...read and reviewed by David Radcliff...
...read and reviewed by friends of NCP...
This is the engaging tale of two old women who found within themselves strength and courage neither they nor their people thought they possessed. Living among the Gwich’in of northeast Alaska, the women were left behind in the clutches of a coming winter as tribal leaders had to make hard decisions about how the group would survive in the face of near starvation.
What happens next was enough to keep me and my 12 year-old granddaughter enthralled for duration of the small book’s 90 or so pages. Along with a fine story of human resilience and reconciliation, the tale also offers a revealing window into the lives of Alaska’s tribal people before the arrival of outsiders.
The story is told by Velma Wallis, a Gwich’in woman, who had it passed down to her by her mother some years ago.
Pithy quote: “At least let us die trying."
From humble beginnings as an entrant in the elixir wars of the late 1800’s to the world’s most valuable brand, Coca Cola has grown alongside—and in many ways led—modern consumer society. While named by the author as a luxury good, it has nonetheless become so indispensable that President Eisenhower ordered that it be provided to troops serving overseas during WW II, as a “morale booster” (and may we add over Pepsi’s complaints).
Perhaps held up by the casual observer as a triumph of the free enterprise system, Coke owes much of its success to public funds—from Ike’s mandate above (which also exempted Coke from sugar quotas during the war) to government subsidies of high fructose corn syrup (its main sweetener) to municipal garbage collection (how else would we dispose of the billions of bottles and cans Coke and others create?), to drawn-down aquifers around the world, Coke has benefitted greatly from societal and natural subsidies.
The Real Facts about the Real Thing:
This is a comprehensive but easy to read study of a dominant global economic and cultural colossus and the ingenious way it has manipulated consumers, the government and the environment in a ceaseless quest for growth, power and profit.
Notable quote: “For over one hundred years, the company maintained the semblance of sustainability, in both economic and environmental senses, because the essential supply chains of abundance that fuel its growth never ended up on its books."
As a fan of E. O. Wilson, the eminent ant-specialist from Harvard and leading voice for conservation, I was excited to see this book on the library shelf. My enthusiasm soon gave way to dismay, however, as the lofty goal of finding the “meaning of life” proved a bit more pedestrian than hoped for.
Perhaps with the topic of “meaning” in mind, Wilson felt he had to launch another attack on one of his favorite foils—organized religion. Here and elsewhere he finds religious mythology a hindrance at best and a direct and derided adversary at worst for his vision of a world where respect for others and our planet should reign supreme. Of course, many of us would agree with his complaints about the tribalism of many religious groups; their focus on the afterlife rather than this life; the stubborn adherence of many to creationism as a doctrine of faith and even qualification for membership; their disregard for the rest of the biosphere.
Where Wilson fails, at least to this reader, is to recognize that many in the religious community fit none of these categories, and indeed have been on the forefront of efforts to respect people and planet.
The meaning of human existence? According to this book, one finds it by: recognizing the incredible luck we as humans have had in getting to where we are (one wrong turn in the evolutionary line and we’d have been history, so to speak); respecting and protecting the complexity of life; using our innate conscience to address the moral issues of our time; bringing together the creativity of the humanities with the analytical ability of the sciences.
Interesting, but hardly inspiring. I guess that’s where religion comes in...
He said it: “The cost to society as a whole of the bowed head has been enormous.”
Poet laureate of Nebraska John Niehardt interviewed Lakota medicine man Black Elk in 1930, creating what turns out to be an autobiography that is at once fascinating and deeply troubling, as it tells the story of the demise of Native American society at the hands of white settlers and soldiers. The book is essentially a transcript of a conversation between Niehardt and Black Elk that takes place at the old man’s home in Manderson, South Dakota when he was 67 years old.
Two things are particularly compelling about Black Elk’s story. First, in this interview he reveals for the first time that when he was nine years old, he had an experience that was to haunt him the rest of his life. He contracted an unidentified illness and was semi-comatose for 12 days, during which time he had an extremely intricate and powerful vision full of symbols of Lakota spiritual beliefs. In his vision, two men came and took him up into the heavens, where he saw many beautiful different colored horses with manes of lightning and thunder in their nostrils. He met the six Grandfathers who were the powers of the East, West, North, South, Sky and Earth. He saw himself being given great power to heal and to destroy and to lead his people, and that he would live to see four generations and the demise of the buffalo.
At one point in the vision, he saw himself standing at the center of the universe. (This is what mythologist Joseph Campbell refers to as "the axis mundi, the central point, the pole around which all revolves...the point where stillness and movement are together...." In other words, Black Elk was residing at the axis of the six sacred directions.) He did not tell anyone about his vision for many years, because it frightened him and confused him, and because he was so young, he did not think anyone would believe him or take it seriously.
Secondly, his growing up years coincided with the invasion of the lands of the plains peoples by the westward expansive of whites. He recounts Custer’s Last Stand, which he observed as a nine year-old. Later he was present during the massacre of Indian women and children at Wounded Knee. All in all, this is a deeply moving recounting by one who was there for the erasure—or at least severe diminishment and displacement—of a once free and proud people, the American Indian.
“Wherever we went, the soldiers came to kill us, and it was all our own country. It was ours already when the Wasichus made the treaty with Red Cloud that said it would be ours as long as the grass should grow and water flow. That was only eight winters before, and they were chasing us now because we remembered and they forgot.” Black Elk, speaking of battles with US soldiers in 1876
This is an extremely well-documented and engaging look at the in-corporation of the US food system, along with what this has done to small farmers, our health, the economies of rural communities, and the well-being of the environment. Producing and marketing food is a $1.3 trillion business in the USA, and with that much money on the table, you can bet Big Business is going to be interested—and use every trick up its sleeve to control as much of this process as possible. On the other side of the equation, the government has moved from being the defender of smaller farmers to their adversary, as policies undermine locally-oriented production in favor of corporate control of every rung of the food ladder.
Hauter does a nice job of reviewing the history of local resistance to industrial food production, which includes some successes along the way. She places a lot of blame for the current system on politicians, who make promises during the Iowa political primaries they can’t find the courage to keep once in Washington, and who trumpet free trade even when this promotes food imports instead of locally available seasonal foods. She warns of the true cost of cheap food when this comes at the expense of healthy soils, waterways, foods and rural communities. She also wades into the debate on the true nature of “organic” and “natural” foods, wondering if such labels should apply to large-scale commercial operations.
Solutions? Question World Trade Organization rules that discourage local production and allow environmentally-unsound food production; ban genetic tinkering; regulate advertising for junk food while increasing access to good food; support small-scale organic producers and conservation of soils, streams and air quality; develop an awareness of the “global commons”; be involved politically while ending corporate election contributions.
The incidence of heart disease in the USA tripled in the first half of the 20th Century. Why? Reeves puts the blame squarely on unhealthy air, unhealthy food and the pollution and stress of living in urban environments. He notes that the same increases take place in every society that industrializes and/or adopts “Western” diets. For instance, Okinawans—famous for their longevity—who move to Hawaii experience a doubling of heart disease rates; for those who end up in Los Angeles, it goes up 44 times.
Remedies? Trees, for one. Studies have shown that areas deforested by the Emerald Ash Borer saw higher cardiovascular disease rates as a consequence of fewer trees around to clean the air, provide cooler temperatures, produce air-borne molecules that lower blood pressure, and increase the aesthetics of neighborhoods. Diet, for another. Stay away from processed foods (especially corn syrup, phosphoric acid, excessive salt, trans-fats and saturated fats, GM foods and simple sugars). Third: Take care of yourself by exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and living at some distance from busy roads (and the particulate matter from auto exhaust). Finally, question the price of “progress” and call on politicians to put our health above corporate profit and the lure of de-regulation (1 out of 1000 human beings will die from air pollution this year, mostly related to burning fossil fuels—why aren’t governments pulling out all the stops to clean up our air by regulating fossil fuel emissions??).
Quote: "Human beings seem to have sacrificed the health of their arteries in the name of progress."
This annual report is perhaps the most comprehensive overview of the situation of the world’s 2.2 billion children, showing both progress in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable ones, and the work yet to be done. Good news: child deaths from measles declined from 482,000 in 2000 to 86,000 in 2012, thanks to widespread immunizations. Not-so-good news: 6.6 million children under five still die every year around the world from preventable causes.
Key stats: 36% of the population of the Poor World have adequate sanitation; 65% enjoy an improved water source; 32% of eligible girls attend secondary school; 23% of children are child laborers; 45% of young girls are married before their 18th birthday.
This annual assessment of life on earth presents the grim reality facing many of the world’s living creatures—along with a few success stories. Two examples of the latter: Tiger populations in Nepal have increased by 63% since 2009, and mountain gorilla numbers have modestly increased in Congo’s Virunga National Park, both thanks to more stringent protection.
But the overall picture is far less rosy. To sum up: there has been a 52% decline in the population of vertebrate species on planet earth since 1970, including a 76% drop in freshwater fish populations. The tropics have suffered the greatest losses, followed by the Indo-Pacific region and African tropical areas. And lest we place all the blame “over there,” these losses are often incurred in pursuit of products mined or grown for Rich World consumption (think petroleum, palm oil, cocoa, etc).
Key culprits? Over-harvesting and by-catch (37% of losses); habitat change or degradation (31%); habitat loss (13%); climate change (7%); invasive species (5%); pollution (4%); disease (2%).
Reichman examines the impacts of such global realities as the coffee industry, migration and the benefits and liabilities of remittances, and neo-liberal economic policies by zeroing in on one small Honduran community that has been dramatically affected by all of the above. His analysis includes local community politics, global trade policies, the role of religion in defining “progress”, and the value of alternatives such as Fair Trade. His critique of Fair Trade—in which consumers vote with the dollars for a more just economic model—is particularly interesting, as he feels it plays into the hands of the dominant economic model of personal choice rather than seeking systematic change.
Quote: “In the absence of a viable theory of how post-industrial capitalism works, individual solutions (such as Fair Trade) become the best available option for change….when what is needed is to develop a clear theory of social justice and exploitation…including an accurate understanding of the coffee commodity chain."
Land ownership is central to the well-being of the rural poor of Honduras, yet the best land is increasingly in the hands of ten wealthy, politically-connected and often ruthless families. Working in concert with national and international groups—including the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development—they control the production of products like palm oil, a process than begins with acquiring the necessary land by any means possible.
Kerssen provides a comprehensive look at the history of Honduran land struggles, with a focus on the impact of neo-liberal policies such as privatization and free trade as well as the role of the US “war on drugs”—all of which benefit the elites while further marginalizing the poor.
Key stat: 70 percent of Honduran farmers own 10 percent of the land; 1 percent of the wealthiest farmers control 25 percent of the land.
Naomi Klein turns her impressive analytical and writing skills toward climate change—and the result is a challenging indictment of our inactivity accompanied by a clarion call to recognize the urgency of the moment and get busy reversing course. Otherwise, she says, we get a 4 degree C rise in temperature by the end of the century, and a world incompatible with organized, civilized, equitable human society. All we need to do to achieve that world is nothing—just continue on the path we’re on.
The problem? In a nutshell, we’re already 61 percent over 1990 CO2 levels (the year of the Kyoto Convention, which called for an eventual 10 percent reduction in overall emissions) and we’re much too willing to “look away,” including believing that technological miracles will save us. She is also very hard on “Big Green”—groups such as the Nature Conservancy (which sold drilling rights on one of their reserves in Texas to a gas company, further endangering the endangered species it was established to protect) to the Environmental Defense Fund, who are so enamored with their high-profile buddy-buddy connections with extractive industries and Congress, that they settle for the “we can keep consuming and hang onto our growth-at-any-cost economy—and still save the Earth—yippee!” approach.
Her heroes are people like Wes Jackson at the Land Institute (pioneering sustainable food production) and Aldo Leopold (who reminded us that we are part of rather than lords over the land), and native communities, many of whom still have attachment to the natural world and instinctively protect it.
Klein gives climate deniers credit for being right about one thing: if we admit the climate is changing due to human impacts—as the vast majority of scientists assert—we will indeed have to make drastic changes. And that’s something not even Big Green will say.
Where does she find hope? In people and groups of people who reject the culture of consumption and who practice interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, who value reciprocity over dominance, and who practice living more with less and raise a moral voice calling society toward a better future.
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Fish and humans go way back—but may not have much of a shared future if we don’t quickly begin to exercise common sense in using them as a food source. That’s the thesis of this well-written book, which highlights four fish that symbolize our use of seafood for sustenance over the centuries.
Wild stocks of all four (salmon, sea bass, cod, tuna) are in jeopardy from a combination of over-fishing, destruction of breeding grounds, depletion of their food sources, diseases spread by farm-raised fish, and the inability of the international community to agree whether or to what extent they should be caught. The author explores ways to restore the vitality of these species, including stronger regulations for catching wide-ranging species such as bluefin tuna, the end of subsidies for large fishing fleets, protection of breeding and nursery areas, and moratoria on catching threatened species, concluding that a key will be the selection of farmable species that can be raised efficiently (low feed-to-fish ration), that don’t harm wild fish (by spreading disease), and that are raised in a polyculture system (as opposed to monoculture, like so many of our land-based crops) that mimics their natural habitat.
Greenberg combines his personal love of fishing with both scientific and local knowledge to present a compelling call for conservation of these creatures, both in order to insure the future productivity of the oceans and for their own sake as creatures worthy of our respect—and restraint.
Did you know that bluefin tuna can reach speeds of 40 mph and a size of over 500 pounds, that a single fish can bring $150,000 at auction (thanks to our sushi fetish)—and that there may be only 9000 giant bluefin spawners left in the wild?
A friend gave me this book (he found it at a yard sale) due to NCP’s work in Burma (Myanmar). I took it along to read on the 12-hour flight from LA to Seoul on the way to Burma, and found it to be a fascinating look into the culture of the people of the hills and valleys of central Burma.
Leach, a British anthropologist, lived among and chronicled the cultural patterns of these communities in the middle of the past century. I don’t know if their lives today have “modernized” or remained essentially unchanged, but my main takeaways were that their land-based communities are much more culturally rich and interconnected than our individualized consumer-based society, and that groups like theirs are sophisticated in ways we would not have imagined—unless we, like Leach, take time to learn from them.
So this isn’t necessarily a recommendation to read this particular book, but to find something to read that pulls back the layers on these kinds of land-based societies—if for no other reason than to see what we’ve left behind on our rush to modernity.
Piketty give a very thorough (577 pages!) analysis of capitalism as we know it—and delivers a very helpful historical overview and current critique of this global economic system. His main concern is capitalism’s tendency to accrue wealth to those who already have it, thus inexorably widening the gap nationally and globally between a thin strata of fabulously wealthy people and the rest of us who often struggle to get by. (The top one-thousandth of the world’s people own 20 percent of global wealth, and he warns that their portion could rise to 60 percent in the future, absent revolution or cleaver propaganda—such as keeping people focused on divisive “social issues”.)
Although he addresses the economies of other Rich World nations (interestingly, he notes that the “Anglo-Saxon world—Britain, USA, Australia, etc—is more unequal than other richer nations), he gives the lion’s share of attention to the United States, as the most unequal of all other comparable economies. He notes that at the beginning of the 20th Century, Americans had an aversion to the fabulously rich; today we seem to admire and seek to emulate the super-rich—we won’t, as the US is also the least upwardly-mobile of any RW nation.
He suggests investing in education as a way of helping workers have skills to market—and thus perhaps demand a fairer wage. He also recommends a graduated tax on capital as a means of ending the indefinite increase in inequality, and a tax of up to 80 percent on incomes over $500,000. He believes the only way to make this tax work is for it to be a global agreement—otherwise people and corporations will shelter their money in tax havens.
“No doubt the veritable cult of Bill Gates is an outgrowth of the apparent need of modern democratic societies to make sense of inequality.” It’s hard to challenge what you worship...
