September’s Best Environmental Books: The Green New Deal, Vanishing Species and Effective Activism
September has arrived, summer vacation season is over and it's time to get stuff done — not just for the month ahead but for the future of the planet.
With that in mind, this month sees the publication of an amazing array of books on a wide range of environmental issues, covering everything from climate change to burning rainforests to protecting our water. We've combed through the catalogs to pick the 13 best new eco-books coming out in September, including titles from an impressive team of experts and award-winning authors. Check out our list below, pick the ones that are best for you or your family, and read up on new ideas for fixing what we've broken — then get to work.
The Green New Deal:
To start off our list, this month brings not one but two books about the need for a Green New Deal.
First up, Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein offers us On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal. This collection of new and previously published reports examines the state of the environment around the world, ranging from the Great Barrier Reef to the Vatican. And as you'd expect from a firebrand like Klein, this impassioned, justice-oriented book presents a call for immediate transformation of the systems that have produced the climate crisis (and so many other crises along the way).
Taking a slightly different path, economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin brings us The Green New Deal, a cautionary tale that warns the world economy (if not the world itself) will fall apart in under ten years if we don't take immediate action to mothball extractive energy technologies. Subtitled "Why the Fossil Fuel Civilization Will Collapse by 2028, and the Bold Economic Plan to Save Life on Earth," Rifkin's book serves as a call for world governments to decarbonize their economies, post-haste.
Wildlife and Conservation:
The Missing Lynx: The Past and Future of Britain's Lost Mammals by Ross Barnett — Eurasian lynx were wiped out in Britain 1,300 years ago, but there's now an effort to bring them back to their old stomping grounds. Could other species, even megafauna, soon follow? Barnett look at the lynx and other extinct British species to see what we've lost following their disappearance from the ecosystem and what we might gain from rewilding projects. Along the way, he asks if these types of projects should even be conducted at all. That's a timely, important question in this era when we're even talking about brining extinct species like the mammoth back to life.
Gone Is Gone: Wildlife Under Threat by Isabelle Groc — Aimed at teenage readers, this profusely illustrated and thoroughly researched book looks at endangered species around the world — and what we can do to help them. Conservation icon Jane Goodall provides the foreword. (For juvenile readers, check out a similarly themed book out this month: Survival by artist Louise McNaught and writer Anna Claybourne.)
Vanishing: The World's Most Vulnerable Animals by Joel Sartore — Critically endangered and extinct-in-the-wild species get the spotlight in this stunning, 400-page photography book, the latest in Sartore's "Photo Ark" project for National Geographic. This could be your last chance to see many of these species, so take some time to linger on each image and reflect on the very real faces of impending extinction.
We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast by Jonathan Safran Foer — If we want to fight climate change, we (individually and collectively) need to put down the breakfast sausages and rethink many of our other agricultural products. A stylishly written and thought-provoking book from the author of Everything Is Illuminated and Eating Animals.
The Geography of Risk: Epic Storms, Rising Seas, and the Cost of America's Coasts by Gilbert M. Gaul — Hoo boy, the coastal destruction coming our way due to climate change and sea-level rise is going to be expensive…and taxpayers will carry the costs. Gaul, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, recounts the history of coastal development (or over-development, to be precise) and lays out the case for changing the way we regulate and subsidize risky construction.
Activism and Environmental Justice:
Whose Water Is It, Anyway? Taking Water Protection Into Public Hands by Maude Barlow — One of the world's most notable water-justice activists provides a step-by-step guide to help communities keep themselves from going dry due to the actions of irresponsible companies and governments. (Check out our interview with Barlow.)
Unearthing Justice: How to Protect Your Community From the Mining Industry by Joan Kuyek — Covering everything from how to stop a new mining project to figuring out how to clean up an abandoned mine, this important book offers activists a primer for taking on all manner of extractive industries that can harm human health and the environment.
Salmon and Acorns Feed Our People: Colonialism, Nature and Social Action by Kari Marie Norgaard — A sociological look at North American colonialism, focusing on the Karuk Tribe of northern California and their political struggles for environmental justice and food sovereignty.
And Two More for Good Measure:
Waste by Kate O'Neill — A simply titled book about a very complex issue: What do we do with all of our stuff? From food waste to plastic recycling to the remnants of our ubiquitous electronics, O'Neill examines the politics and future of what we throw away.
