which still continues in the major environmental organizations. These organizations can point to remarkable and very satisfying successes over the last thirty five years or so. But, world-wide, as well as in the U.S., we are farther away from devising a truly sustainable society, boasting a high quality of life, than we were even in 1970 when alerted to the problems by the first Earth Day.

The missing ingredient in current reform is a more appropriate mode of thinking, thinking of the crisis with the longest and most encompassing of visions. Albert Einstein recognized the difficulty when he sent a telegram to several hundred prominent Americans in May of 1946, saying: “Our world faces a crisis as yet unperceived by those possessing power to make great decisions for good or evil. ...a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” (New York Times, 25 May 1946.) Though speaking of the nuclear threat, his remarks apply equally to the environmental threat.

According to McCluney’s new book, a major re-evaluation of our values and beliefs is needed. We’ve heard of “appropriate technology.” Now we need “appropriate values.” “Not all of our values need to be changed,” he writes, “but all need reassessment. The most important one to be considered is our nearly universal belief (nearing a religion) in consumerism—almost as an end in itself. The industrialized societies have become the greatest consumers of Earth’s bounty the world has ever seen. Now we find ourselves running out of important resources, polluting most of the Earth with toxic waste products from those resources, and destroying natural plant and animal habitats on a daily basis. The ultimate result of this trend is a severely degraded world, one less conducive to human health, safety, security, and enjoyment.

An important belief contributing to the destruction is in the separateness of humanity from the Earth. “Every atom in the human body came from the Earth, before that from the stars,” says McCluney. “We must realize that in all aspects of our being we are a part of the Earth, not separated from it. By acting as if we are separate, we have grown to think of Earth as expendable, as something we can use and then discard with impunity, a clear impossibility,” he says.

Another critical value in need of change is our relentless pursuit of growth. Growth in population, growth in affluence, growth in energy use, and growth in land development. “These need to be replaced by more positive growths: in human health, in education, in art, in expanded recreational opportunities, and in personal contentment and psychological well-being.”

How do we initiate the needed changes? McCluney believes that Earth education lies at the center of his action suggestions. “We have become illiterate in the workings of our life-support system and are denying the seriousness of our degradation of that system,” he writes. “Until Earth education becomes a central concern of parents, of educational institutions, and of our leaders, our denial of the realities can only continue. Environmental education is more than just what we can learn from books, he says. It must come also from intimate Earth experiences, time spent outdoors.” In his chapter on “Earth Learning,” McCluney writes:

There is something inspiring and uplifting about spending quality time in a wilderness. Our great national parks, perhaps the last refuges in the U.S. for a semblance of wilderness, invite those willing to enjoy them. Anyone can visit, explore, and learn. The ecosystems you see are living, breathing, dynamic entities, revealing the face of Nature in its unadulterated genuineness....

This is learning Earth. It is a natural and automatic process among aboriginal/indigenous peoples. But the rest of us, save for a fortunate few, have isolated ourselves from such immersive Earth experiences, and we are the poorer for it. If lost thrills and excitement were the only consequences, I guess we could live with them. But an additional result is a certain audacity that comes from thinking you are superior to and in control of something you do not really understand.

To make the changes needed will require more than proper education of our children in the workings of the planet. It will require massive policy changes. Leaders have an important role in making policy, but massive policy revision is impossible without the consent and participation of the public. Public support is impossible without adequate mass public education. In a media-dominated world, informing the public is the responsibility of newspapers, television, magazines, and radio. In McCluney’s view, the media do provide some good coverage of environmental issues, but they seldom report on the larger issues, the underlying causes, or on the core philosophical and psychological reasons behind human destruction of the planet’s biosphere. He quotes novelist and visionary Daniel Quinn in stating that we are systematically replacing non-human biomass with human biomass. This process can be seen nearly everywhere around the globe, as we knock down biologically diverse habitats, extinct many of the contained species, and replace them with monocultures–single-specie crops grown to feed the rapidly growing human population. This simple fact is barely alluded to in national news reports or even in nature documentaries. The rate of species extinction is, on average, somewhere in the range of 100 to 200 per day, an astounding and ominous fact largely unreported in the media.

McCluney’s several ending chapters deal with actions we can take to reverse the destruction and protect our futures. He takes careful aim at the media, and at leadership—in government, in business, in education, and in religion—for failing to push the educational agenda forward.

McCluney, a scientist, considers a large range of issues with just the right amount of depth, but without getting bogged down in the extensive detail one would expect of a scientific treatise on the subject. His writing style is straightforward and flowing, devoid of the stilted verbiage one might expect of an academic. The book presents the core reasons for our environmental crisis and explains how we came to this point and what we can do about it. The book is unique in this genre for its broad coverage of the issues, addressing the subject from a great variety of directions and disciplines, as can be seen from this topic list:

• How science works and what it offers for understanding the problem and divining solutions.
• The nature and consequences of continued growth on a finite planet.
• Human use of energy and energy dependency.
• The nature and development of the industrialized system of commerce and its role in causing and curing the difficulties.
• The nature and importance of good leadership.
• Worldviews, past and present, and their influence on how we relate to our world.
• Misplaced values and beliefs and how to correct them.
• Whole systems thinking.
• Envisioning a sustainable future.
• The value of creativity in devising sustainable alternatives.
• Behavior change, how it works, and its importance for a sustainable future.
• Education and educational reform.
• Psychological aspects of our difficulties, including descriptions of the many things keeping us from taking effective action.
• Profiles of the writings of several thinkers and scholars in this field.
• The importance of reconnecting with Nature.
• Action steps. Recommendations for individual, group, corporate, and governmental action.

Getting to the Source: Readings on Sustainable Values offers an eclectic mix of writings by prominent environmental thinkers and scholars. The contributions were selected by the editor for their relevance to the philosophical and ethical aspects of the subject, for their eloquence in expressing Earth values, and for their special insights and understandings of what we must do to create a sustainable future for humanity. According to its editor, the book was produced to illustrate and spotlight the writings of a number of thinkers and scholars in the reform movement. Included are excerpts from the writings of early thinkers Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson, from a 1969 exposé by Gene Marine, and essays by more recent writers Thomas Berry, Paul Hawken, and Daniel Quinn. Insightful essays are provided from scientists E. O. Wilson, Garrett Hardin, and Al Bartlett.

Bill McKibben begins with this provocative statement: “The fate of our planet will be determined in the next few decades, through our technological, lifestyle, and population choices.” This sets the stage for the essays to follow. The remainder of McKibben’s article provides an eloquent assessment of humanity’s basic predicament and suggestions for how we might extricate ourselves from it.

News reporter Dianne Dumanoski describes the state of our global environment and assesses the effectiveness of human actions to protect it, offering strong words of criticism for environmental movement. After over thirty years of effort, a few things are better but many more are worse, and getting worse at an accelerating pace. “What went wrong?”, she asks.

Additional essays—on growth by Al Bartlett, extinction by E. O. Wilson, the peaking of world oil production by Kenneth Deffeyes and Thomas Berry, and the overall decimation of the environment at the hands of humans by Gene Marine—illustrate the depth of the difficulties we face.

Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael, begins his essay with this provocative statement: “During your lifetime, the people of our culture are going to figure out how to live sustainably on this planet—or they’re not.” He claims that the transition to sustainability, if it occurs will be a “new rennaissance,” a shift of thinking the likes of which we have not seen since 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries.

Joanna Macy offers a variety of specific suggestions for what we might do to protect humanity’s future. Daniel Quinn, Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Paul Hawken and other prominent writers offer more general ones.