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Book Reviews @GreenPolicy
Fall / 2017
September 2, 2017
by Joe Romm
More on Joe Romm @GreenPolicy "Stories of the Day"
- Dr. Joseph Romm, creator of climateprogress.org -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6ag3b1WCYc -- http://www.climateprogress.org
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Publisher: Oxford University Press
Quotes from Reviews:
"Given the pressing need for action, Climate Change is the right book at the right time: accessible, comprehensive, unflinching, humane." --The Daily Beast
"Climate Change, What Everyone Needs to Know is a must-read for those who want to become climate literate and join the growing conversation about the greatest threat humanity faces today." -- The Guardian
"Romm provides a useful primer on the drivers of climate change, the ways that the world might achieve that target, and the obstacles to moving away from business as usual... [the book] is full of useful information and accessible analysis." -- Foreign Affairs
"An up-to-date, comprehensive examination of the science behind climate change, what these environmental issues mean for the future, and possible clean energy solutions." -- Mother Earth News
"Joe Romm's book is, for my money, the best single-source primer on the state of climate-change science - a wide-ranging survey organized into bite-size chapters that covers both the present tense of warming and what is possible down the road." -- NY Magazine
About the Author:
Joseph Romm, Ph.D., is one of the country's most influential communicators on climate science and solutions. Romm is Chief Science Advisor for "Years of Living Dangerously," which won the 2014 Emmy Award for Outstanding Nonfiction Series. He is the founding editor of Climate Progress, which New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called "the indispensable blog." In 2009, Time named him one of its "Heroes of the Environment," calling him "The Web's most influential climate-change blogger." In 2009, Rolling Stone put Romm on its list of 100 "people who are reinventing America." Romm was acting assistant secretary of energy in 1997, where he oversaw $1 billion in low-carbon technology development and deployment. He is a Senior Fellow at American Progress and holds a Ph.D. in physics from MIT.
Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming
by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, published by Bloomsbury Press, 2011, New York
Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene
by Clive Hamilton, published by Polity Press, Cambridge, 2017
Climate scientist Clive Hamilton reports that “the reluctant conclusion of the most eminent climate scientist is that the world is now on a path to a very unpleasant future and it is too late to stop it.” He describes the scientists’ mood as one of “barely suppressed panic.” He says this in his book ominously entitled Requiem for a Species.
Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change
by Clive Hamilton, published by Earthscan, Oxfordshire, 2010
Affluenza: How Overconsumption Is Killing Us -- and How to Fight Back
by Clive Hamilton, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., San Francisco, 2014
Storms of my Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity
by James Hansen, published by Bloomsbury, 2010, New York
Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet
by Mark Lynas, published by National Geographic, 2008
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
by Bill McKibben, published by St. Martin's Griffin, 2011
Summer / 2017
https://biomimicry.org/summer-reading-list-biomimics/ Biomimicry Reading
The biomimicry community's summer reading recommendations -- all will provide a new perspective in thinking about sustainability, innovation, design, and our relationship with the natural world.
● Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
● Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer
● The Hidden Half of Nature by Anne Biklé and David R. Montgomery
● I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong
● Adapt: How Humans Are Tapping into Nature’s Secrets to Design and Build a Better Future by Amina Khan
● Evolution by Stephen Baxter (Sci-Fi)
● Storms of my Grandchildren by James Hansen
● Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World by Stephen Kellert
● The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams
● The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet by Kristin Ohlson
● Science of Seeing: Essays on Nature from Zygote Quarterly by Adelheid Fischer
● Designing Regenerative Cultures by Daniel Christian Wahl
Visit the Bioneers
A Look at Forces Acting to Slow and Prevent Needed Adaptation to Climate Change
- An Investigation Into Tactics & Techniques, How to Sow Doubt and Raise Fear
John Abraham / Guardian: A hugely important work on the underlying motivations of people who deny the reality of climate change was performed by Dr. Naomi Oreskes in her book (and accompanying movie) Merchants of Doubt.
One of her central conclusions is that the denial of human-caused climate change is driven by peoples’ distrust of the government and of government solutions to a problem, particularly when the solutions may impinge on personal freedoms.
"In his wonderful writing style, Dr. Grinspoon spells it out: A single species is inducing more profound changes to our planet than any other organism in geologic history. It's us. If you have family and friends here on Earth, read this book. The Earth is in our hands."
- — Bill Nye "The Science Guy", Author of "Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World"
Earth in Human Hands is a page-turning masterpiece of speculative nonfiction that will keep new and veteran science aficionados spellbound for hours at a time. It is quite simply the kind of book that can change a young reader's life, or inspire parents and teachers to do the same... David Grinspoon ties together a dozen disparate themes pulled from a host of sub-fields seamlessly, making the book a delightful, flowing feast of science and commentary...Given Earth in the title, one might expect the book to revolve solely around our planet, the immediate concerns of humanity, or the growing anxiety voiced by environmentalists and a few scientists over our growing impact on this world. Grinspoon delivers all that with seeming ease. But he takes an epic, cosmic course to do so, one successfully charted by only a handful of visionaries before him. It's a journey that ranges from the planets Venus and Mars, where he deftly reviews the critical contributions NASA and other agencies have added to our understanding of our home by studying these alien worlds, to the farthest reaches of space and time revealed by modern astronomy....The only disappointment was when the last page was turned, and I found myself wishing there was more.If Carl Sagan were alive today, and had available to him all the science done since he left us, this is the book he would write....Earth in Human Hands is Cosmos for the 21st century, retooled for a new wave of readers, and hopped up on the best science modern research has to offer. ...Your copy of this masterpiece is destined to become a familiar friend, proudly dog-eared and creased with age, after being read and reread time after time, and year after year."
