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New Year, New Books: The 14 Best Environmental Books of January

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By John R. Platt

It's a new year, and many of us have made our resolutions for the months ahead. Well, here's one more for you: Resolve to read about the critical environmental issues that will affect us not just this year but in the years to come.


Publishers have you covered for that resolution this month, with a wide array of interesting new books about climate change, wildlife, environmental history and sustainable food. Check out the list below for our picks for the 14 best eco-books of January 2019, with titles for everyone from wildlife-loving kids to professional conservationists. As usual our links are to publishers' or authors' websites, but you can also find any of these titles at your favorite bookseller or library.

Wildlife and Endangered Species

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The Snow Leopard Project and Other Adventures in Warzone Conservation by Alex Dehgan — A stunning true story about efforts to protect these endangered cats and other rare species while also helping to defend the human culture around them — and strengthening the bond between people and nature in the process.

Make a Home for Wildlife: Creating Habitat on Your Land by Charles Fergus — Whether you've got a tiny backyard or several acres, this could be a great book to make the most of the land around you.

A Puget Sound Orca in Captivity: The Fight to Bring Lolita Home by Sandra Pollard — If you want to understand the current plight of Southern Resident killer whales, it helps to start with their history. This is an important piece of that story, by the author of 2014's Puget Sound Whales for Sale.

Rotten! Vultures, Beetles, Slime and Nature's Other Decomposers by Anita Sanchez & Gilbert Ford — A fun kids' book about gross stuff like maggots and fungi, because what better way is there to get kids interested in nature?

Climate Change

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The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption by Dahr Jamail — A former war reporter takes his journalism skills to a new battle, traveling around the world to see the impacts of climate change firsthand.

Sudden Spring: Stories of Adaptation in a Climate-Changed South by Rick Van Noy — Tales of people and places already adapting to climate change — to help show the rest of us what we need to do sooner rather than later.

Biodiversity and Climate Change: Transforming the Biosphere edited by Thomas E. Lovejoy and Lee Hannah — Famed biologist Edward O. Wilson provides the foreword to this massive new book addressing how climate change will impact extinction risks, food webs, invasive species, migration routes, forests and much more — and how conservationists and policymakers can respond.

The Edge of Memory: Ancient Stories, Oral Tradition and the Post-Glacial World by Patrick Nunn — This isn't specifically about climate change, but it's still an important look at how traditional and indigenous folk stories and knowledge are full of valuable science about floods, shifting coastlines and other changing environments — in other words, information that can help us learn to adapt to future threats.

Climate Change and the People's Health by Sharon Friel — An academic book providing a framework for addressing both climate change and social inequality, since the former drives the latter and harms peoples' health in the process.

Paying for Pollution: Why a Carbon Tax Is Good for America by Gilbert E. Metcalf — Can market principles get us out of this climate change mess? An economist argues that they can. (Or, I don't know, we could just stop emitting carbon?)

Eco-Religion

Ecodharma: Buddhist Teachings for the Ecological Crisis by David Loy — An important and thought-provoking call to action for Buddhists to save the planet, reflecting not just on the history of Buddhism but what it can do in the future.

Signs on the Earth: Islam, Modernity and the Climate Crisis by Fazlun Khalid — A religious case for an end to consumerism and industrialization, written by the founder of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science.

Sustainable Agriculture & Food

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One Size Fits None: A Farm Girl's Search for the Promise of Regenerative Agriculture by Stephanie Anderson — We all want farming to be green and planet-healthy. Anderson explores farms around the country that are using nontraditional agricultural techniques and are giving back to the land in the process.

Can We Feed the World Without Destroying It? by Eric Holt-Gimenez — That's a good question! This short book (really a long essay) digs into the issues and argues that we already produce enough food to feed everyone on the planet, we're just growing and distributing it all wrong. Moving away from the existing exploitative system, Holt-Gimmenez argues, will both feed the planet and protect it from climate change and related threats.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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