The history of seeds goes all the way back to Genesis. For most of history, farmers have carefully bred new variations and saved their best seeds, but somewhere along the way, seeds became privatized and patented. "Uncertain Peril" is about what has happened as a result. I found the subject both fascinating and infuriating!
Thursday, July 31, 2008
The history of seeds goes all the way back to Genesis. For most of history, farmers have carefully bred new variations and saved their best seeds, but somewhere along the way, seeds became privatized and patented. "Uncertain Peril" is about what has happened as a result. I found the subject both fascinating and infuriating!
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
As I’ve been making changes in my own life, and reading more eco-books, I’ve started to be a bit more critical of many of the ones I read. In other words, it’s taking more and more to impress me! I was prepared to be disappointed by Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World for a few reasons - I thought it would be another consumerist guide to relieve guilt by buying more and more “green” items, and because my husband just plucked it off the new book shelf at the library – it wasn’t one that I had heard of and requested. But this book, but Diane MacEachern, was a happy surprise.
The author, who also wrote Save Our Planet: 750 Everyday Ways You Can Help Clean Up the Earth, is not only an environmental writer, she has advised the EPA, the World Bank, the WWF and more on protecting the planet. She also walks the walk, having built an eco-friendly house in Washington D.C. over twenty years ago. She has an engaging writing style which is easy to read and she comes across as very likeable, in my opinion.
The premise of the book is not to buy, buy, buy (a relief right there!) But it does acknowledge that even if we try to live a green lifestyle, we obviously do have to buy a lot – food, transportation, things for shelter, things for pleasure, etc. The book states that 75% of the dollars spent in America are controlled by women, so this book is targeted to women although anyone who makes purchasing decisions could benefit from it. I believe it is also targeted to women because women tend more to change their habits based on information, if they feel it is important and worthwhile. This isn’t a slam on men, but in my experience men tend to buy what they’ve always bought, or use price more as a determining factor, and women are more likely to stop and think about the impact of their purchases. This might be more of a reflection on the men I know, so if your men are super aware, know that I’m not talking about them!
The book starts with a complete summary of climate change - talking about chemicals in the environment, what’s happening to wildlife, water, forests, and air. It explains the Precautionary Principle, which states that “we should not wait to protect ourselves or the planet until we’re absolutely positive, from a scientific point of view, that certain products or activities…can indeed do damage …When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken, even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”
The next chapter of the book explains the seven Big Green Purse Shopping Principles. They are:
Read the label
Support sustainable standards
Look for third-party verification
Choose fewer ingredients
Pick less packaging
There is a great emphasis on not buying - either borrowing, renting, making do with something else, or realizing something isn’t needed. That was really good to read.
The rest of the book is divided into chapters which cover different areas of purchasing –
Cosmetics and personal-care products
Coffee, tea, cocoa, and chocolate
Fruits, veggies, dairy, meat, poultry and seafood
Clothing, accessories and jewelry
Lawn, garden and patio
Baby and Children’s food, gear and toys
Lights, appliances and electronics
Furniture, paint, flooring and fabrics
Each of these chapters talks about ways to determine what you really need, figure out the best way to procure it, and gives a lot of details to back everything up.
Interspersed throughout the book are personal anecdotes of what the author does in her own life, spotlights on companies that are particularly good for the environment, as well as noting those you should avoid, and hints for greening the workplace. It also highlights changes that women can make immediately, green choices that are cheaper than the non-green alternatives, and suggestions of what to say to store managers to ask for more green options.
One thing I found particularly helpful was the lists of good eco-brands, especially in the personal-care products and cleaners category. This may get out of date reasonably soon, but for now it’s great to have a list of brands where she’s already done the research. She also warns about greenwashing, and shows readers how to tell the difference between claims that have nothing to back them up, and those that do.
