Monday, June 29, 2009

Monday's green books series: The Cul-De-Sac Syndrome

Once a big house in the suburb was an indicator of success in America. It was part of the American Dream. Today it is transforming from an asset to a liability and becomes a nightmare for so many.

The book we're reviewing today is looking into this dream, the crisis that now seemed so inevitable and a new sustainable dream that should replace it.

Our book today is:

The Cul-De-Sac Syndrome: Turning Around the Unsustainable American Dream

Author: John F. Wasik

John Wasik has won 18 journalism awards, including several from the National Press Club, for consumer and business journalism. His Merchant of Power was praised by Studs Terkel and well reviewed by the New York Times. Wasik is a financial columnist for Bloomberg News and the author of 11 other book s. He has appeared on such national media as NBC, NPR, and PBS.

Bloomberg Press

Published on:
June 2009

What this book is about? (from the the book's Amazon webpage)
An incisive look at the consequences of today's costly and damaging suburban lifestyle, this new book exposes the economic, cultural, environmental, and health problems underlying life in suburbia. John Wasik provides powerful insights into how the U.S. suburban lifestyle became unsustainable and what can be done to salvage it.

Wasik's observations are firmly grounded in exclusive on-the-ground research, interviews with thought leaders, and the latest studies and statistics. He exposes the untold truths about home ownership: green isn't always so green, life isn't cheaper after accounting for gas, water, and taxes, and modern suburban living isn't so idyllic considering the toll it takes on our health.

Wasik's trenchant analysis adds a new dimension to an important topic, with exclusive research and analysis that debunks the many myths of suburban living, while exploring innovative solutions being developed in cities and suburbs across the country.

Why you should get it?
If you live in suburbia and less and less feel that you're living the American dream, this is the book for you. Not only that this book raises the right questions, it also provide you with some of the answers.

There are some books that are discussing green housing alternatives, some more conventional and some are less, but they're mostly focusing on the environmental-economic link from an efficiency point of view. This book is unique in its much more diverse inter-disciplinary approach, as it masterly presents
the connection between the economy, environment, sustainable development and the American way of life.

And of course there's the focus on the housing bubble, or as the book calls it "one of the most devastating housing recessions since the 1930s". This is the first book that I see which is connecting all the dots, economic, cultural and environmental, with regard to this significant financial blowup that is still going on.

Wasik does a great job in both describing the problem and offering various solutions. I like the fact that he keeps the discussion as practical as possible with many examples that makes this book much more than a theoretical manifesto - it is a description of a dream that once was admired by everyone and its demise. Moreover, it's a description of a new dream, a sustainable one that can shape the future of the U.S. and creates a whole new American dream.

What others say about the book:
"John Wasik's The Cul-de-Sac Syndrome offers enough to chew on for three sets of teeth, enough to digest for three stomachs, and the alerts the mind faster than an approaching siren." -Ralph Nader, Consumer advocate

"Get ready for a totally original look at the American dream. Wasik delivers the first truly multidisciplinary examination—using planning, law, architecture, and history to focus on working solutions that can keep the dream alive. This is a winner!" — Paul B. Farrell, JD, PhD. Columnist, and author of The Millionaire Code

"This excellent book takes a ground-level look at the causes of our housing crisis and offers a myriad of ideas on reinventing the concepts of home and community.” —Ilyce R. Glink, syndicated real estate columnist, author of 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask

If you're looking for other interesting green-themed books, you are invited to check out our green books page on our website's green resources section.

More related links:

Interview with the the author, John Wasik

Podcast of the author on Blog Talk Radio

The author's website

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: promoting green printing

Will the new Climate Bill help protecting forests or become a source of income for timber companies?

The Climate bill passed in the House last Friday. It might not be only a new era in fighting climate change, but also the first time when it is worthwhile to keep trees alive instead of cutting them down.

The Huffington Post reported last Friday that trees will be part of the credits scheme that is presented in the bill, and this time it means not only reforestation projects, but also protection of existing forestlands.

The article explains the mechanism:

"Say an acre of forestland sucks up two additional metric tons of carbon after a landowner plants more trees on his land or promises to rotate the way he cuts them down so more are standing at once. If the pollution market created by the legislation is currently trading at $20 a ton, then the landowner could stand to make $40 per acre if he qualifies for the program"

The legislation, according to the article. would also extend to international forests, promising to pay some countries that agree to slow their harvesting of trees abroad.
We mentioned this idea in the past (see links below) and we're definitely in favor of giving economic incentives to preserve the forests and to make it worthwhile to keep them alive, avoid logging and prevent further deforestation.

This idea was discussed in the U.N.’s Bali meeting in December last year, and though it is not approved yet, there's a good chance it will be part of the post-Kyoto protocol that will be discussed in Copenhagen in December. It also enjoys the support of many international parties, such as Prince Charles, Norway, Al Gore and Wangari Maathai.

So we should be happy as forest protection finally becomes part of the carbon market, right? well, we are but it seems that the way it was integrated in the Bill is a little bit problematic..

Well, there are of course concerns about measurement, monitoring and making sure carbon capturing is actually taking place
(especially outside the U.S.), but in all these concerns are no different really from the concerns you have with every other component in the "trade" part of the cap and trade scheme under the Bill. The more significant issue here might be who is eligible to take part in it in the first place.

The article on the Huffington Post mentions that owners of large swaths of forestland, such as timber companies and large farms can benefit from it. Frank O'Donnell of the advocacy group
Clean Air Watch is quoted saying "In effect, the public is going to pay polluters to plant trees. Does that really lead to a major improvement in global warming? I don't know and I'm not sure anybody knows."

The fact that the Agriculture Department, which includes the U.S. Forest Service, will oversee the domestic program and develop regulations for verifying whether a forest owner's particular tract of land is actually capturing carbon, brings up questions like will they make tree farms eligible as well and how much will they will take sustainability into account?

If eventually we'll have timber companies being paid for having single-species tree farms that have replaced highly diverse forests (you can see that
in the Southeast U.S. for example), then we're very far from what the idea of forests protection was meant to achieve in the first place.

So how it can be prevented? here is just one idea - how about limiting forest protection to highly-diverse forests and/or forests that have FSC certification. I believe that these kind of restrictions can provide a better chance that this measure of forests protection will truly help fighting climate change and not just become another way for land owners to make money without making any significant impact on the environment.

What do you think? I'll be happy to hear your thoughts about it so feel free to add your comments.

More related posts:

How investors can save the forests? check out the Ethical Corporation Magazine

Al Gore and Wangari Maathai calls the U.N. General Assemby to support protection of forests

Merrill Lynch is investing in forest protection

How to deal with the growing deforestation in the Amazon rain forest?

Prince Charles wants to team up with Norway to save forests

Preserving forests to fight global warming

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: promoting green printing