This small book is full of helpful observations for anyone who is or wants to be a public speaker. Composed of a page-at-a-time short vignettes that illustrate the page heading, it encourages the speaker to be genuine, to cut out extraneous material, to stand leaning forward, to make eye contact, to pay special attention to the beginning and ending of a speech, to not be arrogant, boring or confusing, to utilize self-deprecating humor, to build drama by laying out the issue/problem, exposing false remedies, then clinching the deal with a better alternative, and many more such tidbits—well, not tidbits, really. They are the building blocks of effective spoken communication.
Wyeth has written this for businesspeople, but I found it applies equally as well for preachers, teachers and even nonprofit directors.
“Stick to being you; everyone else is taken."
This book lays out in a convincing and engaging manner the evidence that humans alter - typically in a destructive manner - any environment they enter. Within decades of the Maori arrival on New Zealand, all nine species of giant moas were extinct. Hawaii today has a new species invade its shores (via human planes and boats) every month - before human arrival, an unfamiliar species showed up every 10,000 years. Wooly mammoths, horses, and saber tooths roamed North America before human crossed the land bridge and killed them off. Even other human species were not immune - wherever Neanderthals and 'modern humans' came into contact in pre-historic Eur-Asia, the Neanderthals were soon killed off (but not before interbreeding; thus nearly all non-African humans today carry Neanderthal genes).
Thus the combination of over-hunting, introducing invasive species, habitat destruction and now climate change has led to a massive and rapid die-off of species of the world's other living things - at a rate 45,000 times the "background" extinction rate (the normal pre-human rate that species became extinct).
The book reads like a well-paced crime novel - in investigating the demise of everything from bats to rhinos, every path leads to the same suspect: humankind. Kolbert ends with words of hope, noting that humans have also gone to great lengths on occasion to save and restore species tottering on the brink (think California condor). But her overall analysis of human tendencies don't leave much room for optimism for non-human species - and then perhaps eventually for ourselves.
Notable quote: "Though it might be nice to imagine there once was a time when man lived in harmony with nature, it is not clear that he ever really did."
Known for her work with large primates in Africa, Goodall turns her attention to that which undergirds primates of all kinds, including us: plants and the ecosystems (forests, prairies, swamps) that hold them. This book is filled with interesting facts about the plant world: there are 630 species of carnivorous plants; while 286,000 plant species have been discovered, this is only 14 percent of those thought to exist; species need to move an average of 30 feet per day toward the poles to keep up with a warming world; only 15 percent of the corn grown in the USA feeds people directly - the rest goes for animal feed or ethanol.
Goodall's impetus for this book and for her work in promoting reforestation through her Roots and Shoots program: "The terrifying destruction of the world's forests is one of the great ecological disasters of our time."
Who wouldda thought: "If insects attach a tree, it releases chemicals through the air that trigger defensive chemicals in other nearby trees to ward off a similar fate."
This former United Nations food official pulls no punches when addressing the question of why people in our world of 7 billion people continue to be hungry—when there could be enough food to feed 12 billion: :”Every child who starves to death is murdered.”
Those responsible are many: lack of land for the poor (as in Guatemala, where 1.86 percent of the people own 57 percent of the land); the International Monetary Fund (which forced a country like Niger to privatize its veterinary services with a multinational corporation now providing the medicines, putting these services out of reach for poor herders, whose livestock consequently died); to nations like the USA who won’t affirm any international conventions guaranteeing food as a human right (we like to promote freedom and democracy as human rights, but not food security); to corporations like Cargill who buy commodities on the cheap (cocoa, coffee, bananas, cotton) and sell them for huge profits.
His solutions to hunger: 1) empower UN agencies like the FAO and World Food Program; 2) end $349 billion in Rich World agricultural subsidies; 3) stop turning food (corn) into fuel (ethanol); 4) help the poor have some access to irrigation while assisting in efforts to slow soil erosion; and 5) “put as many cracks as possible in the current global order that is crushing the world’s people.”
Eat mor (vertically integrated) chiken The food conglomerate Cargill manufactures fertilizer that is applied to the soybeans in Brazil and the US; these beans are shipped on Cargill ships to Thailand where the soymeal fattens chickens in mostly-automated Cargill factories, which is then packaged and shipped to the US, EU and elsewhere, where the meat is sold in supermarkets often owned by Cargill.
Exposing the real cost to the environment of our global consumer society is the goal of this well-researched and well-written book. In short, we can’t continue to over-cut, over-pollute, over-pump our forests, air and aquifers without serious long-term harm to us and our planet. Who will pay for this? Our children.
Her solution is to bring together all the stakeholders—business, environmentalists, government—to find creative ways to bring about real-cost accounting of our consumer behaviors, since most people aren’t going to change their habits just because they “should.” She says little about actually reducing our consumption or generally down-sizing our lives.
Quoted quote: “We must end the economic invisibility of nature.” – Indian economist Pavan Sukhdev
If you think being non-white is anything but a disadvantage, think again, according to this (Caucasian) social critic. Wise lays out the fact about white privilege in the USA, and in the process debunks lots of myths about why race and what allows some to be successful and others not.
Did you know, for instance, that for the first 20 years of its existence, the Social Security system didn’t allow contributions by agricultural workers or domestic workers—the occupations of most African Americans; or that African American college grads are twice as likely to be unemployed as their anglo counterparts; that whites comprise 70 percent of illegal drug users, yet 90 percent of arrests for first-time use are people of color; only 1 in 33 of all non-white college applicants receive any kind of race-related scholarship; or that 20 percent of black children in two-parent families live under the poverty line—twice the rate of white children?
As Joe Friday of Dragnet fame used to say, “Just the facts, ma’am.” That’s what Wise gives us as a corrective to the many assumptions and insinuations about privilege and poverty in the USA.
Telling quote: “A comprehensive comparison of various social programs in the US and Europe found that racial hostility to people of color better explains opposition to high levels of social spending (in the US) better than any other economic or political variable."
Geography suddenly got more interesting, as this UCLA professor tells us how climate change, demographics, globalization and resource extraction will lead to a massive changes in various regions of the world in the next 30 years, with a focus on the northern hemisphere for reasons he lays out in the book.
Looking forward, there will be winners and losers as these four forces play out. For instance, regarding climate change, the US Southwest and Sub-Saharan Africa are losers, as are polar bears, and 15-37 percent of all plants and animals that are likely destined for extinction; winners are northern areas of Russia and the US, Canada, oil companies ready to exploit a thawing Arctic Ocean, and cockroaches and coyotes—critters that can adapt quickly to changing conditions. Demographically, countries like Russia, Japan and South Korea are losing people fast; the US is steadily growing, as are some native communities in the north (after centuries of displacement and destruction at the hands of colonialists). Resources? Take the Alberta Tar Sands for instance. There’s a lot of oil there—perhaps 175 billion barrels. Extracting it is nasty business: it creates three times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil to mine it, and has already destroyed (by strip-mining) some 530 square kilometers of land area, with only one square kilometer so far having been restored to any resemblance of its natural state.
He notes that the two factors that could help forestall globalization and its many negative consequences are a) nations resorting to protectionistic policies or more regional trade arrangements and/or b) the rising cost of oil. The latter would serve to relocalize production, down-size cities, make farming more labor intensive and make energy intensive activities such as tourism and air travel nearly obsolete. Maybe not a bad deal...
Facts to ponder: The average American uses 24 barrels of oil a year; four-fifths of the earth’s surface is directly influenced by human activity; the percentage of the world’s electricity provided by solar power in 2050 will be the same as today: statistically 0% (3 terawatts per year currently of the 20,000 terawatts of total electricity generation globally, 82 percent of which is from fossil fuels).
So just what is this infinite resource—the one that will continue to enrich Rich World citizens at no added cost to the planet while simultaneously lifting the poor out of poverty? Innovation, my friend. It’s what made the difference between European civilization and that of the Chinese, Ottomans and Japanese from the 16th Century on—less group-think and top-down bureaucracy and more free enterprise spurred on by the profit motive, patents, and the ability to shop around your ideas to the highest bidder (as did Columbus, the ultimate risk-taker, capitalist and exploiter—er, explorer).
Naam begins his book by showing how far we’ve come over the past couple of centuries (and even decades) as a human society in terms of life expectancy, food production per acre, industrial efficiency, housing size, etc—thanks to the above-mentioned free-enterprise system. He then outlines in a compelling fashion the problems we face in the coming decades, especially related to issues such as over-fishing, deforestation, climate change, etc. He goes on to show how, in his opinion, these challenges can be met by creative use of abundant resources like sunlight and sea water, along with scrupulous recycling, massive deployment of wind and solar energy systems, and increased efficiencies.
Unfortunately, he makes no mention of any need to scale back on our consumption or to encourage the Poor World to consider this as it races to “be like us.” Either he believes that we need large houses and vehicles and I-gadgets to be happy, or he is afraid no one will buy into his clean and green new world if they can’t bring their goodies with them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ronald Reagan and George Schultz are his idea of strong environmental leadership; unsurprisingly he only mentions Democrats in unflattering contexts. He is also loathe to mention “government policy” as part of the recipe for reigning in our bad eco-behavior (unless it was instigated by the above-mentioned); while promoting putting a price on carbon—which clearly would require political action—he refers instead to the need for “collective decisions” to mandate such practices. Maybe because he knows there’s little or no chance of the Congress ever going along.
Pithy quote: (re climate change, droughts, severe storms)“We’ve voided the warranty on our atmosphere. Its behavior may no longer conform to what we’ve come to expect as the norm."
If you have time for one book on how climate change is going to affect humanity, this is it. Guzman spends some time discussing predications about climate change and how it will affect nature (by 2030, likely no glaciers left in Glacier National Park), but most of the book is devoted to outlining its impact on human well-being. He covers topics from conflict (things were going alright in Darfur until drought kicked in during the 1980’s, bringing war on its coattails) to water (“We have built a global system that relies on the water storage provide by glaciers, and now these glaciers are disappearing”) to food production (1 degree C rise in temperature will bring a 10 percent drop in food production in Africa) to health (less healthy living conditions, over-crowding, hunger, refugees spreading disease), he gives a sobering assessment of what the future holds unless we act soon and significantly.
Solution: “Our lives are easier because energy is plentiful and inexpensive. We must raise the price of carbon sufficiently to keep the planet from overheating. If we don’t, we will trigger human tragedy on a scale the world has never seen."
At first glance, this seems a technical read, but if you can find your way through the insider references to economists and economic calculations, there is plenty of engaging information here. Milanovic does a good job quantifying global economic trends, revealing winners and losers within and between nations, and telling us why globalization—beginning with the Industrial Revolution—has served to widen rather than reduce disparities between nations (e.g. the average US’er earns $37,000 more than the average Chinese today—$12,000 more than 30 years ago).
A key insight: For the wealthy classes, charity is a good thing; addressing inequality is another matter. This in effect leaves the structures of poverty untouched (or as we would put it, establishing justice is not the goal of most programs to “help the poor”; they get the crumbs we toss their way, but not a seat at the table).
Want to know where you stand in the global economic pecking order? If your household earns over $5000 per person, you’re in the top 20 percent; over $12,000, top 10; over $18,500, top 5; $34,000, top 1; $70,000=the top 1/10th of one percent of the world’s people.
Keane is a cheerleader for the promise of green technology, and in particular wind, solar, and geothermal, coupled with efficiencies. The book is packed with lots of stats (every hour of every day,he sun provides the earth with as much energy as all of human civilization uses in an entire year), and arguments for what these technologies can do for us. Unfortunately, there’s no mention of the fact that we’ve super-sized and multiplied and up-graded everything, and this may be a real part of the problem. And as a counterpoint to his techno-optimism, read this assessment of renewable energy’s prospects by analyst Michael Klare.
(not so) Fast Asleep: when your flatscreen is off but still plugged in, it is drawing as much energy as an old console television when it was turned on.
For those interested in cultural anthropology, Diamond has written a jewel of a book. Ever wonder how traditional cultures (bands, tribes) raise their children (competition is discouraged, cooperation promoted)? Whether we’re prone to fighting or to peace (largely depends on the space and the resources available)? How do tribal people confront danger (cautiously and without a hint of machismo)? What the trade-offs are when groups of people coalesce into a “state” (equality traded for security)? Why Papua New Guineans speak 1000 of the world’s 7000 languages?
Primitive? “We see people in small-scale societies spend far more time talking to each other than we do, and they spend no time at all on passive entertainment supplies by outsiders, such as television, video games and books. We are struck by the precocious development of social skills in their children. The adolescent identity crises that plague American teenagers aren’t an issue for hunter/gatherer children."
A plant-based, whole food diet—that’s a big part of the answer to our disease-care system (as opposed to “health care” system), according to long-time nutritional advocate Campbell. He is unsparing in pointing out the damage done by Big Ag and Big Pharm in covering up the real causes of our health crisis, and lambasts the government’s role for its complicity in this sad tale. He cracks on the $30 billion dietary supplement industry, and even debunks the school milk program, saying it’s a victory for the dairy industry and a defeat for our children. And Adkins Diet folks beware: too much animal protein increases the risk of cancer, says this son of a dairy farmer.
On the positive side, Dr. Campbell holds up the anti-oxidant properties of a plant-based diet, along with the lower risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes; the greater ease in controlling weight; and even such pluses as less acne and headaches. This diet slows climate change, reduces water and air pollution, stems deforestation, disempowers Factory Farming, and could reduce malnutrition among the world’s poor.
If the disease don’t kill you: 100,000 US’ers die annually from the effects of prescription drugs.
Want to up the readership of your blog, the traffic to your website, the sales of your new gadget, the support for your nonprofit? These guys can help you do it. The duo addresses dynamics like Contrast (what makes you different), Reach (the size of your network), Exposure (frequency of connections), Articulation, Trust, and Echo (feeling of connection on the part of your audience)—and yes, that acronym spells CREATE.
Perhaps most importantly, they remind the budding entrepreneur that one must bring “value” to one’s audience—what is it that they “get” from you that makes you worth their time/investment/etc.?
And remember: “Giving info to others is not as interesting or valuable as presenting it in a human, emotional manner."
Pringle brings together a variety of voices—from community activists to food policy experts to religious leaders—to talk about the challenge of feeding America. Not that there’s not enough food—we’re producing more calories than ever—but the right food is often not getting to the right people. Indeed, it’s startling to learn that half of all children in the USA will need food assistance of one kind or another at some point during their childhood—and the same can be said of every adult between 19 and 65.
Issues covered in this volume include subsidies for Big Ag, the Senate decision in the early 1960’s to allow Food Stamp recipients to buy soft drinks with their allowances, facts about what kind of food constitute the “average” American diet, the challenges faced by people living in food deserts (typically small towns and inner cities), and the need for citizens to keep food security on the national agenda.
Read ‘em and weep: The Number One source of calories in the average American diet? Grain-based desserts (cakes, cookies, pie, doughnuts). No wonder in a food-poor nation, obesity is the leading cause of death.
"Civilization is about to be down-sized."
The amazing economic growth experienced in the Rich World over the past several centuries has had less to do with things like innovation or marketing, and everything to do with cheap energy. According to the author, as this era comes to an end--thanks to the end of readily available fossil fuels--so will the growth. In fact, he goes so far as to state "Economic growth as we have known it is over and done with."
This is a stark assessment, and seems to fly in the face of the current stock market boom. But as Heinberg points out, the natural capital underlying the global economy is nature--and nature is fast being depleted, is being made chaotic by climate change, and is subject to even more pressure as the world's poor seek the "good life" (material prosperity) currently only enjoyed by the thin upper crust of the world's population. Food supplies in particular will be jeopardized, as present industrial agriculture is based on abundant fossil fuels.
Heinberg also gives a lot of thought to the role of money and credit in the world economy, and how these are less and less founded in reality, and more in speculation--eventually to come crashing down.
His solutions? Get to know your neighbors--you'll need each other as shortages force us to relocalize. Work toward establishing new, more community-based economies. Dis-invest from big banks and other large institutions. Be visible--let the people around you know what you and others are doing. Redefine progress away from economic growth and toward humanity's and nature's well-being.
He says we are living through the fifth great turning in human history, preceded by the taming of fire, the development of language, the agricultural revolution, and the industrial revolution. Now we are turning from fossil-fueled, debt- and growth-based industrial society toward a sustainable, renewable, steady-state society.
