No Good Alternative: Volume Two of Carbon Ideologies

William T. Vollmann. Viking, $40 (666p) ISBN 978-0-525-55849-1
The world’s attachment to fossil fuels is questioned at length but with little depth in this second volume of the author’s scattershot jeremiad on global warming and unclean energy. Journalist and novelist Vollmann (Rising Up and Rising Down) reports on public opinion in hydrocarbon hotspots, including West Virginia coal towns ravaged by pollution and mountaintop removal; Colorado natural gas lands, where fracking has frayed nerves; and United Arab Emirates oil fields, where fearful immigrants work for a pittance. In rambling interviews with townspeople, workers, government officials, and anticarbon activists, he uncovers both dismay at the local downside of fossil fuels and support for them as necessary sources of jobs, energy, and cultural tradition despite the prospect of climate change. While the reportage is evocative, Vollman’s case against carbon-tolerant “ideologies” relies on glib sarcasm—thanks to fracking, he jibes, Americans “could go on generously warming the world!”—and undigested factoids (for example, that coal byproducts are in everything from stockings to pills) that never add up to a coherent argument. His ideological biases constantly intrude, especially in his ill-informed attack on nuclear power, a leading low-carbon energy source; the book often feels like a confused, omnidirectional assault on all of industrial civilization. The result is long but feckless, a lightweight analysis of energy and society. Photos. Agent: Susan Golomb, Writers House. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/23/2018
Release date: 06/05/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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