From Kochland to Standing Rock: Here Are the 16-plus Best Environmental Books of August
By John R. Platt
Things are heating up — and not just because it's August. This past June was the hottest June on record, and as of this writing July was shaping up to follow. That makes this month's new books about climate change essential reading, along with other important new titles on pollution, wildlife, oceans and Indigenous peoples.
Our full list — an amazing 16 books, plus an entire series for kids — appears below. They include a deep dive into the world of the Koch brothers, a look at plastic in our food, an examination of the future of bluefin tuna, thoughts from the Standing Rock protests and a whole lot more.
Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America by Christopher Leonard — The scary true story of how one private company stalled action on climate change, bought influence in the government, widened the gap between rich and poor, killed unions and so much more.
Leave It in the Ground: The Politics of Coal and Climate by John C. Berg — Want to know why we need to get rid of coal — and how we do it? This book lays out the science in clear, understandable language and reveals the truth about the politics and economics of the coal industry. Berg then provides a roadmap for how activists and governments can dismantle it.
End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World by Bryan Walsh — This isn't strictly a climate-change book — it also covers apocalyptic volcanos, nuclear war, disease outbreaks and other terrifying scenarios — but it does showcase the people working to understand how the world could end and what they're doing to prevent it. Which, you know, is kind of an important job.
Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don't Know You Have by Tatiana Schlossberg — How do your fashion sense, your lunch and your taste in Netflix movies contribute to climate change? A former New York Times science writer lays out the hidden effects of our daily lives and shows how informed and empowered consumers can make a difference.
Wildlife & Conservation:
The Future of Bluefin Tunas edited by Barbara A. Block — Dozens of experts from 15 countries contribute to this exhaustive examination of the threats facing all three species of bluefin tuna and what's being done to save them.
Extinction: A Very Short Introductionby Paul B. Wignall — A slim book about a big topic: Why do species die out? Covering historic mass extinctions and the current biodiversity crisis, this book offers what you need to know about what we're losing.
Science Comics: Cats by Andy Hirsch — A fun focus on our feline friends, looking at the science of everything from tigers to housecats. As with the rest of the "Science Comics" series, this is perfect for young readers or graphic-novel fans of all ages.
Tracking the Highland Tiger: In Search of Scottish Wildcats by Marianne Taylor — Persecution by farmers and hybridization with housecats have made the Scottish wildcat one of the rarest and most threatened felines on the planet. This book comes out at a time when conservation efforts to save the species are starting to pay off. Will they be in time?
Life Without Animals by Theresa Emminizer — This six-book series for young readers (available individually or as a set) asks what would happen if species such as elephants, sea otters, prairie dogs and tigers disappeared and examines the ecological effects of their extinctions.
Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry by Julie Guthman — A truly eye-opening book about the often exploitative industry that produces one of the world's most mouth-watering fruits.
You Are Eating Plastic Every Day: What's in Our Food? by Danielle Smith-Llera — Middle-school students may never eat at the school cafeteria again after reading this book.
The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier by Ian Urbina — The high seas exist outside of international law, which means they can also be quite lawless. The author spent five years reporting around the world to expose the crime and exploitation that run rampant through the fishing, oil and shipping industries.
Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver by Jill Heinerth — Science and adventure far beneath the sea. This must-read memoir looks back at an amazing career and provides insight into parts of the world that few of us will ever see in person.
Ocean Recovery by Ray Hilborn and Ulrike Hilborn — Which of the world's fisheries are sustainable, and why? This book offers the scientific context for what we know about the status and ecological impact of global fishing operations.
Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait by Bathsheba Demuth — The Bering Straits are known for their Arctic waters, amazing wildlife and Indigenous peoples, but they're also the site of a clash between capitalism and communism for control of the natural world's finite resources.
Indigenous Food Sovereignty in the United States edited by Devon A. Mihesuah and Elizabeth Hoover — The subtitle of this book is "Restoring Cultural Knowledge, Protecting Environments, and Regaining Health," which pretty much says it all. Noted activist Winona LaDuke provides the foreword.
Standing With Standing Rock: Voices from the #NoDAPL Movement edited by Nick Estes and Jaskiran Dhillon — An essential volume to understand the history and significance of the famous resistance action, combining everything from essays and interviews to poems and photography.
That's our list for this month, but check out dozens of other recent eco-books in the "Revelator Reads" archive.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
This Saturday, June 6, marks National Trails Day, an annual celebration of the remarkable recreational, scenic and hiking trails that crisscross parks nationwide. The event, which started in 1993, honors the National Trail System and calls for volunteers to help with trail maintenance in parks across the country.
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By John Letzing
This past Wednesday, when some previously hard-hit countries were able to register daily COVID-19 infections in the single digits, the Navajo Nation – a 71,000 square-kilometer (27,000-square-mile) expanse of the western US – reported 54 new cases of what's referred to locally as "Dikos Ntsaaígíí-19."
The Navajo Nation covers the corners of three different states. Google Maps
Growing Contribution<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3NDY5Ny9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjM4MTgyM30.IuQTKQs1stvYYKD6vaVTrqAyoBsUG0BhDvlhxsyKwPA/img.png?width=980" id="02a05" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2841f82b1785df5d5ed7bf64d3bb882b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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World Environment Day: A Time to Consider the Planet We’ll Return To, and Decide How to Care for It Going Forward
It's a different kind of World Environment Day this year. In prior years, it might have been enough to plant a tree, spend some extra time in the garden, or teach kids the importance of recycling. This year we have heavier tasks at hand. It's been months since we've been able to spend sufficient time outside, and as we lustfully watch the beauty of a new spring through our kitchen's glass windows, we have to decide how we'll interact with the natural world on our release, and how we can prevent, or be equipped to handle, future threats against our wellbeing.
Scuba divers around the world are holding their metaphorical breath to see if a coronavirus infection affects the ability to dive.
DAN medical experts explained the difference between normal lungs, on the left, and "very serious lungs caused by COVID-19," on the right. Matias Nochetto / Divers Alert Network (DAN)
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President Trump's claim that the U.S. has the cleanest air and water in the world has been widely refuted by statistics showing harmful levels of pollution. Now, a new biannual ranking released by researchers at Yale and Columbia finds that the U.S. is nowhere near the top in environmental performance, according to The Guardian.
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