Hopeful quote: "We can survive the end of growth, and perhaps thrive beyond it, but only if we recognize it for what it is and act accordingly."
Sending your daughter away into the sex trade can earn a Nepali family enough money for a tin roof for their house.
It's this kind of economic calculation—along with a devaluation of young women, well-organized regional and global criminal renetworks, ethnic/caste bias, and unenforced laws and officials on-the-take or on-the-make—that are part of the trafficking equation. This book, a compilation of chapters on various aspects of human trafficking by experts in the field, is a comprehensive overview of a worldwide scourge.
The solutions? Education is one, in several senses. First, actually going to school: "Absence of education, a direct result of poverty, can lead to greater vulnerability for recruitment by traffickers." And then the "street education" of young women as to what awaits them on the other end of the "deal" they are being offered by a relative or agent or even a boyfriend. (In Nepal, for instance, fake marriage is a leading avenue for girls to be brought into the sex trade. The suitor is only interested in gaining control over the girl for the purpose of exploitation.)
International economic policies also need to be changed. They have served to impoverish entire regions, leaving young men and women little choice but to migrate in search of viable—even if undesirable—work. Entire nations suffer from this as well, as sex tourism has become an important source of income production.
And then there's domestic violence: some young women would rather face a stream of abusers in a brothel than the alcoholism, beatings and sexual abuse they find at home. At least they may get some pay for the former...
With friends like these: In Africa, 67 percent of trafficked girls are handed over to a trafficker by someone they know.
This is one of the best looks at the sorry history of civilizations that have arisen only to meet their end by over-use of nature around them—the very natural world that allowed them to prosper. Why was the Fertile Crescent so named? Because it once was. Why did Rome fall? Because it felled too many trees to feed the ever increasing appetites of its citizenry for things like heated baths and smelting iron for armaments and silver for coins. What became of the people of Easter Island, once a thriving society of 15,000 people—reduced to 3,000 when discovered by outsiders? Over-fishing, deforestation, killing off beneficial species (all six species of ground birds went extinct—and with them the eggs that nourished the people), conflict over increasingly-scarce resources, and monuments to their gods that further depleted their fragile resource base. Of the waves of extinctions that followed humans wherever they went, he writes: “The destruction of edible animals has been a hallmark of all lands discovered by tool-wielding humans."
Hallett keeps raising the question of ‘why didn’t people change their behaviors when it was clear that their continued abuse of nature would be their end?’ Of the Mayan he laments, “Where conservation, sustainable agriculture and land management might have paid dividends, they instead became more competitive with their neighbors. They were fighting the wrong enemy—(the enemy being) their own exploitation of the environment.” Sound familiar?
The first half of the book is a look at the misuse of pre-industrial resources; the second half looks at our 200 year-old coal/petroleum world—the past 100 years being what he calls the “petroleum interval”—a brief interlude that may well lead to our ruin. Compared to the past, the trends and tendencies are the same, it’s only the resource in question that has changed.
Hallett sees trouble ahead; trouble from which technology can’t save us. He turns to Cuba under the embargo and Britain gearing up for war with Nazis as models of the kind of resilience and determination and even sacrifice we will need. We must control population growth, clean up our energy sources, conserve rather than consume, and practice sustainable agriculture. He calls for connection, community and a return to the concept of the Commons—community-managed land that is held in trust for all and for future generations. In addition, “we need stability—economic, political, environmental—innovation and democracy. Getting to this point in history, if, indeed, it is possible at all, will take generations."
Poignant quote: "The invisible hand of nature is much more powerful than the invisible hand of the market."
Lots of attention gets focused on the impacts of climate change on human communities—drought, storms, food supplies, heat waves, etc. This book lays out an alarming prognosis for the effects of a warming world on Earth’s non-human inhabitants. Well-written and based on his own and others’ research, Barnosky shows how the combination of “normal” human impacts such as over-hunting and habitat degradation are combining with human-induced global warming to leave other life forms with ever-worsening chances of escaping the coming warmer world.
From the American pika (which tends to “explode” if the temperature regularly exceeds 78 degrees) to sea life along the coast of Oregon (suffocated by the aftereffects of extensive upwelling of ocean currents caused by shifting wind patterns)to the caribou on which the Gwich’in of NE Alaska depend for life and culture (more snow in winter leads to more difficult foraging; more warmth in summer brings bigger swamps of blood-sucking insects), land- and sea-based creatures all around the planet are disappearing or threatened with extinction by out-of-control climate change. The author calls for immediate coordinated international efforts to halt greenhouse gas emissions and offers ways ordinary folks can do their part to turn down the heat.
You don’t wanna know: None of the species of mammals or birds currently inhabiting the planet were able to live here when the temperature reached 7 degrees above the present norm three million years ago; we may well be headed to that temperature by the end of this century.
While some see nuclear energy as a less-troublesome energy source than fossil fuels, Gar Smith comes to just the opposite conclusion. Writing post-Fukushima, he offers 14 reasons that nuclear energy does not hold the key to our future energy needs: among them are the years it takes to get a plant up and running (the world would need to be building 32 new ones every year for the next 40 years to cut our carbon emissions in half); the cost—without generous government subsidies (that would be our tax dollars), nuclear wouldn’t be in play as a power source today; unreliability, even compared to solar and wind: of 253 proposed nuclear power plants in the US since 1950, only 137 ever got built, and 21 of those have been closed and temporary plant shut-downs are commonplace; catastrophic danger (TMI ring a bell?—cancer rates for people living within 10 miles of TMI are 65% higher than average) (and if anyone would ever manage to target a nuclear power plant anywhere near an urban area, estimates are of over 40,000 immediate deaths, half a million more later on from cancer, and a $2 trillion clean-up tab); damage to indigenous communities where uranium is mined; the 20-30 tons of radioactive waste produced per plant each year—which has to be kept under containment for 100,000 years; environmental pollution (the cooling towers send 1000 degree steam up into the atmosphere, while waste water pumped back into surrounding waterways is often 20 or more degrees higher than the stream itself, often resulting in fish kills).
His solution to our energy crisis (meaning the pollution and climate change fossil fuels are causing)? Institute a carbon tax, make polluters pay for the mess they’re making, reject globalization, turn to locally-produced energy (solar panels, etc.), redefine “success” to be less about stuff and more about relationships.
Along with his thorough analysis, Smith also says what few other energy writers will say: we won’t be able to “green” our gross over-consumption. “A combination of these efforts, enthusiastically embraced, will have a good chance of saving the world by adopting sustainable lifestyles that eschew the notion that happiness can only come from never-ending consumption and accumulation. A new level of appreciation for sufficiency and equitability will be the ultimate answer.” Amen to that.
Can’t imagine a world without plastic? Terry reminds us that there was such a time (and not that long ago), and that one can work toward a plastic-free world today—although the stuff is nearly ubiquitous. Where is it? It’s easier to ask where it isn’t, as plastics are found in items ranging from floor tiles to clothing to cosmetics to cash register receipts to drink containers to cling wrap. But we can recycle it, right? Maybe. Even the little recycling symbol on the bottom doesn’t guarantee recyclability—it depends on the community. And what is recycled is typically shipped to China. Those plastic bag recycling bins at your store? Most of that plastic ends up as plastic lumber, which can’t be recycled any further. California mandates that stores recycled those flimsy shopping bags, but only 3 percent get returned.
The author weaves her personal efforts to kick the habit with loads of information about where plastic comes from (a nasty brew of petroleum-based chemicals), where it goes (mostly to landfills), and how one can deplasticize (buy second-hand plastic items, take your own drink cups on plane trips or to fast food places, buy in bulk, etc.). Along with the typical “R’s” (Reduce, etc.), she adds: Remember there was a time without plastic; Repair—fix things rather than automatically replace them; Report—get the word out about this issue; Realize—be attentive to how plastic has invaded our lives; Rally—gather collaborators to work de-plasticize our lives, congregations, schools, restaurants.
This is perhaps the most comprehensive book available when it comes to tracing the history of what the author calls “our relationship with drinking water.” Taken for granted by most citizens of the US, securing adequate supplies of water has brought out the best in us (ancient legal codes and community mores insisted that a thirsty person be given a drink even from a private well); the creative in us (the first flush toilets by the Minoans in 1700 BC); the oblivious in us (massively overdrawn aquifers in the American grain belt and elsewhere around the world—what you can’t see can hurt you!); and the capitalist in us (1500 water bottles are opened per second in the US—at a cost 240-10,000 times higher than water from the faucet, and an annual expenditure of $16 billion).
Some troubling water facts:
It was Ben Franklin who said “We know the value of water when the well runs dry.” Without better management, this author points out, we’re all about to learn how true that is.
While NCP is proud to claim Wes Jackson as a supporter, his (much) larger claim to fame is his role as founder of The Land Institute, the Kansas-based effort to reintroduce perennial crops as the basis for our food supply. Why try doing this in Kansas? Because that’s what grew in Kansas before the white man and his plow arrived. And that, my friends, is the theme of Jackson’s book: what does the land have to teach us and show us about what works best in a particular place? “Reduced in number and limited in scale, natural ecosystems still hold answers to countless questions we have not yet learned to ask.”
Jackson weaves his own personal story with the origins of The Land Institute and ruminations on the state of agriculture. He’s passionate about the role of farming in renewing the earth—or at least stemming our assault on it and buying us a little time. It is farming that largely got us into this mess (thanks to agriculture, we are a “species out of context,” he writes), and ag that can lead the way to restoring the balance.
Along with his call for a return to the land as our teacher, Jackson is one of a number of out-of-the-mainstream yet out-in-front voices calling for a new environmental ethic. “We are living in the most important and challenging moment in the history of homo sapiens…we have to consciously practice restraint."
We’re not very good at that—but a starting point might be to practice the “restraint” of paying attention to the land around us, rather than charging it like we know it all—when we don’t know enough to know that we don’t.
Feel like something’s just not right about the way we buy clothing in the US? Too cheap to be true? Made well enough to make it to the next fashion cycle—but not much more than that? Way more stuff in our closets than we need—or will ever wear? And what about all those textile jobs that went to China—are they ever coming back? What is the fabric anyway (I’m wearing petroleum?!)? The workers who make our clothes—slaving away for less than a living wage and in unsafe conditions (the factories made to look great whenever the international monitors visit): that can’t be right! And what do you mean my used clothing ends up being sold on the streets of Africa—I thought they went to clothe poor people…
Kline is unsparing in her analysis of her own MO—a 30-something bargain-conscious clothes addict—asking incisive questions about why, how, of what and by whom our clothing is made—and how it’s marketed. Her answers to the questions raised above include buying fewer, more expensive but better-made clothes; seeking out the few Fair Trade clothing brands; learning to sew; shopping for vintage clothes in used clothes stores; and…gasp…mending.
Telling stat: Nike could double pay for the 160,000 workers making its shoes and not have to raise the selling price—and still turn a nice profit.
This reformed radical environmentalist is unsparing of in his assessment of human conquest of the earth in recent centuries—it has been a catastrophe for the biosphere. Climate change, invasive species, destroying biodiversity—we’re really made a mess of things. He’s for preserving wetlands, wilderness and rainforests, and calls for a quick move away from fossil fuels.
Where some will take issue is when it comes to his recent conversion to nuclear energy (after years of anti-nuclear activism) as the only viable alternative to coal for electricity generation, as it requires a lot less land than wind or solar, and his insistence that we need to continue to expand economic growth, rather than adjust our idea of what constitutes the “good life."
He says: “Nature no longer runs the Earth. We do. It is our choice what will happen from here."
Imhoff provides a primer on what’s wrong with the way we’re growing crops these days and the many things that need to change for a sustainable agricultural future. The problems include soil erosion, subsidies to many already-well-off farmers ($3 billion a year to 20,000 cotton farmers, allowing them to sell their crops for less than it cost to produce them), monopoly control of food production (four large corporation control 85 percent of US beef packing), and the way our food system impacts our health (in part due to the cheapness of corn sweeteners, the average US’er consumes 44.7 gallons of soft drinks per year).
Need to know: one bat consumes one-third to one-half its weight in insects and other small pests each night; altogether, these winged mammals provide $3.7 billion in pest-control services to US farmers annually. Pollinators of all stripes provide $40 billion in free services to US agriculture every year.
According to Greer, we need a Copernican Revolution in the way we think about economics, since the way we do it now is fundamentally flawed—as was the pre-Copernican belief that the earth was the center of the universe. Our problem is that we think economic growth will never end, and neither will the earth’s resources. As his “new Copernicus” Greer turns to E. F. Schumacher of “small is beautiful” fame and his insistence on nature as the “primary good,” with all the things we produce from nature being “secondary goods” and that if we aren’t protecting that which is primary, everything else is in jeopardy. Greer is particularly hard on “tertiary goods”—people making money from money, rather than actual labor or other useful skills.
So it makes sense that he is also keen on recognizing and honoring “labor,” the human capital so often underappreciated if not outright exploited by global capitalism. Bringing together both the need for labor and the looming environmental crises we face, he asks: In a world of seven billion people, rising unemployment and dwindling energy supplies, is replacing workers with machines powered by fossil fuels the way to go? Perhaps—if short-term profit is your main concern—but not if you want to pass on a viable planet and functioning human community to your children.
For Greer, the challenge of our time is how we will manage the end of abundance, since this once-in-history window of readily available fossil fuels and other finite resources is quickly being closed. Some starting points: tax polluting and the extraction of resources, rather than income or food purchases; learn once-well-known skills like gardening and sewing and collecting rainwater; do everything you can with local resources/power rather than depending on complex, distant sources—since these may soon be gone.
Notable quote: “Empire is the methamphetamine of nations; in the short term, the effects feel great, but in the long term they’re lethal."
We are running out of frontiers to exploit—that’s the main message of Klare’s book on the looming shortages facing our world as we mine, drill and plunder the planet for its last reserves of the minerals, metals, farm land, and other resources that make modern life possible. From “rare earth” (anybody remember the band by this name?) to petroleum to strategic minerals like copper and coltan, production is leveling off or in some cases declining—but in every case will soon be coming up against inevitable shortfalls. This is already leading to conflict (think “oil”), hardball politics (China recently cut off supplies of rare earths to Japan over a territorial dispute) and overrunning the needs of the poor (foreign powers buying up African communal lands as a hedge against future food shortages).
Klare’s remedy is a “race to adapt”—a global quest to free the world from its dependence on finite resources while turning toward renewables and vastly increased efficiencies.
We saw it: Klare notes China’s policy of making loans to countries and demanding payment in petroleum. On our Learning Tours to the Ecuadorian Amazon, we see Chinese oil concessions where this is exactly what is happening—oil from the rainforest being used to repay Chinese loans, with the ensuing destruction and pollution of the forest.
Jeff provides a lively invitation to rethink our basic presuppositions about living as people of faith in the modern world. In a style at once conversational and challenging, and seasoned with humor, humility and palpable energy, Jeff offers engaging ideas about God, Jesus, the Bible and human community, based on a fresh reading of scripture and active attention to the world around us. On subjects ranging from salvation to peacemaking to materialism, he asks us to join him in paddling into the boundary waters (he’s an avid canoeist) of a deeper and more vibrant experience of human life lived for higher purposes—purposes best exemplified in the life, death and living presence of Jesus of Nazareth and best sought in community. It will be clear that the going is not always easy, the answers never simplistic, and we may well get caught in a storm on the lake as we try to find our way—but there can be deep satisfaction when we arrive drenched and cleansed by the journey we’ve taken together.
He said it: “Central to the Good News is that when we are saved by Jesus, we are not merely saved from dying, we are saved for living. And real, full life has an inescapable quality—community."
If you’re a fan of Greg Mortenson of Three Cups of Tea fame—and want to stay that way—you’d best not read this book. In it, Krakauer (also author of Into the Wild), a former large donor to Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute, delivers a scathing expose of Mortenson’s ethics and the financial practices of his organization, which has collected millions to build schools in Pakistan and elsewhere.
