Foreword Reviews - - Contents - by Anna Call

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ism of the Rich Peter Dau­vergne, MIT Press Hard­cover $26.95 (232pp), 978-0-262-03495-1

Pre­sent­ing an eco­nomic anal­y­sis of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism, this book ar­gues not only that en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivism by celebri­ties and large com­pa­nies is largely in­ef­fec­tual, but that global cap­i­tal­ism it­self is the most sig­nif­i­cant driver of cli­mate change.

By re­ly­ing on his­tor­i­cal ex­am­ples of cap­i­tal­ism im­pact­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, En­vi­ron­men­tal­ism of the Rich at­tempts to con­nect the dev­as­ta­tion of na­ture to a fac­tor that more in­flu­encers will care about. These in­flu­encers, who are in­di­vid­u­als or or­ga­ni­za­tions with enough money to ac­tu­ally make a dif­fer­ence in the fight against en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion, are found here to have ba­si­cally been duped into part­ner­ships with com­pa­nies like Co­cacola, to par­tic­i­pate in ef­forts that amount to feel­good ex­er­cises. While rec­og­niz­ing that well-ap­plied wealth might yet make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence, the au­thor ul­ti­mately en­cour­ages a more gen­eral “spirit of out­rage” as the means of change. Though this makes for a some­what ab­stract con­clu­sion, the points that the book makes are solid, and its ar­gu­ments in fa­vor of change of global pro­duc­tion sys­tems are con­vinc­ing.

Though it oc­ca­sion­ally wan­ders from its main point, usu­ally to be­come a lit­tle too wrapped up in its ex­am­ples, the book con­sis­tently ex­hibits good analy­ses of the ef­fect of cap­i­tal­ism on lo­cal­ized en­vi­ron­ments. Its mi­cro­cosms of lands and sit­u­a­tions ru­ined by profit-driven sys­tems range from early ex­am­ples of im­pe­ri­al­ism on Pa­cific is­lands to the per­sis­tence of lead in gas as a re­sult of in­dus­try ma­nip­u­la­tion of re­search data.

Though the book is aca­demic in its style, a broad range of read­ers will find it ac­ces­si­ble. It is clearly writ­ten and easy to un­der­stand, and its many ex­am­ples are both en­gag­ing and in­for­ma­tive. An ex­cel­lent pick for any­one with an in­ter­est in eco­nomics.

Pro­tect­ing the Planet En­vi­ron­men­tal Cham­pi­ons from Con­ser­va­tion to Cli­mate Change Budd Tit­low and Mariah Tinger, Prometheus Books Hard­cover $26 (550pp), 978-1-63388-225-6

Cov­er­ing the sci­ence and his­tory of cli­mate change, Pro­tect­ing the Planet rep­re­sents an am­bi­tious at­tempt to cover the en­tire con­text of cli­mate change, from ori­gins to pos­si­ble so­lu­tions. Un­for­tu­nately, it is only par­tially suc­cess­ful.

There are four main the­matic parts to this hefty book. The first and short­est part ex­plains the sci­ence of cli­mate change and re­bukes de­niers. The sec­ond, much longer sec­tion pro­vides a rel­a­tively quick over­view of the his­tory of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and preser­va­tion. Third, the book de­tails short bios of mod­ern cli­mate ac­tivists, in­clud­ing ecol­o­gists and celebri­ties. Fi­nally, the book presents po­ten­tial large and small-scale so­lu­tions to cli­mate change.

By pro­vid­ing a his­tor­i­cal con­text for cli­mate change, Pro­tect­ing the Planet makes an am­bi­tious go at pro­vid­ing per­spec­tive to a prob­lem too of­ten seen as mod­ern. Its fo­cus on cli­mate ”he­roes” hu­man­izes a strug­gle usu­ally rep­re­sented by leg­is­la­tion and cor­po­rate ac­tion. How­ever, many early his­tor­i­cal events are given too lit­tle at­ten­tion, and even mod­ern ones lack in-depth anal­y­sis. The book’s fi­nal sec­tion, “Part Five: Find­ing So­lu­tions,” rep­re­sents a good, quick man­ual for ef­fec­tive grass­roots ac­tion against cli­mate change, but would func­tion more ef­fec­tively if it stood alone as its own book.

The writ­ing here has a lot of per­son­al­ity and is con­sis­tently in­ter­est­ing. How­ever, charged commentary on po­lit­i­cal ac­tions, such as the Iraq war and Reaganomics, limit the like­li­hood that it will draw the un­con­verted across the aisle.

Pro­tect­ing the Planet is a quirky con­tri­bu­tion to an area of cli­mate-change lit­er­a­ture that doesn’t tend to get a lot of at­ten­tion. Its com­pre­hen­sive timeline of cli­mate-change his­tory will be both in­ter­est­ing and use­ful to ed­u­ca­tors.

