Book review: Making America Green and Safe: A History of Sustainable Development and Climate Change

For over 40 years scientists and policy-makers around the world have struggled to build awareness of climate change and to motivate actions that could (a) limit emissions of global warming gases, and (b) build resilience against increasing adverse impacts. This has been the centerpiece of a larger campaign to enable “sustainable development”—creating societies that are committed to long-term prosperity, security, and environmental harmony. Dr. Alan Hecht, who recently retired from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has been an instrumental player in this decades-long campaign. His new book, “Making America Green and Safe: A History of Sustainable Development and Climate Change” (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2018) gives an inside account of the journey toward sustainability, and emphasizes the need for future collaboration among government, business, and civil society.

The book begins with a historical perspective on the 1960s and 1970s, when growing evidence of environmental pollution stimulated landmark U.S. legislation for clean air, clean water, and responsible management of waste. It then traces the growing international consensus, led by the United Nations, that culminated in the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. An important factor in this movement was recognition by both business and government leaders that pursuit of sustainability is aligned with economic progress and has yielded beneficial innovations in energy, transportation, manufacturing, and consumer lifestyles. As Hecht explains, political opposition and competing agendas have hampered progress, and subsequent global summits in 2002 and 2012 failed to achieve binding commitments to sustainability goals. Nevertheless, he remains optimistic that wisdom will prevail.

This is a highly readable book aimed at a broad audience, filled with intriguing anecdotes from the author’s personal experiences. For students of climate change science and policy it provides a valuable reference. For concerned citizens it offers an honest and insightful overview of a critical, often misunderstood topic. The book concludes with a compelling overview of global megatrends, including not only climate change but also socioeconomic changes that represent both challenges and opportunities for sustainability.

Reviewed by:

Joseph Fiksel
Professor Emeritus
The Ohio State University

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