According to Krakauer’s well-documented research, Mortenson not only made up the story of arriving near-death in a small Pakistani community after a failed attempt to climb K-2 and at one point being kidnapped by the Taliban, but also about his promise to build a school there and triumphant return to do so. His organization has since built dozens of schools—many of which stand unused. He has also earned lots of money from the sale of his books (which his organization pays to promote), and is unwilling to account for how he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of CAI’s money. And did we mention the private jet that delivers him to speaking engagements?
On Mortensen’s claim to have paid last respects to Mother Theresa—“one of his heroes”— on learning of her death while passing through Calcutta in September 2000, Krakauer writes, “This is a poignant anecdote, but it’s difficult to reconcile with the fact that Mother Theresa died on September 5, 1997….”
Tropic of Chaos by Christian Parenti (2011)
His analysis ranges from Kyrgyzstan to Afghanistan (Why grow opium? Not only is it 50 times as profitable as wheat, but requires six time less water) to tribal conflicts in the Horn of Africa to the constant flow of out-of-water Mexican farmers to the US -Mexican border. In each place he shows how the droughts and storms and most of all unpredictability of climate change (coupled with left-over dynamics from colonialism and the Cold War) are reshaping our world and especially affecting the poor—and not for the better.
If you want a good easy-to-read review of the history of countries in Central Asia, East Africa and Latin America, this is a very good place to find it—with the impact of climate change thrown in as a bonus.Fact to ponder: From 1997-2005, over 150,000 farmers in India took their own lives—often by drinking the pesticides the corporations sold them to put on their fields—as they couldn’t continue to provide for their families by farming due to uncertain water supplies thanks to erratic weather, large debt related to drought and expensive hybrid seats, and economic liberalization (which left the farmers on their own without state assistance to navigate these challenges).
Water, water everywhere—at least that’s how we in the US tend to think. Well, we need to start thinking differently, according to this author. Much of the water we drink has a worrisome level of pollutants; the water irrigating much of our food supply is draining aquifers and sapping rivers of their vitality; the water we send down our rivers contains everything from hormone disrupting hand-sanitizer (not removed by water treatment plants) to enough fertilizer to create a 6000 square mile Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico; water barons would love to have the rights to distribute our water—rather than municipal governments—and make loads of money in the process; and thanks to climate change, floods and droughts will be a permanent part of our weather patterns.
Prud’homme spends a good deal of the book looking into US water issues—from groundwater pollution to the past, present and future water wars of the American West. But he also analyzes the impact of water shortages in the face of a growing global population and climate change in the years to come.
His solution? “…adopt a new approach to managing water that emphasizes conservation and working with nature, rather than trying to constantly bend it to human will.” This means saying goodbye to dam-building, waterfall-like shower heads and flood-irrigated fields, and hello to water catchment systems, low-flow showers and toilets, drip irrigation, and asking “how much water can we leave in the river”—rather than how much we can take out.
Interesting note: Along with seeking room to expand and controlling mineral deposits, China’s 1959 invasion of Tibet was also undertaken to gain control of water sources in the Tibetan Himalaya Range.
“We moderns have become accustomed to the idea that we can modify our environment to suit our needs and have acted accordingly for some 300 years. We are now discovering that our intoxicating belief that we can conquer all has come up against a greater force, the Earth itself. The prospect of runaway climate change challenges our technological hubris, our Enlightenment faith in reason and the whole modernist prospect. The Earth may soon demonstrate that, ultimately, it cannot be tamed and the human urge to master nature has only aroused a slumbering beast.”
If you want to read one book on the imperative to deal the threat of climate change seriously and promptly, this is it. While it contains lots of facts about climate change, it also lays out the reasons why we aren’t doing enough about it—and what this says about us and our way of defining ourselves and the purpose of life. In the end, Hamilton wonders if we’ll exchange the false gods of money, growth and hedonism for the real god of creation, who alone has the power to save us from the mess we’ve made for ourselves. Wow….
Offering extensive research drawn from actual interviews with the poor in 18 different countries, as well as those trying to help them, the authors do what anyone should do when wanting to offer assistance to others—listen to them to see how they got in their predicament, and to find out what will or won’t work to help them get on a better path.
Some key findings:
Disconcerting fact: When poor families desperately wanting to have more sons (to provide for them in their old age) have a daughter instead, she is often breast-fed for a shorter period (increasing her susceptibility to diseases such as diarrhea from drinking impure water) so that the mother might more quickly become pregnant again
Gernot Wagner praises individual action such as recycling, buying organic food, or using canvass bags etc. but he points out that those actions alone are not enough to address our daunting environmental challenges. Why? It doesn't add up to make enough of a difference and not enough people are reducing their environmental footprint.
Wagner lays out what the "smart economics" are that can save the world and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. How do we get there? By making us pay for our bad behavior--in other words, applying economics to environmental problems. Ireland's 2002 PlasTax, for instance, which reduced the demand for landfill-clogging plastic bags by 90%. Applying economics at both the macro level (making dirty energy more expensive to maintain) and the micro (increasing the cost of filling your car with gas) can help us create a greener world in a larger, more substantive way.
Wagner's engaging writing style allows him to broach an emotionally charged subject while urging us to take personal responsibility for the planet by demanding an economically sound solution to guiding market forces in the right direction, making it in our best interests to do the right thing.
In a personal email exchange with the NCP director, when asked what he would tell a group of church folks wanting to make a difference regarding climate change, Wagner said: a) study economics b) challenge the system as high up the chain as you can--city council over bike lanes, state energy commission over green power, Congress over the value of a tax on carbon, etc. c) buy my book. Not necessarily in that order…
The former Greenpeace director has recently shifted his thinking about the future of the planet (due to the impacts of climate change and a host of other eco-perils) from ‘all is lost’ to ‘it will be catastrophic, and we may lose a couple billion lives, but this common threat to our species will cause humankind to move to a new and higher plane of co-existence.’ This new era will be characterized by a redefinition of the meaning of life (away from materialism), and an evolution in human values, politics, and personal expectations. He often compares the scale and rapidity of this response to the way the Allies mobilized to fight Hitler in WWII. His timetable:
Gilding doesn’t see us changing our ways out of concern for the planet or even for our children, but out of the shock of a plummeting global economy coupled with widespread hunger and the collapse of important ecological services (water, fisheries, forests). A key to our successful transition to a new way of living on this earth and with each other (and to avoiding chaos) will be hope: “the attitude we adopt—hope vs. despair—is perhaps the most profound issue we will face.”
“The earth is full.” (In the sense of maxed out by human consumption, pollution and over-whelming of natural systems. This is the opening sentence of the book.)
Ted Danson is more than Sam Malone in the long-running television series Cheers—over the past 25 years, he has tirelessly devoted himself to the cause of heading off a looming global catastrophe—the massive destruction of our planet’s oceanic ecosystems and the complete collapse of the world’s major commercial fisheries.
In Oceana (also the name of a pro-ocean organization he helped found), Danson details his journey from joining a modest local protest in the mid-1980s to oppose offshore oil drilling near his Southern California neighborhood to his current status as one of the world’s most influential oceanic environmental activists.
In his incisive, conversational voice, Danson describes what has happened to our oceans in
Combining his own narrative with an array of stunning graphics, charts, and photographs,
“The fact is that all our lives are intertwined with and, in the end, dependent upon the health of the seas that surround us.”
For any of us involved in the work of bringing change—whether to our companies, our schools, or the world as a whole—this book offers lots of insight into what it takes to move people and/or organizations in a new direction. It stresses the importance of connecting with people on a visceral/emotional level; creating the proper context/mechanisms for change; looking at the big picture while offering clear, manageable and measurable steps; identifying things people are already energized by/doing well and build on these; find ways to turn problems into opportunities and problem people into collaborators.
Sample Problem: People simply aren’t motivated to change. 1) Is an identity conflict standing in the way? If so, you’ll need to “sell” a new identity. 2) Make the change attractive (what is there to feel good/excited about?). 3) Lower the bar to get people motivated. 4) Use social pressure to encourage change. 5) Smooth the Path so that even an unmotivated person will slide along.
If you ever wondered how the invasive plant disease pine blister rust contributes to more frequent grizzly/human encounters, this book is for you. (Answer: the rust has decimated stands of white bark pines on the upper slopes of mountains in the Pacific Northwest; the nuts from these pines are a key food supply for bears—as well as squirrels and birds; now that they’re disappearing, the bears have nowhere to go but down for additional food, leading to the aforementioned encounters—where the grizzlies usually come out on the short end.)
Along with chronicling the many impacts of introduced species on native plants and animals, Baskin also does an excellent job of just showing how “nature works.” From earth worms (the most important creature relative to promoting soil fertility and productivity) to the acidified water of the Amazon (which doesn’t support mosquito populations), she tells us how nature literally makes life as we know it possible—and how we contribute to our own undoing by intentionally or unwittingly messing with nature’s finely tuned system of life.
Quote: “If we are realistic about our dreams for tomorrow, our goal is not really ‘saving the planet’ in some minimalist form, but perpetuating its atmosphere, climate, landscapes and living services in a state that allows human civilization to prosper. For that to occur, we need to preserve natural systems that are rich, healthy, and resilient enough to support human welfare [into the future]…”
Worldwatch Institutes annual report takes on a new global issue every year, and there's a special timeliness to this one, given the turmoil in the world food system due to climate change and energy prices, and the fact that food supply was one of the key factors in spurring the "Arab spring" revolutions around the Middle East .
With an overall focus on Africa , this comprehensive report also covers the challenges facing food production in other parts of the world, including the looming threat posed by climate change. It exposes the ecological and economic failure of industrialized farming, and calls for a return to more localized, ecologically sustainable practices. It trumpets the importance of listening to and responding to local wisdom, and capitalizing on traditional foods rather than exotic imports. It names water misuse and underuse as key issues for the future. And it castigates Rich World subsidies as ecologically ruinous and catastrophic for Poor World farmers, who are left to compete"and lose"in this unequal competition with cheaper commodities from corporations benefitting from welfare-like subsidies.
Quote: "We have succeeded, remarkably, in increasing yields. But we must now realize that we can produce more and yet fail to tackle hunger at the same time, that increase in yields"while a necessary condition for alleviating hunger and malnutrition"are not a sufficient condition, and that as we spectacularly boosted overall levels of production during the second half of the twentieth century we created the conditions for a major ecological disaster in the twenty-first century."
Lester Brown, the guru of greening our way out of our environmental mess, points to water scarcity, higher energy prices, and looming food shortages as the coming "perfect storm" to undo much of the progress we have made"and perhaps civilization itself. In the course of book, he highlights a wide array of other problems as well, including climate change, soil loss, depletion of aquifers (Saudi Arabia has tapped out its aquifers and by 2015 will be importing all its grain"sometimes from land it has purchased in Africa and elsewhere), deforestation and desertification. While pointing out the problems with a car-centered, increasingly meat-eating, coal-burning world"and pointing to solar, wind and high-speed rail development and putting a price on carbon as keys to a sustainable future"Brown seems hesitant to call on US'ers to downsize their appetites for larger homes, meat and other amenities that contribute directly to our problems. His focus is more about policies than individual practices"while both are critical, seems to me we can't wait for the policy-makers to get us out of this mess.
Fact-of-interest: Refilling a glass drink bottle uses 10 times less energy than recycling an aluminum can
Plentitude: The New Economics of True Wealth by Juliet Schor, 2010
Schor is one of the founders of the Center for the New American Dream, a group dedicated to inviting Americans to redefine the "good life" by focusing more on quality than quantity. Her book is along these same lines, as she notes the many excesses of the US lifestyle: 67 items of new clothing per person per year, 65 million computer purchases annually, 25 tons of materials per person per year to fuel our lifestyles (oil, gravel, lumber, etc.). She also challenges the "out-sourcing' of the environmental cost of things: e.g. if we factored in the external costs incurred by the electric power industry (climate change, air pollution, etc.), this sector would go from a $22 billion annual profit to a $28 billion yearly loss.
Recommended personal actions? 1) Work less"give up income for time 2) learn to generalize in life skills in order to provide for oneself 3) be a "true materialist," valuing material things by not using so much of them 4) invest in one another and in one's community
Corporate action? Build in the true eco-cost of making and growing things
Fact: An hour of eating out at a restaurant requires an average of 11 kilowatts of energy; eating at home, an average of 7.4 kilowatts
Quote: "Solving our problems in the time we have available is not possible if all we do is change our technology."
I read this book on the way to Burma , a Southeast Asian nation with hundreds of miles of shoreline, and a tidal effect extending up rivers and streams several dozen miles up into the country's critical rice growing delta region. Seeing the high water mark only a foot or two below the top of stream banks"and the rice fields stretching out from there"left a chill. What will happen to this area when the sea rises the predicted 3-5 feet by century's end? These and millions of already-poor and for-now rich coastal dwellers will have to hike up their pants and move to higher ground, leaving behind the lives they knew and the crops they grew.
Ward presents a convincing and compelling case that we are in for steadily (or catastrophically) rising sea levels, thanks to the warming global climate and to what this heat is doing to the great ice caps in Antarctica and Greenland in particular. He compares our present CO2 level with previous eras in earth's history with similarly high concentrations, and finds that without fail great ice sheets melted or disappeared, resulting in wholesale changes in the shorelines of the world's land masses.
As does Dyer in Climate Wars (below), Ward employs possible dire future scenarios to drive home the devilish consequences of our inaction. At book's end, he also offers one scenario in which humanity has risen to the occasion and met the challenge, sparing the earth and humanity itself the ravages of a flooded world. His recipe for our success?
"Only a revolutionary change in personal, corporate and public use of energy will avert a disastrous increase in atmospheric emissions""and the sea level rises that will inevitably accompany this.
What do Agent Orange, PCB's, Dioxin, DDT, BST, GM crops and aspartame have in common? They were all developed and sold by the chemical giant Monsanto. Even as these products earn the 17,500-employee corporation a billion dollars a year, they exact another price: they have left a trail of environmental and human disease, death and destruction in their wake. And why is Monsanto still up and running after all these years and tears? Mostly because of the US government's willingness to look the other way"often because the very staff assigned to monitor the company were/are once or future employees of that same company.
Robin's book paints a picture of a corporation without a conscience, abetted by scientists, politicians, stock holders, and even universities "on the take." To make matters worse, even journalists who investigate the behemoth find their careers"if not their lives"threatened.
Find out what suicidal Indian farmers, sick Vietnam veterans, irate Wisconsin dairy families, disease-plagued poor black communities and maybe breast cancer victims (rates up 55% since the introduction of BST"which causes mastitis in dairy cows) have in common"they've all be victims of the greed and avarice of this corporation, as, in some ways, are we all, as it is nearly impossible to escape its influence.
"In the US now you can't work in biology if you don't accept funding from bio-tech. That's why I say we're living in a totalitarian world, ruled by the interests of multi-nationals who recognize their responsibility only to their stockholders." " Ignacio Cappela, denied tenure at UC-Berkeley due to his research on the effects of Monsanto GM corn on native Mexican corn varieties.
Jones takes the reader on a tour of current and former combat zones of the world to show the effects of war especially on women, but on men as well. Included are conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Lebanon, the Congo, Iraq, and Burma. While the context may be different in each place, the consequences are not—violence begets violence, often against the least deserving.
This book began as a personal journey: Jones' own father never rid himself of the demons of combat, bringing the violence to his own family. So also have men around the world not left their aggression on the battlefield, but carry it back to their families or to the women they abuse and use in the course of military operations.
At times the book seems a little over-anecdotal, and her references to her employer, the International Rescue Committee are many, yet it shines a light on a dark part of war-fighting: its affect on women. It also offers a glimmer of hope, chronicling efforts to empower women by giving them means (sometimes cameras) to record their stories or to document abuse.
"Women run away from violence, men carry it with them." - Abuse victim in Burmese refugee camp along the Thai border, when asked why there is violence in the camp when they had fled their homeland to escape violence .
