A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism

A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism

by Patrick Allitt

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Overview

A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism by Patrick Allitt

A provocative history of the environmental movement in America, showing how this rise to political and social prominence produced a culture of alarmism that has often distorted the facts

Few issues today excite more passion or alarm than the specter of climate change. In A Climate of Crisis, historian Patrick Allitt shows that our present climate of crisis is far from exceptional. Indeed, the environmental debates of the last half century are defined by exaggeration and fearmongering from all sides, often at the expense of the facts.

In a real sense, Allitt shows us, collective anxiety about widespread environmental danger began with the atomic bomb. As postwar suburbanization transformed the American landscape, more research and better tools for measurement began to reveal the consequences of economic success. A climate of anxiety became a climate of alarm, often at odds with reality. The sixties generation transformed environmentalism from a set of special interests into a mass movement. By the first Earth Day in 1970, journalists and politicians alike were urging major initiatives to remedy environmental harm. In fact, the work of the new Environmental Protection Agency and a series of clean air and water acts from a responsive Congress inaugurated a largely successful cleanup.

Political polarization around environmental questions after 1980 had consequences that we still feel today. Since then, the general polarization of American politics has mirrored that of environmental politics, as pro-environmentalists and their critics attribute to one another the worst possible motives. Environmentalists see their critics as greedy special interest groups that show no conscience as they plunder the earth while skeptics see their adversaries as enemies of economic growth whose plans stifle initiative under an avalanche of bureaucratic regulation.

There may be a germ of truth in both views, but more than a germ of falsehood too. America’s worst environmental problems have proven to be manageable; the regulations and cleanups of the last sixty years have often worked, and science and technology have continued to improve industrial efficiency. Our present situation is serious, argues Allitt, but it is far from hopeless. Sweeping and provocative, A Climate of Crisis challenges our basic assumptions about the environment, no matter where we fall along the spectrum—reminding us that the answers to our most pressing questions are sometimes found in understanding the past.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143127017
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/31/2015
Series: Penguin History of American Life Series
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 1,223,467
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Patrick Allitt is the Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1988. He was an undergraduate at Oxford and a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, and held postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard Divinity School and Princeton University. The author of six books, he is also the presenter of eight lecture series with “The Great Courses,” including “The Art of Teaching.”

Table of Contents

Preface xiii

Introduction 1

1 The Schizophrenic Fifties 15

Nuclear Anxieties 17

Population and Food 21

The Natural World 26

Cities and Suburbs 34

2 Pollution and Pessimism 40

Pollution in the News 41

Five Pessimistic Intellectuals 49

The Counterculture 62

3 Politics and the Environment 67

Environmental Legislation 69

Population, Resource Exhaustion, and Economics Cleaning Up 89

4 Energy Politics 96

The First Oil Crisis and the Alaska Pipeline 97

Nuclear Power 102

We China Syndrome and Three Mile Island 108

Amory Lovins 114

5 Crises and Critics 122

Endangered Species 124

Love Canal 130

Environmental Racism 135

Ozone and Acid Rain 139

Cancer Controversies 145

Major Environmental Disasters 149

6 Anti- and Counterenvironmentalists 156

The Reagan Era 159

Counterenvironmentalist Ideas 165

Free-Market Environmentalism and "Wise Use" 181

7 Ecologists and Historians 189

Ecology 190

Patch Dynamics 193

The Origins of Environmental History 197

Second-Generation Environmental History 204

8 Deep and Radical Ecology 215

Deep Ecology 216

Bioregionalism 222

Monkeywrenching 225

Critics of Deep Ecology 233

9 Global Warming 239

The "Warmers" 242

The Global Warming Skeptics 254

10 Environmental Issues of the 1990S 265

The Soviet Legacy 267

Genetically Modified Foods 270

Endangered Species II 275

Ecotourism 284

Endocrine Disruptors 287

11 The New Millennium 298

The Antitobacco Campaign 300

Biofuels 305

Electric Shocks 310

Invasive Species 317

Global Warming, Continued 319

Conclusion 328

Notes 339

Image Credits 372

Index 373

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

The Wall Street Journal:
“In recounting partisan battles, Mr. Allitt’s objectivity is refreshing…His critique of the relentless crisis mentality will lead many environmentalists to dismiss the book as anti-environmental, while anti-environmentalists will object to his conclusion that much conservation has been achieved at little cost to ordinary Americans."

