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Healing Appalachia:   Sustainable Living through Appropriate Technology
By Al Fritsch and Paul Gallimore
49 photographs and diagrams. 435 pp.
The University Press of Kentucky. US$$75.00 cloth; U.S. $35.00 paper
ISBN-13: 978-0-8131-2431-5 (cloth); 978-0-8131-9177-5 (paper)

Healing Appalachia: Sustainable Living through Appropriate Technology is a valuable addition to the field of environmental studies. It provides a comprehensive, well-researched and thoughtful account of the environmental degradation of the Appalachian region, due mainly to coal mining and deforestation during the late 19th and most of the 20th centuries. Far more important, Healing Appalachia is forward-looking in a way that should be welcome in the field of environmental studies: it presents 30 projects that are “shovel-ready.” It’s action oriented for today and tomorrow. Just about anyone can implement the ideas to improve their personal quality of life as well as their community and region.

Healing Appalachia is a love story about the land. Al Fritsch and Paul Gallimore both have deep personal roots in the mountains and valleys of a region that stretches, geologically speaking, from western Georgia all the way to the Maritime Provinces of Canada. While this is a vast area, the authors focus primarily on the Appalachia of popular imagination – eastern Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, western Virginia and West Virginia. Fritsch and Gallimore grew up in the region and live and work there. It’s the home they love and devote their careers to repairing.

In addition, this eye-opening book can inspire readers outside of Appalachia to see their own region and environmental issues through a new prism. While many of the 30 ideas for environmental renewal are specific to Appalachia, they can pollinate the imagination and encourage ways to apply the same kinds of thinking to other parts of the United States and Canada. And the techniques the authors reveal follow the precept of “small and affordable is beautiful.” Most can be put to use in one’s own back yard.

For example, portable solar generators will work anywhere the sun shines. Portability is smart in an area like Appalachia with deep, forested valleys where it’s shady for long parts of every day. An inexpensive solar generator on wheels is the right solution for anyone who needs to get power to water pumps, power tools and appliances off the grid.

Fritsch and Gallimore start with a global view of the environmental issues facing the world today and then scale the global down to the local. With their hands-on, show-and-tell approach, they explain how to implement solar photovoltaics, microhydropower, wind power, wood heating, food preservation and edible landscaping, habitat restoration, the economy of timber and non-timber products, regional handicrafts and ecotourism, land reclamation, wetlands and aquaculture, and much more.

In each chapter, the authors also provide useful benchmarks to evaluate the applicability of each idea, project or technology. Is it good for all, good for some or good for none? Is it affordable, earth-friendly, people-friendly and community enhancing? Is it sustainable?

A good example is the book’s discussion of homes. They write, “Examples of technology appropriate for one region being misapplied in another are nowhere more apparent than in the section on shelter. Part of the problem is the standardization of home building in this country without regard to ecological and safety aspects. What is good for Alaska is sometimes alleged to be good for Florida.” The authors argue convincingly that such factors as climate and locally available building materials – what they call “bioregional specificity” – must drive decisions about everything from home design to building codes. And they apply the same kind of paradigm-shifting analysis to each of the projects in the book. Theirs is a different way of thinking about healing the planet.

Healing Appalachia offers a sane approach to living in the hills and valleys of Appalachia, and it will inspire people in any part of the country to think in new, creative and imaginative ways about “appropriate technologies” that can and enrich virtually every aspect of daily life. If you’ve ever dreamed of living a better life closer to the land, this is your guide.

Al Fritsch is founder of Appalachia—Science in the Public Interest and co-author of Ecotourism in Appalachia: Marketing the Mountains. Paul Gallimore is founder and executive director of the Long Branch Environmental Education Center in Leicester, North Carolina.

Dan Breau, for Notable Book Reviews
Notable Book Reviews received one or more copies of this book in exchange for this review.
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