Beach Reads and Big Ideas: The 15 Best New Eco-Books for July
By John R. Platt
Looking for a few new books to read during your summer vacation? Look no further than these 15 new environmentally themed titles coming out in July. Publishers have scheduled some thought-provoking new titles for just about every type of reader, from nature lovers to history buffs, and from political activists to budding young scientists and conservationists.
The Perils of Pollution:
The Poisoned City: Flint's Water and the American Urban Tragedy by Anna Clark—One of several books about the lead-plagued city coming out this year, this one promises to be a full account of the negligence that led to so much human suffering and death. With so many other cities poised to experience problems with their water pipes as well, learning from what happened in Flint could drive policy around the country for decades. A must-read.
Sites Unseen: Uncovering Hidden Hazards in American Cities by Scott Frickel and James R. Elliott—Is your home, workplace or favorite restaurant built on the remains of a polluted old industrial site? This book digs deep into the histories of four major U.S. cities—New Orleans, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Portland—and finds that about 90 percent of former industrial locations have been converted into parks, neighborhoods and commercial districts, rarely with environmental review. Yikes.
Environmental Pollution in China: What Everyone Needs to Know by David K. Gardner—An overview of the massive country's worsening pollution problems and why they matter to the world.
Wildlife and Endangered Species:
Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Beesby Thor Hanson—A celebration of the incredible importance and diversity of those classic yellow-and-black insects, covering "leafcutters, bumbles, masons, miners, diggers, carpenters, wool-carders and more." (Honeybees, too, but less so, since they already get so much press.)
Red Alert! Endangered Animals Around the World by Catherine Barr and Anne Wilson—This beautifully illustrated kids' book delivers portraits of 15 species on the IUCN Red List, including snow leopards, blue whales and giant pandas. In addition to fully painted art, the text contains information on why these species are endangered and how we can help them.
The Wonderful Mr. Willughby: The First True Ornithologist by Tim Birkhead—A biography of the short but influential life of Francis Willughby, the overshadowed co-author of the first encyclopedia of birds back in the 17th century.
Wildlife Crime: From Theory to Practice edited by William D. Moreto—A timely textbook for conservationists and law-enforcement students and professionals to help them understand and combat this insidious practice, which is putting so many species at risk.
We're Doomed. Now What? Essays on War and Climate Change by Roy Scranton—The author of the classic New York Times essay Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene brings us a book-length series of meditations on the destructive forces affecting the world today. Oh, and he talks about Star Wars, too.
Can Democracy Handle Climate Change? by Daniel J. Fiorino—Geez, I sure hope so. (Quick answer: yes it can, and it much better than—ahem—autocratic regimes.)
Climate Scientists at Work by Rebecca E. Hirsch—This looks like the perfect book for the budding young scientists in your family, showing them not only what climate scientists do, but how we all can help them right now as citizen scientists.
Northland: A 4,000-Mile Journey Along America's Forgotten Border by Porter Fox—A three-year journey along the border between the U.S. and Canada reveals how both countries are plagued by "climate change, water wars, oil booms and border security." Maybe we should look toward that northward border a little more often.
The Promise of the Grand Canyon: John Wesley Powell's Perilous Journey and His Vision for the American West by John F. Ross—The history of how the Grand Canyon was explored and ultimately protected resonates with questions we're asking today about continuing to preserve the American West.
The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places by William Atkins—Five continents. Eight deserts. One lyrical travelogue that's about sand but also so much more.
Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer—This newly revised and expanded edition of VanderMeer's essential guide to crafting fantastic stories includes a great section on writing environmentally themed fiction. The rest of the book is pretty darn good, too, as are the online extras.
Covering the Environment: How Journalists Work the Green Beat by Bob Wyss—The world needs more environmental journalists. Here's a newly updated textbook on how to become one.
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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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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