There are a few things I wish were in there that aren’t – anti-perspirants with aluminum are to be avoided, but there aren’t any options given for women (although a few are given for men). Some of the green options are given without explanation that they’re not really equivalent to the traditional – for example, solar ovens are suggested as replacements for grills, and while she does say they cook “more slowly” and don’t give a grilled flavor, from reading Chile’s experience with solar ovens, I think “more slowly” is an understatement and many of us do not live in regions of the country where we get enough sun and heat for solar ovens to be practical. But these are pretty small quibbles – overall I really enjoyed the book and thought it had a lot of good information. It would not be overwhelming to a newly green reader, but it’s not too simplified for someone who has been moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle for a while already.
I would recommend this book, giving it 4 out of 5 stars, and best for light to medium green readers. If you’re already dark green, you may not learn too much but I think you would still enjoy reading it. If you purchase the book, I think you’ll refer to it when you need to buy your next laundry detergent or bottle of shampoo, and if you get it from the library, you might want to jot down a few good companies to keep in mind when you do need to stock up.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Friday, July 25, 2008
I know that my fellow Wormers have been talking about cherry picking, but how about picking a Cherry? Lynne Cherry that is, one of my favorite eco -styled writers for children. A River Ran Wild: An Environmental History is a hot pick for kids right now as parents explore ways to talk about ecology, pollution, and how we can change the world one river at a time.
Cherry traces the history of the Nashu River in New England from a beginning as a special place for Native Americans. It was a lush green place filled with wildlife, fertile in natural bounty for man and animal. As the area was settled the Nashu became a dumping spot for various industrial plants such as a dye factory. The wildlife died or left as the Nashu became a place of decay and pollution.
Hope springs in that we see the Nashu healed as citizens demanded change with the passage of clean water and pollution laws. The Nashu was gradually restored as people worked together to change the situation both for themselves and for nature.
I do find this book, despite a few technical flaws, appealing to use with children. You can read the main body of the text in a small group or lap situation and older children will be fascinated with the illustrative style. Look closely at the cover picture above and it will reflect the style of the entire book. The small blocks around each picture will document inventions used by industries, what was happening in each time period, and other facts of note. Older readers will find themselves explore the book several times and learning new information each time.
If you want a hopeful book about making a difference, this one is one for you.
Other books by this author I'd happily "Cherry" pick are:
The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest
Flutes Journey: The Life of a Wood Thrush
The Sea, The Storm and the Mangrove Tangle
I haven't read her new book about changing climate yet, but I'm trying to get my hot little hands on a copy. It is titled How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming. I do know this author deals with environmental issues in a very kid friendly way, so I'm hoping this will be a good read for older child that are discussing what they hear 'round the composter.
Your local library should have copies of these books in their kids section. Parents and teachers can get a good deal of mileage out of her works both for information and inspiration.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Despite Hollywood fame and fortune Ed has been living simply for almost 30 years. The beginning of the book briefly discusses how he used to be viewed as a bit of a green freak by the transitional Hollywood in the 1970’s, but now Ed is considered eco-chic and rather a trendsetter. He rather seems to shrug it all off and happily rides his bike about with little concern for what others think.
In his introduction he provides us with a strong motivation, the pursuit of true life happiness. Because he lives simply for the environmental reasons, he can also live happily for his own well being and never take a role he doesn’t like to support an over inflated lifestyle.
He lives in a simple house, wears clothes he has owned for years, grows a great deal of his own food, drives an electric car charged by his solar panels when he isn’t able to use his bike to get to jobs. He makes his own environmentally friendly cleaners and can be found selling them at a farmers market on the weekends.
Ed dives his book into six sections and provides worksheets on topics at the end. The Librarian in me also likes the additional index, and found the book to be very well organized. The six sections are home, transportation, recycling, energy, in the garden and kitchen, clothing/hair/skin care.
A cute little icon of a fruit producing tree companions many of his ideas. Pick from the low-hanging fruit for easy ideas, fruit at the top for the larger and difficult changes. The lower ones are some of the more obvious changes like CFL’s, water saving tips, replacing air filters to the more difficult changes like solar panels or urban windmills.
His energy topics were extremely interesting to me. He has owned (half) his own wind turbine since 1985, and it puts enough clean energy back into the grid to power ten homes. The cost he cites for this change is $6,000 and it counts as an investment while he also quotes the American Wind Energy Association cites the cost as anywhere from $6,000-$22,000. An urban windmill discussion puts cost beginning at around $3,000.