The At­las of Wa­ter Map­ping the World’s Most Crit­i­cal Re­source, 3rd edi­tion Mag­gie Black, Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Press Soft­cover $24.95 (128pp), 978-0-520-29203-1

The 3rd edi­tion of this com­pre­hen­sive at­las pro­vides a thor­ough snap­shot of wa­ter us­age as it stands to­day.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists are in the process of be­com­ing more aware of the eco­nomic and so­cial fac­tors in­volved in wa­ter use, from man­u­fac­tur­ing to re­li­gious pur­poses. This straight­for­ward col­lec­tion of maps and data rep­re­sents an ex­cel­lent start­ing re­source. While en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists in par­tic­u­lar will ap­pre­ci­ate the im­por­tance of the dizzy­ing ar­ray of facts pre­sented here, many in­ter­na­tional busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal sec­tors could find it use­ful as well. The many dis­agree­ments caused by dams and river redi­rec­tions, for ex­am­ple, sev­eral of which fea­ture here, may be use­ful to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties con­cerned about fair re­source al­lo­ca­tion.

The at­las lives up to its name by fo­cus­ing pri­mar­ily on maps of the globe. Clear color cod­ing and good leg­ends are key to the book’s suc­cess in de­liv­er­ing com­plex data as un­der­stand­ably as pos­si­ble. Suc­cinct de­scrip­tions of wa­ter-trou­ble hot spots help to con­tex­tu­al­ize the in­for­ma­tion that this book im­parts.

The fact that this is the third edi­tion of The At­las of Wa­ter should come as no sur­prise; the book is ex­tremely top­i­cal, ref­er­enc­ing geopo­lit­i­cal events such as the rise of ISIL and flood­ing in Pak­istan. The maps will con­tinue to be use­ful for sev­eral years, out­lin­ing ma­jor wa­ter events and sit­u­a­tions that will loom large in mem­ory for some time, in­clud­ing the melt­ing of the Hi­malayas and the Cal­i­for­nia drought.

The com­bined vis­ual ap­peal and depth of this book make it a rar­ity in a field too of­ten crowded with pas­sion­ate ver­bal calls to ac­tion and equally pas­sion­ate ver­bal re­but­tals. The At­las of Wa­ter does not try to present so­lu­tions or de­mand ac­tion, nor does it ques­tion or de­fend the va­lid­ity of cli­mate change. It as­sumes a set of facts and presents the sit­u­a­tion as it stands. Re­gard­less of its au­di­ence, it will in­spire thought.

The New Ecol­ogy Re­think­ing a Sci­ence for the An­thro­pocene Oswald J Sch­mitz, Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity Press Hard­cover $35 (256pp), 978-0-691-16056-6

Fea­tur­ing novel ideas com­mu­ni­cated clearly, this book is likely to have broad ap­peal.

Hu­man im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment has be­come a cer­tainty. How­ever, the idea that hu­mans are a force sep­a­rate from the en­vi­ron­ment may be a harm­ful one. This book pro­poses that hu­mans in­te­grate them­selves and their ac­tiv­ity into a nat­u­ral eco­log­i­cal niche, striv­ing to con­trol their im­pact on the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment by un­der­stand­ing and en­gi­neer­ing their place in it.

Un­like many of its con­tem­po­raries, The New Ecol­ogy does not call for ab­so­lute change, such as the ces­sa­tion of min­ing or car­bon fuel use by a cer­tain date. In­stead, it en­cour­ages a holis­tic ap­proach to ecol­ogy, as well as an ac­cep­tance that, yes, hu­mans are in­deed go­ing to con­tinue chang­ing the world around them. In­stead of opt­ing for a zero-im­pact ap­proach, this book calls for ac­tive stew­ard­ship and un­der­stand­ing of hu­mans as part of an ecosys­tem—a very in­flu­en­tial part. It also ac­knowl­edges eco­nomic and so­cial re­al­i­ties that many ac­tivists sim­ply de­cry out­right.

The New Ecol­ogy is per­sua­sive in its ar­gu­ment that con­sci­en­tious stew­ard­ship is more pro­duc­tive than an at­tempt to sep­a­rate hu­mans from the en­vi­ron­ment com­pletely. How­ever, though the au­thor states re­peat­edly and plainly that harm­ful hu­man ac­tiv­ity must be checked, there is some dan­ger of the mes­sage of this book be­ing mis­in­ter­preted as li­cense to al­ter the en­vi­ron­ment. Part of this is be­cause the book takes a while to es­tab­lish its cen­tral point. Read­ing past the first few chap­ters proves re­ward­ing, how­ever. Con­ver­sa­tional in tone, non-ecol­o­gists will com­pre­hend the book eas­ily, and ecol­o­gists will be in­ter­ested in the fresh con­cepts.

