Friday, November 21, 2008

#18 - You Are Here by Thomas M. Kostigen

You Are Here (2008) by Thomas M. Kostigen is another one of those books that I grabbed after seeing it on the display table at the library. I'm a natural conservationist, I've always hated wasting anything and that propensity extends to the environment. However, I still find it difficult to read books about the environment where I have to learn about all the natural beauty and splendor that humans manage to permanently desecrate every day, every hour, or every minute of our lives. Sometimes it's just easier to focus on your own life and live in ignorance. But maybe because of my work, I can't completely ignore what's going on. So, that's what made me watch An Inconvenient Truth, and that's what encouraged me to pick up this book. After all, as someone who worked for a nationally recognized environmental non-profit, it would be embarassing not to know some of the basics of the environmental problems that we're facing today.

You Are Here is a book that seeks to explain how the everyday habits of people impact the rest of the world. In doing this, Kostigen discusses the major environmental problems that we face today including air and water pollution, scarce resources, and climate change. Kostigen says that, "[t]oo often we don't connect our morality with the practicality of everyday things in our lives." The problem is that we never see the consequences of our actions. We're pretty lucky here in the United States, where we might hear about some environmental problem, but few of us actually experience theworst of the effects. Kostigen tries to educate the reader through this book by showing what happens to our trash after we put it on the curb, where our water comes from, and where the pollution goes. In order to accomplish this, he travels to nine different places throughout the world including the slums of Mumbai, India; the most polluted air in the world of Linfen City, China; a distant village in Alaska that is falling into the sea; and even the Eastern Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean.

I wasn't too sure about this book when I started reading it. Although I readily agree with the intent, I often find these books hard to digest. And even with this book, I found myself dreading to start another chapter because I knew I was going to learn that something else was being destroyed. But overall, I think this book admirably accomplishes what it set out to do. You Are Here is set up almost like a travel diary, so besides learning about the environmental woes of an area, you are sharing the experiences of the writer as he travels around the world and meets people in these exceptional places. I was also impressed by how Kostigen was able to limit the book to something manageable and meaningful. He focused on some of the major environmental problems such as climate change and pollution and managed to clearly describe the causes and effects of these issues with the backdrop of a real locale and real people that are being affected. He doesn't simplify the problems or solutions but also doesn't get too bogged down in detail and always had some kind of positive message about how we as individuals can make a difference if we actually know the consequences of our actions.

Although I am hopeful that many people already know much of what Kostigen talks about in You Are Here, I definitely learned something new in every chapter. Probably what impressed me most about this book, though, was that Kostigen managed to encourage change without being political, authoritative, blaming, or holier-than-thou. He gives examples of what people can do to make a difference but he lets the reader decide what might actually work in her life without being judgmental. Kostigen seems optimistic that people care enough about others that if we could see the effects we have on the world around us that we will want to make a difference if we possibly can.

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