Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.
Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

Bookmarks: Brief reviews of new and overlooked books

The Weather Makers: How Man is Changing the Climate and What it Means for Life on Earth
by Tim Flannery
Atlantic Monthly Press, March 2006, 384 pages, $25.00

Not to be too apocalyptic, but there may come a time about a century from now, when our descendents are rooting about in the rack and ruin of our drowned coastal cities and come across a soggy copy of a book. They open it and begin to read by guttering candlelight, but after a couple chapters they toss the book down and walk away in disgust. You see, they already know the ending, because they’re living through it. Natural devastation, unpredictable weather patterns, scarce supplies of fresh water and continually rising oceans — this is their everyday catastrophe, one that was predicted ad nauseum long before they were born, in books that were read, discussed, and promptly ignored.

The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery, an Australian scientist and explorer once described as having “discovered more species than Charles Darwin”, is just such a book. There have been others like it, but few will have Flannery’s impressive knack for using calm, levelheaded analysis to arrive at his truly frightening conclusions. At the core of the book here are not just the standard predictions of the eco-doomsayer, telling us that if nothing changes soon, then X number of years hence, we may be seeing great changes in the environment. Flannery’s point is that the changes have already begun. The oceans have already warmed on average by just under one degree, coral reefs are dying, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is well on its way to doubling in the next century, and the melting rate of the polar ice caps has increased dramatically in just the past few years. Although this is a book that does its best to avoid alarmist doomsday scenarios — which, when they don’t happen, just give more ammunition to the steadily shrinking but still powerfully connected anti-environmental lobby — the ones Flannery does list are terrifying in their sober plausibility, ranging from a future “carbon dictatorship” where all emissions are controlled by an iron-fisted world government or even the near-extinction of humanity.

It’s hard to believe that a book with such dire contents could not be considered alarmist, yet somehow it’s not. Flannery is, to say the least, skeptical about the ability of humans as a species to take the proactive steps necessary to stop the impending catastrophe. But that doesn’t stop him from laying out some suggestions for action, simple but extremely useful things like switching to a utility company using renewable energy sources, instead of simply moaning about politically-connected power companies and going to Earth Day.

The bottom line of The Weather Makers is simple: “If humans pursue a business-as-usual course for the first half of this century, I believe the collapse of civilization due to climate change becomes inevitable.” After reading this sobering book, and enduring what is looking likely to be another horrific hurricane season caused by ocean warming, only the most stubborn SUV driver could argue the point.

Chris Barsanti Amazon

+ + + +

Confessions of an Economic Hitman
by John Perkins
Plume, December 2005, 320 pages, $15.00

Conspiracy theorists of the world rejoice! Finally, the smoking gun for anyone who expects the worst of the United States, that it’s out of control, using its ill-gained wealth and influence to further its nefarious plots. And it’s goal? World domination!

In Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, author John Perkins lays out the conspiracy for all to see — and judge. It goes something like this: When the Second World War ended, the United States was the sole remaining superpower policing Western interests. In the 1950s, Iran was set to depose the Shah and replace him with the socialist leaning Prime Minister Mussadegh who insisted on nationalizing the oil industry. Fearing Soviet domination of Iran and its vast petroleum reserves, the United States went into action, sending in Kermit Roosevelt to foment a revolt. The Shah was restored to his throne and everyone lived happily ever after — at least until the Revolution brought an Islamic theocracy to power in 1978.

Despite this initial success, the United States realized that having Americans planning coups in foreign countries was not the best way to cultivate friendships around the globe. New tactics were required. Perkins claims he was originally hired by MAIN, a Haliburton-like company, at the National Security Agency’s behest. There, he was trained to provide grossly inflated economic projections for public works projects in developing countries. He and his cohorts planned and carried out vast projects and entire nations ended up in hock to the United States for billions of dollars. The debt was then be used to guarantee support for US policies in the UN and elsewhere. Hence the term “Economic Hit Man” — nothing James Bond about it, no cloak and dagger, just using the tools of business to corrupt entire nations.

When Perkins sticks to his story — including his indoctrination by a secretive female agent, his rise up the corporate ladder, the projects he designed, the world leaders he met, and the countries he corrupted — his book sizzles in a way a simple anti-Capitalist screed can never hope to match. Unfortunately, Confessions bogs down in unnecessary editorializing that undermines the reader’s faith in the author. “Show, don’t tell” is a journalistic maxim for a reason, and Perkins’s storytelling is stronger when he adheres. Despite its sizzle, though, there is something despicable underlying Perkins’s tale. Here is a man who admits a corrupt past, and yet has made himself a fortune. He left MAIN to become a high priced consultant, started an energy company, which he then sold to the highest bidder, and now uses this wealth to finance a nonprofit organization focusing on indigenous peoples… and his children’s trust funds. I’m not sure which is worse — his deeds or his sanctimonious whining about how he hated himself every step of the way.

What Perkins ascribes to NSA plots are now the standard practices of business and politics. Wherever large amounts of money are at play, people can always be bought. If nothing else, Confessions demonstrates the rampant poverty and environmental destruction that follow in the wake of unbridled capitalism. The people of South America have responded by electing socialists to leadership positions throughout the continent. But, if anything, Confessions reveals the destruction wrought by unbridled ideology. People need food, healthcare, jobs, and opportunity — not more rulers spouting visions of utopia. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man provides a description of the problem, but we’re still waiting for a solution.

Ben Levisohn Amazon