x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Visit Sunny Chernobyl: Eco-disaster tourism

Andrew Blackwell tours devastated sites to chronicle the human element of those living and working amid environmental ruin.

Visit Sunny Chernobyl
Andrew Blackwell
Random House
Visit Sunny Chernobyl Andrew Blackwell Random House Dh85

A chance visit to Kanpur at the behest of his travelling companion, an environmentalist who wanted to visit India's most polluted city, turned Andrew Blackwell into a member of that tiniest of demographics: the eco-disaster tourist.

Years later, the quest that began on the banks of the Ganges has resulted in this book about touring the world's eco-disaster sites.

Besides the titular Ukrainian nuclear disaster site (where it was indeed sunny and unexpectedly bucolic), Blackwell visited the Canadian oil sands, a Texas refinery town, the accumulated waste plastic caught in the great Pacific rubbish patch, deforested stretches of the Amazon, workers in China's electronic waste and coal industries and finally a return to India's pollution.

Despite the author's self-description as a "sensitive, eco-friendly liberal" - he lives in New York City, after all - this is anything but a Silent Spring-style polemic. Instead he opts for a conversational travelogue style that focuses as much on the human element of those who eke a living amid environmental disasters as it does on the sites themselves, and combines potted histories of the issues involved without becoming involved in invective.