A climate of crisis America in the age of environmentalism

Patrick Allitt

Book - 2014

"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."-- From dust jacket flap.

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New York : The Penguin Press 2014.
Main Author
Patrick Allitt (author)
Physical Description
xv, 384 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 339-371) and index.
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • 1. The Schizophrenic Fifties
  • Nuclear Anxieties
  • Population and Food
  • The Natural World
  • Cities and Suburbs
  • 2. Pollution and Pessimism
  • Pollution in the News
  • Five Pessimistic Intellectuals
  • The Counterculture
  • 3. Politics and the Environment
  • Environmental Legislation
  • Population, Resource Exhaustion, and Economics Cleaning Up
  • 4. Energy Politics
  • The First Oil Crisis and the Alaska Pipeline
  • Nuclear Power
  • The China Syndrome and Three Mile Island
  • Amory Lovins
  • 5. Crises and Critics
  • Endangered Species
  • Love Canal
  • Environmental Racism
  • Ozone and Acid Rain
  • Cancer Controversies
  • Major Environmental Disasters
  • 6. Anti-and Counterenvironmentalists
  • The Reagan Era
  • Counterenvironmentalist Ideas
  • Free-Market Environmentalism and "Wise Use"
  • 7. Ecologists and Historians
  • Ecology
  • Patch Dynamics
  • The Origins of Environmental History
  • Second-Generation Environmental History
  • 8. Deep and Radical Ecology
  • Deep Ecology
  • Bioregionalism
  • Monkeywrenching
  • Critics of Deep Ecology
  • 9. Global Warming
  • The "Warmers"
  • The Global Warming Skeptics
  • 10. Environmental Issues of the 1990S
  • The Soviet Legacy
  • Genetically Modified Foods
  • Endangered Species II
  • Ecotourism
  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • 11. The New Millennium
  • The Antitobacco Campaign
  • Biofuels
  • Electric Shocks
  • Invasive Species
  • Global Warming, Continued
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Image Credits
  • Index
Review by Choice Review

Historian Allitt (Emory Univ.; The Conservatives, CH, Jan'10, 47-2850) has attempted to write a history of American environmental issues and their consequences from the 1950s to the present. He sees environmentalists as having been highly successful in achieving their goals, and attributes this success to the availability of a free press (to promote and publicize various issues) that operates in a capitalistic industrialized democracy with enough wealth to realize its major aspirations. The range of environmental topics and controversies discussed is quite extensive, including nuclear war, pollution, energy, endangered species, and climate change. The author tries to present the views of environmental proponents and critics/skeptics fairly, with adequate documentation. Allitt considers the Cold War the greatest threat that the world has faced since 1945, and the fact that the environmental antagonists prevented it from becoming a nuclear war is an encouraging example that modern nations can also find a successful resolution to the global warming threat before it becomes a catastrophe. This provocative book may become the starting point for future environmental discussions. It is an easy read and deserves a wide audience. --Frank N. Egerton, University of Wisconsin--Parkside

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

Our worries over climate change can be traced back to worries about the impact of the atomic bomb, argues Allitt. The same paradox of nuclear weapons technology so extraordinarily powerful that its success provokes fear is seen in industrial advancements that have led to worries about the environment. But the same technological or industrial advancement that produces the nuclear fears or environmental threats also makes it possible to detect and measure the threats and find solutions. The problem is exaggeration and fearmongering by groups that have led to mass movements, strident media coverage, and tightened regulations. Offering historical perspective on the tensions between industrialism, wealth-building, and environmentalism, Allitt traces social movements of the 1960s through the creation of Earth Day and the Environmental Protection Agency. Pondering the trade-offs of advancement and economic success vis-a-vis increasing polarization of industrialists and environmentalists, Allitt attempts to balance assumptions about who the good and bad guys are in the drama of the climate crisis and whether the crisis even exists.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2014 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Emory University historian Allitt (The Conservatives) examines contemporary American environmentalism historically, from his "counter-environmentalist" and pro-industrialist stance, in order to allay fears of a real crisis. He structures his work chronologically, devoting each chapter to the conflicting issues within each established time frame. His initial chapter on the 1950s describes "nuclear anxieties" and worries about overpopulation, eventually making his way through discussions of biofuels, invasive species, and alternative energy. While Allitt claims that "America's environmental problems have been manageable problems," it's difficult to assess the extent to which his claim is based on wishful thinking or just a cherry-picking of the available evidence. He also implies that environmental advocates are motivated less by scientific evidence than careerism or a desire to constrain the economy. This is most striking in his dubious discussion of anthropogenic climate change, of which he remains a skeptic. Though "[t]he study of history shows us how bad we are at predicting the future," that has little bearing on the fact that 97% of climate research points to human activity as the culprit, regardless of potential future outcomes. Allitt doesn't question his own technophilia, and his belief that capitalism and technology will solve our ecological problems should be received with its own dose of skepticism. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A wide-ranging history of the American environmental movement. Allitt (American History/Emory Univ.; The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History, 2009, etc.) offers a readable account that will provoke and displease many environmentalists. Few of the issues facing the nationfrom overpopulation in the 1950s to air and water pollution in the '60s to genetically modified foods in the '90s to climate change todaywarranted the accompanying moods of crisis, which were "usually disproportionate to the actual danger involved." Most problems were manageable, but they were exaggerated due to media sensationalism, environmental scientists seeking recognition, the needs of a growing environmental establishment and the beneficial effects of crises on environmental groups' memberships. "When the nation mobilized the political will it was effective in providing remedies," writes Allitt, celebrating actions on pesticides, toxic dumps, endangered species and other issues. However, he overlooks the fact that to mobilize political will, environmental groups had to fight for attention, waging information campaigns and sounding alarms, often in the face of strong, well-financed opposition, so that the public would eventually demand legislative action. Allitt's things-will-take-care-of-themselves view, based on sympathy with counterenvironmentalists' ideas, informs his book. He covers major individuals and controversies over six decades, showing how Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson created constituencies for mainstream environmentalisma mass movement by 1970and Edward Abbey inspired activists. Highly politicized issues pitted critics, who viewed green advocates as selfish elitists, against environmentalists who saw opponents as cynical and greedy. Allitt notes Congress passed 28 major environmental laws in the decade before 1980, when President Ronald Reagan began dismantling many regulations and sparked a conservative counterenvironmentalism. Allitt dismisses the "false" claims of impending catastrophe associated with climate change, which he deems "another real but manageable problem." An optimistic book that downplays the clamorous work of environmental groups and attributes progress to the institutions of democracy and capitalism.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.