Orangutans, Drones, Seaweed and Water Wars: The 13 Best New Eco-books for August
By John R. Platt
It's the height of summer, and there's no better way to while away the hot August evenings than to curl up with a good book. Luckily there are dozens of great new environmental books coming out in August to keep you reading all month long. Here are 13 thought-provoking new titles publishers have scheduled for release this month, with books for dedicated conservationists, animal-loving kids, history buffs and everyone in between.
Wildlife and Endangered Species:
Extreme Conservation: Life at the Edges of the World by Joel Berger — A globe-trotting, eye-opening journey to view and understand rare creatures living in some of the most extreme places on Earth. In the process Berger reveals how even these remote areas are being affected by climate change and people. One of the must-read books of the month.
Cuddle Me, Kill Me: A True Account of South Africa's Captive Lion Breeding and Canned Hunting Industry by Richard Peirce — With the horrifying reality of South Africa's booming lion-bone trade now in the news, and the recent revelation that the Trump administration has allowed the import of several lion-hunt "trophies," this may be the most timely book of the month.
Decolonizing Extinction: The Work of Care in Orangutan Rehabilitation by Juno Salazar Parreñas — An academic book that uses my favorite apes and the people caring for them as a way to talk about cultural history, colonialism, feminism, grief, science, anthropology and gender identity. This is seriously thought-provoking and challenging material, and it may be essential to understand it if we want to save orangutans from ourselves.
Whales: An Illustrated Celebration by Kelsey Oseid — A gorgeously illustrated kids' book and mini-encyclopedia on the evolution, mythology and ecology of whales, dolphins and porpoises. I would have eaten this book up as a child, and I really enjoyed it as an adult.
Conservation Drones: Mapping and Monitoring Biodiversity by Serge A. Wich and Lian Pin Koh — Unmanned aerial devices (aka drones) can contain a treasure-trove of technology to help us learn more about wildlife and the natural world in an unobtrusive manner. Wich and Koh are pioneers in the field — most famously for their studies of orangutans — and they've turned their experience into this, the first book providing professional guidance on how to use drones in conservation and ecology.
Trees, Plants and Algae:
Seaweed Chronicles: A World at the Water's Edge by Susan Hand Shetterly — Another of this month's must-read books, Shetterly dives into the world of iconic algae and the societies and ecosystems that depend upon it, including what some people are doing to try to prevent it from disappearing.
The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior by Stefano Mancuso — Plants may not have brains, but they could be smarter than you think. Mancuso, a scientist and the author of Brilliant Green, gets to the root of plants' ability to learn, remember, react to external pressures and even adapt to avoid future threats. (Can we have some plants start running for political office?)
Science Comics: Trees – Kings of the Forest by Andy Hirsch — This is probably the only book you'll read this month that stars an anthropomorphic acorn. These Science Comics volumes from publisher First Second are universally excellent. They may be geared toward kids, but anyone with an interest in ecology, trees and forests is sure to learn something from this latest addition to the series.
The Oxford Handbook of Endangered Languages, edited by Kenneth L. Rehg and Lyle Campbell — Species aren't the only things that can die out. Right now hundreds of languages around the world are at risk of extinction. The loss of these languages matters for preserving culture and science, but their disappearance also has important implications for biodiversity and climate change. This textbook, edited by two of the world's most esteemed linguists, tackles the thorny issues impacting the words of the world with contributions from dozens of experts.
Writing for Animals: New Perspectives for Writers and Instructors to Educate and Inspire edited by John Yunker — How can fiction writers give authentic voices to animals and the issues that affect them? Playwright and novelist Yunker has gathered an all-star team for this valuable how-to book.
Looking Back and Ahead:
When the Rivers Run Dry, Fully Revised and Updated Edition by Fred Pearce — When it was first published in 2007 Pearce's look at the worldwide water crisis quickly became one of the all-time most praised books on sustainability issues. Now he's back with a new edition that shows us how water issues could be the defining crisis of the century.
The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene by Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin — A new history book examining how we've done the Earth wrong, combining science, philosophy and politics to look not just at the past (as the title would suggest) but also "the future of humanity in the unstable world we have created."
Environmental Histories of the First World War edited by Richard P. Tucker, Tait Keller, J. R. McNeill and Martin Schmid — The War to End All Wars was almost a war to end the planet, causing ecological disasters wherever the bloodshed took place. This anthology looks back at how the war devastated rural and urban environments, consumed vast quantities of natural resources and led to widespread famine. It feels painfully relevant today.
That's our list for this month. For dozens of additional recent eco-books, check out our "Revelator Reads" archives. Did we miss any of your favorites? Feel free to post your own recommendations in the comments.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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