New Book Addresses Perils of Mega-Loads... Sort Of

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A new book, The Heart of the Monster, by Rick Bass and David James Duncan, takes on the mega-loads of oil equipment energy behemoth Connoco/Phillips is trying to move through Idaho to the tar-sands of Alberta on Hwy. 12.

The book's thesis is that the real threat comes not from these 200 shipments, but that their approval would establish a permanent corridor for oil shipments through fragile ecosystems and that the numbers game—hauling cargo five times the weight rating for the roads and wider than the highway itself, not once or twice, but consistently and without end—makes it inevitable that something will go horribly awry.

The book is peppered with pictures of just such catastrophes: oil spills, overturned trucks, sickly-looking salmon and more.

Unfortunately, it is also peppered with hippie idealogical masturbation, including poetry about Montana's natural beauty, childhood memories of camping and fishing and some of the author's dreams. That half of the book is a self-described essay/memoir. The second half of the book is a novella telling a fictional account of a Montana in which the shipments are approved.

The statistics and hard data employed to make the Duncan's (the essay/memoirist's) case, are more focused on the perils of oil consumption and the tar sands in general than they are on the direct, specific and measurable impacts of these hauls on the roads and ecosystems in question.

The effect is that the book misses much of its target. Those predisposed to being against the mega-loads may lap it up, but the harder sells, the economic-pragmatists are unlikely to wade through the author's dreams about an oil executive's limousine encountering a naked woman in the middle of the highway.

It's unfortunate, as this book represented an opportunity to inject data that has been sorely underrepresented into the dialog on the issue. Some of that data is present, but it likely would have greater impact as a more concise, hard-data focused booklet than 300 pages of ego-stroking.

The Heart of the Monster is available online at allagainstthehaul.org and locally at Rediscovered Bookshop downtown. Proceeds for the book benefit All Against the Haul, a Montana nonprofit working to stop the shipments.