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Orangutans, Coal, Climate and Resistance: The 13 Best Environmental Books of May

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By John R. Platt

Looking for something new to read? We've got you covered. Here are our picks for the best environmentally themed books of May 2019 — and it's quite a collection, with 13 new titles about a pioneering conservationist, the history of water woes in California, the dirty legacy (and future) of coal and even the psychology of climate change.


Check out May's baker's dozen below.

Wildlife and Endangered Species:

Supernavigators: The Astounding New Science of How Animals Find Their Way by David Barrie — Navigate your way to your local bookstore and pick up this fantastic book, which covers everything from migrating birds and sea turtles to ants and dung beetles. Barrie's got the human element covered, too: He's a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation. (He also happens to be the great-great-nephew of Peter Pancreator J. M. Barrie.)

Undaunted: The Wild Life of Biruté Mary Galdikas and Her Fearless Quest to Save Orangutans by Anita Silvey — Galdikas isn't as well-known as her primatologist colleague Jane Goodall, but she should be. This YA biography tells her inspirational story, which becomes more relevant every year as orangutans become ever more endangered.

The Last Fish Swimming: The Global Crime of Illegal Fishing by Gohar A. Petrossian — We don't talk enough about illegal fishing, a problem that threatens to empty our oceans and push many species into extinction. This new book, by a noted criminology professor, hopes to change that. It defines the scope of the problem and offers a toolkit of policy recommendations to help solve it — while there's still time.

Pollution:

The Reality Bubble: Blind Spots, Hidden Truths and the Dangerous Illusions that Shape Our World by Ziya Tong — Smile, you're on secret surveillance cameras … unless you're working at a factory farm, power plant or garbage dump. In that case, go about your business without anyone seeing. Tong's globetrotting book examines these dangerous parts of the world that remain hidden from public view and reveals how that lack of transparency clouds our vision of the future.

Flint Fights Back: Environmental Justice and Democracy in the Flint Water Crisis by Benjamin J. Pauli — A sadly necessary book putting the activism that emerged during the Flint water crisis into the context of the broader struggle to maintain and protect democracy. If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.

Coal by Mark C. Thurber — A detailed examination of why the industry that relies upon this massively polluting substance never seems to pay its full environmental costs. (Hint: Money has something to do with it, but it's a lot more complex than that.)

Climate Change:


The Psychology of Climate Change Adaptation
by Anne van Valkengoed and Linda Steg — It's time to dig into peoples' brains to help understand how and why they react to the already emerging threats of climate change. This forward-thinking academic book looks at the key psychological theories related to adaptive behavior, examines a few real-world cases, and then sets "an agenda for future psychological research on climate change adaptation behavior."

Climate Psychology: On Indifference to Disaster edited by Paul Hoggett — The flip side of the previous book, this one examines why people fail to respond to climate change, including new results from a series of research projects conducted around the world.

Greenovation: Urban Leadership on Climate Change by Joan Fitzgerald — An in-depth examination of how cities contribute to global warming, and how a handful of metropolises are innovating to help turn things around.

Climate and Society: Transforming the Future by Robin Leichenko & Karen O'Brien — A great book for undergraduates trying to wrap their heads around climate change and what they can do about it on a societal level.

The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California by Mark Arax — The history of drought in California has been building for decades. Arax trekked around the state to examine the historic and ongoing battles over what humans, wildlife and crops get to drink.

Full Spectrum Resistance by Aric McBay — This two-volume series provides a powerful primer for activism on social-justice and environmental issues, using examples from more than 50 resistance movements around the world. The first book discusses how to build movements, while the second examines strategies for change.

That's our list for this month, but there's plenty more to add to your reading lists. For dozens of additional recent eco-books, check out the "Revelator Reads" archive — and come back in just a few weeks for next month's inspiring list.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.

SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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Creepy-crawlies are among the oldest life forms on this planet. Before dinosaurs ever walked the earth, insects were certainly already there. Some estimates date their origins to 400 million years ago. They're also extremely successful. Of the 7 to 8 million species documented on Earth, around three quarters are likely bugs.

But several insect species could disappear for good in the next few decades and that would have serious consequences for humans.

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