Rainforest: Dispatches From Earth's Most Vital Frontlines by Tony Juniper — A gorgeous, thoughtful and increasingly necessary book examining the roles that rainforests around the world play in regulating our planetary systems. Juniper, a noted environmentalist who has spent decades working on rainforest conservation, devotes a good portion of this book to the threats that human-caused fires pose to these essential ecosystems — a timely topic, to say the least.
That's our list for this month, but don't stop here: You can find dozens of other recent eco-books in the "Revelator Reads" archive.
John R. Platt is the editor of The Revelator. An award-winning environmental journalist, his work has appeared in Scientific American, Audubon, Motherboard, and numerous other magazines and publications.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
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After sustained declines in the number of COVID-19 cases over recent months, restrictions are starting to ease across the United States. Numbers of new cases are falling or stable at low numbers in some states, but they are surging in many others. Overall, the U.S. is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of new cases a day, and by late June, had surpassed the peak rate of spread in early April.
Seven day rolling average of number of people confirmed to have COVID-19, per day (not including today). This chart gets updated once per day with data by Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins university doesn't provide reliable data for March 12 and March 13. Johns Hopkins CSSE Get the data
To Have a Second Wave, the First Wave Needs to End.<p>A wave of an infection describes a large rise and fall in the number of cases. There isn't a precise epidemiological definition of when a wave begins or ends.</p><p>But with talk of a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/27/new-covid-19-clusters-across-world-spark-fear-of-second-wave" target="_blank">second wave in the news</a>, as an <a href="https://www.american.edu/cas/faculty/mhawkins.cfm" target="_blank">epidemiologist and public health researcher</a>, I think there are two necessary factors that must be met before we can colloquially declare a second wave.</p><p>First, the virus would have to be controlled and transmission brought down to a very low level. That would be the end of the first wave. Then, the virus would need to reappear and result in a large increase in cases and hospitalizations.</p><p>Many countries in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0908-8" target="_blank">Europe and Asia have successfully ended the first wave</a>. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/08/new-zealand-abandons-covid-19-restrictions-after-nation-declared-no-cases" target="_blank">New Zealand</a> and <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/08/how-iceland-beat-the-coronavirus" target="_blank">Iceland</a> have also made it through their first waves and are now essentially coronavirus-free, with very low levels of community transmission and only a handful of active cases currently.</p>
Different States, Different Trends<p>Looking at U.S. numbers as a whole hides what is really going on. Different states are in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html" target="_blank">vastly different situations right now</a> and when you look at states individually, four major categories emerge.</p><ol><li>Places where the first wave is ending: States in the Northeast and a few scattered elsewhere experienced large initial spikes but were able to mostly contain the virus and substantially brought down new infections. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/new-york-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">New York</a> is a good example of this.</li><li>Places still in the first wave: Several states in the South and West – see <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/texas-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Texas</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/california-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">California</a> – had some cases early on, but are now seeing massive surges with no sign of slowing down.</li><li>Places in between: Many states were hit early in the first wave, managed to slow it down, but are either at a plateau – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/north-dakota-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">North Dakota</a> – or are now seeing steep increases – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/oklahoma-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Oklahoma</a>.</li><li>Places experiencing local second waves: Looking only at a state level, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/hawaii-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Hawaii</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/montana-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Montana</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/alaska-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Alaska</a> could be said to be experiencing second waves. Each state experienced relatively small initial outbreaks and was able to reduce spread to single digits of daily new confirmed cases, but are now all seeing spikes again.</li></ol><p>The trends aren't surprising based on how states have been dealing with reopening. The virus will go wherever there are susceptible people and until the U.S. stops community spread across the entire country, the first wave isn't over.</p>