In the beginning of the book we are told that all of Ed’s changes have come gradually, and a truly “green” lifestyle took him years to achieve. I think this does help the approachability of the book, and he is just so darn likable that he makes the subject matter very easy to digest. Much of the subject matter will be familiar to those already deeply green, but even if you are already crunchy crispy it can be a nice refresher book with an uplifting tone.
The worksheets at the end are fascinating, and fans of the Riot4Austerity will appreciate some of the attention to details. If you want to do things like calculating your water usage per minute or just document the changes, you’ve got a nice starting place.
Overall it is a very good read, and also a nice book to just simply skim for hints. I’d rate it as especially good for the new greenie, and also for those that need the extra carrot of cost savings and thrift incorporated into the discussion.
When I first started “going crunchy” (the efforts) somebody said that I should look up Ed. There is a quirky You-Tube that you may enjoy, and we can all learn a bit from his optimism.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Cinderella and Cinder Edna are neighbors, two women with an initial similar fate but decidedly different outcomes because of their attitude and life choices. Cinderella is made to do chores for her wicked siblings, but sits in a funk and stews in her own juices not to mention ashes. The somewhat more sensible and spunky Cinder Edna seems to have a Monty Python Soundtrack running through her life as she looks on the bright side of life and remains cheerful and upbeat through her challenges. Instead of pouting, Cinder Edna chooses to do extra chores and sings while she works.
Cinderella fits the traditional model of “princess” in looks and bearing while Cinder Edna was a modest cute, more focused on intelligence and true charm. A pumpkin, a fairy godmother and a full team of help is required to get our pampered princess to the ball, while Cinder Edna takes public transportation with a self-reliant attitude.
Randolph, the oldest son of the king bores Cinder Edna with his vanity and small talk though he easily wins the heart of a prissy Cinderella. Rupert is the younger son and just perfect for Cinder Edna as he is into recycling, saving small animals and enjoys good conversation. Could any of us resist a guy that likes to compare recipes?
So who wins the heart of a prince? Well, they both do! Randolph locates Cinderella with the slipper and Rupert with the scuffed and sensible loafer for his love. Each character receives a logical outcome in their ever after. Cinderella is bored with her shallow life while Cinder Edna is happily gardening, composting and living in a solar house.
Now that is happily ever after.
This book is a nice intro for parents looking for funny books that involve concern for the environment in an approachable manner. It’s a nice lesson for hard work and good attitude, and I love that “happily ever after” is featured so charmingly in a lush gardening scene of a happy couple working together. And trust me, you will giggling throughout the entire book both from the clever text and vibrant illustrations.
Parents working to create a dialogue with their children about environmental issues as well as what gives us long term satisfaction in life will appreciate a non-preachy conversation starter. Try a few extension activities like rewriting other fairy tales, or creating alternate plots. What if Rapunzel gave her hair to Locks of Love or Beauty and the Beast started an orphanage? Be silly and try to make alternate plots to engage them in issues or interest them in reading.
Readers: Parents, and those that just want a good laugh. Should readily be available on local library bookshelves.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Lovelock proposed the initial Gaia Theory in the early 1970’s as (from Wiki): a complex entity involving the Earth's biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet. To put it in the most simplistic terms I could visualize, imagine a see-saw. One side is pushed down to bring the other up, vice versa. To stay stable and balanced in the middle requires that both ends be manned at equal distribution. Mash one side down really hard and you get a sore tush and a partner that is flying too high in the sky.
The Gaia Theory has been embraced in many respects by a variety of different religions or spiritual beliefs as an embodiment of the spirit of the Earth. Though I was familiar with Gaia Theory to a certain degree, this was my first close look at the science surrounding theory development. Or, in this case, the revenge of such.
Lovelock proposes in Revenge of Gaia that Earth has regulated her (he personifies Earth as her) temperature and climate throughout history and that she now displays symptoms that we could liken to a fever while other ecosystems are crying out for relief. Lovelock also proposes that organisms on Gaia have also evolved in more of a symbiotic relationship then simply the Darwinist approach of “survival of the fittest.” For instance, did humans evolve (notice I said evolve, not created for those wary of alternate evolution theories) as a significant part of the nitrogen cycle? Maybe organisms evolve in a yin/yang approach rather then in our simple thought of individual evolution.