Robert Bryce seems to pride himself as the "reality" candidate in the energy debate, putting down more idealistic proposals with a literary sneer. As petroleum runs out and coal proves too environmentally costly (especially due to emissions of mercury, lead and particulate matter), Bryce invites short-term reliance on abundant natural gas supplies as the world ramps up to go nuclear.
His main arguments against solar and wind are three-fold: space, materials and intermittency. (He also makes what seems all-too-much like a self-serving argument that fossil fuels are the salvation of world's poor"it saves the work of wood-gathering and generally increases their standard of living. He then uses this argument to say that we shouldn't work to eliminate fossil fuels from our societies"if we did, we'd somehow be shortchanging the poor. This reviewer has no problem with funneling natural gas reserves to the world's poor to provide heating and cooking"this, however, has nothing to do with our indefensible over-consumption. Plus Bryce never mentions the impact climate change"caused by our fossil fuel use"will have on the poor as it alters the environments on which they depend. And never mind that fossil fuel extraction almost always brings misery and poverty on the poor"think West Virginia or Nigeria .)
In terms of a lack of space (a feature of "energy density""how much land per kilowatt it takes to provide energy), he notes that if all US soybean production was put toward biofuels, this would only provide 10 percent of our diesel fuel needs. Other comparisons: per unit of energy, corn ethanol requires 1150 times as much space as nuclear; wind requires 45 times more land; solar 8 times more. (He doesn't factor in the open-pit uranium mines needed to produce the fuel for the reactors, nor the mountains under which to bury the waste.)
He also looks at the materials needed to build the generators for various fuel sources: for one megawatt of wind-generated energy, constructing the turbine requires 956 cubic meters of concrete (at 33 percent capacity); gas turbine per megawatt, 27 m3; nuclear power plant 90 m3.
In terms of intermittency, Bryce notes that all wind energy must be backed up by an equal amount of conventionally-fueled generation, as the wind is not constant, and especially at night. Concerning carbon reductions, Bryce claims that wind would only cut carbon emissions by 1.3 percent by 2030.
His bottom line: natural gas as a transition fuel on the way to nuclear power.
"The US should forget about trying to cut CO2 emissions and focus on adapting to the ever-changing global climate."
In the other corner" Providing a sharp counterpoint to Byrce's nuclear solution is Helen Caldicott, Australian-born physician and long-time anti-nuclear activist.
Caldicott hates nuclear power"let us count the ways:
Her solutions to our energy needs?
"With only the barest comprehension of evolution and the delicate process of genetics, we create massive quantities of radioactive elements to power our "lifestyle' because we are attached to ever-increasing levels of technological progress, prosperity, luxury and ease of living."
This former Bush Administration Secretary of Energy plies the middle ground between Calicott and Bryce. His goal is a society where 30 percent of our energy comes from nuclear (he calls for 50 new plants in the US by 2030), 30 percent from hydro and other renewables, 20 percent from natural gas and coal gasification, and 10 percent from efficiency. He doesn't really deal with transportation, other than to promote hybrid cars with much more efficient batteries.
"We are never going to be able to deal with global warming or energy independence without reviving nuclear power."
This book is an expanded version of and companion to Leonard's viral video by the same name. Here, of course, she can go into much more detail (e.g.: cotton production takes up 2.5% of the world's agricultural land but uses 10% of the fertilizer and 25% of the pesticides) and expand on her analysis of what's wrong with the system ("it's the economic system, stupid"not just a bunch of bad choices" that is giving people and the planet fits) and her prescription for how to fix it (reduce our consumption to at least European levels, make polluters and producers be responsible for their waste , reevaluate capitalism as a viable economic model). All in all, a very readable and impassioned plea for a saner approach to life on Planet Earth.
Pithy quote: "The economy is a subsystem of the earth's ecosystem"it's biosphere. For one system to exist inside another, the subsystem needs to fit inside the constraints of the parent system."
Let's open with a pithy quote: "The greatest threat to our future may not be that our fossil fuel economy will disappear"but that that it will endure." This pretty much spells out the conundrum that is the centerpiece of this somewhat scholarly book on the impacts of our carbon combustion on the ecosystem. The various writers each bring a slightly different approach to bear on the central problem"how to quickly transition from a global economy based on fossil fuel use to one where these fuels are passed over in favor of sustainable energy sources.
As with many similar books, the focus is on efficiencies, with only a very modest admission that maybe, just maybe our over-the-top lifestyles are a big part of the problem"and that it may not be possible to "green" all this greed to the point that we can have our cake"and eat it too (that we can enjoy all our present excesses but do it without condemning future generations to an unrecognizable"and perhaps unlivable"planet).
"Sweatshops have given women a boost." If sweatshops are seen as a positive step for millions of young women around the world, this can only be in comparison with the other options they have for life. Yes, I suppose if compared to spending your life under the thumb of your father or husband or religion, where you're consigned to carrying wood, water and babies and being beaten if you protest, then even the long hours and low pay and possibility of harassment of a maquila may look attractive".
Rather than an opportunity, I call this "the economics of desperation""a job, but not a job with dignity or real opportunity.
But we digress. The husband/wife writing team of Dunn and Kristof have done us a favor by highlighting, often in the form of personal stories, the situation of millions of the world's women. The remind us that more women have died in the past 50 years due to gender violence of one form or another than all the men that were killed in war in the 20 th Century; that 3 million women and girls are enslaved in the sex trade; that every minute a woman dies in pregnancy and childbirth around the world (by the way, with regard to maternal mortality, 11 US women die for every 1 Irish woman).
And they make a strong case that for societies to succeed, women need to be given the chance to fully participate in community and economic life.
As with many books like this, there is little call to change the underlying economic system that so callously enslaves women and men around the world while enriching Rich World CEO's and stockholders, and little challenge for those of us in the Rich World to do more than sponsor a child or give to Kiva. These things are fine as far as they go; they just don't go far enough.
Something to think about: the more Rich World donors are told about why people are poor, the less they give; the more they hear about the plight of "one little girl," the more they give.
Dateline: 2036 Northern Europe has closed its borders to immigration from southern Europe , which has been overrun by Africans fleeing climate-induced drought and famine in their home countries. Their own continent has seen crop production decline by half, and millions are dead or dying.
Dateline: mid-20 th Century Agriculture is no longer possible in the Central Valley of California due to failed water supplies as snowpack on the Sierra Nevada mountains no longer lasts into the summer season; drought in Mexico and Central America has meant the end of democratic governments there, as authoritarian regimes have stepped in to control the hungry masses
Dateline: 2100 Global temperature increases of over 6 degrees centigrade have led to a sea level rise of over 70 meters, displacing 10 percent of the world's population.
To ward off these and other scenarios, Dyer warns us that if we don't act soon and drastically, climate change will be a runaway train leaving conflict in its wake all around the world. He notes that the climate is warming faster than we anticipated and impacting natural systems in ways we don't understand, and that personal actions like changing light bulbs are insignificant in the face of this looming global catastrophe.
Eerily, one of his predictions has already come true"that grain exporting countries facing drought will halt grain shipments out of fear of running short on grain to feed their own people. Russia took this action in the summer of 2010 due to extended drought in its grain-producing regions.
Quote: "We have to decarbonize our economies wholesale and if we haven't reached zero emissions by 2050"and preferably an 80 percent cut by 2030"then the second half of this century will not be a time you would choose to live in."
We can't have our cake and eat it too, according to Tim Jackson. While many (or even most) people are convinced that "technology" and ever-increasing efficiencies will allow humankind, and especially us Rich World folks, to live green and still live large, this books demonstrates in well-documented detail the fallacy of this way of thinking. For instance, while we are getting more production for any carbon we emit into the atmosphere (25 percent more efficient globally in the past 40 years), our actual carbon output is up by 80 percent, as more people are finding more ways to burn fossil fuels--in effect overwhelming any impact from being more efficient.
Jackson is thorough in documenting our overuse of important materials such as copper, bauxite and iron ore, which he points out, if the rest of the world used like we do, world supplies would be exhausted within 20 years. He is also quick to note that not only are we exhausting the planet's physical storehouse and storage capacity for things like carbon, we are at the same time driving a large wedge between the haves and have-nots of the world. And more wealth won't solve these inequities: per capita income in the US is some $42,000 per year, yet the US has the largest income stratification of any rich nation.
He blames much of our problem on "novelty"--the pursuit of the new thing. This creates a throwaway society as product after product is "up-graded" for the next model; it also creates persistent anxiety among and between citizens as they strive for acceptance and supremacy via things. He feels that the goal of society should be to create a world that is environmentally sustainable and that focuses on helping people flourish--neither of which can be accomplished in a highly competitive capitalistic society whose mantra is "more." He calls for both local and national initiatives to redefine life, rewarding behaviors that promote the goals mentioned above.
Pithy quote: "Prosperity for the few founded on ecological destruction and persistent social injustice is no foundation for a civilized society."
Species of all shapes and sizes and locations are vanishing before our eyes around the world, and we"humans"are both the cause of the catastrophe and the only ones who can halt it. Jeff Corwin draws on his extensive field experience among endangered creatures to present a fact-filled but also quite engaging journey into the worlds"and the threats to those worlds"of the planet's most threatened living creatures, from the giant panda (needs to eat over 80 pounds of bamboo every day"and its bamboo-rich range is fast disappearing) to the polar bear (which loses over two pounds of weight every day it doesn't eat during the ever-longer period between the disappearance of the ice pack in the spring and its reappearance in the fall).
This book is a very personal (having his hair caressed by the trunk of a 350-pound baby elephant as he slept with it in the absence of its murdered mother) and poignant (the bird before him is boringly ordinary"until the keeper tells him there are only 15 left in the world) look into the threats to species' survival. These include global warming, invasive species, over-harvesting, pollution, and the king-"o-them-all, loss of habitat. His primary solution is that we must care, and show that we care by mustering the resources and willpower to protect these animals"our kindred spirits in a 3-billion year old dance of life on planet earth.
You don't want to know: A species becomes extinct every 20 minutes. At this pace, half of all species of living creatures will have disappeared by 2100.
Demick draws on her long career as a correspondent in East Asia to give us an inside look at the lives of the people of North Korea . She traces the stories of several people from different walks of life"all of whom started out in North Korea , but eventually fled, ending up in South Korea . The personal style of the story-telling is quite compelling, showing how the fervor of some of the subjects for their homeland slowly waned in the face of systemic repression, grinding poverty, and just plain hunger and suffering as their government ignored their plight in deference to its own objectives.
(The NCP director admits a personal interest in these stories, having visited North Korea twice and the South over a dozen times. Both are fascinating places in their own way"and both are populated with ordinary people who are gracious, hard-working, and quite devoted to the things that matter to them.)
Telling quote: " Mi-ran described watching her five- and six-year-old pupils die of starvation. As her students were dying, she was supposed to teach them that they were blessed to be North Korean."
This annual report is perhaps the best overview of current environmental and economic trends from a progressive perspective. This year's volume is filled with information dear to any environmental educator's or activist's heart, e.g.:
"In the 20th Century, the glory of the human has become the desolation of the planet. And now, the destruction of the earth is becoming the destruction of the human. From here on, the principle judgment of all human institutions, professions, programs and activities will be determined by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore or foster a mutually-enhancing human-earth relationship." " Thomas Berry, Catholic priest and ecological philosopher
Title ring a bell? Anna's mom Frances Moore Lapp é wrote Diet for a Small Planet back in the 70's; now daughter has written this fine sequel in an attempt to align our eating habits with the struggle to control global warming. The Lapp é 's also founded the Small Planet Institute in 2002.
Lapp é combines engaging narrative about key links in food production chain that either abet or combat climate change with lots of good information about the carbon cost of the way we currently eat. She takes on issues like fertilizer use (one ton requires 33,000 cubic feet of natural gas to produce); Big Ag (two of them"Cargill and ADM control 80 percent of US soy production); livestock (it occupies one-fourth of ice-free land globally and creates 25 percent of all US methane"a potent greenhouse gas); organic farming (if entire world food supply was produced organically, it would increase production by 45 percent); and imported food (creates 45 times more greenhouse gases than local food; if air-freighted, make that 500 times).
Pithy quote: "What's naïve"utterly impractical"is the belief that we can continue along the path of controlled, industrialized food and survive and thrive as a planet."
What is the most popular brand in the world (the brand itself worth $65 billion)? What company spends $2.4 billion a year on advertising (1/300 th of all the ad dollars spent globally)? What product requires 8 teaspoons of sugar and 46 ounces of water per 12 ounce serving?
According to sleuth Mark Thomas, it's the same product that has
Yes, it's the real thing"Coca-Cola.
This is an engaging, easily-readable expose on the often-negative presence of Coke in communities around the world, based on interviews with those who have been affected"or imprisoned"for their role in challenging the Coke brand.
"They (Coke) have not done anything (to help the community): they go to a place, they exploit all the resources and when there aren't any left, they leave"and leave the people in that place with the problems." " Mayor Rene Canjura, Nejapa , El Salvador
What would the world be like without its human interlopers? A quite different place"and relatively soon in some cases"according to Weisman. The author looks both backwards to see how the ecosystem fared prior to human emergence as a force (and in some cases, how other cultures fared before the arrival of Westerners) and forward to see how long it would take for nature to shake us off and move on.
Among his findings: the native population of Mexico declined by 96% within 100 years after Europeans arrived, mostly due to disease; eco-invaders such as purple loosestrife and the fungal blight that wiped out the American Chestnut were both a result of post-Columbian transoceanic travel; the famous red cloaks now worn by the Maasai people of East Africa were actually introduced by Scottish missionaries in the 19 th century; in Wisconsin alone, cats kill some 200 million songbirds a year, while another 1 billion are on the short end of collisions with glass windows in the US annually; the US Department of Energy is legally bound to discourage anyone from getting close to a nuclear waste depository in New Mexico for the next 10,000 years (hmmm, that's equal to the span of time that humans have been engaged in agriculture); the human entry into North America 13,000 years ago led to a mass extinction of ground sloths, camels, horses, mammoths, mastodons"all told, at least 70 genera of mammals in just 1000 years.
Quote: "Classic Mayan civilization had mimicked the rainforest, producing dispersed shade-grown crops, undertaking low-intensity conflict with neighbors to relieve border pressures "until the Dos Pilas Empire. Then a lust for wealth and power led to more aggression against neighbors, followed by reprisals, then the centralization of out-lying villages for protection; which led to more pressure near the center and a depletion of resources. This Late Mayan society had evolved too many elites, all demanding exotic baubles. Nobility is expensive, nonproductive and parasitic, siphoning away too much of society's energy to satisfy its frivolous cravings. Stakes rise, trade is disrupted, population concentrates"all lethal in a rainforest. People lose faith, ritual activity ceases. The main city was surrounded by a moat that required three times the energy to build it as to build the city itself. The end was near."
Barry Lynn is trying to wake us up to the power of corporate monopolies as the tool of economic elites to gain profit for themselves without "any concern that their actions might endanger their own children, let alone the well-being of the nation and the world." According to the author, we should be afraid"very afraid"when power and profit and the means of production are so centralized in a smaller and smaller number of corporations. These entities can then manipulate the political process, run roughshod over worker rights and the environment, and set the rest of us up to bail them out when they "become too big to fail."
Sound familiar? Lynn 's arguments gain even more credibility when we realize that he had begun this book before the financial meltdown of 2008-9, events which only served to give validity to his warnings.
These trends"which took on their current shape under Reagan and Clinton"had their first expressions in the debates between Alexander Hamilton, who would have concentrated wealth and power in a few trusted hands, and Madison and Jefferson, who fought to have both more broadly shared.
Keys to bringing stability and fairness to the global marketplace?
Bet'cha didn't know: Proctor and Gamble controls 80 percent of the US toothpaste market, including Tom's of Maine . Pepsi, Coke and Nestle own 90 percent of the US bottled water market. Iam and Hills Pet Nutritional Science Diet pet foods roll off the same assembly line as Supervalu brand (don't tell Fido").
"If we wish to survive, we must accommodate ourselves to the land." This serves as Derrick Jensen's mantra-in-many-forms throughout this wide-ranging book on the challenges facing humanity and its home planet. At root it makes sense"the well-being of the earth must be our first priority, even above individual human lives and certainly above the growth-at-any-cost economy that currently rules the day.
