I began quite the skeptic. I know the importance of green energy and I am committed to helping slow the degradation to the environment. To be clear, the premise of Green Illusions seemed provocative to me and rather improbable. However as an academic, I knew that the The Nebraska press has a solid reputation in publishing conservationist thinkers - one of their books was just announced as a Pulitzer Prize finalist and now I know why.
To say that this book is simply powerful would actually be to shortchange it. This book is not just an incisive analysis of our current state of environmental affairs. This book is also a work of sheer epistemology- brilliantly interrogating the very facts and data on which our analyses lay. Given his work as an environment consultant, he should know. Yet, there is a keen sense of sophisticated thinking that requires us to think deeply about "solutions" - taking the time to examine the presuppositions that undergird them and the axioms that allow them to go unchecked. This work of disentangling facts from fiction is prodigious on its own. Yet, to connect this disentanglement to the larger the social, political, and moral obligations that befalls our society makes what was a merely sophisticated argument into an ineluctably ethical one.
I came to this book as an educated skeptic. But the book not only brought me to think in important new ways, it also made me realize why these issues were so incredibly important. The author argues that it doesn't matter how many answers we discover if we are asking the wrong questions to begin with. I certainly had been asking the wrong questions. While I still disagree with the author on some issues, I think that the larger thesis is actually quite profound. The author weaves a compelling story about the global and growing addiction to consumption and the way that desires of technological abdication have obfuscated the relationships between economic habits and its effects in the form of environmental degradation. Zehner undoes this obfuscation through facts. This is where my skepticism began to subside. Working with a mountain of statistics and data, the story becomes undeniably clear and it is here where I find that these facts become incredibly important. But he does not rely on this. Not only does Zehner clearly lay out these facts, he also show us just how limited these facts are given our larger, rapacious trajectory of consumption - a trajectory that is much too fast (and accelerating) to be undone by expert ambiguities about data. No squabbles regarding the true benefits of wind technologies or other green tech solutions - can undo the undeniable consumptive dinosaur in the (world's) room. You can put all of your data regarding benefits of green technology together and they still can not undue the velocity of consumption.. It is there.. at that very moment that Zehner's provocative hypothesis goes beyond the methodological impasses of data to the undeniable truth of causes and solutions.
And yet, the most shocking part, at least for me, revealed after his elegant unraveling of our gilded assumptions, - is the sheer pragmatism of his solutions. The book avoids easy, pie-in-the-sky solutions and instead clearly articulates about three dozen "first-steps" all of which are clearly achievable. This is especially momentous given our current climate of endless political divisions, rugged anti-intellectualism and fact-free rhetorical grandstanding. These solutions touch all areas of our societies - approaching large-scale social problems such as those of healthcare and women's rights (p.187).
As an academic, I'm often prone to a permanent sense of reservation and as a once-ardent defender of green technologies, I actually know a lot about the subject. But I feel quite certain that this book will likely change things in dramatic ways. This book and the larger idea that it represents will likely reorient the entire conversation about energy, consumption, conservation and the sociopolitical tenets that though that we held so dear. As a person who rarely lifts his brow, I actually found this book to be devastating, astounding and impossibly important. I have been converted.