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Book Review of: Go Green
How to Build an Earth-Friendly Community
Review of Go Green (Softcover, 2008), by Nancy H. Taylor
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)
Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
While I applaud anyone who wants to reduce waste and pollution, I was a bit taken aback by Nancy Taylor's approach. Her book, Go Green, has some wonderful information in it. Unfortunately, it also contains so much disinformation that I compiled four pages of brief notes while reading it.
Some of her suggestions actually create more waste and pollution, not less. This book can be valuable as an idea generator, if you have the background (a science or engineering degree, for example) to evaluate the various ideas on their merits.
It's not my intention to catalog and correct all of the mistakes in this book. But I will mention several and explain why they are mistakes. Having written hundreds of published articles (mostly for the electrical industry) on energy conservation, and having collaborated on several electrical standards, I have more than a passing knowledge to bring into this review.
Her comments on coal and nuclear power generation are way off the mark. Mine is not an uniformed opinion; I spent several years as a field engineer working on the controls of coal and nuclear generating stations. Here's something to think about before we actually get to that part: There is more energy in the uranium contained in each lump of coal than the energy you get from burning that lump. Coal power stations spew radiation. Nuclear power plants do not.
Now, let's talk about the positives of this book. This book's subtitle aims the book at the community level, but the first two chapters (out of ten chapters) are aimed at what we, as individuals can do. Individual responsibility is politically incorrect, today. But it is the only responsibility that leads to actually solving problems.
The phrase "government solution" has historically been an oxymoron. Related to "green," perhaps the most clear example is Daylight Wasting Time. If we can set aside for a moment the fact that changing our clocks causes a sharp uptick in industrial accidents [source: OSHA] twice a year, as well as a sharp uptick in vehicular collisions, we can evaluate whether DWT is worthwhile. Under the guise of "going green," the USA now has an earlier date for starting DWT. With this change, we don't simply go to bed while it's still daylight, we also get up while it's still dark and it stays that way for an extra hour.
How making us turn our lights on for an extra hour each day would save energy nobody could explain, but CONgress insisted it would. Well, the results came in and guess what? As would be expected, the extra weeks of using lights for an extra hour each day actually cost more energy. Gee, imagine that. In New Zealand, the same thing happened. So, let's not look to government for "help."
Taylor goes beyond just energy, talking about the toxins in carpets (a very real problem, if you buy cheap carpet) and other issues related to indoor air quality. But her main focus seems to be on reducing one's carbon footprint--and that is typically a matter of reducing one's energy consumption.
As individuals, we can, collectively, hugely decrease the amount of energy wasted and pollution generated each year in this country. And we can do that with little, if any, real sacrifice. If, for example, Americans would cut their meals in half and consume 1800 calories a day instead of 3600 calories a day, the obesity epidemic would end and the costs of transporting ourselves around would drop by millions of barrels of oil per year. Taylor didn't bring that point up. But she did bring up many others.
Some of Taylor's suggestions:
Many energy-saving concepts are are embodied in LEEDS, which she refers to. One problem with LEEDS is it rates all energy savings measures as equally valuable and if people cherry pick just to qualify for LEEDS instead of using LEEDS to help them reduce their energy waste, then the purpose of LEEDS is circumvented. LEEDS, in fact, has many detractors for this reason.
Taylor makes several points that can help people understand the total energy picture. For example, buildings are the main users of energy and are the main places where energy waste takes place. Thus, we should focus on buildings to reduce energy consumption (not exclusively, though). So, Chapter 3 is entitled, "Building Green." Chapter 4 talks about green hospitals and green schools.
When she talks about transportation in Chapter 5, she mixes disinformation in along with good information. You would already have to know the material to be able to sort it out. She does use an example of light rail, and that is good information.
The way most Americans eat is ghastly. Examine the contents of the typical shopping cart, and you can see why there is a health care crisis in the USA (we are second to last for access to health care among industrialized nations, precisely because of the demands on services arising from horrendous dietary choices). In Chapter 6, Taylor talks about growing your own herbs, and this is something people in high-rise apartments can do. She talks about several things that reduce the cost of growing and transporting food. So, some good information here.