He proposes that when Earth has experienced major fluctuations in the carbon in our atmosphere self-regulating systems come into play to spring Gaia back the other way. It just happens slowly, ever so slowly as we count thousands of years. The current state of Gaia has us reaching the tipping points where feedback from each failing eco-system plays into each other to create a devastating ecological threat. We’ve crippled her self-defense systems, and even if a climate change was doomed to happen we have moved it along to a matter of decades and not thousands of years as it would have taken in ages before.
He does feel that we have gone beyond sustainable development in many respects, and that our dependence on fossil fuels must absolutely end. He moves us toward nuclear as the quickest, cleanest, and most possible immediate solution and doesn’t feel that other solutions will act as quickly or efficiently. And make no mistake, Lovelock feels that we must move very quickly if we stand a chance to survive. It is bound to be an extremely rough ride for those of us sticking out temperature changes, floods, food and water shortages and the ensuing changes to our civilizations. Is climate change inevitable as it serves as the ultimate fever to eradicate us? The one organism that evolved too quickly and destroyed the yin/yang? I ponder……
I have a priest bud that served to end Aparthaid in South Africa, and saw some of the bloodiest scenes that one can imagine. She was trained under Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Winner of 1984. We had lunch the other day and had a passionate discussion about Earth, our spiritual and theological beliefs as they relate to the peril of Earth and what each of us can individually do to change the fate of our society. She shared thoughts from Tutu, and as I think of Gaia I’m revisiting thoughts on what I know of him.
Tutu gives us the well known quote, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Though works like Revenge of Gaia may be initially depressing to read as they discuss more of the gloom and doom of our environmental situation, I propose that we must have a few of them speckled in our diet of literature in order to make sure that we understand the full scale of injustice, that we are not complacent as we strive to change the outcomes of climate change or other environmental challenges.
I think there are many of us that are deeply concerned about speaking with a fatalistic tone on issues of climate change and human sustainability. But I found great wisdom in this book as I looked to the symbiotic relationship of our humanity as it is tied to the survival of the Earth. When I revisited my thoughts on Gaia and tied them to Tutu I felt rejuvenated in that Gaia wasn’t fatally depressing, it was more a clear call to action for me in understanding the full range of challenges to our globe.
Technicals: It can be difficult to wade through in places, but Lovelock rather mirrors Hawking as he turns complex equations into a manageable narrative. There are scientific examples and data galore to support many of his theories. Not a very long read, but you will find yourself pondering the material and re-reading passages.
I’d rate it a 4 out of 5 for a good crunchy read. Readers: Those interested in climate change theory and evidence.
Update: I should also point out that this isn't his first book on Gaia Theory. If the Revenge of Gaia is hard to read, perhaps start with Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth (c200) or The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth (c1995, revised edition).
Before I start adding my reviews, I'd like to do a call-out for yours. Please reply in the comments if you have reviewed a title that we may include in our listings. We would love to hear your take on all of the crispy green reads now available.
I'll begin posting reviews on Sunday night as well as updating the link bar, and I hope you find a few selections on your quest for a good read.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Several summers ago, my husband and I took a camping trip to the northern coast of Oregon. We visited Fort Clatsop where explorers Lewis and Clark spent a winter. The original fort is gone, but while we were there we saw actual archaeological digs at the site. My personal impression of archeology is that it is a monstrous amount of tedium punctuated with rare exciting discoveries (kind of like fishing, but that’s a different post). The media reports the exciting discoveries but, naturally, not the tedium. At Fort Clatsop I watched archaeologists painstakingly sort through dust for maybe 15 minutes before I was eager to move on to other sights. An archaeologist I am not.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
For some time now I've been concerned about food issues, both personally and globally. A lot of my new learning has taken place in this area, as I figure out how to grow and store at least some of my own food, connect with my local food producers and eat a more localized diet. I'm also struggling to eat more mindfully, in appreciation of the food I am privileged to have available to me.