The Weekly Standard: 
“A book that deserves widespread readership and course adoption…The virtue of Allitt’s history is a fresh approach to familiar themes and controversies, and from a perspective only occasionally brought to bear on the subject…He gets the larger story right…Allitt’s wide-gauge historical approach is a valuable complement to the many scientific and policy critiques that have piled up over the years.”

Martin V. Melosi, author of The Sanitary City and Precious Commodity:
“In this sweeping study, Patrick Allitt covers every conceivable major character and event in the modern ‘age of environmentalism.’ The book is grounded in intellectual history, and seeks to find balance in interpreting the role of environmental advocates and naysayers, in successes and failures of governmental regulation, in objectives and outcomes. The tone is definitely optimistic about the long view of meeting environmental challenges in the United States. At the same time, in linking past to present, Allitt offers caution about what might unfold in the days to come. Above all else, he touts the value of history in assessing America’s complex environmental legacy.”

Adam Rome, author of The Genius of Earth Day:
“I don’t agree with everything in A Climate of Crisis, but Patrick Allitt’s well-written and provocative book has given me more to think about than any other history of the U.S. environmental movement. A Climate of Crisis is both bracing and exciting.”

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A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism 2.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A Climate of Crisis By Patrick Allitt A Review Professor Allitt has written a comprehensive history of environmentalism in the 20th and 21st Centuries. The title of the book provides a capsule of his point of view, which he states unabashedly to be that environmental concerns for global disaster have been overblown, ill-founded and regrettable. Allitt does not deny that environmental problems exist now and have been much more serious in the past. But he holds that environmental policies and regulation that threaten economic growth are, in general, unwise and counterproductive. His theme is that only wealthy countries can afford to be “green” and that underdeveloped countries must accept bad environmental practices on the road to wealth, so that they may someday achieve the relatively clean environment now experienced in the USA and Western Europe. In the course of some 340 pages, Allitt cites the statements, actions and experiences of what must be almost every major character on the stage of the environment – both pro and con. In prose that comes close to sneering, he discusses in detail the forecasts of worldwide doom that came from some of those concerned about overpopulation and food deficiencies, nuclear proliferation, fossil fuel depletion, endangered species, pollution, acid rain, etc. He points out that man’s ingenuity and willingness to regulate (in democratic, developed nations) mitigated the effect of those threats, when real. In discussing the undeniable success in reducing health risk by elimination of lead compounds as anti-knock additives in gasoline, Allitt denigrates the use of ethanol as a replacement by linking it exclusively to the desire for renewable energy sources. Here he is either ill-informed or blind to the real issue: the political decision to use ethanol made only from US-produced corn. On the other hand, the author has nothing good to say about radical anti-environmentalists such as Ronald Reagan and his appointees, who believed that environmental threats were nonsense in the first place and fought every effort that they perceived as costing private or public money. Allitt also does not downplay real environmental disasters, such as Chernobyl, Bhopal, Three Mile Island, Deepwater Horizon, and the widespread pollution of the former Soviet Union. Nor does he overlook the current rampant pollution in China and India. He strongly supports enforcement of government regulations that may prevent the errors, malfeasance and carelessness to blame for such tragedies. To this reader, a major fault in the book is the lack of credit given to the early, and sometimes radical, pioneers of environmentalism for mustering public and governmental support for the positive changes in American health and safety over the time since World War II. These positive changes are stated clearly as monumental. No doubt the threats those pioneers foresaw were exaggerated but their views were sincerely held. By insisting on publicizing the risks, the early environmentalists caused a groundswell of opposition to air and water pollution by callous industry and municipalities. They also generated much of the concern for food and drug safety that is embodied in the FDA. These voices of doom have been shown to be wrong in many ways but without them, we may ask if our environment would be as well off as it now is. There are interesting insights developed by Professor Allitt. One of these is the pseudo-religious fervor displayed by many environmentalists in their intensely secular concern for the well-being of the earth. It is, perhaps, an example that people dedicated to altruistic action need a spiritual motivation even if they deny belief in a higher power. Another insight is the “auto-reinforcing” (my term) position