The Real Environmental Crisis: Why Poverty and Not Affluence Is the Environment’s Number One Enemy, by Jack Hollander

by Jeff Buckley on October 28, 2004

A day after the Red Sox won the World Series title, you will hear a lot about the Curse of the Bambino being broken and how Boston as a town has suffered for the last 86 years without a pennant. It will get old and it will get old fast.

But behind the theory about the Curse are a thousand stories, each rich, unique and important in its own way. My tale of the Red Sox is this: my grandmother, 94 years old, was no doubt watching the same wonderful scene as I was last night.

She watched Red Sox pitcher Keith Foulke snare a grounder up the middle, flip it to first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz for the final third out and at 11:41 PM EST she saw the same strange scene as I did, Red Sox players charging the mound in celebration as the Boston was declared the World Series Champions for the first time in 86 years. The difference is she stayed up late to watch the game from a nursing home outside Boston while I celebrated with my future wife, my friends, and the start of my new life 3,000 miles away from the place where I grew up. The Curse gets far more interesting the more you realize the millions of stories behind it. Each life and the impact the game of baseball can have upon it.

It’s a shame when reading U.C. Berkeley Professor Jack M. Hollander’s “The Real Environmental Crisis” that we don’t get a sense of the people whose lives are affected by his environmental theory. He talks about the world’s seven billion people who live in poverty and says “they are not the stuff of media headlines or complicated scientific theories” but he never gives this poverty a name and a face we can identify with. This from a man who offers the theory that poverty and not affluence is to blame of the problems with the world’s environment. Sounds strange, doesn’t it?

Early in the book, he brings up the Dinka tribe in Sub-Saharan Africa to describe the environment of the poor. He summarizes their plight, talks about how they are subsistence farmers, describes briefly the geopolitics of the region, but relies almost exclusively on the experiences of a reporter who actually lived with the Dinka tribe to describe the experience of “sharing life” with the poor people he describes in his theory as “The Environment’s Number One Enemy.” This would be forgivable if Hollander later in his book describes in first-hand detail the plight of those who experience the poverty he theorizes upon. But he doesn’t.

I don’t doubt Hollander’s work ethic or the principals that he pontificates upon. In fact, contrary to his publisher’s belief, I don’t find it a controversial opinion to state that the degradation of the environment is due to poverty, not affluence, like Hollander asserts his book. Go to a poorer neighborhood. Look around you. For many reasons, more than you can understand, the first sight you are struck by when walking down Fillmore Street through the Pacific Heights to the Fillmore District is the increase in the amount of trash. It can change from block to block, neighborhood to neighborhood. For many reasons, poorer neighborhoods have more trash in their streets than richer neighborhoods. It’s not controversial to think that way. It’s sad fact. Hollander describes the many factors that contribute to this scene. He doesn’t blame the victim, but he doesn’t allow the victim to go blameless.

He backs up his facts quite nicely with facts that support his conclusion. For example, he debunks the popular idea that global warming is a warning sign. In fact, on one page, through the use of a graph, he contends that today’s crisis of global warming is the weather patterns cycling at their normal rate. He uses the example that in the 1970s, scientists were actually worried that we were entering a new ice age. Hollander, it seems, is here to debunk your perception of environmental issues, to let you know the pessimistic viewpoint of most environmental agencies are not the way things really are. He wants you to know there are at least two ways to look at the environment. And to Hollander’s credit, he isn’t overly optimistic. He is quick to admit that large scale coal burning has caused dramatic increases in emissions of air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. He portrays his theory as realistic, one apart from the rest, a realist in a sea of left-wing naysayers. In more ways than he can realize, his theory is welcome. The environmental movement can use a bit of realism tempered with optimism.

But the problem I have with Hollander’s theory and why I can’t accept it and why then I can’t recommend his book is that not once in the entire 201 pages does he use a personal example of the poor. Not once does he come in contact with the people he blames as the problem with the environment. I have no problem with his theory. His theory is valid. I have a problem with his sources. He is content to use second hand sources to back up his theories and I fear the only thing that will keep his book relevant for now is that it will be dropped on the tail end of environmental science college student’s required reading list for the upcoming semester.

Hollander it seems has forgotten the art of the personal touch. For that reason his book will be doomed into irrelevance.

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