Alan Weisman's reports from around the world have appeared in Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Orion, Wilson Quarterly, Vanity Fair, Mother Jones, Discover, Audubon, Condé Nast Traveler, and in many anthologies, including Best American Science Writing 2006. His most recent book, The World Without Us, a bestseller translated into 30 languages, was named the Best Nonfiction Book of 2007 by both Time Magazine and Entertainment Weekly, the #1 Nonfiction Audiobook of 2007 by iTunes; a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction, for the Orion Prize, and a Book Sense 2008 Honor Book.
His previous books include An Echo In My Blood; Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World (10th anniversary edition available from Chelsea Green); and La Frontera: The United States Border With Mexico. He has also written the introduction for The World We Have by Thich Nhat Hanh, available this fall from Parallax Press. A senior producer for Homelands Productions, Weisman’s documentaries have aired on National Public Radio, Public Radio International, and American Public Media. Each spring, he leads an annual field program in international journalism at the University of Arizona, where he is Laureate Associate Professor in Journalism and Latin American Studies. He and his wife, sculptor Beckie Kravetz, live in western Massachusetts.
Alan Weisman: Sure there is lots of things that we can do, one thing I was asked that question once, right when my book first came out, I was giving a book signing in Denver. I was asked to speak to a group of young democrats, actually it doesn’t matter, because I will speak to anybody and the same thing happens at both their meetings. You go in and there is young professionals who have now have a party of legions and not only do they show up for these meetings, but also I didn’t realize just but you get this sort of fringe of candidates standing at the back of the room, who all want to meet these people and glad hand them and get to know them and get their votes. So, at one point one of the young democrats says “what could we do now to make things better?” and it just popped on to my head, because I talk in the book about how all these plastic is escaping and most of the plastic is used for food packaging and also an expert explained to me that even paper, when we bury it in our land fields it doesn’t biodegrade right away, because if there is no oxygen there they can read newspapers a 100 years old, at the bottom of land fields. So, I replied to this guy, “Well here is something that you can do, turn around and ask all these people, I am pointing at these candidates behind of, that if they are elected to the Colorado legislature will they promise to introduce a bill making it a crime to give away a free bag in a Colorado supermarket” and that struck everybody as a really great idea, in a sense that would be something that wouldn’t be so hard to do, because plastic did not enter the main stream until right after World War II. So, back then our grand mothers when they went to the market, they carried this bag and they filled up with everything that they bought and they didn’t have to put the cucumbers in one plastic bag and the onions in a separate plastic bag etc like we do now, I mean, but the flavors would not mix, they take it home, they dump it out and then they bring the same bag back over and over again. That is not a really hard change and I have noticed it, this is one of these kind of spontaneous occurrences that seems to simultaneously appear in lots of cultures all over the world. Suddenly, it is happening everywhere, lots of grocery chains, the entire country of Ireland is instituting this policy that if you want a bag, you have to buy it and that is terrific, that is one thing that we could be doing now to really- really help. There are ways that we could be saving so much energy. Even in northern climbs if every single flat roof top has solar collectors on it, just to heat the water which is cheap technology, we would be saving 20% to 25% of the energy demands on every single building. In the Southwest where I have a lived a lot and where I am currently teaching at the University of Arizona, I teach there once a year, the architects still think that buildings should be built with that depends solely on air-conditioning or solely on heating and so they built these buildings with windows that cannot open, I mean it is amazing, they do this a lot, and that is crazy, most of the year you can open the windows and you don’t have to have some pump and some compressor that is circulating air and using energy. So I don’t go on and about all this stuff in my book, lots of other peoples books are about this and my intention for this book was not to make people feel guilty about what we are doing right now, I wanted them to, I want to just clear the decks of us, so they can see how nice things would go, if you would stop doing it, but yeah, I think there is a lot of things we could do and we have to try doing them all.
Recorded on: 2/5/08