Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Green book of the week: Green Morality by Edward Flattau (including an interview with the author)

This week our green book is "Green Morality: Mankind's Role in Environmental Responsibility"
by the renowned environmental columnist Edward Flattau.

This book, with a title that looks more relevant to our life than ever, will be released next month, but was already described as “an easy-to-read must-read for all who love our planet and want to know the truth about what is happening to it." (Alex Shoumatoff, contributing editor and veteran environmental correspondent)

Published by Los Angeles independent social issues press, The Way Things Are Publications, “Green Morality” analyzes manmade global environmental atrocities supporting a theme that environmentalism must become a universal moral imperative to avert long-term environmental destruction. Flattau discusses topics ranging from corporate and industrial environmental immorality to failed public policies, and corrupt or immobilized political leaders. The book advocates a re-alignment of modern society’s value system and economic infrastructure in order to avert environmental destruction and create an environmentally and economically sustainable society.

After reading "Green Morality", I find Shoumatoff's description very accurate and I decided to ask the Flattau, who is the nation’s longest running syndicated environmental newspaper columnist with 40 years in the industry and columns in more than 120 daily newspapers, for an interview to learn more about his thought provoking book. Luckily he agreed and I have the pleasure of sharing it with you.

Hello, Ed. What inspired you to write this book?

Frustration at our failure to learn from the lessons of the past. The environmental problems of today are by and large, not new and solutions were developed decades ago. They were frequently not implemented then and the same holds true now. There is also my frustration at the partisan paralysis that has rendered our politicians virtually incapable of meeting their moral obligation to current as well as future generations. It is appalling to see how we are shortchanging future generations.

In the section about "the good", there seems to be a little about technology and a little about personal commitment and individual success stories. Is there really that little good in the larger environmental movement or the politics of sustainability?
Perhaps the most optimistic environmental development is the increased widespread public awareness of the threats to the planet’s ecology. Whether that translates into effective action across the board in time to avert irreversible harm is yet to be determined. Still, as I mentioned in the book, many corporations have become enlightened about incorporating efficiency and sustainability into their operations.

Biomimicry is far more than a passing fad as more and more people in all walks of life realize that to make nature an adversary rather than accomplice is a losing proposition. A voluntary simplicity lifestyle is sprouting up around the nation and there are an estimated 750,000 households off the grid and self-dependent on solar, wind, and other renewable sources of energy. One of the most hopeful trends of all is the greater environmental sensibility of our younger generations, thanks in large part to new progressive curriculums in our educational institutions.

You focus on consumption as a major barrier to upholding our moral imperative of conserving the earth. Changing consumption patterns is considered to be almost an impossible task in the affluent developed world. What do you see as the most important steps on this issue,and how fast do you think it could change.

A crucial step in changing our pattern of conspicuous consumption is to elevate quality over quantity. Durability and a high level of performance should be valued over volume and rapid turnover of possessions. Recycling should be routine and planned obsolescence totally discredited. Conservation should enjoy more prestige than consumption, and frugality should gain favor with the realization that it is not tantamount to deprivation. We are beginning to see this sea change in American society, but to get it up to proper speed, we need political leaders bold enough to show us the way, and up to now, there have been powerful few of those.

How would you suggest addressing the consumption gap in the developing world? isn't there a parallel moral imperative to enable them to catch up with the rest of us? what are some of the ways we could do that and at the same time protect the environment?

Addressing the consumption gap in the developing world will require us to set an example by adopting a sustainable lifestyle that provides the basic comforts of life without destroying the natural resources on which all living things depend. If we provide that existence as a goal, when the developing nations do approach our standard of living, they will spare the earth in the process. Setting an example for them means our placing an emphasis on conservation, quality over quantity, recycling and reuse over planned obsolescence, and health over profit (not in place of profit, mind you). Those values will provide a comfortable standard of living while leaving the earth’s life support system in tact.

What do you hope that your readers will take away from your book?

I hope readers will embrace the moral values referenced in the book not only in words but in actions. I also hope they will be convinced that we do have the capabilities to meet the formidable environmental challenges of the 21st Century.

You suggest political inaction on environmental issues is inherent to the long term nature of environmental issues because dealing with these issues doesn't offer any immediate results that can be translated to political gains. Other than building up public support for environmental issues, what could be other incentives for politicians to get more involved?

Our politicians could escape the trap of catering to immediate voter gratification by translating future threats into more compelling terms, namely through references to the pocketbook. Identifying environmental consequences of inaction in huge dollar and cents costs rather than scientific abstractions would win public support faster and in greater numbers. Our leaders could also set an example with their own personal behavior.

Could you share your thoughts on the recent BP oil spill? it seems like many of the themes of your book apply here. There is political inaction (at best), corporate greed, and mixed popular debate. Can we really expect corporations like BP to avoid accidents like this one?

The BP spill is a classic case of where health (both human and environmental) should take precedence over profit, and tragically did not. For this moral precept to prevail, there must be strong regulation that is strictly enforced, and hopefully that will be the case in the post BP world. Gulf Coast residents were caught between a rock and a hard place.

Because of jobs, they were beholden to an oil industry that at the same time was destroying their environment (carving up their wetlands with shipping channels). Moreover, the use of oil and gas is a one time proposition, whereas the fisheries and tourism damaged by the spill are infinite sources of income if the natural resources on which they depend are responsibly managed.

Indeed, as much income as the oil industry generates for the Gulf region, tourism and fishing produce more revenue. The way out of this trap for Gulf coast residents is to gradually phase out oil drilling and replace it with renewable energy industries. Louisiana politicians have historically been derelict in diversifying the energy economy, given the handsome largesse that the oil industry has showered on them.

What was some of the feedback you received on the book and is there another in the works?

So far, the reviews have been extremely favorable. For the moment, I am just continuing with environmental commentaries. As far as future books are concerned, it’s possible I might take a crack at how President Obama met his formidable environmental challenges, assuming a compelling story line develops.

Thank you, Ed.

Edward Flattau blogs on The Huffington Post and posts news and updates on Twitter and on Facebook.

The book will be available next month, but you can already pre-order it at

Disclosure: We received a copy of this book from the publisher.

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: Promoting Sustainable Reading!