26 November 2010

You Don't Have to Wear Hemp Underwear -- The Review

This review is appropriate, perhaps, for Black Friday, America's biggest circus of consumerism.*
Robin Pharo's main idea in this book is that saving the earth doesn't have to be be hard.

I suggest that your first move in saving the earth is to NOT buy this book.

The book starts off as an advertisement for all the consulting Robin has done (and can do for you!)

It goes downhill from there, trying to shoehorn readers into one (or several) of seven "types" of people, as a means of determining what kind of environmentalist you may be (retro biker or deep greenie -- I can't remember the exact types). This structure (with accompanying icons next to the text) gives the book a Dummies appearance, but that's just an aesthetic error.

The real problem is that the artificial categories are too rigid for normal people (I eat organic and shop at Walmart), so that means that the book is useless to people who don't like the boxes they are being stuffed in.

After this problem there is Robin's approach: Don't like fair trade coffee? No problem! Drink from a ceramic mug? Don't like that? Well, then drink from a foam AM/PM cup.

Ok, so where's the environmentalism here? If you don't change anything (because everything's great!), then we're already on the perfect path.

Even worse than the "do nothing" advice is the "this is right" judgment about various activities. Fair trade coffee, for example, is presented as good per se, but that's not true. There are a lot of problems and complications with Fair trade that Robin ignores. I take that as an example that defines the norm in this book: cliche environmentalism.

The only good news for the book is that the title seems catchy: I sold it in about ten minutes in the flea market, for one euro. Recycling is good!

OTOH, I worry that people will like and buy this book because it supports a greenwashing mentality towards the environment that is not supported by facts (consumption and pollution do have adverse impacts; restoration costs money and diverts resources).

Bottom Line: I give this book ONE STAR. Don't waste your time reading this book, because it will just tell you to keep doing what you're doing to save the earth.
* Speaking of consumption... Forget McMansions. Built a tiny organic house for $7,000. Along similar lines, read this bit on why consumerism is killing the planet. (Good thing to think about, but I still love my new old leather jacket.) Want a more balanced view? Read the report on reaching a steady state economy.

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