of groups on both sides of the environmental fence. In order to get results by lobbying or publicity, groups who promote an environmental posture require money. The sources of funding tend to demand uncompromising dedication to the position of the group, even when information is developed later that should lead to change. Yet another insight is that those in opposition to environmental reform may be characterized as either “anti” or “counter” in their positions. The “anti” group rejects just about any action to improve or protect the environment if it costs money. The “counter” group admits that environmental problems exist but wants to defer potentially costly action until the threat is fully defined. (Prof. Allitt seems to find himself in the “counter” category.) The later chapters of this book devote much attention to the issue of climate change or warming. And it is here that Allitt expresses a counter-environmental position most clearly. He devotes much space to the scientific arguments that deny various aspects of climate change theory but not that much to the arguments that support it. His conclusion is that climate change itself is doubtful, that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide are not significant in the atmosphere, and that even if major climate change does occur, mankind is smart and wealthy enough to roll with the punch. Overall, Prof. Allitt attempts to straddle the fence of environmentalism with optimism that no matter how man changes the environment of the world, mankind will not only survive but prosper. It is difficult to dispute his contention that large expenditures by wealthy nations are better directed to reducing poverty than on actions to forestall uncertain environmental calamity. But one has the uncomfortable feeling that the slant of Allitt’s writing is directed more toward book sales than the author’s convictions.
leopardiNJ More than 1 year ago
Over the past half-century most of the western world has cleaned up its air and water while simultaneously raising the global standard of living and producing a surplus of food to feed a quadrupled population. During that same period environmental doomsayers have come and gone - all their professions of inevitable cataclysm have not come to pass. The current "hot" environmental topic of global warming is just the latest in a long list of "chicken little" crises. Ignore the hype - a prosperous, democratic world will solve any real problems that crop up. How comforting. That is the essence of Patrick Allitt's A Climate of Crisis - what might have been a welcome perspective on environmental history from "outside" the science community is, in the final analysis, flawed by a naive analysis of how science actually works in driving policy. Allitt dissects the history of the environmental movement (primarily after World War II) with frequent scholarly insights, covering many topics but with some emphasis on climate change. Given that the author is a historian, it is not surprising that he discusses in detail the impact of many non-scientists on the development of environmental thinking, but, to this reviewer, he tends to overstate his case. The book is so free-wheeling and rambling at times that it is bound to generate some criticism. Although the author protests his objectivity frequently throughout the book, he just as frequently bends a bit too far towards the "skeptical" position on environmental issues. When it comes to the late-20th-century battle over water and air pollution, he paints an over-rosy picture of the polluter's response while placing too much emphasis on the headline-grabbing antics of science superstars such as Ehrlich and Schneider. The reality was that, in the face of past environmental challenges, industry almost always had to be dragged kicking and screaming before accepting regulation and cleaning up their act. In the final analysis we cleaned up our air and water because the weight of scientific evidence was overwhelming that industrial pollution was harming the environment and deleterious to human health. That evidence was collected over decades of painstaking fieldwork. The scientists were right time and time again - disasters, for the most part, were averted. Did they sometimes overstate their case? Yes. And? Allitt tends toward the same bias when he discusses climate change. Most scientists working on global climate change are not making policy statements about impending doom. Nor are they all working on (admittedly theoretical) computer models of global climate. Most are collecting data with rigor and precision and attempting to construct an accurate picture of the current global climate or reconstruct the climate system of Earth past. That past climate is known beyond doubt to have been quite different from the present - our present quasi-Eden has been unusually stable and beneficent when seen in that historical perspective. Climate scientists have failed miserably in convincing the vast array of policy wonks that the global situation is grave. That does not in any way lead to the conclusion that their science is in any way wrong. The book is organized into 11 chapters with nearly 50 pages of notes and a detailed index. Images of some of the players in the environmental game are included, but there are no graphs or technical figures. Richard R. Pardi Environmental Science William Paterson University