The Politics of Water: In the second section, the authors describe in detail how agreements like NAFTA, the upcoming FTAA and other free trade arrangements (some out in the open, some behind the scenes) have set the stage for transnational conglomerates like Vivendi, Suez, Enron and RWE-Thames to obtain government contracts to provide their citizens with 'water services.' These contracts have certain profit margins in them that are guaranteed by the government of the country in question - paid for by citizens' taxes of course. Then, when the government insists that the company meets its contractual obligations (i.e., that water and sewer services be provided to all citizens, not just the ones who can afford it), the companies raise water prices to ensure their profit levels are maintained. Soon, only the rich can afford clean and safe water. The water and sewer services of many people get worse. And to add insult to injury, the water corporations are even enabled, by the free trade agreements, to sue governments of sovereign nations for impeding the free flow of commercial trade! Some governments (e.g., Bolivia), with the help of massive citizen uprisings, have been able to cancel the contracts and boot out the water company, but this hasn't happened very often. The World Trade Organization and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are also large contributors to the problem. These organizations have made it compulsory that countries privatize their water systems in order to comply with 'development' goals set as part of their international aid and debt restructuring processes.
This, the second major section of the book was particularly maddening and disheartening. There was just case after case cited about how multinational corporations and agencies such as the WTO, IMF, World Bank and even the UN "serve to transfer political power from governments to corporations" (p. 175). Everything is for sale. They also talk about the destruction wreaked by international dam projects, George W. Bush's plan for a North American Water Corridor (i.e., redirecting north-flowing water towards the south) and companies like Coke and Pepsi who are repeatedly draining the aquifers of places in the developing world in order to keep making and selling their carbonated beverages. They cite one horrifying example where a mother can't afford enough water to drink, so she has little in the way of breast milk for her child, and the child is instead fed with Coke.
The Way Forward: The third section of the book focuses on how to shift our relationship with water and what collective action we can take. It outlines some of the things citizens and countries have been able to do to stop the privatization of their water supply and what citizens need to demand of their politicians before it is too late. Water is too important to life on the planet to be subordinated to the principles of the marketplace. The authors state, "Water must be declared and understood for all time to be common property. In a world where everything is being privatized, citizens must establish clear perimeters around those areas that are sacred to life or necessary for social and economic justice. Equal access to water is absolutely central to both life and justice." (p. 208)
The authors stress that we humans must renew our ties with nature and once again revere water's sacred place in it. They have developed ten principles on which humanity can proceed toward this new water ethic:
The authors conclude the book with a chapter on what people can do to move the world and its governments toward acknowledging these ten principles and actually changing how they handle water-related issues. Most of the methods they propose involve communities and countries taking political action in the form of, for example, supporting the anti-dam movement, opposing commercial trade in water, fighting for national water protection acts, and consistently confronting the IMF and the World Bank. The authors have what they call a 'beautiful dream:' that resolution of water issues in the world through the community-based enactment of the ten principles actions will:1) Water belongs to the earth and to all species.
2) Water should be left where it is wherever possible.
3) Water must be conserved for all time.
4) Polluted water must be reclaimed.
5) Water is best protected in natural watersheds.
6) Water is a public trust, to be guarded by all levels of
7) Access to an adequate supply of clean water is a basic human
8) The best advocates for water are local communities and citizens.
9) The public must participate as an equal partner with governments to
10) Economic globalization policies are not water-sustainable. (p.221)
become the source of global peace....finally humanity will bow before Nature
and learn to live at peace within the limits Nature gives us and with one
another; and that through our work together, the peoples of the world will
declare that the sacred waters of life are the common property of the earth and
all species, to be preserved for generations to come (p. 250).
The highest goodness resembles water
Water greatly benefits myriad things without contention
It stays in places that people dislike
Therefore it is similar to the Tao
Dwelling with the right location
Feeling with great depth
Giving with great kindness
Speaking with great integrity
Governing with great administration
Handling with great capability
Moving with great timing
Because it does not contend
It is therefore beyond reproach
Monday, July 14, 2008
I'll start. I'm reading Stuffed and Starved by Raj Patel. Chapter one was hit and miss but Rural Aspirations did an interesting review on it so I hung on for chapter two. And it kept me from napping on the bus today. I'm optimistic.