Jensen combines his earthy observations about his own life (outdoor toiletry as an act of liberation/fertilization?) and our society, including the inherent deceit in the messages of "environmental leaders" such as Al Gore and Paul Hawken, for whom industrial civilization is a given rather than the real enemy. Jensen sees this same industrial civilization as that which enslaves and exploits us and our earth, and as that which must be brought down if we"and more importantly, our earth"are to survive.
Along with Jensen's somewhat controlled"and always entertaining"rantings, this book is filled with lots of good stats on everything from burial vaults (100,000 tons of steel and 30 million board feet of hardwood per year in the US) to plastics (only 10 percent of US plastic is recycled; there are six oceanic garbage patches"one the size of Africa"comprised mostly of plastic) to species' decline (bobwhite populations are down by 80 percent).
Quote: "The only sustainable culture is a local culture."
This Zambian female writer lays out a clear and compelling indictment about the way aid has been distributed by Rich World governments and agencies, which more often than not encourages corruption and conflict in receiving countries while discouraging free enterprise. She is also very critical of the lack of consultation with national leaders by donors, lamenting that decisions about the use of aid is often dictated by rock stars like Bono or international lending agencies.
She also tackles corruption, noting that as much as 85 percent of the $1 trillion in aid to Africa since the 1940's hasn't gone to its intended purposes. In the light of such misuse of funds, why does the lending continue? a) There is pressure to lend and keep the lending institutions in business (the World Bank has 10,000 employees: Non-governmental groups employ perhaps 500,000) and b) donors can't agree on who is corrupt (and China doesn't seem to care).
Her solutions: 1)cut subsidies on Rich World products (the US subsidizes its cotton industry @ $4 billion per year"three times US aid to Africa's 500 million people"at a multi-million dollar cost to African cotton farmers) 2)follow the lead of the Grameen Bank in denying outside funding for programs like micro-loans 3) make aid conditional on good behavior by recipient country (increased school attendance, etc.) 4) reduce fees on the transfer of remittances from the 33 million Africans who live abroad (currently 20 percent of monies sent back to Africa are lost to fees); Africans should issue international bonds to raise funds for projects, rather than depending on international donations.
Quote: "The vicious cycle of aid"chokes off desperately-needed foreign investment, instills a culture of dependency, and facilitates rampant and systemic corruption, all with deleterious consequences for growth"perpetuating underdevelopment and guaranteeing economic failure"and the dependency continues."
Mackey is comprehensive in assessing the threats facing the world's living organisms caused by human activity, sounding the warning that one-third of amphibians are threatened with extinction, as are 34,000 plants and 12 percent of bird species. He ties these disturbing trends into causes such as the disappearance of wetlands and coral reefs, while also detailing hidden threats such as the growing acidity of the oceans, which directly imperils shell-fish, as their shells can no longer form in higher acidic water, and the disconnect these days between the breeding season of creatures like lemurs and the availability of food, due to global warming.
He also helps us see that we are not disconnected from the web of life; for instance, as bats decline (one-third of bat species are endangered), there are fewer bats to eat insects, causing farmers to use more pesticides, which then leads to even fewer bats.
Fact: Only 1.8 million of the world's species of living things have been identified and named by science"there may be as many as 10-100 million species altogether.
This book bears the mark of a pragmatic German researcher"it unsparingly lays out the information about what we're doing to our planetary resource base (dramatically over-drawing it) and then gives the well-considered prescription. To summarize succinctly: we need to get more bang for the buck. This is another way of saying that our extraction and use of everything from aluminum to coal is wasteful, and will not only lead to drastic shortages in the future, but serious ecological and economic problems long before that.
Schmidt-Bleek first gives an overview of the state of the earth's resources. The climate is warming, species are disappearing, half of all available fresh water is being used, a quarter of all fish stocks are depleted or threatened, 75 billion tons of soil are lost per year to erosion.
He blames Rich World appetites, noting that there is "not even close" to enough resource on earth to supply everyone a Rich World lifestyle. He then runs the numbers on the resources it takes to create everyday appliances and activities. For instance, a desktop computer has 14 tons of solid nature behind it"that much of the earth extracted to come up with the materials every computer. A 2700 pound car requires 85,000 pounds of nature to manufacture"which comes out to a per mile average of one pound of earth used. (A bicycle requires 850 pounds.) A pair of jeans needs 66 pounds of materials/resources to create. A pound of irrigated grain requires 1000 pounds of water to produce. It takes 30 tons of water to irrigate 2.2 pounds of cotton on US cotton plantations.
His prescription revolves around his Factor 10 principle"overall we need to use 10 times fewer resources than we are currently using to fuel our lifestyles (15 times less in the US ). He feels we can still lead prosperous lives, even as we become much more efficient in our production, as we give up some private ownership for shared resources (lawn mowers, cars, etc.), as we tax resource waste rather than income, and as we find enjoyment in things like art rather than powerboats.
Why do they hate us? "Perhaps the US should realize that many people today regard that country's excessive resource consumption as an attack on the physical and emotional well-being of billions of people in other countries."
Flannery's "now or never" is about"you guessed it, dealing with global warming. He does a very nice job highlighting the way the planet works in regard to carbon sequestration (the oceans are the most important carbon sinks, but are in danger of carbon overload; the polar ice caps work as earth's cooling elements"when they disappear the thermostat will be turned up on the planet; an acre of tropical forest can sequester 7.4 tons of CO2 per year).
While short on prescriptions for changing our ways, Flannery lays out the facts of global warming in an evocative way, drawing on gaia theory as part of his approach (earth as a living organism). Like others, he seems to think we can put the warming genie back in the bottle without significantly altering our way of life, and he misses the role of things like beef production in the global warming equation.
No more seashells? There are areas of the North Pacific where shellfish may soon be nonexistent, since higher levels of carbon in seawater leads to acidification"which prevents shell formation. Already these creatures can only live in the top 100-325 feet of the ocean there; previously they existed down to 1800 feet.
This book is a scathing indictment of US and Rich World policies toward Poor World nations, especially in terms of agricultural policies. The authors, who write for the Wall Street Journal as their day job, pin the tail for the on-going struggles of "developing countries" on:
Given that these guys write for a more conservative paper, they show a good bit of righteous indignation at the way Rich World governments have responded to the needs of our global neighbors with mostly their own self-interest in mind.
Their prescription for Africa's recovery:
Drive you crazy fact: The corn needed to create enough ethanol to fill a 25 gallon SUV tank (8 bushels) would feed a person for a year.
This Korean-born economist dispels the myth that the US and other rich nations got to where they are by the path of the free market without government support or intervention"the same free market they insist on imposing on developing nations around the world. All the currently successful economies got to their present status by a combination of state-protected industries (using tariffs to protect budding sectors of the economy), some natural monopolies (mail service, utilities) and subsidies (aiding fledgling enterprises), yet our economic policies imposed on poorer countries insist that they not have the right to do these things"so that our products can overwhelm locally-produced products and these economies can be kept from ever maturing into full-fledged competitors. And of course, Rich World nations still enforce monopolies on select categories such as manufactured goods by the use of tariffs and subsidies.
If you don't care for Thomas Friedman's "globalization/free trade is the only viable path" approach, you'll love Chang. Count me among his admirers.
This book would be a more rewarding read for a trained economist, although I did enjoy his many references to South Korean life, as I was involved in programs there in the 1990's.
Bad people"or just more vulnerable? "When people are poor, it is easy to buy their dignity." (speaking of corrupt governments)
For a compassionate, comprehenive, well-documented, and personal account of the struggles many of us face in trying to do justice in our daily consumer choices, this is a great place to turn. Clawson takes on chocolate, coffee, clothing (she chronicles her quest for an organic cotton, fair trade-made undergarment), transportation, waste generation, and more--the everyday choices that can lead to a better world--or not. Coming from a faith perspective, she weaves in scriptural texts and faith language in a non-intrusive way, and highlights people whose faith has led them to become "Everyday Practitioners"--including a certain NCP director who traded in his car for a bicycle. This would be a great read for a book club or for personal use.
You don't want to know what Charles Pearce has to tell you about where your clothes came from, how your coffee and cocoa were picked, or what raising the shrimp for your salad did to the coastal areas of Bangladesh. On the other hand, if you're brave enough to face the facts about our lifestyles and their impact on the planet and our neighbors, you will find this book well-researched and a welcome bright light shone on the dark corners of the global consumption chain. And Pearce doesn't leave us stranded with our guilt"he offers positive ideas for making the most of our troubling predicament.
A few pithy facts:
-1 gold ring required 2 tons of rock mined from a couple miles under the Earth's surface, 30 tons of air pumped down to cool the 120 degree shaft, 5.5 tons of water pumped out of the mine to keep it from flooding, 10 hours of human labor @ $1 per hour, and enough energy to run a house for several days
-Coffee farmers growing Fair Trade coffee for $1.46 a pound in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro asked a visiting Fair Trade buyer: "We'd like to know how much our coffee costs in a coffee shop where you live." Starbucks earns $300 from a pound of coffee purchased for $1.50.
-800 square miles of the formerly mangrove-covered deltas of Bangladesh have been flooded to create shrimp ponds. The shrimp industry is a controlled by mob bosses and shady middlemen. "Mass production of shrimp for export is disastrous." " Khushi Kabir of the NGO Nijera Kabir ("we can do it ourselves")
-To maintain the typical Rich World lifestyle in Roman-times-equivalence would have required an estimated 6000 slaves
"What does chocolate taste like?" " child of cocoa farmer in Cameroon , West Africa
On the flight back from our Learning Tour in El Salvador I was sitting by a young woman who had been vacationing in the Dominican Republic . She had seen enough of the poverty just outside their beachfront hotel to say at one point: "We're so lucky to live where we live."
I wanted to say "if that's why you think we have it this good, don't read this book." I had in hand Klein's unsparing analysis of US actions to spread its Free Market economy to all corners of the earth, but especially to Latin America and the Middle East, actions that often included destabilizing or just plain overthrowing elected governments who didn't see economics the way we do in order to give our corporations more room to operate. So it had little to do with luck, and lots to do with greedy corporations backed by ruthless politicians and the threat of military and financial intervention.
Klein's thesis is that just as the US military used Shock and Awe to overwhelm Iraq and make its people pliant and as CIA interrogators used torture to break the will of prisoners, so our government has used such tactics to "soften up" whole societies by deposing their governments and then moving quickly to impose economic policies that favor US corporations. From Chile after the overthrow of Allende and Guatemala after the overthrow of Arbenz to Argentina and Iran following the installation of Pinochet and the Shah to the USA after September 11 to Sri Lanka after the tsunami to Iraq after the fall of Saddam"these forces make use of "shock therapy" to leave the society disorganized and dispirited"and incapable of resisting economic plans for reshaping their world.
"Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence." Genesis 6:11 (yes, she begins one chapter with this quote)
From the author of the Stern Report chronicling the threat of global warming and the cost of waiting decades to address it comes this well-done analysis of climate change, its causes, the threat it poses, and what we need to be doing"urgently"to address it.
Stern calls global warming history's greatest "market failure" as we have failed to build into the price of carbon-based fuels their true cost for the future of our planet. He goes on to show the expected impacts of sea level rise (1 meter rise=displacement of 150 million Asians); the true culprits (China is out-CO2'ing us now, but in the past century the US emitted 50 times more CO2 than China: 290 billion tons v. 5.4 bt); and what we need to do about it (cut back on meat-based diets; stop subsidies for fossil fuels; halt deforestation; pay for the impact of climate change on the world's poor; quintuple spending on R&D for alternative energy options).
A 4-5 degree increase in global average temperature will lead to a "radical transformation of the world we know," rewriting the physical geography of the planet.
Menu for the Future by Northwest Earth Institute (2008)
Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet by Michael Klare (2008)
"Oil will cease to be primarily a traded commodity, but instead the preeminent strategic resource on the planet " with power struggles over energy being the defining characteristic of the new century."
If you're looking for some encouragement, here's a good read for you. Hawken is a long-time participant in and observer of what is becoming one of the most important realities of our time--the rising up of networks of people concerned enough about the way things are that they're organizing to do something about it. He doesn't particularly like the word "movement" to describe this phenomenon (since movements tend to coalesce around single issues and charismatic leaders), and notes that these groups are not always well-connected to each other or to mainstream media, but nonetheless have the potential for temendous impact on the world. Hawken initially figured there were 100,000 such organizations--now he believes he was off by at least a factor of 10!
According to Hawken's analysis, this movement of movements (to quote Naomi Klein) tends to focus on three areas: care for the environment, social justice and indigenous voices. (I couldn't help but note that these are three core program areas for NCP!). And it is on this planet-wide organic response to the troubles of our times that Hawken pins his hopes for the future.
"If you look at the science that describes what is happening on earth today and aren't pessimistic, you don't have the correct data. If you meet the people in this unnamed movement and aren't optimistic, you don't have a heart."
As Homer-Dixon below, Speth (a one-time science advisor for the Carter Administration)sees us heading for catastrophe in the way we're over-using and over-polluting the earth. He attributes this to an economic system based on little more than constant growth, which in turns requires ever more extraction from the earth; weak or nonexistent government leadership; and an environmental movement that has been less "movement" and more an insider operation that down deep believes a) the government can and will eventually do the right thing and b) there won't be need for drastic redirection of our economic and political systems or serious change in our way of living.
Speth calls for a rediscovery of the true meaning of life (relationships, service, enjoyment of leisure, etc.)--and orienting our economic pursuits around this; a new form of participatory democracy that takes back our country from the corporate-led government we currently "enjoy;" ending over $850 billion in annual global subsidies for "perverse" practices such as overfishing the seas; developing an economic model that incorporates environmental care, human rights and worker well-being at its core; and international treaties with "teeth" to enforce environmental protection of critical habitats and endangered species and ecosystems.
This is a depressing book in that it clearly lays out the challenges facing us; it is hopeful in that it does provide a "bridge" to get us from this world to the next. It's up to us to build it and then be ready to walk over it.
"When the crisis occurs, the actions taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, and to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable."
If this book were in the Bible, it would be a part of the apocalyptic literature as it has an "end times" tone. But as with Revelation or Daniel, the point here is not to predict an inevitable future or ascribe what's coming to some Divine Plan, but to encourage us to be ready when facing the end of the world as we know it.
Homer-Dixon relates our current condition to that of the Roman Empire at its pinnacle--over-extended and subject to seismic shifts that could and would eventually bring it tumbling down. For Rome, central to the problem was an overextended energy supply chain (the energy being grain--Rome needed an external area the size of France to provide for the motherland). The stressors were enviromental problems, unrest of the populace, loss of local economies to agribusiness (yes, even back then!), outside "terrorist" forces, inside bureaucracy and over-complexity. Any of this sound familiar?
The author makes the point that all complex systems eventually tend to "re-set." Panarchy Theory notes that forests, for instance, go through growth, collapse, regeneration and growth. The trick is to be prepared for the crisis that accompanies such collapse, so that the moment can be maximized rather than bringing catastrophe. To do so, we need to quickly move away from a "growth imperative"--which is cauising much of our problem--to a "resilience imperative." He calls for resilience to be fostered by reducing the force of underlying tectonic stressors (reducing poverty, seeking environmental sustainability, for instance), cultivating readiness for surprises, boosting the resilience of the food system, and making preparations to use breakdown to society's advantage.
"Perhaps before we've exhausted nature and ourselves in a futile attempt to produce meaning from material things, we'll reconsider our values and recognize we can choose another path into the future." And maybe then we can say (with REM): "it's the end of the world as we know it...and I feel fine..."
McKibben in fast becoming the favorite son of faith-based environmental writers. He knows his facts, but also has an ear to the ground to sense the pulses in local communities, both in his home state of Vermont but also around the globe.
