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Green books for Earth Day week, 2008

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

I’ve fallen in love with the story of Easter Island. You know, the story of this remote piece of land in the Pacific Ocean whose inhabitants willfully deforested their entire island. From a peak population of 7000, the population had deteriorated by the late 1800s — to the point where the island was taken over by Chile and turned into a giant sheep ranch.

What were they using their trees for? Turns out, the timber was the only means of transporting the massive stone platforms, along with the statues of male heads and torsos, across the island to their sacred sites. Different clans on the island were competing for the biggest, most elaborate statues, and you can bet these works of stone, once sculpted, required ever more timber to roll to their destination.

I love this story because this society destroyed itself trying to out-icon each other. They cut down all their trees for cultural frivolities. Sure, it felt important to them, but imagine the “d’oh!” coming from the dude who cut down the last tree. Especially as these stone heads didn’t provide any real – flesh and bone – sustenance.

A fitting metaphor, especially here in the land of the Couch Potatoes.

Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” was my first encounter with the Easter Island story (okay there was maybe something in high school, but I had forgotten)… A perfect companion for “Collapse” is Clive Ponting’s “A New Green History of the World” (Penguin; 2007). First published in 1991, Ponting has painstakingly gone over everything – only the Easter Island chapter is pretty much the same.

This book is an ApocoDoc’s dream come true as it looks at the civilizations who have allowed themselves to be destroyed by their senseless environmental practices. Just the chapter entitled “The Rape of the World” is enough to make one weep.

From extinction to invasive species to deforestation to desertification to overpopulation to pollution to pandemic disease, Ponting’s book is a chilling accounting of what horror humans can wreak.

C.S. Goldsmith’s “Uninhabitable” (Goldstar Publications; 2007) doesn’t sugarcoat the problem, either, though there is friction between his Apocalyptic-looking book cover image – a red, dying sun hovering above a blighted cityscape – juxtaposed with his subtitle “A case for caution.” To me, one look at the cover, and I say the hell with caution, let’s party while we still have a few months left.

The rest of the book is much the same: Chilling, terrifying facts are followed by a sentence such as “We simply don’t have a lot more time to waste.”

Goldsmith’s big point here is the vast deposits of methane that will likely be unleashed by global warming, and these deposits are tantamount to every fart ever farted by every animal that ever existed multiplied by 1000 times. That’s my equation by the way, and I don’t claim it’s by any means scientific.

Punctuation problems and snarled syntax mars this read, but you gotta love Goldsmith’s mettle. Here’s a guy who graduated from Harvard with a business degree, was a CEO for 32 years and then decided he had to do SOMETHING about this planet’s peril. So he wrote a book.

I, along with Michael, created this web site. This is, I suppose the Age of DIY.

Speaking of, one of the leaders of the DIY movement, Ed Begley, Jr., has a new book, “Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life” (Potter; $18; www.LivingLikeEd.com) . You can distract yourself from the doom/gloom and certain destruction of Ponting’s and Goldsmith’s books by DOING something, whether it’s changing a light bulb or buying an electric car.

That’s right. Ed makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something good, which of course you are, when you decide to take your own canvas bags to the store (from $5) to installing your own solar panels (from $30,000). That’s right, Ed’s got all this money-coded, so you can figure out what you can afford vs. what you might be able to try later when you’ve saved a bunch of money being green in simpler ways.

It’s got the feel of a book created by a man who’s been trying out the green life for 30 years. There are lots of homey looking photos of Ed doing this and that green thing in his house – and far too photos of his wife Rachel Carson-Begley who adds her own tips throughout the book.

“Living Like Ed,” unlike the other two books mentioned here, is published on recycled paper, so that’s another plus in its column. At this point, Ed only takes on the projects he likes. Somebody out there want to pitch him a TLC or HGTV cable show, “This Green House”? Somebody’s gonna make a lot of green off that idea.

Either that, or he can make “Easter Island,” the movie, complete with an all-star cast. Unless Mel Gibson would rather make it. Apocalypto-a-go-go.

Happy Earth Day Week,

Jim