The recent trend of environmentally themed non-fiction, or “green books,” can be traced to a growing fear of global warming, the rising price of food, and a declining economy. The frightening picture painted by environmentalists for the better part of a decade is finally starting to affect the public.

In 2003 and 2004, House of Anansi Press released two collections, Fueling the Future and Feeding the Future, which addressed these very fears. The project was spearheaded by the president of Investeco Capital Corp. and environmental do-gooder Andrew Heintzman, who recently revisited the books with his co-editor, CBC journalist Evan Solomon. Together, they selected the best essays from each book, resulting in the newly-released Food and Fuel. “I thought there was a really good message that was as relevant today as it was when we first published them,” explains Heintzman.

These essays remain relevant, because the world hasn’t witnessed enough change in the last five years. Yet Heintzman remains optimistic, saying, “I think we’re on the verge of a lot of change. Part of this is driven by the U.S.—the last administration wasn’t very imaginative in regards to the environment, but I think the new administration is likely to be so, and that will drive change.”

As it outlines the necessary adjustments, Food and Fuel provides an intelligent analysis of the agriculture and energy sectors—two subjects that are intrinsically intertwined. These are the precarious mechanisms that drive the planet and unsurprisingly, they have similar problems.

A unifying theme in the collection is the criticism of our archaic economic model, in which only money and goods produced are accounted for. We neglect environmental costs, thereby destroying the ecosystems that sustain our industries.

That’s the idea behind Natural Capital, put forth by Paul Hawkins, Hunter Lovins, and Amory Lovins in their seminal work, Natural Capitalism (1999). “The externalities have to be factored into the cost of our choices,” says Heintzman. “Particularly on energy, the cost of our carbon emissions, our greenhouse gas emissions, and other pollutants that have a real cost to society. Until those are factored into the price we pay, we aren’t going to solve these problems.”

However, Heintzman points out that not every writer in Food and Fuel agrees on every issue. There is a lack of unanimity on potential solutions in the environmental community, which both he and Solomon have embraced.

The differing opinions are one of the book’s strong suits. These various approaches not only present a broad sense of what’s wrong with the environment, but avoid the slanted discourse other books in this genre are famous for.

History is also a focus of the book. In the first essay, “Saving Agriculture from Itself,” Stuart Laidlaw describes the disastrous consequences of the Green Revolution of the ’50s and ’60s. The modern food industry, with its addiction to nitrogen for fertilization and oil for fuel, has degraded topsoil and created appalling inefficiency. Laidlaw’s solution is to buy locally grown, organic products. At the U of T Conference Centre last Saturday, the Canadian Organic Growers held the “Nourishing the Future” conference, where they shared similar concerns.

The book’s second half is dedicated to the energy sector, concentrating on the progression into renewable sources. In her essay “Is Nuclear Energy the Answer?” Allison Macfarlane judges the viability of nuclear energy in the long term. Fears of meltdowns aside, she sheds light on the difficulty of managing its waste and the possible proliferation of nuclear arms if its usage were to expand. Though torn, Heintzman admits, “It’s a necessary evil. I’m attracted to the low greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear energy [… ]though I wouldn’t want to over-rely on it.” Nuclear energy, like natural gas, is a stepping-stone to renewable energy sources, and Jeremy Rifkin describes a solution in his strangely utopian article, “The Dawn of the Hydrogen Economy.”

Former U of T professor Thomas Homer-Dixon contributes an interesting article on the need for ingenuity—the quality that allows societies to solve problems. As he understands it, all obstacles on the path to renewable energy are social. Humans have been reduced to “walking appetites” and are unable to think any other way. “I invest in these kinds of companies,” Heintzman explains, as he lists off examples of Canadian ingenuity over the past few years. Organizations such as Organic Meadows and Enerworks have provided new solutions, alternatives to current agriculture and energy practices.

What can Canadians do to reduce the burden on the environment? Heintzman says the answer is education, beginning with reading books and learning about legislation. “We plug into our sockets and ask no further questions […] we go to the supermarket, buy the product, and ask no further questions,” he explains.

He’s quick to respond when asked how Canada will ever meet the Kyoto Protocol, saying, “It’ll have to be some combination of a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade program, and if we really wanted to hit Kyoto, we’d probably do both. But will Canadians accept that price? I guess what it really comes down to is—do Canadians want to hit Kyoto or not?”

Of course, that’s the real question.