In this book, McKibben calls US consumers to look a little deeper (looking beyond excessive consumption for real satisfaction from life), a little smaller (community-based solutions to our problems) and a little closer to home (supporting local economies) as keys to getting us out of the environmental and spiritual mess we're in. He's quite critical of Big Agriculture and Big Business and prevailing economic models, but not of farming and commerce per se. Along with useful statistics, he offers many examples of real communities making real changes to make their lives more managable, their economic choices more just, and the planet a little healthier.
"It's our greatest challenge--the only real question of our time--to see whether we can transform our current economies enough to prevent some damage and to help us cope with what we can't prevent. To see if we can manage to mobilize the wealth of our communities to make the transition tolerable, even sweet, instead of tragic."
This leading Christian feminist does a very good job tracing the roots--or lack thereof--of the contemporary concept of family. Turns out there never really was a "good ole days," as models of the family have changed considerably over the years. She examines families in Judaism and the Greco-Roman world, then reminds us the way in which the Jesus Movement challenged concepts of family--along with all other human institutions. Reuther follows gender roles, the teachings (and practice) of the church in relation to marriage and family, and societal family arrangements on up through the time of the early church, the Middle Ages, and recent history. She challenges the idea of God-ordained male domination of families, and calls for love, justice and equality to reign.
On Christianity's radical beginnings: "The Jesus Movement was a gathering of mostly marginalized women and men out of families and occupations into a countercultural community."
The noted Harvard biologist reveals the complexity of life on earth with a special focus on biodiversity and the magnificent interrelatedness of the ecosystem--and how we still have so much to learn (who would have thought 60 or so new species of flowering plants are discovered in North America annually!). Wilson highlights the impact of human activity (our species appropriates 40 percent of the planet's organic matter produced by plants), catergorizing the primary threats posed by humans under the acronym HIPPO: Habitat destruction, Invasive species, Pollution, Population, and Overharvesting. An insightful and often poetic analysis of the state of the planet, and what we can do to preserve its beauty and integrity.
If we don't change our ways and stop emptying the planet of its biodiversity: "The most memorable heritage of the 21st Century will be the age of loneliness that lies before humanity."
Our consumer culture is actively working to infantalize adults--molding them into self-absorbed "children" who seek constant gratification, while giving children (from four years on) adult-like powers of consumer decision-making (including global marketing to children in an effort to create one signal globalized consumer market--easier than trying to reach adults, who sometimes are too attached to deeply rooted cultural values to readily submit). The tools of this process include: ubiquity (everywhere); omnipresence (all the time); omni-legitimacy (legitimating cultural structures to overcome opposition to religion, civil involvement, culture or other forces that might challenge consumerism); fast over slow; simple over complex; self-replicating (franchising); addictiveness (obliterate rival interests).
Take note: "Religion may be the one sector with the most potential for resistance from the outside to the infantalist ethos and its consumer culture."
If you're going to read one book to get a new perspective on why we have such deeply-embedded problems ecologically and economically--and what it will take to shift our thinking and actions--read this one. I took 14 pages of notes--what can I say... On the one hand, we have the Empire model, characterized by material excess for the ruling class, denying the feminine principle of collaboration and life-affirmation, and worshipping male gods that demand, exclude and rule through anointed representatives. Empire has held sway for more or less the past 5,000 years. Often it has had the religious institutions on its side. Today it is expressed as corporate-led economic globalization that:
Korten strongly believes Earth Community is poised to make a come-back, thanks to the tireless efforts of grassroots communities and movements, and the intrinsic truth of its precepts.
According to Korten, the kind of people who rise to leadership in the Empire model see self-interest as the primary good; refuse to take responsibility for their actions or admit errors; craft moral arguments suited to the morals of the people they are trying to persuade; and "so believe their own lies that they are able to lie with great sincerity." Sound familiar?
This book was named Best Science Book of 2005 by National Public Radio's Living on Earth. In it, Bowen, a physicist and mountain climber, travels with Lonnie Thompson, the pioneer of high-altitude ice core drilling, from the Andean Altiplano to Tibetan ice sheets to Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya and more. Their mission: to look back in history (via the ice cores) to discover how changes in the earth's atmosphere led to changes in the earth's climate. A side-note: as Thompson returns to mountaintop glaciers he's visited before, he has to hike farther-they're rapidly disappearing.
Thin Ice reads like a cross between a science text book, political thriller, and adventure narrative. In the course of the book, Bowen makes a strong research-based case for the reality of human-induced climate change and the importance of taking action to head it off.
Take note: Every known glacier in the tropics is retreating.
Thinking about starting your own business-or faith-based shoestring nonprofit organization? This book offers 101 hints for succeeding, from recognizing that people are looking for someone who is a specialist in their field (and will pay for this) to the value of sometimes giving something away as a way of building loyalty or beginning a relationship (like the owner of the new Italian restaurant on Long Island sending over a free appetizer to our table of eight environmental entrepreneurs on our one-meal-out during a recent retreat) to seeing "personality" as the top quality you're looking for in new hires (only then moving on to skills, knowledge and experience) to marketing in a way that differentiates, not just describes, and that shows how what you have/are will benefit the customer/constituent.
This is a quick read, and if you come away with just one good idea for your endeavor, it was worth the trip to the library to pick it up.
Key learning for NCP director: Organize your space!
These annual reports by this UN agency are basic reading for anyone wanting an unbiased assessment of the well-being of the world's children. A couple of stats to whet your interest: 115 million primary-age children aren't in school around the world; under-five mortality of children falls by half when mothers have a primary education; women do 75% of the world's agricultural work, but only own 10% of the world's land; the Millennium Development Goals for women could be achieved by an additional $20 billion a year rising to $73 billion a year by 2015-coincidentally just about the exact amount the US would be contributing toward aid for the world's poor if we were paying what the UN recommends (we currently contribute just $15 billion). Enough said?
You can read the whole report as a pdf at the UNICEF website.
Good grief: One in sixteen women in sub-Saharan Africa will die of complications during pregnancy and childbirth. That's 250 times the rate as industrialized countries.
A practical myth-debunking guide to making good choices for the earth. Looks behind products to see their real impact; has easy to grasp stats; does a lot with diet (surprisingly big role in our overall enviro impact), including giving comparisons of various foods (meat, pasta, soy) for their true enviro costs; and encourages us to deal with the large issues (water impacts of beef consumption) rather than smaller ones (cutting off the water while brushing). This is one of the books that finally got me off beef completely.
The Union of Concerned Scientists is generally considered a progressive group-out in front on the nuclear issue some years back, and now with enviro research. One thing's for sure-they can't be accused of "bad science"!
One piece of key advice: Living near work is the most important transportation-related environmental decision a U.S. consumer can make.
With a foreword by U2's Bono, this book comes with good references. Sachs is a highly-regarded expert on the global economy and more recently on global poverty, having been a main figure in the development of the Millennium Development Goals. Even with a bit much self-congratulation in these pages, Sachs very helpfully lays out the challenges facing the world's poor, and the role of the rest of us in helping these billions of neighbors escape poverty's grasp. He's especially hard on rich-world governments for their stinginess. (He may not do enough to challenge the rest of us on our over-consumptive lifestyles.) His analogy of poverty like a sickness of the human body-where the doctor needs to look at the interrelated systems to find a cure-is a helpful one in showing the broader view we must take in addressing poverty.
A key stat: 8 million people in the world die every year because they are poor.
This special edition of the annual State of the World report focused on the "root of all enviro evil"-our over-consumption. Great job chronicling the massive U.S. consumption habit, right down to how many plastic bags we each toss per day (one). Every year's edition of State of the World is worth the read.
Telling statistic: if we'd cut our beef consumption in half by 2030, we'd save an amount of water equal to the flow of 14 Colorado Rivers.
This book, co-written by folks on the opposite side of the political spectrum, shows us why some commercial enterprises (like Applebee's Restaurants), religious groups (mega churches) and political campaigns (Clinton's and Bush's) are successful, and why figuring out what " America " is looking for is a critical part of their success.
Among the findings: most of us are turning for guidance in important issues to trusted people around us rather than to media figures, corporate or political types, or even clergy; people today are making choices more by their heart than by their head; and we're using technology to link rather than to isolate (contrary to many predictions that technology would further isolate us). Helpful reading for anyone trying to connect with "the masses."
It-didn't-take-a-rocket-scientist observation: people today are looking for community and authenticity, tired of being manipulated.
After reading this book, the next time I went to the store I spent 12 precious minutes stymied in front of the egg case, trying to decide between "free range" eggs-laid by hens allowed to scratch around, establish pecking orders and maybe even tend chicks-vs. "prison eggs"-laid by hens in the solitary confinement of small metal cages. "Precious" minutes because I was on my bike and the light was fading fast; "stymied" because the eggs of the liberated hens were twice the price.
The authors trace the origins and production conditions of foods eaten by four U.S. families, ranging from meat and potatoes diet to vegan/local/organic. They provide loads of insight into the trail (of tears, often) taken by these various foods to get to our tables. The book also is unrelenting in doing its enviro calculations, even when the numbers seem counter-intuitive; e.g. "local is always best." Turns out for San Franciscans, it's more environmentally sound to buy rice shipped from Bangladesh than from the San Joaquin Valley of California, due to the enviro impact of irrigation and chemicals used in growing the U.S. crop. The authors take us on visits to confined and free-to-root hog farms and "prison" and free-range chicken operations-after these tours, you'll know why the caged chicken doesn't sing..
Feather-ruffling stat: recommended living space for a broiler chicken in a confinement operation-8.5 x 11 inches.
When the residents of Easter Island ran out of forest animals, dolphins and then rats, they turned to the one remaining source of fresh meat.
Of course the question is: why did they run out of those other things? Diamond looks at failed civilizations (and the few long-term success stories) to see what factors determine a society's fate. While most declines have to do with environmental overreach, why don't people notice things are going wrong and change their ways? Included in the list of reasons they don't: leaders isolated from the problems confronting common people; failure to learn from the natives; sticking with practices that worked well for a while, but then began to be detrimental.
Frighteningly prescient concerning our predicament today-and we've got the whole world in our hands-not just an island somewhere.
Something to think about from this book: Failing societies often wasted precious resources trying to persuade the gods to bail them out (most gods worth their salt won't fall for that.).
Might as well pick up Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel while you're at it-fascinating study of why Europeans ended up invading and conquering other groups, and not the other way around..and it had nothing to do with smarts or religion.
It's not going to be pretty when the oil runs out-and takes suburbia and cheap imported products with it. Kunstler takes a hard look at what's coming down the pike-and what it will take for us to make it through. He even rates parts of the country for how he expects them to react to the coming shortages-and isn't kind to my home region of the south (too many individualists, evangelicals, and rifles in pick-up truck windows).
Light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel from this book: Kunstler concludes by calling for a "religion of hope"-challenging us to muster faith in ourselves and in our resurrected local communities as a way of surviving with civility. In the process, he says, we may even find lives more to our liking.
A very readable-and unflattering-history of the petroleum industry by an Asian-American feminist. She notes that in most countries with oil deposits, this fact has typically exacerbated the gap between the rich and poor-rather than having brought wide-spread prosperity. Also a good introduction to the process-and eco-impact-of oil extraction and production.
Shah says: One-sixth of the global economy is dedicated to harvesting oil.
One of the best treatments of the threats posed by human meddling with the ecosystem, including the impact of global warming. His book is set in the context of the position humanity finds itself for the first time in history-able to dominate the entire planet. This new status calls for new sets of values and new forms of thinking-but can we pull it off? He calls on individuals and grass-roots groups to take the lead.
Speth quote:"Human society is in a radically new ethical position because it is now at the planetary controls."
What was the Oxford Dictionary's 2007 Word of the Year? Although my spell-check is saying that it's not a word, that would be "locavore," or someone who strives to eat only foods produced within a certain geographic radius of where they live. People are increasingly making this choice due to: More accountability for how one's food is raised (if the farmer is polluting the stream, the neighbors will know about it), less environmental impact (since the average food item travels 1500 miles to our table), support for local small-scale farmers, and a more direct connection to the land by the consumer, especially when one is raising a good portion of one's own food.
Barbara Kingsolver's family moves from arid Arizona "where everything from water to residents is piped in"to southwest Virginia , which as we all know (especially those of us born there) is about as close to heaven as earth gets. There they restore an old homestead and set about raising as much of their food as they can in their garden and in their hen house, purchasing from local farmers what they can't or don't produce themselves. In the interest of family harmony, they allow one exception per family member (coffee makes the cut). An interesting feature of the book is that the teenage daughter provides regular commentary throughout.
AVM is mostly engaging narrative of the daily challenges and blessings of a self-sustaining lifestyle, but also includes pithy commentary on the dependence of our agriculture system on fossil fuels (400 gallons per person per year"17% of our energy consumption); biodiversity (we now eat less than 1% of the varieties of plants eaten through human history); junk food (one-third of the average US'er's calories); and small v. large farming (smaller farms produce over three times as much produce dollar-wise per acre as larger farms).
"Eaters must understand, how we eat determines how our world is used."
Lappe, best-known for her Diet for a Small Planet some 30 years back, is at it again"helping us see what we're doing to ourselves and how we can find a better way forward. This book is principally a challenge to our consumer economy, and the impact of this way of life on three fronts: what it's doing to us (spiritual/emotional), to the planet (environmental), and to our neighbors (justice).
Lappe really knows her stuff, and brings information into play in a useful way. For instance, while reminding us that the tax rate for the richest one-tenth of one percent of US'ers has gone down by half (yes, 50%!) since 1970, at the other end of the spectrum, poverty costs our society some $500 billion a year in added health costs, crime, and lost economic output.
Beyond lots of good stats, she gets at the deeper meanings of what we're doing to our world, and suggests ways to be and bring change. Keys are decentralization, separating money from politics, taking responsibility ("you made it, it's your responsibility" to manufacturers of our throw-away economy), and redefining power as something shared by all and enhanced in relationships rather than by wealth or status. And she notes that "believing is seeing" for humans: once we begin to believe in another reality, we can begin to see it taking shape.
"Our solutions need spontaneous inventiveness and widespread behavioral changes"and both need the grassroots."
Did you know they've moved the lighthouse on Cape Hatteras 2800 feet back from the shore due to rising sea levels? Me neither, but this is one of a myriad of telling tales Braasch brings into play to sound the alarm about global warming. He literally circled the globe"east to west and north to south"to gather information and photos for this book. He then combines these with easy-to-read narrative in a large-format work to tell the tale of a changing world.
Braasch's research is meticulous, and he goes out of his way to note dissenting views, but the conclusions are crisp and clear as a warming Arctic winter day"the planet is getting hotter and this can only mean trouble. If you have time to read one book on the current reality and looming consequences of global warming, this is it.
Stand-by mode of electronic gadgets consumes 6 percent of US electricity"one coal-fired electrical generation plant produces as much CO2 as 1.5 million cars"coal power plant pollutants kill 24,000-30,000 US citizens every year"and 10 times that many Chinese.
So what did happen to the Aral Sea "? Turns out it was drained to irrigate cotton, according to Rachel Snyder's wide-ranging investigation into the "seamier" side of this ubiquitous but far from pure fiber.
In tracing the history and current incarnations of denim production (ultimately derived from cotton), Snyder examines the environmental (cotton occupies 3 percent of the world's agricultural land, but uses 25 percent of the world's pesticides), economic (the US provides over $260 million in subsidies to US cotton farmers"completely illegal according to the World Trade Organization) and human consequences of this important global crop (in India, there were 17,000 suicides by farmers in 2003, mostly in cotton-growing regions; the cost of pesticides and GM seeds create debts that overwhelm them"they often kill themselves by ingesting the cotton pesticides).
By the end of the book, you'll realize that the "pure and natural" aura that surrounds cotton is a total myth"and also how hard it is to escape the reach of this versatile if demanding crop, found in everything from pipes to feed to celluloid to, of course, the shirt on your back"
"I believe great people have no nationality; only little people fight over borders." Visif Iruizou, cotton broker from Bilasuvar, Azerbajan. "We had Russian imperialism, now we have American. What's the difference?"
