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Summer is a time for escape reading. But that designation need not be limited to fiction; books written for the general reader on topics outside one's area of expertise can also provide passage to exciting new places. This month's bookshelf includes six non-fiction titles, five novels and one collection of short stories. The last three titles are now in paperback, suitable for a vacation or some beach time. Good reading to you!

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By Michael Svoboda

Typically one of the coldest months of the year, February seems a good time to present a selection of books that explore how climate change is affecting the coldest regions of the world. Eleven of the 13 titles presented below were (re)published between 2000 and 2017; two are slated for release later this month. The last four are collections of photographs by internationally recognized photographers James Balog and Sebastian Copeland.

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Photo credit: To the Ends of the Earth

By Daisy Simmons

When climate denial and "alternative facts" pervade the body politic, it's time to zoom in on the science. Climate change is real and its effects are already visible—even more so when you can see them play out on the big screen.

The 15th Wild and Scenic Film Festival, in Nevada City in January, was rife with such evidence. Unlike most film festivals put on by big production companies, this one is produced by a nonprofit environmental organization called South Yuba River Citizens League—and powered by 700 of its volunteers. The organizers' passion is clear and so is their intent: to inspire audiences to take action on the challenges facing our planet. With climate change at the top of that particular list and 120 films running over the course of a weekend, it's safe to say this reviewer faced no shortage of opportunity to sit back, relax and learn.

From the gravely sobering, to the relentlessly hopeful, to the darkly comedic, this year's standout climate-related films showcased the range of feeling one might have about climate change. A few themes ran through each, however. Several pointed to a need for a complete transformation of the economic system, connecting the dots between energy, economy and environment. They also highlighted major momentum in the renewable energy sector. But most fundamentally, they went to the experts for the facts, then wove together compelling narratives to bring climate science—and action—to life.

Following are four recommendations for provocative, intelligently made films that can make audiences think, feel and act.

1. The Age of Consequences (Jared P. Scott, U.S. 2016)

This harrowing yet dispassionate story opens with stark footage (like this) of soldiers scrambling out of trenches, some to, some away from the mushroom cloud rising in the distance—a fitting introduction for a film that suggests we are already perilously close to a new order of global disaster. From there, tension is sustained throughout, as some of our nation's highest ranking military and State and Defense Department leaders walk us through eight concrete ways in which climate change is emerging as a grave threat to national security.

Graphically illustrating how years of unprecedented drought have contributed to the rise of radicalization in Syria, Afghanistan and Sudan, as well as catastrophes yet to come, such as sea-level rise and mass displacement in Bangladesh, the film lays bare the implications for global conflict. It also shows the vulnerabilities at home, from Katrina to Superstorm Sandy's crippling effects on New York City, to projections that the world's largest military base, in Norfolk, Virginia, is on track for frequent flooding as soon as 2040.

The film traverses the world and the offices and libraries of major military leaders to show the cascading impacts of climate-related disasters like extreme weather, drought, sea-level rise and food shortage on other pressures … like poverty, conflict, capacity issues and migration, all together making existing vulnerabilities even more fraught.

Throughout, we learn the many ways that leaders like former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and George Schultz and Marine Brigadier General Stephen Cheney have worked to call attention to the deep connection between security and climate change. And yet their warnings have often fallen on deaf ears, because some people still don't accept that climate change is happening.

In what may be the film's most memorable comment, former army officer and artillery tank driver Michael Breen points out that if 99 percent of intelligence experts told him there was an ambush ahead, he would listen—he wouldn't say there was a 1 percent chance of no ambush. In this age of consequences, the film suggests, we cannot afford to ignore the vast majority of scientists' warnings. And yet, Breen later argues, we're not even engaging in the first line of defense.

The story ends with a call to action. Just as the precise future of climate change impacts is unpredictable, so too is the human potential to rise to the challenge. Wrapping up with a veritable PSA for renewables and for programs that connect veterans with clean energy jobs, the film closes with the reminder that there is still time left to act. And time is the one resource we can't replenish.

What now? Watch the trailer. Read The Tropic of Chaos, which outlines the convergence of poverty, violence and climate change; and or the Union of Concerned Scientists' report on sea rise and naval bases. Learn about the Solar Ready Vets project.

By Bruce Lieberman

Anyone who's taken a road trip knows how intensely the sun can beat down on the roadway. Could all those rays be converted to solar power?

Scott and Julie Brusaw said yes. This husband and wife team are the founders of Idaho-based company Solar Roadways. They created a system of solar panels coated with bulletproof glass that can replace pavement. It's not an unprecedented idea: both the Netherlands and France are researching solar roadways. But they have not yet been tried in the U.S.

The Brusaws just installed their first pilot project in Sandpoint, Idaho. And they are working with the Missouri Department of Transportation on a project at a rest stop on Route 66.

Brusaw: "We're hoping to be mass-manufacturing toward the end of next year and I expect to see them on residential roads probably in two to three years."

Solar Roadways

Skeptics worry about the durability of the panels and also the expense of producing and maintaining them.

But the Brusaws said the roads will pay for themselves over time by generating clean energy that can be delivered and sold to consumers.

Roads hold tremendous potential as sources of clean power. For example, the Brusaws said if every road in the U.S. was made of solar panels, we could produce three times more energy than we use as a country.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Yale Climate Connections.

By Diana Madson

While many nations are taking steps toward energy independence, Aruba is diving in.

In 2012, the small island nation pledged to transition to 100 percent renewable energy within eight years.

Justin Locke is director of the island energy program at the Carbon War Room, an international nonprofit. He said it makes sense for islands to switch to clean power.

The Vader Piet wind farm in Aruba.Justin Locke

"Islands currently pay some of the highest electricity prices in the world. At the same time, they also have some of the best renewable energy resources," added Locke.

Aruba's plan includes building new solar and wind farms, converting waste to energy, and working to increase energy efficiency.

The country is also pursuing creative new strategies to reduce power demands. For example, the utility company is working to provide air conditioning using ice that is produced at night when electricity costs are lower.

"Islands provide an incredible blueprint, or guiding light, for what a renewable economy could look like from a technical, financial, and regulatory perspective, because they are actually moving in that direction now," said Locke.

Today, Aruba gets nearly 40 percent of its energy from clean power and intends to reach 100 percent in several years.

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Reposted with permission from our media associate Yale Climate Connections.

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