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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Green Living by the Book

Air Date: Week of

(Green Living For Dummies)

Commentator Bruce Barcott looks at the growing field of green living guidebooks.


GELLERMAN: Americans love self-help books. They help us win friends and influence people and make lots of money for publishing companies. Now a new crop of these books promises to help us green up our lives. Bruce Barcott has the dirt on the growing field of green guidebooks.

("Green Living for Dummies")

BARCOTT: I suppose it was inevitable that the “Dummies” guidebook series would discover the green living revolution. You know these books: “PCs for Dummies,” “Macs for Dummies,”—they’ve even got “Lacrosse Coaching for Dummies” now. Their newest title is “Green Living for Dummies.” This is a hopeful sign. It means green living is going fully mainstream. But it's also a disappointment. Because boy, is this book dumb.

What we’ve got here is a 350-page book packed with ways to green up your life: Composting, community gardens, wind power, car sharing. There are even some tips on patching carpets and fixing vinyl flooring. The problem isn’t the content. It’s the form. “Green Living for Dummies” may be one of the ugliest books I’ve ever read—or rather, tried to read. The illustrations are crude, the writing is bland, the typeface actively repels the eye! The underlying message is clear: Living green will be a bore and a chore. Eat your spinach.

"The Rough Guide to Climate Change"

That’s a shame. The whole point of green living today is that it’s not a drab, wheat-germy lifestyle. Today’s most beautiful buildings and hippest products are the result of green architecture and cradle-to-cradle innovations.
Fortunately, other guidebooks are aware of the new paradigm. The Rough Guide travel series recently expanded into reference guides, and “The Rough Guide to Climate Change” is a small masterpiece of smart design and clear, compelling information. Author Robert Henson works with climate scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, but he doesn’t drown his readers in data. He asks big questions like, ‘Where did all this CO2 come from?” and answers them with shocking photos, eye-catching charts, and sparkling prose. “The Rough Guide” just might be the world’s first climate change bathroom book.

"Go Green, Live Rich"

David Bach takes a different tack altogether. Bach is the author of bestselling personal finance books like “The Automatic Millionaire” and “Start Late, Finish Rich.” Now he’s expanding into greener living pastures with a new book called “Go Green, Live Rich.” This is a beautiful little book with a simple message: You can save the earth and get rich trying. Bach even does the math for you. Improve your car’s gas mileage and save 884 dollars a year. Turn your thermostat down: 85 dollars. Bring your lunch to work: 15 hundred dollars. Invest that money and watch it grow. “With just four of the tips in this book,” Bach writes, “you could earn nearly $700,000 for your future.”

("The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw")

Bach doesn’t just harness greed in the cause of good, though. Along with co-author Hilary Rosner, he’s put together a guidebook that contains the one secret ingredient guaranteed to transform a good idea into a finished product. You know what it is? He’s got 50 tips, and they all look like fun. That’s something even a dummy like me can understand.

GELLERMAN: Bruce Barcott is the author of “The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One woman’s fight to save the world’s most beautiful bird,” recently published by Random House.



"Green Living for Dummies"

"The Rough Guide to Climate Change"

"Go Green, Live Rich"

Bruce Barcott's latest book "The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw"


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