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.
By Robert J. Orth, Jonathan Lefcheck and Karen McGlathery
A century ago Virginia's coastal lagoons were a natural paradise. Fishing boats bobbed on the waves as geese flocked overhead. Beneath the surface, miles of seagrass gently swayed in the surf, making the seabed look like a vast underwater prairie.
Why Didn’t Seagrasses Recover Naturally?<p>Development, nutrient runoff and other human impacts have damaged marshes, mangroves, coral reefs and seagrasses in many bays and estuaries worldwide. Loss or shrinkage of these key habitats has reduced commercial fisheries, increased erosion, made coastlines more vulnerable to floods and storms and harmed many types of aquatic life. Rapid climate change has compounded these effects through <a href="https://theconversation.com/ocean-warming-has-fisheries-on-the-move-helping-some-but-hurting-more-116248" target="_blank">rising global temperatures</a>, more <a href="https://theconversation.com/more-frequent-and-intense-tropical-storms-mean-less-recovery-time-for-the-worlds-coastlines-123335" target="_blank">frequent and severe storms</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/as-climate-change-alters-the-oceans-what-will-happen-to-dungeness-crabs-61501" target="_blank">ocean acidification</a>.</p><p>In the late 1990s, local residents told two of us who are longtime students of seagrasses (Robert "JJ" Orth and Karen McGlathery) that they had spotted small patches of eelgrass in shallow waters off Virginia's eastern shore. For years the conventional view had been that seagrasses in this area had not recovered from the events of the 1930s because human activities had <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aquabot.2005.07.007" target="_blank">made the area inhospitable for them</a>.</p><p>But studies showed that water quality in these coastal bays was <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02782971" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">comparatively good</a>. This led us to explore a different explanation: Seeds from healthy seagrass populations elsewhere along the Atlantic coast simply weren't reaching these isolated bays. Seagrasses are underwater flowering plants, so seeds are among the main ways they reproduce and spread to new environments.</p>
Eelgrass beds were restored in four bays at the southern tip of Virginia's eastern shore on the Atlantic coast. David J. Wilcox/VIMS, CC BY-ND
Sowing a New Crop<p>From our <a href="https://doi.org/10.2307/1941597" target="_blank">earlier research</a>, we knew that when eelgrass seeds fall from the parent plant, they sink to the sea bottom quickly and don't move far from where they land. We also knew that these seeds don't germinate until late fall or early winter. This meant that if we collected the seeds in spring, when eelgrass flowers, we could hold them until the fall, helping them survive over the months in between.</p><p>We decided to try reseeding eelgrass in the areas where they were missing. Starting in 1999, we collected seeds by hand from underwater meadows in nearby Chesapeake Bay – plucking the long reproductive shoots, bringing them back to our laboratory and holding them in large outdoor seawater tanks until they released their seeds naturally. After about 10 years we started gathering the grasses using a custom-built underwater "lawn mower" to collect many more of the reproductive shoots than we could by hand.</p><p>In 2001 we sowed our first round by simply tossing seeds from a boat. Our first test plots covered 28 acres of mud flats in waters 2 to 3 feet deep. Returning the following year, we saw new seedlings sprouting up.</p><p>Each year since then, the <a href="https://www.vims.edu/" target="_blank">Virginia Institute of Marine Science</a> and the <a href="https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/virginia/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Nature Conservancy's Virginia Coast Reserve</a>, along with staff and students from the <a href="https://www.vcrlter.virginia.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Virginia</a>, have led a team of scientists and citizens to collect and seed a combined 536 acres of bare bottom in several coastal bays.</p><p>These initial plots took off and rapidly expanded. By 2020 they covered 9,600 acres across four bays. Several factors helped them flourish. These bays are naturally flushed with cool, clean water from the Atlantic Ocean. And they lie off the tip of Virginia's eastern shore, where there is little coastal development.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a482c2146febd6782c99960c2b55feb8"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K9NyfPLINtk?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Sheltering Marine Life and Storing Carbon<p>Since eelgrass disappeared from these bays in the 1930s, human understanding of seagrass ecosystems has evolved. Today people don't pack their walls full of seagrass insulation but instead value different services they provide, such as habitat for fish and shellfish – including many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12645" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">commercially and recreationally important species</a>.</p><p>Scientists and government agencies also have recognized the importance of coastal systems in capturing and storing so-called "<a href="https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/bluecarbon.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">blue carbon</a>." In fact, we now know that seagrasses constitute a globally significant <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1477" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon sink</a>. They are a key tool for reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-64094-1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">slowing climate change</a></p><p>We are working to understand the valuable services that our restored seagrass beds provide. To our surprise, fish and invertebrates returned within only a few years as the meadows expanded. These organisms have established extensive food webs that include species ranging from tiny seahorses to 6-foot-long sandbar sharks.<br></p><p>Other benefits were equally dramatic. Water in the bays become clearer as the seagrass canopy trapped floating particles and deposited them onto the bottom, burying significant stocks of carbon and nitrogen in sediments bound by the grasses' roots. Our research is the first to verify the overall net carbon captured by seagrass, and is now being used to issue carbon offset credits that in turn <a href="https://vaseagrant.org/eelgrass-carbon-credits/" target="_blank">create more funds for restoration</a>.</p><p>One big question was whether restoring seagrasses could make it possible to bring back bay scallops, which once generated millions of dollars for the local economy. Since bay scallops no longer existed in Virginia, we obtained broodstock from North Carolina, which we have <a href="https://chesapeakebaymagazine.com/return-of-the-bay-scallop/" target="_blank">reared and released annually</a> since 2013. Regular surveys now reveal a growing population of bay scallops in the restored eelgrass, although there is still some way to go before they reach levels seen in the 1930s.</p>