- — Daily Kos
In flavorful prose, [David Grinspoon] dives deep into the history of life on Earth (and beyond) and muses on ways that geoengineering, interplanetary colonization or contact with galactic civilizations could define this human-dominated epoch just as much as climate change, overpopulation and resource scarcity...What comes next? This hybrid of a meditative memoir, a scientific primer and a call to arms presents possible answers."
- — Scientific American
- Take a ride with Dr. Grinspoon on Twitter -- https://twitter.com/DrFunkySpoon
Blue Mind: A Way to See & Feel
Visit the author, Wallace J. Nichols - http://wallacejnichols.org/122/bluemind.html
Eco-nomics + Activism as a New US President Is Elected
Think Like a 21st Century Economist
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Treehugging Will Never Be the Same
How Bad Can a President Be?
Jean Edward Smith’s biography of George W. Bush goes on sale a day before the former President’s seventieth birthday, and it’s safe to say that no one will be bringing it as a present to the ranch outside Crawford. Smith, a well-regarded practitioner of military history and Presidential-life writing, comes straight to the point in the first sentence of his preface: “Rarely in the history of the United States has the nation been so ill-served as during the presidency of George W. Bush.” By the book’s last sentence, Smith is predicting a long debate over whether Bush “was the worst president in American history,” and while the biographer doesn’t vote on the question himself, the unhappy shade of James Buchanan will feel strongly encouraged by his more than six hundred pages.
And yet, for all the overheated denunciations—a rhetorical comparison gets made between Bush and Hitler—“Bush” (Simon & Schuster) doesn’t feel like a hatchet job...
The writer certainly doesn’t revile the compassionately conservative candidate of 2000... By Smith’s reckoning, Bush ran a better campaign, and then a better recount, than his opponent. If the author favors the dissent in Bush v. Gore, he never questions Bush’s legitimacy or lets up on the unappetizing aspects of his opponent, from Gore’s inclination toward “résumé enhancement” to his pompous debating demeanor...
Smith points out that Bush attended no meetings of the National Security Council in the seven months prior to September 11, 2001. In her reports on these gatherings, Condoleezza Rice—Bush’s national-security adviser, workout partner, and something of an alter ego—tended to synthesize disagreements among the participants, leaving Bush with a false feeling of consensus...
If he is moderately critical of the President for being “asleep at the switch” in the period before the terrorist attacks—Bush felt no particular alarm when an August 6th C.I.A. briefing indicated that Osama bin Laden was up to at least something—the biographer is simply aghast once Bush seizes the controls. Within three days of September 11th, he says, the President had acquired a “boundless” confidence that put the country on a “permanent war footing” and the White House into a “hothouse climate of the President’s certitude.”
Smith suspects that the invasion of Iraq will “likely go down in history as the worst foreign policy decision ever made by an American president.” The thirteen-year legacy of “preëmption” makes this a hard prophecy to counter, and Smith’s well-ordered scenes on the subject—Paul Wolfowitz pushing for war against Saddam on September 12th, just as he’d been pushing for it in April—do dismaying work. James Baker and Brent Scowcroft, the wise men of his father’s Administration, tell Bush to go slowly or not at all, but George Tenet, the holdover C.I.A. director from the Clinton years, assures him that convincing the public of the need to invade Iraq over W.M.D.s will be a “slam dunk.”
- Hardcover: 832 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster (July 5, 2016)
- $35.00 (Amazon sale price - $25.54)
- ISBN-10: 1476741190
- ISBN-13: 978-1476741192
SJS / GreenPolicy siterunner: Years ago I studied with the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Science in New York. The History of Ideas curriculum brought us from the earliest Greek oral tradition to modern science and schools of thought. I read, discussed and debated, wrote and carried on an old intellectual tradition at the university that in many ways carried on the European liberal studies tradition. Our faculty was, in many regards, academically famous and professors/authors such as Hannah Arendt and Robert Heilbroner kept my mind engaged as I read hundreds of classics over the years, including "The Wealth of Nations". Although I focused on "political economy", I ranged wide over the history of ideas.
- "The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists." ― Hannah Arendt
Today, I am very pleased to present an exceptional book for your summer reading.
This book with a light-touch of a title, Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner, is anything but a light main course. It's overview and perspective are ripe for today's times. Multiple economic crises and increasingly serious environmental issues globally call out for alternatives to business-as-usual. An awakening realization is growing alongside an economic system that's driven by growth and has multiple problems shifting to sustainable production, environmental security and what is referred to as "national security" by forces carried forward from imperial Britain.
