"The presumption is that there is always more to be had. More oil, more land, more air, more water, more soil, more nature, so that it doesn't matter how much you consume or appropriate, there is always more to be had over the next hill, in the next valley, on the frontier--a frontier that no longer exists." - page 138
Over the past 100 years a confluence of circumstances led oil, cars and then suburbs to define the American lifestyle. It was all too good to be true and it seemed to most of us that the ride would last forever. But alas, here in the second decade of the 21st century people are waking up from the great American Dream and coming to the realization that the way we have chosen to live is simply unsustainable. We are all going to have to make some drastic changes in the coming years. For many of us the thought of having to downsize and streamline is much too painful to contemplate. Eric W. Sanderson is a senior conservation ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York City. He has a clear vision of what America could look like in the 21st century and beyond and presents it in his compelling new book "Terra Nova: The New World After Oil, Cars, and Suburbs." If you are prepared to read this book with an open mind you just might come away excited by the myriad possibilities that await us in the future.
But to know where we are going it is imperative to understand what has driven our past. In the opening third of "Terra Nova" Sanderson offers up a detailed account of how we got to where we are today. We learn that in 1917 there were more than 44,000 miles of streetcar lines in cities and towns all across America, which is comparable to today's Interstate Highway System. With the emergence of the mass-produced Ford Model T the Good Roads Movement spawned a rapidly expanding network of paved roads and highways. Ironically the first suburbs were actually facilitated by the streetcar companies. But streetcars would prove to be no match for the automobile. After World War II the G.I. Bill offered low-cost mortgages to returning soldiers. With gasoline selling for about 26 cents a gallon America's love affair with oil, cars, and the suburbs would firmly take root. But as Sanderson points out the exodus to the suburbs came with a cost: "Americans largely stopped going to church, belonging to clubs, participating in service organizations. Many people seemed to fold into their homes, caring mostly about private concerns, and neglecting public ones." There was a genuine loss of community. In the new world the author envisions people will once again be encouraged to emerge from their humble abodes to spend time with friends and neighbors and to once again become involved with public affairs.
In the second section of Terra Nova" Eric Sanderson offers for your consideration his grand vision for the future of our nation. He suggests a radical new tax scheme he dubs "gate duties" that would essentially discourage waste and encourage recycling and reuse. Perhaps his most intriguing proposal is something he calls "New Town" districts that would encourage neighborhoods to mix work, residence, and shopping and discourage and perhaps one day eliminate automobile use. It may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. The author also proposes creative new "location-efficient" mortgages and a "home-to-work" payroll adjustment that would encourage companies to hire workers who live close by. I was also excited by the idea of a Superfund for Real Estate whereby owners of under-performing or non-viable properties would be offered financial incentives to raze the buildings and restore the land to its highest potential natural state. As far as I am concerned we can start that right now. Being an ecologist Eric Sanderson is a huge proponent of renewable energy sources. He firmly believes that the key to our energy future lies with a combination of wind, solar and geothermal energy. He enumerates in great detail how this might happen and enhances his presentation with a series of clear and highly informative illustrations.
"Terra Nova: The New World After Oil, Cars, and Suburbs" is at once an entertaining, thought-provoking, well-written and beautifully illustrated book. Sanderson wisely keeps politics out of his book. He presents his rather comprehensive vision in clear and concise terms and leaves no doubt where he stands on these important issues. Regardless of your political persuasion, if you have the least bit of interest in these issues I urge you to read "Terra Nova". There is lots of food for thought here. I just happened upon this book at my local bookstore the other day and at this point I would have to say that this is one of the best books I have read thus far in 2013. Very highly recommended!
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About the reviewer
Paul Tognetti (drifter51)
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more