Restored seagrass beds (dark areas) along Virginia's Atlantic coast, with sunlight reflecting from a small island. Jonathan Lefcheck, CC BY-ND
A Model for Coastal Restoration<p>Repairing damaged ecosystems is such an urgent mission worldwide that the United Nations has designated 2021-2030 as the <a href="https://www.decadeonrestoration.org/" target="_blank">U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration</a>. We see the success we have achieved with eelgrass restoration as a prime model for similar efforts in coastal areas around the world.</p><p>Our project focused not only on reviving this essential habitat, but also on charting how restoring seagrasses affected the ecosystem and on the co-restoration of bay scallops. It provides a road map for involving scholars, nonprofits organizations, citizens and government agencies in an ecological mission where they can see the results of their work.</p><p>Recent assessments show that the restored zone only covers about 30% of the total habitable bottom in our project area. With continued support, eelgrass – and the many benefits it provides – may continue to thrive and expand well into the 21st century.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jessica Corbett
Leaders of climate and conservation groups on Tuesday welcomed House Democrats' introduction of landmark legislation that aims to address the ocean impacts of human-caused global heating and reform federal ocean management—recognizing that, as Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva put it, "a healthy ocean is key to fighting the climate crisis."
<div id="a858f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="99d487bc34e6e570edd2a3089e616347"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318606309256798208" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🎥 We're live! @NRDems, @RepRaulGrijalva, and @USRepKCastor are unveiling #OceanClimateAction legislation. W… https://t.co/pPdylA6cKQ</div> — Select Committee on the Climate Crisis (@Select Committee on the Climate Crisis)<a href="https://twitter.com/ClimateCrisis/statuses/1318606309256798208">1603215217.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="17f05" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="28d7040a5dd41c4d26fed8e93a225655"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318614724842524674" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">.@RepRaulGrijalva’s climate bill will ignite #OceanClimateAction to help fight inequality by prioritizing funding f… https://t.co/oeH1W214em</div> — NRDC 🌎🏡 (@NRDC 🌎🏡)<a href="https://twitter.com/NRDC/statuses/1318614724842524674">1603217223.0</a></blockquote></div>
- COVID-19 Masks Are Polluting Beaches and Oceans - EcoWatch ›
- Satellite Imagery Helps Detect Ocean Plastic Pollution - EcoWatch ›
- 3 Innovations Leading the Fight to Save Our Ocean - EcoWatch ›
Poor eating habits, lack of exercise, genetics, and a bunch of other things are known to be behind excessive weight gain. But, did you know that how much sleep you get each night can also determine how much weight you gain or lose?
Almost 300,000 more Americans have died during the first ten months of the coronavirus pandemic than would be expected in an average year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Tuesday.
- White House Ordered Coronavirus Meetings Be Classified - EcoWatch ›
- As Trump Pushes U.S. to Reopen, Internal Document Projects 3,000 ... ›
- As Coronavirus Infections Rise, CDC Is Criticized - EcoWatch ›
- As CDC Says 'Do Not Go to Work,' Trump Says Thousands With ... ›
By Julia Conley
A federal judge in Washington, D.C. late Sunday struck down the Trump administration's proposed changes to the SNAP benefits program, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of people from losing badly needed federal food assistance.
<div id="e8d44" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="be49aabc36a5465eed30ca54f88f6b2d"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318171686232096772" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">A judge has ruled in our favor and blocked the Trump administration’s unlawful changes to SNAP. This decision is… https://t.co/5zeTafxMLm</div> — NY AG James (@NY AG James)<a href="https://twitter.com/NewYorkStateAG/statuses/1318171686232096772">1603111595.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="f47ab" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="381daa45528adda7398d5628d047294f"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318175677724676096" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">There's a lot of competition for Vilest Policy Ever, but slashing food stamps during a pandemic that's causing mass… https://t.co/EYvb0C8Q3m</div> — Tamar Haspel (@Tamar Haspel)<a href="https://twitter.com/TamarHaspel/statuses/1318175677724676096">1603112546.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="946d8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3cff2dc2643fc55ab21d2a73881c7de8"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318168614541950976" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Trump: yes to Space Force, no to Food Stamps. Another equation that might be remembered in a few weeks. https://t.co/9IEDBaMy2o</div> — Matt Taibbi (@Matt Taibbi)<a href="https://twitter.com/mtaibbi/statuses/1318168614541950976">1603110862.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"Trump: yes to Space Force, no to Food Stamps," Taibbi tweeted.</p>
- Trump Wants to Replace Food Stamps With Food Packages ... ›
- Trump Complains Puerto Rico Getting 'Too Much' Disaster Aid as ... ›
- Trump USDA Resumes Effort to Cut Food Stamp Benefits - EcoWatch ›