This is an entertaining and thought-provoking travel book with a difference. In a kind of perverse eco-tourism quest, Andrew Blackwell sought out places with terrible pollution problems.
The book focuses on seven places or themes: Chernobyl (the star attraction), oil sands mining in Fort McMurray (Canada), oil refining in Port Arthur in Texas, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, logging and soy planting in the Amazon rainforest, coal mining and electronics recycling in China and the sewage-contaminated Yamuna River, India. These chapters were all interesting to read, except for Port Arthur, which had too much description of the process of oil refining.
I enjoyed the writing style with its sharp observations and self-deprecating humour. It was fascinating how the author was constantly evaluating his quest, wondering whether he should be disappointed at finding cheerful people and natural beauty in places which were supposedly ugly, stinky and toxic. He’s aware that the book could be sensationalist, that he could revel in the sordid details of degraded environments too far away for most people to worry about. The result is a balanced view, looking at all sides of the stories he encounters. He emphasises that environmental conservation is not just about protecting animals and forests; there are many other issues to think about, particularly the need for conservation groups to consider the local people’s way of life too.
There were no photos, which was disappointing. Andrew Blackwell often mentions stopping to take photos, so why aren’t any included? Otherwise, this was a good read, possibly a little out of date now (his journeys were undertaken at least ten years ago) and will appeal to anyone who wants a travel book with a difference.
First published in 2013.