Chapter 7 provides many good tips about saving water. An important point Taylor that brings up is you can't rely on the fact that you live near a river or a lake as an excuse not to worry about water. If you doubt this, do some research on Lake Baikal. It was once the largest lake in the world. Today, it's much smaller and it is more of a chemical depot than a lake.
Chapter 8 is full of disinformation. Many of the ideas recommended here consume more energy than they produce. She ignores the fact that electricity has to come from somewhere. Currently, most of it comes from coal. Factor in the transmission losses and storage losses and that hybrid plug-in car doesn't look so good. It is vastly more polluting than its regular combustion engine counterpart. It also consumes vastly more energy.
Chapter 9 gets into solar, and after Chapter 8 it was good to get back into non-fiction land. This chapter is informative.
In Chapter 10, she ties things together and gives us her final recommendations. Those recommendations are, however, in conflict with many of the other things she said.
For example, on the second to last page, she says, "...we ought to be able to put our hearts and minds together to solve this global warming crisis." Just what would a solution entail? To answer that, we must first look at the cause. There is some debate as to why we are having wild weather swings (with record cold in the Midwest and record cold in Antarctica) and some debate as to whether this planet is actually warming up.
If we look at the shrinking ice caps as our reference point, I think we can say the planet is warming up. We know the ice caps are shrinking (I have personally met with many of the researchers). Now, so much for Mars. What about Earth? Did you catch that? Mars and Earth are both experiencing "global warming," as measured by the loss of polar ice.
Since we know there aren't SUVs on Mars, what could be causing the warming there? And on Earth at the same time? The sun contains 99.86% of all the mass in our solar system. 1.3 million earths could fit inside the sun. A few years back, it got really hot here on Earth one August after the eruption of a solar flare that was 50 earth diameters across.
The sun is common to Earth and Mars. Bingo.
Over the millennia, Earth has gone through several warming cycles. Based on historic trends, we are due for one now. And it looks like it's here. So, now that we know the cause of "global warming," what are we going to do about it? Only two solutions present themselves:
Earlier, in her book, Taylor complained about genetically modified food (conveniently ignoring the fact that corn has been genetically manipulated for 5,000 years to render large, juicy, sugar-filled kernels). So, it's OK to destroy the moon or--assuming we obtain the technology to do it--move the earth millions of miles out of its orbit but it's not OK to modify plants that are evolving anyway?
Or, consider the banana. The banana that existed a generation ago was wiped out, but banana growers anticipated the loss of this plant. As the banana was heading toward extinction, banana experts tinkered with the plant to render something similar to it. Those of us who can remember the original banana flavor know it's absent from today's banana. We have a fruit that is close, however, because of this tinkering that Taylor is so alarmed about.
Demonizing the modification of food plants is simply untenable, whether we use modern genetic methods or ancient genetic methods. We have been playing with our food (ha!) for thousands of years and are still around to talk about it. Most likely, we are still around because of it. I'm not saying it's all good, I'm just saying Taylor is making much ado about nothing.
In any case, mankind does not possess the resources to solve the polar ice melting problem, either here or on Mars. And, with all the money people can save by living more efficiently, scaring us with this kind of fiction isn't needed as a motivator. For example, if you live in a drafty home and spend $4 on a tube of caulking you will probably reduce your winter heating bill by $100. Try putting $4 in an interest-bearing checking account and see if it will make you $100 a year.
Some of the mistakes
Now, let's look at some other errors. Most are not as profound as her concluding one, but still they bear mentioning.
There are more
errors. I just didn't have the time to write about all of them.
While Go Green has quite a few valuable tips, it is also burdened with disinformation. The author parrots things she's heard or read, but doesn't understand the why behind some of her recommendations.
About these reviews
You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?
I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?
And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.
This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.
My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.
A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.
About your reviewer
About reading style
No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.
Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.