Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Exploring the environment in book club selections

from the Telegram & Gazette,
Worcester, MA
Read It and Reap by Ann Connery Frantz

Understanding environmental concerns is necessary to prepare for the issues emerging in political contests. Human rights, social justice, environmental action and animal rights are part of our world; this column considers books on the environment, and common efforts to "be the change."
There are so many books available, in so many directions, that it's difficult to select one for your book group. Technological change makes keeping current a challenge. Many of these books, then, are recent or new releases.
Stuart Smith's memoir, "Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know about the New Environmental Attack on America" (2015) concerns his work as a young, inexperienced lawyer confronting well-funded opposition after the discovery of poisoned water in Laurel, Mississippi.
Pollution, often linked to the weak and defenseless populations, is part of "Toxic Tourism: Rhetorics of Pollution Travel and Environmental Justice," by Phaedra Pezzullo.
In "The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future" Gretchen Bakke deals with our aging energy system, which interferes with solar and wind alternatives. Competing interests and political units need to cooperate toward achieving conversion to a more intelligent, economical system. Bakke's focus is on how Americans are changing the grid, sometimes with gumption and big dreams and sometimes with legislation.
"Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial and the Fight over Controlling Nature," by Jordan Fisher Smith, takes on the difficult balance between America's natural resource management and human use of parks. Sparked by a bear-caused death in Yellowstone Park, a civil suit exposed the government's resource management practices, weighing preservation against human exploration. At issue: How much should parks do to protect either side?
Ken Ilgunas's study of the Keystone Pipeline, "Trespassing Across America," is an informative yet humorous account of his foot journey along the 1,900-mile long Keystone XL pipeline route. He reflects on climate change, the natural world, and the extremes to which we can push ourselves. Readers may enjoy its colorful characters and strange encounters—reminiscent, I think, of William Least Heat Moon's "Blue Highways."
Climate scientist Michael E. Mann and illustrator Thomas Toles, one of my favorite editorial cartoonists, have paired up in a book being released in September. "The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy" takes a satiric look at the attempts of climate-deniers and corporate interests to bury protest and further pollute the planet. Together, they expose the fallacies being argued. For a lively book that even "I-don't-read-science books" members will like, try this one.
Due in November, David Biello's "The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth's Newest Age" argues that civilization is at a critical point, requiring the efforts of science, powerful resources and common folks like us to alter the future. Biello argues we are the Earth's gardeners, but we are not in control of our creation. Survival, he says, depends on these gardeners and evolving solutions.
Vandana Shiva has written many times about environmental crises, energy mis-use, food, and the like. "Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability and Peace, "Soil Not Oil," "Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply" and "Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development" are all Shiva's work. Now, in "Who Really Feeds the World?" she writes about how to feed the world without destroying it, revealing agricultural practices that result in a starving world, rather than a well-fed population. This physicist-environmentalist also refutes genetic modification.
Finally, "What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming" is by Norwegian Per Espen Stoknes, who appeals to the heart as well as the mind regarding global warming. People can make needed changes simply, he believes, and he argues that persuasively.