Humor me for a minute while I tell a little story.
As a fifth-generation Berkeley native, I've long been fairly confident in my recycling skills. When I went to Berlin early this year, I brought those skills with me. After a couple weeks, I had only produced a small bag -- maybe an eight-inch ball -- of actual trash. As I was carrying it downstairs to throw it away, a German friend eyed it and asked me, "Haven't you only been here two weeks? How did you make that much trash already?"
That was my lightbulb moment, when I realized that what I had been doing -- and what I had believed was enough, or even commendable -- was skewed by my perspective. What, to me, was an impressively small bag of trash was, to this German, more evidence of American wastefulness. Since then, just thanks to having had my eyes opened like that, my recycling habits and my views on trash have changed dramatically.
That's the purpose of this book.
I'll spend a week or so in each of the destinations in question, getting to know its spirit and developing an understanding of its relation to the environment -- the good, the bad, the complexities and the contradictions. I'll then present this in an essay, with an emphasis on capturing the spirit of the place and how that connects to its relation to environmental and ecological issues. The goal isn't to make you feel like you've read a scientific report full of numbers and statistics on each place, but rather to let you feel as if you've visited the place and understand its social/human relation to the environment.
The places on the itinerary (and the reasons for them) are:
- Berkeley (my hometown and starting point. Well-known for being environmentally conscious, but is it really? And is it doing enough?)
- Vancouver (the second most eco-friendly city in North America, after San Francisco, according to the Siemens Green City Index)
- Houston (how do our preconceptions of Texas as an environmentally unaware state line up with reality?)
- The Everglades (for the ongoing loss and the remarkable moves toward restoration)
- Detroit (how does a city in decay relate to the environment?)
- Atlanta (ranked by Nalgene as one of the most wasteful cities in the country)
- New Orleans (how much has environmental consciousness played a role in the rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina?)
- Des Moines (how do people in an agricultural "flyover state" relate to the environment?)
- New York City (to address the question of whether big cities really are the best urban option for the environment, and to explore people's environmental awareness in such an urban setting)
- Jackson, MS (Mississippi is tied for most obese state. Is there an overall trend toward or attitude encouraging consumption?)
- North Cascades National Park (how much have human actions indirectly impacted one of the least-visited National Parks in the United States?)
- The San Francisco Bay Area (how is home different after these other experiences? How can shifts in perspective change our daily lives and habits?
If you live in any of the places involved, I'd love to hear from you!