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Earth Odyssey: 01/04/09
We are going through a drought here in Northern California. Since this summer we've been asked to use no more than 100 gallons of water per day. We took the request seriously and let the summer heat kill our patio garden. One hundred gallons still seems like an extravagant amount of water but according Mark Hertsgaard in Earth Odyssey, the typical American household uses 186 gallons a day, nearly twice what we've been asked to cut back to!
In 1991 Mark Hertsgaard traveled around the world to see what people thought of environmental problems. What he found out is people universally find it hard to see beyond their own immediate needs. It doesn't seem to matter if it's a family in a war ravaged Sudan, a Thai family in traffic clogged Bangkok or a family living in the toxic clouds of Beijing, the response was the same: "we're used to it." That didn't mean they were happy, just able to cope. The bigger environmental picture never seemed to play a part in the responses Heartsgaard received.
Heartsgaard sets the stage by describing the environmental crisis each place is facing: famine, heavy metals in the air and water, nuclear waste freely dumped in the rivers and so forth. Then he introduces the people he interviewed and worked with. Earth Odyssey is a surprisingly fast read for all the depressing facts. The book doesn't offer much in the way of solutions for the problems faced by the environment and the specific places Heartsgaard visited.