The Population Bomb. The Limits to Growth. The End of Nature. Once or twice a decade, a book comes along that redefines the terms of the environmental debate. Divided Planet is such a book.
Most people in America today see themselves as environmentalists. They recycle their trash, drive a bit less, and shop for energy-efficient products. They think they’re making a difference – but they’re wrong.
The real threats to our environment, according to Tom Athanasiou, can’t be halted or even slowed by the feel-good environmentalism of the industrialized world. Global warming, soil loss, overconsumption, ozone depletion, overpopulation, and habitat and biodiversity losses are a lurking catastrophe that will engulf the world all too soon. And frightening though the prospect may be, only radical social and economic changes can possibly forestall disaster.
Writing with fierce intelligence, Athanasiou locates the roots of the crisis in the planetary divide between rich and poor, developed and developing nations – and warns of the apocalyptic consequences if we continue to pursue First World strategies of economic development. The Amazon cannot be saved, for example, while only 2 percent of the Brazilian population controls most of the agricultural land. Greenhouse gases cloud the atmosphere and the weather becomes ever more extreme and unstable, yet fossil fuel use continues to rise, for the market sets oil prices so low that there is no economic motivation to reduce consumption. Neither the Third World nor the former Soviet Union can afford modern production and pollution-control systems, and now the American Congress is set on repealing our green legislation. These and other tough socioeconomic issues – reforming the World Bank and world trade system and providing education and equality for women, to name a few – must be added to our environmental agenda, Athanasiou argues… before it’s too late.
Tom Athanasiou has been active in environmental and technology politics for more than two decades. He has written for The Nation, the San Francisco Chronicle, and many environmental publications. He runs an electronic-publishing group in Menlo Park, California, and lives in San Francisco.