Book Review: Greeniology 2020 by Tanya Ha

The idea of ‘going green’ can seem so overwhelming that it’s easier to just get into the car, put the pedal down and drive as fast as possible to the nearest shopping mall for an afternoon’s retail therapy. But a new book on living sustainably in Australia demonstrates that you don’t have to be a tree-hugging hippy to adopt a green lifestyle. Tanya Ha’s Greeniology 2020: Greener Living Today, and in the Future is a reference book that covers going green in Australia in all major aspects of a modern lifestyle.

Guidebooks on adopting a sustainable lifestyle are hardly a new phenomenon, but that Melbourne University Press has published this one indicates just how mainstream the concept has become. MUP’s publishing role here is also fitting for the reason that this book combines practical tips and Ha's trademark accessible style with scientific rigour.

Tanya Ha’s green credentials are impeccable; in fact it’s probably fair to call her Australia’s foremost mainstream advocate for the benefits of going green. A science graduate, she’s a natural communicator who has made it her vocation to demystify environmental issues for the layperson. She’s already published a number of books in this area, including the 2007 Australian Green Consumer Guide, which received rave reviews; is a reporter on ABC TV’s science program Catalyst; and was environmental coach on the SBS program Eco House Challenge

Greeniology 2020 covers the entire spectrum of areas you’d expect in a book like this, as well as a few more. There is information on green cleaning, health and beauty, sustainable food and fashion, saving water, saving energy, cultivating a green garden, buying a greener car, and green building and renovating. There’s also a chapter on healthy homes and indoor air quality that is particularly useful for those with allergies, one on how to go green at work, and one on how to have a green baby.

What Ha does particularly well is move from the straightforward kind of green advice to more complex and technical areas while still writing in an accessible, conversational way. Thus, there’s information on the ingredients to avoid in cleaning products, as well as how to make your own; but you’ll also find detailed specifications for different kinds of lights and light fittings; what and how to recycle; the costs and carbon emissions of various hot water systems, cooling systems and heating systems; and environmental ratings for new homes.

The book also covers what to consider when installing a rainwater tank, and the role of building orientation when designing a green home. Home-based renewable electricity sources are explained, and windows, floors, decking, insulation, cooking ranges and fridges all get a look-in.

Ha makes the leap from simple to complex while seamlessly weaving scientific knowledge into the book’s structure. Each chapter includes the ecological context that requires us to act, as well as plenty of useful facts and figures, for example, an explanation of the concept of greenhouse intensity. Interspersed throughout are Ha's answers to detailed questions sent in by readers, and there is space at the end of each chapter for readers to create weekly, monthly and longer term green goals.

I did have a problem with how Greeniology 2020 positions itself, which in turn throws up questions that go beyond the intentions and scope of the book itself, to the larger terrain of how we as a society deal with climate change.  In her introduction, Ha strongly advocates the path of personal responsibility. She aims the book at what she sees as a new kind of green citizen, someone who’s fairly middle of the road and wouldn’t think of protesting against government inaction but is willing to take measures to reduce their own footprint.

I’m sure Ha deals with political responses in other forums, but this appeal echoes a widespread and erroneous assumption that could lead us into letting governments and large corporations off the hook. Citizens doing their bit just isn’t enough to significantly reduce carbon emissions; strong government regulation is absolutely essential. Indeed, setting an emissions reduction target means that the more the population helps the federal government reach its target, the more corporations will be able to pollute. ‘Greeniology’ can’t stop at your front door if it’s to be effective. There are other ways to agitate besides protesting, such as writing letters, blogging and so on.

Having said that, the two areas – personal responsibility and pressuring governments to make radical, society-wide changes – are in fact complementary. That Ha deals primarily with one side of the equation isn’t in itself a problem. If a groundswell of people take up green energy, for example, the industry would have to transform; and if enough citizens reduced their emissions, this would put pressure on governments to increase their reduction targets.  Nor is going green purely about climate change, although that remains our greatest challenge.

I also found the chapter on green fashion a bit disappointing, having recently read an expose of the UK fashion industry, Lucy Siegle’s To Die For. Ha acknowledges the huge complexity of the issues in this area, but I think she could have advised readers of more of the options available, for example the growing range of ethical and Fairtrade fashion available from online stores in the UK. The birth of the sustainable clothes stylist, and trends facilitated by the web such as the renaissance in home sewing and the practice of transforming op shop clothes through alterations also deserved to be included.

Despite my quibbles, this is an excellent all-round reference book for anyone who wants to go green and stay that way. It’s comprehensive, clearly written, up to date, and with plenty of in-depth information from someone who is not only an expert but a talented communicator.

Until next time!

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