For years George R. Stewart had been writing about the interrelationships between humans and the Earth system. Most of the writing was fictional, some historical. Now, in the late 1960s, perhaps inspired by Silent Spring, he wrote his first examination of specific environmental problems afflicting this nation and much of the world.
Not So Rich As You Think examines the various issues that others were pressuring society to correct, or authors were writing about, and suggests solutions. But Stewart, as always, went beyond the conventional to break new ground.
One chapter, “The Ultimates,” was, so far as I know, the first general description of the dangers of global warming. Stewart describes the dangers of carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere, even using the phrase “greenhouse effect” to describe it. (He prefers the phrase “closed-car effect.”) But he is not alarmist about it, suggesting that Earth has weathered such things in the past, and will likely weather this one.
Most environmental literature and many environmentalists view humans as special, like the Bible; but the environmentalists see humans as a special problem that somehow needs to be controlled or even removed. Stewart always considered humans and their works, including their communities, as part of the ecosystem. So in this book, he considers how human community are being harmed by the same corporate/bureaucratic policies which are poisoning the water and the air. In a chapter entitled “Waste Without Weight” Stewart describes how the modern corporate state weakens social capital by constantly moving people around and thus prevents those people from ever developing a sense of community. He suggests that the disorder caused by development and pollution may have a terrible effect on the personalities of humans, theorizing that juvenile delinquency may be one result.
The book was illustrated by the brilliant satirical cartoonist, Osborn. His cartoons in Stewart’s book emphasize the connections between “filthy lucre” and a polluted society. (Osborn’s first cartoon series was done for the Navy in World War II. It was about a clumsy fellow named Dilbert. It was the inspiration for the modern comic strip “Dilbert.”)
The book was well-received, although Kirkus called it “second-rate muckraking.” The book received the Sidney Hillman Award. A copy of the book today, in fine condition, can go for well over one hundred dollars, so the market speaks well of the book.
Anyone interested in reading the contemporary environmental observations of one of the founders of modern ecological perspectives will find the book interesting reading. Stewart’s inclusion of the effects on human community and social capital means that the book still stands by itself, for it was and is the pioneer in a humanistic ecological viewpoint.