It seems absurd to us now that humans once thought the world was flat, but I always get a kick out of pondering: which practices are humans performing this very minute that will seem equally absurd to future generations? In Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have, former New York Times science and climate reporter Tatiana Schlossberg provides so many answers that it is an embarrassment of riches. Through actions as simple as streaming Netflix or buying “affordable” cashmere or purchasing Valentine’s Day roses at Walmart, Schlossberg points out the environmental irrationalities inherent in a host of everyday human activities.
Schlossberg arranges her portrait of modern consumption around four central aspects of life in the developed world: technology, food, fashion, and fuel. For each of these four elements of modern life, she picks a handful of subtopics to explore (ie. the electricity usage of online data centers, food waste, microplastic fiber pollution from athletic wear, the refrigerants in residential air conditioners, etc.). She reveals a world deeply polluted and degraded by human practices, but most notably, she demonstrates the psychological, political, policy, and market complexities which led humans to develop those practices and how the effects of those habits now link all humans across the globe.
Loaded with fascinating examples of human shortsightedness, the effect of Schlossberg’s book is, not surprisingly, incredibly sobering. But it’s also a compelling and even compulsive read, even if it leaves you feeling like your beloved fleece sweatshirt is delivering us swiftly toward the apocalypse. Read all the way to Schlossberg’s concluding chapter for brief coverage of Peter Rand’s oyster farm on the New Meadows River.
Schlossberg’s quick and accessible, yet heavily sourced narrative is a timely addition to the recent conversation about the state of the climate. Wherever you stand in the environmental discussion, this book will spark valuable debate.
Review by Laurel Cox, Reference Librarian
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