What are you reading this week? It's fun to find someone reading the same book or one not previously considered.
Even more importantly though, what do you think about what you're reading or have you posted a new review? Let us know and we'll link over to it.
And don't get tossed away if a book has already been reviewed. Different perspectives are good for the diversity of the mind.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
It's easy to pick the top five. They’re the ones I want to read again. That I won't give away. These five books have woken me up and pushed the bed out the window so I can't go back to sleep. Which is a good thing because there are so many more books to read.
Here are the five in no particular order.
Uncertain Peril – Genetic Engineering And The Future Of Seeds
Claire Hope Cummings
My stomach turns when I remember this book. Not at the book but at the villainous world of GMO seeds and the way they are sold around the world. The stories aren't all bad guys though. Seeds savers, the people in white, get equal time and these are the stories the author seeks to save. Yeah, one seed at a time.
Rated: Hands down 5 out of 5 stars
Recommended: Everyone that has had their bed pushed out the window.
Bottomfeeder – How To Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood
I was the first person to read this book from the library. And then I went and bought my own copy. I would carry this book with me to and from the bus with the title facing out as a subliminal message to everyone I passed. Read this book, I wanted to say. Read this book.
Rated: 5 out of 5 stars
Recommended: For everyone who eats food, period.
An Unreasonable Woman – A True Story of Shrimpers Politicos Polluters and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas
Diane Wilson is crazy. There’s no other way to explain her story. She took a stand against a billion dollar chemical industry. And she would not back down. Until they stopped polluting, which they did. Diane is brilliantly unreasonable and puts words on the page in the same straight forward way she conducts her life of activism. I could not put this book down.
Rated: 5 out of 5 stars
Recommended: For people who like a good story and fire in their belly.
Omnivore's Dilemma - A Natural History Of Four Meals
My timing was off with this book. I read it before I knew anyone who had even heard of Michael Pollan let alone read the book. Now I feel cliche adding it to my list of top five. But here it is. The accidental book that pushed my bed out the window.
Rated: 5 out of 5 stars
Recommended: For anyone still asleep about the world of industrial food.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – A Year of Food Life
Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver
This book feels cliche on the list too but the story of BK’s family eating local for a year provided the narrative I needed to make the switch to local at my own table. And for that I have great gratitude.
Rated: 4 out of 5 stars
Recommended: Kingsolver and memoir enthusiasts as well as anyone considering eating seasonally.
What are your favorite one or five green reads?
Thursday, July 10, 2008
And according to Seductions of Rice neither are large parts of the world where rice is also an everyday staple. I picked up this book years ago from a chain store sale shelf and brought it home. I'm still wondering why it was on sale. The book is a testament to basic, slow and local foods around the globe that compliment, begin or end with rice.
Sometimes I simply look at the pictures, other times I read ingredients for recipes I'll never make but taste each one as if I already had. And when I feel armchair adventurous I read the stories that go with the rich photography, dishes and history. And I'm there.
Seductions Of Rice is a book as nourishing as the bowls of rice eaten day after day from Cambodia to California.
Do you have a favorite book that you pick up over the years that continues to offer up new surprises or takes you somewhere else but comforts you exactly where you are? A book with pictures for those times that words get to be too many?
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
In September 2003, Erik Reece hiked the ironically named Lost Mountain, shortly after the state of Kentucky issued a permit for its destruction, but before the miners showed up. He documented the natural beauty: the sassafras, the warblers, the liverworts. For the next year, he returned to Lost Mountain repeatedly, trespassing at no small personal risk, to document the unnatural horrors of strip mining, and the changes wrought upon the lands and waters. The meat of the book is organized in monthly sections, where the author chronicles his ongoing observations. The frontispiece to each section is the same, a photograph taken before Lost Mountain was mined, showing misty mountain wilderness. When you turn the page to begin each new section, you are confronted with an image taken that month, showing the changes. Before, after; before, after; each successive "after" is more and more horrifying.
