Book Review – Visit Sunny Chernobyl

4 stars. As its title implies, Visit Sunny Chernobyl is a book of complete contradictions. Andrew Blackwell travels for the purpose of seeking the most polluted spots in the world, visiting the radioactive ruins of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the oil sand fields of Canada, the Amazon, and more.

His findings were quite interesting, and possibly a letdown for a pollution tourist: Chernobyl had become overgrown, a haven for wildlife and vegetation. Deforestation is heavily regulated in Brazil, with environmental regulations working to preserve the rainforest. A floating mass of plastic garbage supposedly twice the size of Texas is rather elusive to track down. Electronics recycling is a home-based (though somewhat toxic) cottage industry in China.

What I found most interesting in this book was the contrast between the preservationist view of nature found in the West and the stewardship feelings in the East. Westerners tended to regard nature as a separate entity to be set aside from the use of man, kept in a “pristine” state and visited to satisfy a connection with the environment. Easterners viewed nature as part of their daily lives, to be lived with rather than visited.

Blackwell is an engaging writer, though better at capturing people than environment. His dry sense of humor and almost zest for garbage sets the perfect tone for a book about pollution. He gives a few details of a personal crisis that happened during his travels, though not enough information to really engage an emotional response.

While the pollution that Blackwell finds is depressing, Visit Sunny Chernobyl is ultimately a hopeful book. Nature seems to do a pretty good job of healing considering what we throw at it, and what we risk through our exploitation of the planet isn’t so much the end of the planet as the end of its suitability for human habitation. Maybe we’ll learn something… ?

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