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When approaching any large challenge, it is sometimes difficult to know where to start, and in our particular global crisis, nations are finding it difficult to determine who should start. In response to the statistic that China is building more than a gigawatt of new coal-fired power plants every week, Berkeley physicist Richard Muller asks, “Do we demand that the Chinese stop? Do we have the right to do that? Do we have the power to do that?” His answers are even more straightforward, “No, no, and no.”1 AnalystsoftencharacterizeChinaasfollowing an unsustainable path compared to the United States, but consider this: One country has a fertility rate below replacement value and an annual per-capita energy consumption equivalent to 1,500 kilograms of oil per year. The other country’s population is expanding and its citizens annually consume over five times as much energy, equivalent to 7,700 kilograms per year.2 When comparing a modestly consuming Epilogue: A Grander Narrative? And the people bowed and prayed / to the neon god they made. –Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, “The Sound of Silence”  Epilogue populace whose numbers will someday be smaller with a more substantially consuming populace growing exponentially, it is not difficult to determine which is sustainable within the limits of a finite planet and which is not.3 Americans are not in a position to preach. As an alternative to preaching, Thomas Friedman asserts, “I would much prefer to put our energy into creating an American model so compelling that other countries would want to follow it on their own. . . . A truly green America would be more valuable than fifty Kyoto Protocols. Emulation is always more effective than compulsion.”4 Are the first steps in this book sufficient to create such a compelling American model? No. They’re simply a start. Nevertheless , I never intended to write a grand narrative. Frankly, I’m not so sure it would be worth reading if I did. But what if I had attempted to do so? What could I have drawn upon? I might have launched directly into the gut of environmental ethics, American religion, and knowledge frameworks by quoting Lynn White, who argued in the 1960s: “More science and more technology are not going to get us out of the present ecological crisis until we find a new religion, or rethink the one we have.” I could have scripted an impassioned introduction drawing upon writers such as Bill McKibben, Vandana Shiva, Joseph Stiglitz, James Lovelock, and Raj Patel.5 And there are the many thinkers featured in the volume Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril to consider as well.6 I could then have tempered their optimism by quoting cantankerous theorists such as, Curtis White, author of The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don’t Think for Themselves and The Barbaric Heart: Faith, Money, and the Crisis of Nature; James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency; Chris Hedges, author of American Fascists; and John Michael Greer, author of The Ecotechnic Future.7 Or I could have featured the more scientific sobrieties  A Grander Narrative? of Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe, or Fen Montaigne, author of Fraser’s Penguins.8 Alternately, I could have opted for an equally provocative (and ideologically charged) beginning by framing imperialism as the root of our environmental problems and quoting documentary filmmaker Philippe Diaz who claims: “The first resource we took was the land, and when you take the land away from the people, you create the slave. . . . How did these small countries like Great Britain, France, Holland, and Belgium become these huge empires with almost no resources whatsoever? Well, by taking by force, of course, resources from the South.”9 I might have drawn upon any number of historians, anthropologists , and social scientists who maintain that over the past five hundred years, we’ve become more efficient at performing these extractions, primarily through the economic instruments we call privatization, debt service, and free trade (as well as through good old-fashioned force and intimidation). From there, I could have quoted the activist Derrick Jensen, who observes, Once a people have committed (or enslaved) themselves to a growth economy, they’ve pretty much committed themselves to a perpetual war economy, because in order to maintain this growth, they will have to continue to colonize an ever-wider swath of the planet and exploit its inhabitants. . . . The bad news for those committed to a growth economy is that it’s...


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