“Hey, we hit the fire code,” said Michael Grunwald, moderator of the “Everyday Toxicities” panel at the 2008 Miami Book Fair last weekend. “It’s great to know these guys got so much interest.” The jammed SRO room reached capacity at 100-plus, with a long line of hopeful attendees clamoring in the hallway, foregoing 14 other simultaneous sessions, including ones featuring bestselling novelists Carl Hiaasen and Michael Cunningham (of The Hours fame), elsewhere on the Miami-Dade College campus.
The Time magazine correspondent and author of The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise, introduced the impressive panel: investigative reporter Mark Schapiro, author of Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products; organic farmer Will Allen of “Farms Not Arms,” who wrote The War on Bugs; and Gene Baur, discussing Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food.
Their presentations were less about hawking books and more about conveying info that wowed the crowd. Shapiro contrasted US and EU eco-standards, addressing the economic and health consequences of our retreat from environmental policies — lead in toys and mercury in makeup. Allen broadened the theme, focusing on pesticides in fruit, vegetables and cotton. Baur exposed industrial farming practices with downer cow meat in the food supply and stats about the dangers of corporate collusion with government. The good news: consumers can choose safe alternatives.
The following session featured Treehugger.com founder Graham Hill with editor Meaghan O’Neill, who spoke about their guide, Ready, Set, Green: Eight Weeks to Modern Eco-Living and their affiliation with Discovery’s Planet Green channel. Joining the dais was Ted Nordhaus, co-author (with Michael Shellenberger) of Breakthrough: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, who raised eyebrows with their controversial position proposing a radical change of the entire electrical infrastructure (it's not just about changing light bulbs). The authors agreed that an Earth Day mentality of environmental special interest groups needed a new and improved perspective.
But not everyone got the message. During the Q & A, a white-haired, t-shirted man with a leather hat asked, “You promote a high-tech solution to global warming but isn’t the problem an inner process? Don’t we need to get to know our neighbor?” The panelists were speechless. They’d just suggested that the ecology movement that grew from hippies’ fantasy-based, Mad Max fears required a more modern, effective and positive solution-oriented plan. Unplugging and recycling is fine but a bigger dent is essential. There’s hope, Nordhaus stated, contrasting John Kerry’s dismissal of Breakthough’s proposal with Barack Obama’s integrated approach to energy, education, healthcare, and economic policies.
The eco-flag waved elsewhere at this year's Book Fair, the 25th annual. Environmental consciousness was evident on panels of poets, memoirists, and politicians alike. And Miami greened the festivities with a recycling efforts and carbon offsets in conjunction with the host college’s Earth Ethics Institute. Director Colleen Ahern-Hettich said, “Rather than purchase NativeEnergy credits, we’re planting trees locally,” helping to remedy the city’s woefully meager canopy. The EEI — promoting “earth literacy” since 1993 with sustainable practices, green curriculums, and community gardens — also ran a workshop and a session, "American Writers Respond to the Earth Charter," that included Rick Bass, author of Why I Came West, talking about about battling mining in Montana.
Even the Children’s Alley boasted a popular Green Planet tent, featuring kid’s activities like planting seeds, building birdhouses, and making rainsticks while learning about deforestation, melting ice caps, and endangered critters. Nearby, the CBS affiliate sponsor handed out Eco-Zone reusable tote bags.
Inspired by the fair’s poster artist Art Spiegelman, creator of the famous Maus, graphic novels and comic books were featured at the fair. One highlight was As the World Burns: 50 Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial, a satirical take on the self-congratulatory green movement, co-written by syndicated cartoonist Stephanie McMillan with activist-author Derrick Jensen.
Another panel featured Mark Kurlansky discussing overfishing and his book, The Last Fish Tale about America’s oldest fishing port in Massachusetts, and Ronnie Greene discussing Night Fire: Big Oil, Poison Air, and Margie Richard ’s Fight to Save Her Town.
Miami Herald humor columnist Dave Barry signed his latest volume, History of the Millennium (So Far), after joking about the bailouts, suggesting the auto industry be rescued on one condition: stop making cars. “What I hear from the experts, is that if we don't so something radically different to change our lifestyle, [global warming] is going to be a problem," he understated. "It won't affect us…but it will affect our kids. I say to hell with that. I say it's payback for hip-hop.”
Story by Roberta Cruger. This article originally appeared in Plenty in November 2008.