Tag Archives: ecology

*1/2 The Water Will Come by Jeff Goodell

Sea levels are rising and threatening buildings, infrastructure of all kinds, and the lifestyle of anyone who happens to live close to the water. The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World paints a horrific picture of what could happen if sea levels were to rise by many feet and nothing was done. And if you like doomsday ecology, you will love the book. In my mind it would be much better to avoid sensational claims and to focus on solutions and how to motivate people to invest in long-term solutions. After all, the average Miaman who refuses to leave because the water will rise is not that much different from the average Californian who does not like to think too much about earthquakes, right?

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** The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

There are plenty of irritants in The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World: convoluted writing (or perhaps a poor translation), a meandering structure that generates annoying repeats, and several episodes of pseudo-science, in which bold statements are not justified.

And yet, following the author as he rambles through his beloved forest, as he notes how trees live and die and interact with each other and the rest of their environment, we come to share his love and knowledge of trees. How badly we treat trees when we plant them in isolated patterns, whether on streets or even in gardens. There is much hope in this book, because the forest is smarter than us.

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*** How To Clone A Mammoth by Beth Shapiro


Written by a biology professor, How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction is a very serious book about bringing back to life extinct species. It discusses the technical challenges (with, I imagine, simplified discussions of what were for me head-spinning topics such as non-homologous end joining of DNA strands — yikes!),  along with the ecological and ethical questions of whether we should attempt to bring back animals at all. Which animals should we bring back? what problems may be solved or created by bringing them back? It’s a lot more complicated that a touch of genetic engineering. Even if we could bring back the mammoth of the title, how would we manage to bring back enough of them so they could function as they need to, in a group? Could they really change the climate of the Arctic, and, if so, that of the entire planet? A wonderful book, even if you must skip the technical parts.

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**1/2 How Bad Are Bananas? by Mike Berners-Lee

How Bad Are Bananas? is a witty yet dead-serious encyclopedia of the carbon footprint of everything from bananas (not bad, as they are shipped by boat) to our beloved cell phones (one minute = one banana!), to the well-known heavy hitters of flying, and the less well-known horrors of volcanoes. Sounds like a pretty dreary enterprise? Not at all. The author packs a sense of humor and never shies from controversy (yes, plastic bags are much better than paper bags, at least if we focus on the carbon footprint) and I quickly became engrossed in reading the entries linearly.

Certified to enchant teenagers, to boot!

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Farewell my Subaru by Doug Fine

Farewell, My Subaru is a mostly lighthearted description of the author’s efforts to lead a green life in a hot and dry (but occasionally flooded) ranch in New Mexico. There’s minimal preaching about the virtues of being green (thankfully and unlike other unbearably self-righteous”green” books such as  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.) The absurdity of some of the changes, such as ditching the Subaru of the title for a monster truck (converted to run on biodiesel, mind you) is occasionally noted but not always… If you’re looking for a more self-deprecating tone on a similar topic of life-changing adventures read The Year of Living Biblically. But this author has a good sense of humor and a hefty dose of self-deprecation that makes the book fun to read — if you don’t think about the issues too deeply.

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The Dominant Animal by Paul and Anne Erlich

The Dominant Animal describes how we humans are abusing the planet as we grow ever more sophisticated and greedy. If you want to get really depressed about where we are going, this book is for you. The authors do attempt to give solutions, which are basically for us in the rich world to somehow give up our food (meat is bad), transportation (cars are bad, so are planes), and even our cities, which would have the magical effect of letting the poor people of the world raise their standards of living to meet us somewhere in the middle.

I don’t think that’s going to happen.

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How the Dead Dream by Lydia Millet

How the Dead Dream starts with a boy who’s very interested and good at making money, and at manipulating others around him to get what he wants. So the boy becomes a real estate developer — although there’s no hint of how he might have learned anything about designing and building subdivisions. His girlfriend dies suddenly, his father reveals he’s gay, his mother gets Alzheimer’s, his assistant’s paraplegic daughter falls in love with him, and he flies to a low-lying island in the middle of a hurricane. That could actually work, to a point, if he did not also become a conservation fanatic, sneaking into endangered animals’ cages in the middle of the night just to be with them. Not to liberate them, mind you, or to create more awareness of their plight. No, just to be with them…

There are good bits here and there, in particular his anger over this mother’s abandonment and his overwhelming sadness after his girlfriend’s death, but they float in a sea of unbelievability. If you’re concerned about endangered species, skip the book and give money to the WWF instead.

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Filed under New fiction