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  • Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress
  • Gidon Eshel
Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. By Carl Pope and Paul Rauber. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2004. Pp. 288. $24.95.

In the name of full disclosure, let me confess right from the outset that I am an avid, devout follower of Carl Pope. I have not missed a single one of his wise, lucidly written, cogently argued, and well-informed Sierra magazine columns in years. This book, however, proved less of a love at first sight, and induced a more ambivalent and nuanced response in me.

This book is monumentally important, and by writing it the authors have performed a huge public service that is but the latest installment in Pope is long and distinguished career at the interface of politics and the environment. The book is also, for the most part, a serious—almost scholarly—work, a well-documented, horrifying, and infuriating indictment of the current Bush Administration. At the same time, the book suffers from some nontrivial flaws that are disappointing, given Pope is public stature and distinguished written record.

The book is singularly most important contribution is the gathering and presentation, in a mostly logically organized and coherent fashion, of all the disparate pieces in the enormous tapestry of embarrassment and folly that is collectively confused by some with the "environmental policy" of George Bush. A crucially important related issue is the book is factual robustness. At least the subset of the book is purported facts I checked, using both the book is own extensive references and footnotes, as well as independent sources, are all correct and fully substantiated by the cited and other sources.

Given the book is uncompromising, unabridged scope and factual reliability, it is, in my view, the definitive source for anybody who may still harbor any lingering doubt that Bush II is the uncontested worst U.S. President ever, (at least) from an environmental standpoint. The Bush II environmental record is all there in front of you, in sometimes mind-numbing but invariably solid and reliable details, and you are invited to draw your own conclusions. Those will likely span the full spectrum from mild bewilderment as to how such crude, unsophisticated, [End Page 621] and readily falsifiable lies can be expected to amount to a serious argument, to white-knuckle outrage at being deceived and actively, corporally harmed by the very government that is supposed to be your chief defender.

The book has several limitations. First, I did not find it an easy read. While it is very well written, it is not well edited. The authors clearly had an inkling that the book is too voluminous, not in overall scope but in the level of details of each and every story, and were mindful of the weakening effect this excess has on the book (p. 12). Yet they fell—wide-eyed and fully aware but apparently unable to mercilessly edit their own work—into the trap, thereby achieving exactly what they predicted, making the story seem less shocking than it actually is. Given that this is not an academic scholarly work but rather book-length timely journalism, what would have made a lot more sense is to restrict the scope to several, well-chosen, most egregious examples of the Administration is thoughtless, corrupt indulgence. In doing so, the authors would have been able to cover those case studies in full, without numbing the reader is mind with the book is actual information volume, which is sufficiently excessive to sometimes drown the vitally important message.

The few technical paragraphs in the book fall short at times. A good example is the discussion of global warming (p. 160). First, the science of global warming is not settled: the basic facts may be mostly there, but the details are complex and important and are still emerging. Stating otherwise, as the book does, unnecessarily weakens the demonstrably correct argument, whose validity is largely independent of whether or not the science is fully settled. Basic commonsense and prudence dictate unequivocally that, when faced with a possible calamity, one...


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