Interspersed amongst the observations of natural destruction, Erik Reece documents the human side of this tragedy, the social ramifications Big Coal has on rural communities. He attends public meetings, and visits local educators, clergy, and families. A local activist takes him on a disturbing tour of her town, pointing out home after home where, "everyone in that house died of cancer."
He also speaks with state regulators and representatives from the coal industry, and sheds some light on the politics of coal. It is a dirty, bloody business. Corruption and cronyism seem to rule Kentucky. There might be environmental protection laws on the books, but there is no enforcement. Regulators who try to do their jobs are forced out of office, or worse. In December 2003, on the same day the author sneaks past the iron gates on Lost Mountain for one of many documentary hikes, a state surface mine inspector died after being found beaten and unconscious in his own home, his body mutilated by human bite marks. Big Coal does not take kindly to resistance.
This may not be a pleasant book, but it is necessary. We need to educate ourselves about where our energy comes from, so we can demand better. As I suspected, "clean coal" is not the answer. Not that coal mining can't be done in a more responsible, more ethical way; it can, and the author documents that as well, describing the methods and practices that don't poison the water, where native plants will grow again. It can be done, but it is not.
This leads me to my only small quibble with the book. There is a conclusion section at the end, which contain some great information and tries to provide hope--this is where the author describes reclamation done right. In my opinion, it is still the weakest chapter in the book. To be perfectly honest, I don't like the conclusion chapter because Erik Reece uses it to take what I see as a cheap shot at science. It's that same old, tired humanities vs. science argument, "Science without compassion, science without ethics, has given us the modern war machine, the industrial farm, the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, the strip mine." Dude... oversimplify much? It's not science that gave us those things, it is greed, it is the market, it is simple ignorance.
I accept my share of the blame: I am ignorant and I am complicit. Due to an abundance of hydropower and nuclear power, only 18% of the electricity in my state comes from coal. But I use electricity, and my utility buys coal. In reading this book, I became a little less ignorant, and a lot more motivated.
Back at our old apartment, we paid a little extra for green power, a mix of wind energy and small hydro. When we bought this house, it was one of the details that got lost in the shuffle of moving, and we ended up with the default conventional power. Reading Lost Mountain inspired me to pull out the utility bill hanging file, and re-enroll in green power. It will cost a few extra pennies per kilowatt, but it will ease my conscious, make me feel less complicit. I no longer support Big Coal.
RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars
READERS: Recommended for all greens in the spectrum and everyone in the entire color wheel
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Last month I saw the author of Bottomfeeder, Taras Grescoe, speak at Book Passages in the Ferry Building. Me and seven other people. Three were his friends. It was admittedly an unseasonably warm evening but I expected a higher turn out.
Taras is a young man, almost shy, to the point I didn't buy the book. His hesitation became my own. He was solid in the content of the book but a salesperson he's not. Which is too bad because his book is a winner. After reading it from the library, I'm sold.
Bottomfeeder is to seafood what Omnivore's Dilemma is to corn, what Uncertain Peril is to the seed. This book is a top of the list read for anyone with an appetite for fish and half a conscious to eat responsibly.
Part travelogue, part food memoir, part wake up call to the state of global fish stocks, Taras begins his journey of seafood in NYC exploring fish on the menus of four star restaurants. He travels to the fish markets of Japan for an investigation of blue fin tuna, to Marseilles for bouillabaisse and with many stops in between ends in Nova Scotia at a factory for fishsticks. In each place he eats the local catch, explores the history, traditions and present day wild stocks of seafood. And he interacts with salty characters on every shore.
Following him down to the waterfront, I watched him strip to his trunks, don flippers and a snorkel mask, and swim a few yards out to his racks of oysters..... Emerging from the water, he bade me follow him into a stone toolshed, where he responded to all my questions while standing unselfconsciously naked. (He explained that it is healthier to let the breeze dry one off after swimming.)
Each chapter puts a face to the men and women fishing, farming or working the fisheries. The people that experience or deny first hand the affects of overfishing, of destructive methods of aquaculture, invasive species, dead zones and unsustainable fishing methods.