What Could a Second Wave Look Like?<p>It is possible – though at this point it seems unlikely – that the U.S. could control the virus before a vaccine is developed. If that happens, it would be time to start thinking about a second wave. The question of what it might look like depends in large part on everyone's actions.</p><p>The <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1086%2F592454" target="_blank">1918 flu pandemic</a> was characterized by a mild first wave in the winter of 1917-1918 that went away in summer. After restrictions were lifted, people very quickly went back to pre-pandemic life. But a second, deadlier strain came back in fall of 1918 and third in spring of 1919. In total, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm" target="_blank">more than 500 million people were infected</a> worldwide and upwards of <a href="https://theconversation.com/compare-the-flu-pandemic-of-1918-and-covid-19-with-caution-the-past-is-not-a-prediction-138895" target="_blank">50 million died</a> over the course of three waves.</p><p>It was the combination of a quick return to normal life and a mutation in the flu's genome that made it more deadly that led to the horrific second and third waves.</p><p>Thankfully, the coronavirus appears to be much more <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104351" target="_blank">genetically stable</a> than the influenza virus, and thus less likely to mutate into a more deadly variant. That leaves human behavior as the main risk factor.</p><p>Until a <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-needs-to-go-right-to-get-a-coronavirus-vaccine-in-12-18-months-136816" target="_blank">vaccine or effective treatment is developed</a>, the tried-and-true public health measures of the last months – <a href="https://theconversation.com/this-simple-model-shows-the-importance-of-wearing-masks-and-social-distancing-140423" target="_blank">social distancing,</a> <a href="https://theconversation.com/masks-help-stop-the-spread-of-coronavirus-the-science-is-simple-and-im-one-of-100-experts-urging-governors-to-require-public-mask-wearing-138507" target="_blank">universal mask wearing</a>, frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces – are the ways to stop the first wave and thwart a second one. And when there are surges like what is happening now in the U.S., further reopening plans need to be put on hold.</p>
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Gluts of food left to rot as a consequence of coronavirus aren't just wasteful – they're also likely to damage the environment.
Methane on the Rise<p>Not only is this a tragic waste of food at a time when many are going hungry, it is also an <a href="https://donatedontdump.net/2014/07/07/the-effects-of-food-waste-on-the-environment-by-junemy-pantig/" target="_blank">environmental hazard</a> and could contribute to global warming. Landfill gas – <a href="https://www.epa.gov/lmop/basic-information-about-landfill-gas" target="_blank">roughly half methane and half carbon dioxide (CO2)</a> – is a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic material.</p>
Food decay leads to production of greenhouse gases, methane and carbon dioxide. EPA<p>Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, 28 to <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full.pdf" target="_blank">36 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat</a> in the atmosphere over a 100-year period, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.</p><p>"Many export-oriented producers produce volumes far too large for output to be absorbed in local markets, and thus <a href="https://unctad.org/en/pages/newsdetails.aspx?OriginalVersionID=2333" target="_blank">organic waste levels have mounted substantially</a>," says Robert Hamwey, Economic Affairs Officer at UN agency UNCTAD. "Because this waste is left to decay, levels of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas, from decaying produce are expected to rise sharply in the crisis and immediate post-crisis months."</p>
Food supply chains are easily disrupted. UN FAO<p>Dumping food was already a problem before the crisis. In America alone, <a href="https://www.refed.com/?sort=economic-value-per-ton" target="_blank">$218 billion is spent growing, processing, transporting</a> and disposing of food that is never eaten, estimates ReFED, a collection of business, non-profit and government leaders committed to reducing food waste. That's equivalent to around 1.3% of GDP.</p><p>Since the pandemic took hold, <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-52267943" target="_blank">farmers are dumping 14 million liters</a> of milk each day because of disrupted supply routes, estimates Dairy Farmers of America. A chicken processor was forced to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/11/business/coronavirus-destroying-food.html" target="_blank">destroy 750,000 unhatched eggs a week</a>, according to the New York Times, which also cited an onion farmer letting most of his harvest decompose because he couldn't distribute or store them.</p>
Food Prices Collapsing<p>The excess has also seen prices collapse. The <a href="http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/foodpricesindex/en/" target="_blank">FAO Food Price Index</a> (FFPI) averaged 162.5 points in May 2020, down 3.1 points from April and reaching the lowest monthly average since December 2018. The gauge has dropped for four consecutive months, and the latest decline reflects falling values of all the food commodities – dairy, meat, cereal, vegetable – except sugar, which rose for the first time in three months.</p><p>All this while the pandemic is exacerbating other global food trends.</p><p>"This year, some 49 million extra people may fall into extreme poverty due to the COVID-19 crisis," said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN. "The number of people who are acutely food or nutrition insecure will rapidly expand. <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGhLKAbNDiY&feature=youtu.be" target="_blank">Even in countries with abundant food, we see risks of disruptions in the food supply chain</a>."</p>
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