What are the tangible gains from $2.3 trillion in aid given by rich countries to poorer countries since 1950? Not nearly enough, according to William Easterly in this unsparing critique of western aid programs. While the world is divided between the "have's' and the "have-not's' (the 3 billion people living on less than $2 a day), there is also a great divide in the way aid is or should be offered to the world's poor.
On the one hand, Easterly exposes the problems inherent in the Big Plans of donor nations and agencies (he is particularly hard on Jeffrey Sachs and his "449 interventions""see Sachs' book above). These groups are typically: full of good intentions, but without motivation; they raise expectations without taking real responsibility for results; they are the ones determining what is needed, ready to apply global blueprints to local problems; and in summary, the donors already know the answers to the problems of our neighbors"without asking for their input.
Contrary to the style of the Planners is that of the Searchers. This method takes responsibility for outcomes; seeks to discover what is needed according to local conditions; discerns the reality of the situation of those being assisted; engages in assessment and follow-up; admits lack of knowledge and turns to local people for guidance; and recognizes the complexity of solutions, and the importance of taking into consideration the mix of political, social, environmental, and historical factors that can make or break a development initiative.
Investing in individuals rather than governments"and seeking their counsel and then their feedback"is the best way to make progress in addressing the problems of the world's poor.
If you want to get the bottom of US dependence on petroleum, here's your book. Duffield does a wonderful job scoping out all the ways petroleum courses through our economy, infects our politics, and drains our personal and national treasury. He considers us a gluttonous and inefficient consumer of the black stuff (which we are), while providing a country-by-country analysis of the price we and they (think Iran under the Shah) have paid for our addiction.
This is a thorough and understandable treatment of the key geo-political, environmental and economic reality of our time"dependence on petroleum.
Bottom line? Not counting the war in Iraq , we spend $30-50 billion a year securing the flow of oil from the Middle East . Add in Iraq , and that's about a $50 per barrel surcharge on each of the 7 billion barrels of oil we consume annually.
Need a good excuse to cut back on your chocolate consumption? Look no further. In her expose on the cocoa industry, Off is relentless in chronicling the history (cocoa beans were used as currency by the Aztecs) and tracking the seamy underside of the production of this sweet confection.
Among the findings of her sleuthing: the Cadbury chocolate dynasty was founded by Quakers in England, and these Friends had a tendency to turn a blind eye to the fact that much of their cocoa was supplied by Portuguese traders using slave labor on the island of Sao Tome (ironically, "Saint Thomas" Island). The current situation isn't much better, with cocoa playing a pivotal role in the on-going political turmoil and military conflict in Ivory Coast , a desperately poor country where half the world's cocoa is produced. The young people who live in virtual enslavement on cocoa plantations there have no clue what is made of the precious beans they are forced to pick; poor families who own small cocoa plots cannot fathom that a child in the US might spend $1 on a chocolate bar"more than these families earn in day of picking the beans.
The author is also unsparing in her criticism of rich world consumers, who seem more than happy to turn a blind eye to the plight of children forced to pick the beans that end up in their candy bar. She highlights the potential of Fair Trade products as a way of redeeming this tawdry trade, but feels justice is still far off for those on the producing end of chocolate.
"Low prices are what consumers consider "fair,' even if their affordable goods create injustice elsewhere."
This book is a practical guide to living more sustainably without sacrificing the joy of living. It's chock full of stats and stories (and a few too many pics of the author), and is a great beginnings guide to making personal choices in line with the best interests of the planet.
It's a fact: it takes 2.8 gallons of fuel to air freight a pineapple from Hawaii , but only 1/3 gallon to transport one by ship from Costa Rica.
No conspiracy theory is needed by Rothkopt to make his case that many of the decisions affecting our lives and that of whole industries and even nations is made by a small group of around 6000 people he calls the "superclass." These people have influence by virtue of their wealth, their decision-making ability and their access to those in power. They serve on many of the same boards, attend many of the same high-level conferences, and enjoy the feeling of being in an exclusive club whose membership spans the globe.
The author goes into a lot (perhaps a bit too much at times) of detail about these people and their place in the order of things, but it nonetheless makes for interesting and troubling reading for those of us not on the list. They are the driving force behind the globalizing trends of our time, often having more decision-making power than heads-of-state. And rather than being tied to particular nations, they are increasingly in a league of their own with rules of their own making. While they may at times show charitable urges, their first priority is nearly always the maintenance of a global order that insures their continued ascendancy. The vast majority of the Top 6000 are male, baby-boomers, have cultural roots in Europe , attended an elite university, have a business background and an institutional power base (corporation or government), are rich and lucky, want it bad, and are self-obsessed, self-reliant, and driven.
The author warns that when the powerful continue to act without the consent of the community and often not in the best interest of the community, "it is inevitable that discontent and tension result," and calls for strong efforts to democratize both wealth and decision-making power in the long-term interest of all concerned.
"How can a global system prioritize asset allocation if those who need the assets the most are unable to be heard unless a movie star adopts one of them or a rock star passes through town?"
This is a good overview of the global apparel industry"where our clothes are made (90 percent of shirts and blouses made abroad, but there are over 250,000 sweatshop workers in the USA), by whom (29 million workers, mostly women), for how much (Nicaraguan workers earn 30-40 cents an hour"less than 1% of the retail price of the jeans they are making). Free trade? NAFTA was great for retailers and importers, terrible for workers in the US (lost jobs) and abroad (sweatshop workers paid 10x less that their US counterparts).
What is a sweatshop? A manufacturing plant characterized by long hours, low wages, unsanitary working conditions, often demeaning treatment, and with a middleman between purchaser and producer, guaranteeing that the retailer isn't directly connected to"and thus not responsible for"the working conditions of those who make the products.
Jensen is a frightened and angry person who is determined to bring down the system"frightened about where we are headed (toward ecological disaster and human suffering), angry at the forces that brought us to this point (capitalism, corporate greed, complicit governments, cities), and advocating bringing down this exploitative system by any means necessary before it brings us all down. His heroes are native people and the occasional non-native person who have seen the system for what it is and have fought it; he disparages anyone who talks about changing the world but who eschews taking up the tools (including violence) to do it. Among this group he ranges pacifists, environmentalists and Christians (and generally other people of faiths too). While much of his focus is on overthrowing or undoing the "system," he also calls on every person to do what they are called to do after they've woken up to their enslavement"plant gardens, organize communities, learn about edible plants nearby, etc.
He's also very hard on cities, seeing urban areas and their need to extract resources from rural and natural areas as parasitic behavior, and the driving force behind the capitalistic economy.
Much of his analysis is right on: When seven people died from poisoned Tylenol back in the 80's, there was an immediate recall and millions were spent putting on tamper-proof caps; when 24,000 people die every year from air pollution from coal-fired power plants". He speaks of our situation as one in which we are trapped in an abusive situation (he was abused as a child), and calls for taking immediate steps to extract ourselves from our predicament. And I like his idea that we move forward not due to hope (he doesn't have much) but due to our love"for the planet and its people. This becomes our motivation for bringing about drastic change.
Seems to me he falls short in two areas: not giving religious figures"especially Jesus, but also Romero, Gerardi, Tutu, King, and others"any due as people who have directly confronted exploitative systems; and his affirmation of the use of violence by others, when he himself hasn't taken that path"and when it is not at all clear that this tactic would not backfire, creating pandemonium and a further cycle of the very violence he blames the "system" for promulgating.
"Bringing down civilization first and foremost consists of liberating ourselves by driving the colonizers out of our hearts and minds: seeing civilization for what it is, seeing those in power for what and who they are, and seeing power for what it is. Bringing down civilization then consists of actions rising from that liberation; fighting them on our own terms when we choose."
According to Popkin, a professor of nutrition at UNC, hunger isn't the world's only food-related health issue"a large and rapidly expanding global waistline is nearly as much a threat to human health as lack of adequate food. Having studied eating trends over several decades in a number of societies around the world, Dr. Popkin notes a 16-fold increase in the number of people overweight or obese"from 100 million 60 years ago to 1.6 billion today"and a 20-fold rise in diabetes and hypertension. Interestingly, he shows that none of these were factors in human health (nor were cavities or cancer) until the advent of agricultural societies allowed for stock-piling grain and for life-styles that were more sedentary"a one-two combo that haunts us to this day.
Enter also the food corporations and their insatiable appetite for profit"at any cost to their customers' health; government subsidies and tariffs that under-price key commodities like corn and soybeans (used for meat production and sweeteners), while leaving healthier choices like fruits and vegetables to fend for themselves; globalization of unhealthy eating habits (WTO rules forbade South Korea from keeping western fast food restaurants out of their country); and the gullibility of consumers to fall for the latest diet fad"or the biggest piece of pie. He's especially hard on sweetened drinks (to the point that he's a bit too easy on the wastefulness of bottled water, seeing it as the lesser of the liquid evils), and indeed, we average 2½ sugared beverages per person per day in the USA . In the end, it comes down to calories"are we burning as many as we take in? In a word: not even close.
His solutions? Whole grain, grass-fed, home-prepared foods; government support for good nutrition, not bad; exercise.
"This book is a tale of two worlds. The first is a world of the global food industry and the global medical industry, both of which gain far more from living with the obesity problem than from curing it. The second world"is united in its resolve to prevent these problems by first understanding their underlying causes and then by creating macroeconomic and politics solutions. Right now, the former world is winning completely. But there are genuine signs of hope""
This tell-all book from University of British Columbia professor Dauvergne offers a revealing look at our over-consuming global society and its impact on the planet, from our carbon output (4 tons per person globally) to eco-system destruction (half the world's forests and wetlands gone) to the consequences of an unhealthy environment on human health (causing half of the world's 10 million preventable child deaths), and putting the blame for present and future ecological troubles squarely on those of power and privilege: "Much of the (ecological) progress is incremental and local, doing more to protect fragments of privilege and power than ecosystems or poor people."
Dauvergne is unsparing in naming the principle causes for the mess we're in: capitalism and Western values, along with faster technologies that exponentially increase our impact. Corporations also are key culprits, green-washing environmental standards, fostering complex supply chains with many gray areas of environmental impact, having double standards (one for the US, another for “over there”), unbridled pursuit of profit, and lack of full-cost accounting for their environmental impacts. And he lays bare the false assumptions that allow us to continue down this path, to wit: indefinite economic growth is possible and necessary; the world's emerging economies should follow the path of industrial development and intensive agriculture; and that consuming more per capita is a sign that all is well.
Did you know: a) Land Cruisers (mostly in the hands of governments and development organizations) are a primary source of three billion tons of dust per year blowing over Africa; b) one-third of all grain grown globally (and two-thirds in the US) is fed to livestock (where 11-17 calories of feed produces 1 calorie of beef); c) cattle are 10 times as destructive to the Amazon as logging (33 million cattle are consumed in the US annually).
...reviews by friends of NCP...
Fred Pearce makes the claim that of all the climate challenges facing our planet, the demand for ample amounts of clean water is the greatest challenge before us. Will there be enough water—available in the right places—to meet the needs of a growing population.
Global water challenges are a demand-side problem. There is a sustainable amount of water for drinking and cleaning, even for over 6 billion people. But when the challenges of urbanization, waste, pollution, and the practice of growing water intensive crops in arid places are factored in, it quickly becomes apparent that our world is simply using more water than is available. Around the world, ancient aquifers are drying up, lakes are disappearing and some major rivers no longer flow to the sea.
Some would say that in light of this problem that “technology will save us.” But this is a misleading hope, because in the face of a water supply’s demand-side problem, technology is being used to bring supply-side answers. And that is adding to the problem...
I. Not enough water in the your area? No problem, we’ll dig more wells. But in certain parts of the world, wells are drying up aquifers faster than they can be refilled. In other areas, shallow wells are inadvertently tapping in to water supplies that are contaminated (sometimes even naturally contaminated, not all pollution is caused by humans) with chemicals like fluorine and arsenic.
For the Beauty of the Earth provides a challenging theological and ethical argument for creation care. In the first pages, the author introduces the reader to the concept of ecolacy, defined as an understanding of how the world works—including the pressures placed upon it from a variety of sources—and a sense of ecological consciousness. Beginning with a deeper sense of the local area in which we live (Can you name five agricultural plants that are grown in your area? What flowers bloom where you live? How many days until the moon is full?), we move to comprehend the pressures that an increasing population and technological demands of that population is placing on the environment.
But once we know those things, where will we go? What will be our basic theory of how to move from where we are to a more sustainable manner of living? From an understanding of the current state of the environment, Bouma-Prediger walks carefully through Scripture, theology, and ethics to help us understand the various ways we might think about the earth.
Quote: “The objection about consumption voices a common complaint, namely, that any attempt to scale back our desires and spending habits will push the economy into a tailspin and destroy ‘the American way of life.’ Truth be told, however, our current way of life is in many respects unsustainable, and it is already showing signs of collapse.”
In The Omnivore's Dilemma the author examines the American food culture and industry, and to a degree, the human species' history of food. As the subtitle reflects, Pollan tells the story in the context of four meals: an organic dinner with ingredients purchased at his local Whole Foods Market (or "Whole Paycheck" as some know it); a lunch from McDonalds with his wife and son; dinner from a sustainable-practice farm in Virginia; and finally, a meal hunted and gathered by the author near his northern California home.
Pollan describes the insidious presence of corn in one form or another in nearly everything we consume. A spectrographic analysis of his family's McDonald's lunch reveals that some 60 percent of it has its origins in corn - from the sweetener in the soft drinks to the binders in the McNuggets and the unnatural diet of corn fed to the cattle ground into the hamburger, plus other more obscure derivatives of corn in ingredients unseen by the consumer. Pollan also tracks the cradle-to-plate path of a calf he purchases in the Dakotas to its corn-fed life and death at a western Kansas confined animal feeding operation (CAFO - an acronym that should encourage vegetarians and deeply disturb the rest of us).
Throughout the book Pollan carefully researches and reveals the cost of his - and our - food choices. Cost is measured in direct consumer prices, irrational federal farm subsidies and environmental impact both locally and globally. Just as important, he examines how those choices affect us on a more personal level: nutritional value and health, the effort required to produce a meal and, significantly, taste - the pleasure of consumption.
The details provided in The Omnivore's Dilemma are important and fascinating, well worth the reader's (or listener's) time and attention. Not to give away too much, the book left me with two significant conclusions: 1. Organic is good. 2. Locally produced food raised by sustainable methods is better.
-Reviewed by Todd Steele, Fort Wayne, IN
"I have never been so afraid to go anywhere in my life as I was that day. Even the scuttle of a lizard frightened my being. Tears had begun to form in my eyes, but I struggled to hide them and gripped my gun for comfort." At just thirteen years old, Ishmael Beah prepared for his first day of active duty as a boy soldier - a day in which he would successfully kill a man, a day in which he would return to the "pot"-pungent village with two dead friends to bury. In his book A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael paints a portrait of war that none of us should ever know. From singing rap music and performing talent shows - to smoking marijuana and slitting throats - this truly gentle boy races from village to village, starving, yet surviving, searching for his family, escaping his foe . . . all along the way, stumbling between child and savage, fear and hope. In reading his powerful story, you will meet the incredible mind and strength of this now 26 year-old man, who inadvertently invites each of us to discover the immensity and possibility of our own spirit. It's a dynamic resource for youth and young adults - in particular, asking the question, "Where is God in Ishmael's story?" Check it out!
- Reviewed by Elizabeth Keller, Richmond, IN
If you merely flip through its pages, this book appears to be just another devastating tale of the overwhelming travesties in our world. Ahh, but if you dare to look deeper - into the eyes, cheeks, hands, and stories of these extraordinary women, then you will be humbled by what they have overcome - and how they have transformed individual, familial, and communal lives - along with the life of Mother earth. Cover to cover, photographer Phil Borges gives justice to these women by sharing their stories through honest accounts and telling portraits. As a woman I resonated with the words of Christy Turlington Burns, entrepreneur and author, "For any woman who has struggled with her own feminine identity, there is nothing more reassuring or rewarding than recognizing yourself in the life of another woman, despite the cultural differences and disparities in individual challenges that may exist."
- Reviewed by Elizabeth Keller, Richmond, IN