A Global Warm­ing Primer An­swer­ing Your Ques­tions About the Sci­ence, the Con­se­quences, and the So­lu­tions Jeffrey Ben­nett, Big Kid Sci­ence Soft­cover $15 (128pp), 978-1-937548-78-0

Fea­tur­ing clear, well-writ­ten, and con­cise ar­gu­ments, this book is ideal for both cli­mate-change be­liev­ers and skep­tics.

There are many ex­pla­na­tions avail­able of how global warm­ing works, but few are as clear, com­pre­hen­sive, and vis­ually de­scrip­tive as in this book. Mod­est in length, A Global Warm­ing Primer lays out the facts sur­round­ing hu­man-caused cli­mate change in a straight­for­ward and com­plete man­ner, ex­plain­ing both why cli­mate change is hap­pen­ing and what will hap­pen if it is al­lowed to con­tinue. The book also ad­dresses com­mon ar­gu­ments against the ex­is­tence of cli­mate change and de­bunks them in an apo­lit­i­cal and fact-based man­ner. The book is com­pre­hen­sive enough to func­tion as a stand-alone re­source. Its coverage of the sci­ence be­hind hu­man-caused cli­mate change is writ­ten in plain English, clear enough to be ac­ces­si­ble even to young teenagers. Full-color graphs and color cod­ing of sec­tions as­sist greatly in the book’s ac­ces­si­bil­ity and en­hance its abil­ity to serve as a ref­er­ence.

Though rem­i­nis­cent of a text­book in the depth of its re­search and in­tense fo­cus, A Global Warm­ing Primer is a pain­less read-through that nei­ther talks down to its au­di­ence nor de­vi­ates from its pur­pose. Even while the sta­tus of cli­mate change is in con­stant flux, the sci­ence upon which the book is based should re­main rel­e­vant for many years.

Adults of all po­lit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal back­grounds will ap­pre­ci­ate the book’s ma­ture take on the ar­gu­ments against cli­mate change. By ad­dress­ing com­mon chal­lenges to the con­cept of global warm­ing in a re­spect­ful and en­light­en­ing man­ner, it ex­pands its au­di­ence far out­side the range of global-warm­ing be­liev­ers. At no point does it re­sort to name call­ing or po­lit­i­cal rhetoric. Even con­sid­er­ing the book’s strong all-around show­ing, its no-non­sense ap­proach is by far its great­est strength. Con­sider this book an ideal con­ver­sa­tion starter and a good gift for skep­tics.

Bit­ing the Hands that Feed Us How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food Sys­tem More Sus­tain­able Baylen J. Lin­nekin, Is­land Press Hard­cover $30 (224pp), 978-1-61091-675-2

Pro­mot­ing a lib­er­tar­ian take on the reg­u­la­tion of or­ganic food, this en­gag­ing book presents a fresh per­spec­tive on a pop­u­lar topic.

Ac­cord­ing to Bit­ing the Hands that Feed Us, food pro­duc­tion reg­u­la­tion is an un­for­tu­nate fact of life for farm­ers and restau­ra­teurs. Rules about saleable food, proper places to slaugh­ter cat­tle, and even the le­gal­ity of back­yard gar­dens com­bine to gen­er­ate a food sys­tem that is waste­ful and cum­ber­some. The book calls for loos­en­ing of food pro­duc­tion reg­u­la­tion, free­ing this por­tion of the econ­omy to thrive more sus­tain­ably.

While the book cov­ers many ar­eas of food pro­duc­tion and use, its fo­cus on or­ganic and lo­cal food may be the most sig­nif­i­cant. With ex­am­ple af­ter ex­am­ple, Bit­ing ef­fec­tively makes the case that or­ganic farm­ers should be al­lowed to do what they do best, with less reg­u­la­tion and over­sight.

While the book is un­apolo­get­i­cally lib­er­tar­ian, it con­cedes that some food safety reg­u­la­tion is im­por­tant, though the im­pli­ca­tion is that large op­er­a­tions prob­a­bly need reg­u­la­tion more than small farm­ers. The au­thor does an ex­cel­lent job of high­light­ing Kafkaesque rules in­volv­ing le­gal def­i­ni­tions of the word “fruit” and the cor­rect way of ag­ing cheese, and the plights of the or­di­nary peo­ple re­counted here strike a key bal­ance be­tween emo­tional and fact-based re­sponse. Part of this is thanks to the book’s en­gag­ing, easy-to-read style. Its para­ble-type struc­ture, in­clud­ing ci­ta­tions lo­cated in end­notes for im­me­di­ate ref­er­ence, lends it­self well to both quick read­ing and fur­ther re­search.

Re­gard­less of their po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion, many au­di­ences will find this book fas­ci­nat­ing. Food­ies, gar­den­ers, and ac­tive lo­ca­vores should par­tic­u­larly en­joy it, but pol­i­cy­mak­ers should also pay at­ten­tion to this strong and in­ter­est­ing per­spec­tive.

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