Take Your Climate Activism to the Next Level With January’s New Environmental Books
By John R. Platt
The New Year got off to a rocky start, with deadly fires throughout Australia and international political tensions rising to a frightening level.
What's the best way to get past the dread and return to action? One option is to turn your attention toward new and proven ideas for saving what matters most.
Below you'll find the eight most interesting, inspiring and energizing new books coming out in January 2020. Half of them cover the climate crisis in one way or another, while the rest take on issues related to animals and wildlife. Some are for professional conservationists, while others are for anyone interested in the issues that define our modern world. All are worth your time.
The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success by Mark Jaccard
Ever feel paralyzed by the scope and threat of climate change? You're not alone, but this new book aims to turn that around and get people moving. Part of it discusses the best individual actions we can all take, while the rest focuses on identifying the most important societal and political actions to prioritize. Along the way the book busts some myths perpetuated by the climate-denier industry and even debunks a few misconceptions held by well-meaning environmentalists. Jaccard can be a bit too provocative at times, but he backs his conclusions up with the latest science and delivers a book worth reading and discussing — not to mention acting upon. (Guide is out in paperback this month, with a free open-access PDF available in February.)
Climate Change From the Streets by Michael Méndez
Méndez argues that the climate crisis is also a crisis for public health, especially in lower-income communities of color, and that both problems can only be solved by addressing issues of environmental justice. His book, subtitled "How Conflict and Collaboration Strengthen the Environmental Justice Movement," taps into Méndez's own research into California communities and grassroots activism to show how the problems that plague us can also bring us together — but only if we invite everyone to the table.
Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work by Robert H. Frank
This broadly themed book addresses the complexities of our social environments — for example, how group behavior gives rise to bullying — but a lot of what it discusses applies to worldwide environmental issues, too. The result is a combination of psychology and economics that illustrates how the human "herd instinct" can be put to good use to solve the climate crisis and other problems.
It’s Earth Day, Cookie Monster! by Mary Lindeen
Every day is Earth Day, just as every day is another opportunity to eat a cookie — or help teach kids to take care of the planet. This is the sixth book in the deliciously fun "Go Green with Sesame Street" series, which just goes to show you that "C is for Conservation."
Cat Tale: The Wild, Weird Battle to Save the Florida Panther by Craig Pittman
Pittman has done more than probably any other newspaper journalist to document the twists and turns of efforts to conserve and protect the Florida panther — not to mention the failures we've had along the way. Now he revisits the history of these critically endangered big cats and the people who helped them in this remarkable work of longform reporting.
And Here We Are: Stories From the Sixth Extinction by Bil Zelman
A stunningly beautiful photo book — shot like a moody black-and-white movie — showcasing endangered species and the fragile, human-influenced environments in which they precariously hang on. Biologist E.O. Wilson (Half-Earth) provides the foreword.
The Nib: Animals
Here's something different: a thick, square-bound magazine from the folks behind The Nib, the web's best political cartooning site (which often covers environmental topics). This collection includes short stories, art and gags by more than three dozen writers and cartoonists, covering topics like extinction, wildlife trafficking, livestock and our relationships with our pets. The result is a heady mix of politics, journalism, philosophy and eye-opening humor.
The Pollinator Victory Garden by Kim Eierman
Victory gardens helped feed communities and troops during the first and second world wars. This book aims to translate that success to a similar effort: establishing year-round pollinator-friendly gardens in our backyards to help boost populations of bees, birds, bats, butterflies and other species — and in the process help "win the war against pollinator decline." It's not just for backyards, though; Eierman also discusses lawn alternatives (get rid of that grass!) and how to apply the same ideas to other areas throughout our developed communities. The book includes a resource list to help readers apply its recommendations to the needs of plants and wildlife in various parts of the country.
Well, that's it for this month. Stay tuned for a fresh batch of books on February's list in a few short weeks. Until then you can find dozens of additional eco-books in the "Revelator Reads" archive.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
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>
By John R. Platt
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