Monday, March 31, 2014

Patrick Allitt's "A Climate of Crisis"

Patrick N. Allitt is Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University. He was an undergraduate at Oxford in England, a graduate student at the University of California Berkeley, and held postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard Divinity School and Princeton University. At Emory since 1988, he teaches courses on American intellectual, environmental, and religious history, on Victorian Britain, and on the Great Books.

Allitt applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism, and reported the following:
Page 99 of A Climate of Crisis explains the controversy over the trans-Alaska pipeline that divided Americans in the 1970s. The discovery of oil on the North Slope of Alaska in the late sixties had raised the prospect of the United States being less dependent on oil imports from politically volatile Middle East. But how could Alaskan oil be conveyed safely to the lower forty-eight states? Icebergs in the Arctic Ocean made it impossible for tanker ships to sail there.

A pipeline to the ice-free ports of southern Alaska was the favored solution. It would carry oil 800 miles, over two great mountain ranges, over major rivers like the Yukon, and across earthquake faults. A technically challenging project, dauntingly expensive, it also offended environmentalists who believed it would create a scar on the pristine landscape and interrupt caribou migration routes.

It might never have won political approval had it not been for the Yom Kippur War of 1973 between Israel and its neighbors. When the U.S. supported Israel, the oil-exporting Arab nations retaliated first by cutting off oil exports altogether and later by doubling their asking price. Alaskan oil suddenly seemed a lot more desirable, and the pipeline got a green light from both houses of Congress.

It was finished in 1977 and oil began to flow from the North Slope to Port Valdez, where it was loaded aboard tanker ships heading for refineries in Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay, Los Angeles, and San Diego. One of these ships, the Exxon Valdez, ran aground in 1989 and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound and the surrounding waters. The pipeline itself, by contrast, has had a largely trouble-free existence and is still going strong today.

The book is a history of the great environmental controversies of the last 65 years. It starts by recalling widespread popular fears about nuclear fallout in the 1950s, and moves on to consider population, pollution, environmental carcinogens, resource depletion, acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer, endangered species, contaminated waste sites, environmental racism, ecotourism, genetically modified foods, and global warming. In each case it shows how intelligent people disagreed about the gravity of the issues and about how best to respond to them.

The theme of the book is that these problems were real but manageable, and that once the nation dedicated itself to remedying them it was often successful. As a result of sensible environmental legislation, we live in a far less polluted environment than our parents and grandparents, enjoy better health and greater life expectancy. We need to continue to take environmental problems seriously but we do not need to fear a coming apocalypse, as some environmental writers have implied.
Learn more about A Climate of Crisis at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Conservatives.

Writers Read: Patrick Allitt.

--Marshal Zeringue