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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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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