The heroism and vision of key players in the environmental movement, as described by Rory Spowers in this book, is nothing short of inspirational. Many books on most topics simply "preach to the converted". His accessible style means that Rory Spowers is sure to reach the wider audience he seeks. Indeed, if Rising Tides cannot call the environmental waverers to action, nothing will. However, this book is wide-ranging and should not be overlooked by die-hard campaigners. The comprehensive references mean that readers can pursue a particular thread of inquiry, making it an excellent reference too. And, unlike other books of its genre, it concludes on an upbeat note.
For example, Michael Braungart of EPEA visualises a utopian economic system where 'consumables' are bio-degradeable and 'durable' goods like cars can only be leased. To prevent profits being wiped out by the heavy penalties for waste disposal, manufacturers design products that can be refurbished, upgraded or recycled. 'Molecular markers' on 'unsaleable' goods like nuclear waste mean that leaks are traced and the defaulter punished. The inclusion of such examples makes this book a manifesto for change and ought to be required reading for our politicians. However, anyone interested in our environment and the history - and possible future - of the environmental movement should read this book.
The ideas raised in this book have ebbed and flowed in my mind ever since reading it. The book covers such a broad canvas that it is impossible to agree with everything, surely ? Perhaps perversely, it is the parts with which I did not agree that I found the most thought provoking. For example, the book begins by considering why we trash our environment. Some blame Judaeo-Christianity for placing humankind at the top of the Great Chain of Being, at liberty to exploit all other creatures and our environment. Others implicate the 'clockwork universe' paradigm created by scientists like Newton. However, these traditions cannot explain the demise of civilisations that predate them. After all, many civilisations bring about their own downfall because they damage the environment upon which they depend. This is what happened on Easter Island apparently. Moreover, unless coerced to act responsibly, people pursue their own self-interest, often at the expense of our environment. This idea is developed in 'The Tragedy of the Commons', an article published by Garrett Hardin in the journal Science and available on the net. It is one of the few omissions from this comprehensive book.
Also, Rising Tides betrays an environmental movement ill at ease with science, cherry-picking what evidence to believe, assessing the credibility of scientists according to who pays their wages. The author suggests that there is "incontestable proof" for global warming. The inference is that anyone who challenges this must have an alterior motive. However, most dissenting scientists are discussing the evidence in a narrow academic sense and would be happy to adopt a precautionary approach. Besides, does our preoccupation with global warming provide a smoke-screen for other more invidious threats raised in the book - soil erosion and the loss of biodiversity for example ? I have a sneaking suspicion that this notion might appeal to Rory Spowers. After all, what he says about the foot and mouth crisis and the 11 September attacks are no less provocative.