Book Shelf, Book 3 — The End of the Long Summer: Why We Must Rethink Our Civilization to Survive on a Volatile Earth

July 15, 2009

 

Rachel Carson famously observed after the publication of Silent Spring that the subject of a book selects the author, not the other way around. Anyone who knows Dianne Dumanoski, or has read her work as a co-author of Our Stolen Future, or followed her award-winning reporting for many years at the Boston Globe, won't be surprised to see her take on the big question: Are we going to make it or is it too late?

This is one of those books that comes along at the right time, a rare necessity for those struggling to put it all together and figure out if we've totally screwed up the planet and anyone will be around after all or not.

Neither communicators nor leaders realize where the 20th century has taken us, she states at the beginning of the book. Who better to figure it out for us than a Ph.D. drop-out who decided to become a top-notch environmental journalist instead? Dumanoski has been a front-line witness and chronicler of the crisis we're in now. She covered Stockholm, Rio, Johannesburg, Chernobyl. She's now in demand worldwide for her insightful lectures and courses on science and environment issues. The End of the Long Summer is heady stuff, thanks to her detailed research, the depth of her concern and her skill at walking her readers through philosophy, science, environmental polemics and then some.

When she was a journalist working on deadline, Dumanoski had no time to reflect on the omens of a doomed planet. Decades of notes, a passion for investigation and analytical thinking have birthed this book. Maybe not since Silent Spring have we had such a strident warning or a writer brave enough to take on the mission of truth-telling, written with a journalist's dedication to clarity, solid sourcing and engaging information. The book has given her the latitude for a more poetic style and depth. This is a scary book. Daunted? Not yet, she says. Just damn close.

Dumanoski challenges the world's devotion to growth, going far beyond the current attention to sustainability. She rethinks how progress is defined and what it means to be a steward of nature. The myth of controlling nature, she argues, has been vanquished, and what's more, nature is returning with a vengeance. Climate change is only the beginning. Whether any current species will survive is a sobering question. We've busted up the whole dynamic, the Earth's unified systems and metabolism. "Sirens are wailing in a planetary emergency," she writes. "The decades ahead promise unimaginable loss…the century ahead promises to be a wild trip."Yet somehow, she finds joy in being a part of the drama. Maybe it's the stake she drives deep into the heart of capitalism. Or maybe it's just in a journalist's nature.

Human dominion is done and Nature's back on center stage. "The rare interlude of climate grace — a long summer — is over," she says. Thus, the title. Though she presents a cacophony of overwhelming disaster, she offers a smidgeon of hope. Probably couldn't see the point of writing a total doomsday book. Instead, she delivers a vision for hope laced with long-term uncertainty, and tells us to learn to cope with tragedy.

She calls for "shock-proofing our human systems," functional redundancy in the face of globalization-caused vulnerability, more regional and local self-reliance, enhanced social capital (so others can rebuild post-chaos…ouch!). It's a call for nothing less than a total redesign of social and economic systems. She hasn't written a book on adaptation, but rather one on how to survive chaos.

JoAnn M. Valenti is an emerita professor and serves on the editorial board of SEJournal. 

** From SEJ's quarterly newsletter SEJournal Summer 2009 issue

Reviewed by JOANN M. VALENTI