As I was shown more sores and patches of dry skin on slender arms and legs, the old woman with the thick glasses took my notepad and wrote in it, in a schoolgirlish hand: "Dysentery. Ulcer. Womitting. Itching. Breathing problem." All of them, Selapan explained, were maladies that afflicted the people of Riverbank Street since the shrimp farms arrived.
Each destination brings to the surface new challenges to maintaining species of fish native to our varied cultural diets. But Grescoe doesn't let the book drown in despair. He is a constant fish eater with no plans to give it up. He chooses his fish wisely and hopes we will too.
Surprisingly McDonald's has chosen wisely. Their Filet-O-Fish sandwich uses Alaskan pollock whose stocks are still abundant. The Alaskan pollock, live in the middle of the water column, which mean destructive bottom-trawls do not have to be used in their capture.
Several times reading this book I day dreamed taking up post at the local fish counter with a patent leather purse on the crook of my arm. And swinging it at people that ordered fish from the list to avoid. Tara's takes a smarter approach. ... knowledge is power, he writes.
My fierceness would be more effective copying and distributing the appendix from Bottomfeeder that includes tools for choosing seafood with informational web sites, principles to follow, questions to ask. He succinctly explains and categorizes the good, bad and the ugly of fishing methods. And he gives his opinion of seafood to never, sometimes or absolutely indulge in.
While the contents of the entire book are relevant and important beyond the fish we find or don't find on our plates there are two chapters that stand out. The first deconstructs shrimp farming in India and the second focuses on salmon farming in British Columbia. Reading them you may find yourself considering a patent leather purse as I did.
If that's the case, remember knowledge is power when buying fish. Let the appendix of this book be your guide.
RATING: 5 out of 5 stars
READERS: Recommended for all green and blue readers
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
To keep things interesting, The Blogging Bookworm will, from time to time, have a special post from fellow bookworms. Our first guest post is from the cutest non-consumer this side of the Mississippi. She's over-ambitious. She's challengilicious. She's Arduous.
First things first, Rubbish will challenge any and all assumptions you may currently have about garbage. For example, the idea that contemporary society is the most wasteful society to ever walk the Earth? Yeah, not so much. In fact, our per capita garbage disposal is not that different from some of our ancestors. Murphy and Rathje write:
Those who condemn our own era for its conspicuous consumption and conspicuous
waste should at least bear in mind that throwing away perfectly good objects
seems to be one of those inexplicable things, like ignoring history, that human
beings have always done. David Pendergast, an archaeologist who is curator at
the Royal Ontario Museum, in Toronto, spent seven yeas studying a Classic Maya
site─ Altun Ha, in Belize, which was occupied from around 800 B.C. to A.D. 1000─
and after examining the contents of various tombs he concluded: "These people
would have traded in a Cadillac when the ashtray was full."
If wanting new, pretty things is a human trait, what do we do? While I would love to see people consume less in general. Realistically, I believe that we also need to move towards larger-scale recycling and reusing. Rathje and Murphy state that landfills are 40% composed of paper. Now, Rubbish was written in 1992, so I hope that this number has improved since then. But clearly, if we want to reduce the size of our landfills, we need to step up recycling programs, and ALSO create more of a market for recycled paper products. At the time this book was written, aluminum was the only product for which there was a considerable demand. (I believe this is still true today.) By contrast, the demand for recycled paper products was relatively low, causing tons and tons of used American paper to be shipped to Europe and Asia. Not so awesome. For recycling programs to be truly successful, we must not only recycle, but also buy recycled. And hey, the bright side is, for those of you struggling with giving up your beloved toilet paper or paper towels, there’s a simple solution. Buy recycled products, and instead of feeling guilty, you can feel good that you are helping to create a demand for recycled paper.
I could go on and on about the things I learned from reading Rubbish: that the American reliance on packaged food means that we produce less waste than a household in Mexico City (because packaged food usually results in less food waste), that food shortages tend to produce more waste rather than less waste, and that disposable diapers aren’t the problem. Suffice it to say, this book forced me to re-think my pre-conceived notions about waste. And if that’s not the hallmark of a great read, I don’t know what is!