Trashing the Planet: 15 New Books About Garbage, Climate Change and Endangered Species
By John R. Platt
There's nothing disposable about the ideas presented in this month's new environmental books.
The authors on March's list have pulled out all the stops, with several books about garbage and pollution, the perils of climate change, and the threats facing wildlife and endangered species. We even have a couple of novels that address environmental issues in thought-provoking ways.
Check out the list below, where you'll find our picks for the 15 best eco-books of March 2019. Links are to publishers' or authors' websites, and you can also find any of these titles at your favorite bookseller or library.
Garbage & Pollution:
Throwaway Nation: The Ugly Truth About American Garbage by Jeff Dondero — The world is awash in waste, and we really need to get off the runaway train of disposability. This book digs deep into the garbage pits of human society to reveal the enormity of the problem — and what we can do to fix it.
Landfill: Notes on Gull Watching and Trash Picking in the Anthropocene by Tim Dee — You don't need to go all the way to Midway Atoll to find birds with stomachs full of trash. The same thing happens in cities around the world. Gulls make the most of the ready smörgåsbords we've laid out for them in our landfills, and in some surprising ways they've actually thrived as a result. This book looks at the unlikely and unappealing results of this trashy symbiotic relationship.
Clearing the Air: The Beginning and the End of Air Pollution by Tim Smedley — The author, a sustainability journalist, trekked around the globe to some of the world's most polluted cities to find out how dirty air is killing people and what we can do about it. (Available in ebook format only, for now, with a print edition following in September.)
Garbage: Follow the Path of Your Trash by Donna Latham, illustrated by Tom Casteel — After learning about trash from the previous three books, here's one to help teach the next generation what they can do about the problem, complete with hands-on science activities for kids ages 9 to 12. (This is an updated version of Latham's award-winning earlier book, Garbage: Investigate What Happens When You Throw It Out.)
Wildlife and Endangered Species:
Return of the Wolf by Paula Wild — Can wolves and human coexist? As Wild recounts, our two species have lived together for centuries, and in many ways our fates are intertwined. This book — a thematic sequel to the author's earlier volume on cougars — examines the history of wolves, their ecological roles and their relationships with other carnivores (including humans and dogs) to illustrate how we can keep both people and wolves on the landscape as our territories increasingly overlap.
Genesis: The Deep Origin of Societies by Edward O. Wilson — The famed biologist's latest book — following up on his classic Half Earth — examines what it means to be human by examining the evolutionary history of other species like naked mole rats and anchovies.
Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves by Frans de Waal — Advance warning: You just may get a bit teary reading these stories about the emotional lives of animals, including a dying chimpanzee matriarch whose photo graces the cover.
Primate Research and Conservation in the Anthropocene edited by Alison M. Behie, Julie A. Teichroeb and Nicholas Malone — Speaking of chimpanzees, primates are probably one of the most at-risk groups of species on the planet. This new book provides new research results about the threats primates face (including habitat loss, hunting and climate change) but it's not all dry academia. The authors of each chapter also discuss what motivates their conservation efforts and what strategies are helping.
Overrun: Dispatches From the Asian Carp Crisis by Andrew Reeves — The author, an environmental journalist, has been covering the story of invasive Asian carp for years. He now delivers a book-length examination of the problem and how humans have been forced to react to these troublesome new residents of North America's waterways.
Drowned Under by Wendall Thomas — A mystery novel about (among other things) an attempt to steal the world's last Tasmanian tiger. Agatha Christie never tackled a crime like that!
There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years by Mike Berners-Lee — One of the world's leading experts on carbon emissions addresses some tough questions in his new book and shows us how we can move forward in a practical, effective way. It's a book full of hard facts, important analysis, tough choices, positive inspiration and a surprising amount of humor.
Green Buddhism: Practice and Compassionate Action in Uncertain Times by Stephanie Kaza — A collection of essays by the well-known Buddhist ecologist, who offers guidance on compassion and sustainable living to help us in an age of extinction and climate change.
Spaceship in the Desert: Energy, Climate Change and Urban Design in Abu Dhabi by Gökçe Günel — As we look to the future of sustainable cities, we can learn a lot from the first attempt to create a zero-carbon metropolis. Masdar City in Abu Dhabi hasn't quite become the utopian example that it was intended to be when it was founded in 2006. That's because, Günel writes, its designers embraced capitalism rather than question how the system caused the very problems they were trying to solve. Examining the recent history of this ongoing project may help us to set a clearer path forward.
The Wall by John Lanchester — A science-fiction novel about an island nation that has to wall itself off from rising seas and other threats caused by "the Change," including the political divides that tear us apart and cause us to build walls in the first place.
A Fire Story by Brian Fies — A harrowing memoir, in graphic-novel format, about the wildfire that raged through Northern California in 2017 and destroyed 6,200 homes — including that of the author and his family. If you want to learn more about how climate change is affecting people now, this is a good place to start.
Last but not least, check out Guernica magazine's special "Climate Fiction" issue for a few extra short stories which will roll out through the month of March.
That's our list for this month, but there's plenty more to add to your reading lists. For dozens of additional recent eco-books, check out the "Revelator Reads" archive — and come back in just a few weeks for next month's inspiring list.
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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