Aye, this is at the Brits say, 'the rub', how to move a nation and a world from old ways to news of thinking.
Katrine, whose livelihood is an editorial writer for one of the largest daily newspaper in the northern Europe, is well-capable and -positioned to take on the challenge.
Our GreenPolicy section on eco-feminism and history of feminism, the influences and importance of seeing eco-nomics in ways much different than the prevailing the neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism coming together as Margaret Thatcher described as the "the only alternative"
The Guardian: Thatcher became one of neo-liberal / neo-conservative "structural adjustment's" most enthusiastic promoters, not only for Britain but the world, popularising her approach with the slogan "There is no alternative". With Thatcher and the US president Ronald Reagan as its main boosters, and the World Bank and IMF as its executors, structural adjustment or the Washington consensus was generalised throughout the developing world.
Well, structural adjustment are a necessity, but not those that Thatcher-Reagan trumpeted in their brief reigns.
Katrine is clearly getting close to the nub, the rub and the truth as she takes on a political economic paradigm, a male-described and -dominated economic system that is long due for a change, a serious change.
Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner?
- A Story About Women and Economics
by Katrine Marça
Trade Paperback 240 pages ISBN: 9781846275647 £12.99 / $26.95
Katrine Marçal is the lead editorial writer for the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, where she writes articles on Swedish and international politics, economics and feminism.
On publication in Sweden, Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner was shortlisted for The August Prize and won the Lagercrantzen Award. Katrine lives in London.
- Mom’s Invisible Hand: What men got wrong about the economy
- Reviewed by: Malcolm Harris / New Republic / June 2016
Update / June 25, 2016: Rome elects first female mayor in 2800 years
- Once seen as a protest party, Virginia Raggi’s ‘Five Star Movement’ says it’s ready to rule.
- Political party takes into account the concept of 'degrowth'.
- M5S (movimento cinque stelle), was started by Italian comedian and blogger Peppe Grillo.
- Populist, anti-establishment and antigrowth, the movement’s five pillars are: public water, sustainable transport, sustainable development, right to internet access and environmentalism.
- The Five Star Movement Brings Forward 'Degrowth', a New Political Vision and a 'New Economy'
Read about the Concept of 'Degrowth'
"This book argues that 'growth' is the cause of economic crisis".
Economic growth, as it is currently defined, has become "uneconomic, ecologically unsustainable and intrinsically unjust".
A "new economy is necessary" ... a "totally different way of life".
- ‘Simplicity’, ‘conviviality’, ‘autonomy’, ‘care’, ‘commons’ and ‘dépense’ are some of the words that express what a degrowth (‘décroissance’) society might look like.
- Edited by Giacomo D'Alisa, Federico Demaria, Giorgos Kallis
- © 2015 – Routledge
- Paperback / 220 pages
Excerpts from Reviews
“Gratifying, spirited . . . a moving chronicle of an eminent research scientist’s life . . . It takes a passionate geobiologist with the soul of a poet to make us swoon in the face of computational amplitude . . . Jahren’s aim is to make the reader appreciate the fascinations of studying flora, to infect us with the same enthusiasm that has driven her ever since she was a child hanging around in her father’s lab, falling hard for the sensuous allures of the slide rule. Early on she discovers one generous mystery of scientific inquiry—in the course of making it, it makes you . . . Jahren’s literary bent renders dense material digestible and lyrical, in fables that parallel personal history. Her lab partner Bill [is] a character every bit as extraordinary as any of the wild organisms she describes . . . Jahren is determined we stop taking trees for granted: so plant one tree this year, she implores. Trees nourish life in uncountable, always beautiful, ways, and to plant one is to plant hope.” — Melissa Holbrook Pierson, The New York Times Book Review
“Engrossing . . . Vladimir Nabokov once observed that ‘a writer should have the precision of a poet and the imagination of a scientist.’ The geobiologist Hope Jahren possesses both in spades. Her new memoir is at once a thrilling account of her discovery of her vocation and a gifted teacher’s road map to the secret lives of plants—a book that, at its best, does for botany what Oliver Sacks’s essays did for neurology, what Stephen Jay Gould’s writings did for paleontology . . . By crosscutting between chapters about the life cycle of trees and flowers and other green things, and chapters about her own coming-of-age as a scientist, Jahren underscores the similarities between humans and plants—tenacity, inventiveness, an ability to adapt—but, more emphatically, the radical otherness of plants . . . [In] the laboratory of her father, who taught introductory physics and earth science at a local community college, she discovered the rituals and magic of science: She embraced its rules and procedures and the attention to detail it demanded. Science gave her what she needed: ‘a home as defined in the most literal sense, a safe place to be’ . . . She communicates the electric excitement of discovering something new—something no one ever knew or definitively proved before—and the grunt work involved in conducting studies and experiments: the days and weeks and months of watching and waiting and gathering data, the all-nighters, the repetitions, the detours, both serendipitous and unfruitful . . . Along the way, she comes to realize that her work as a scientist is also part of a larger enterprise: she is part of the continuum of scientists who have each built upon their predecessors’ work, and who will hand down their own advances to the next generation.” — Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Warm, witty . . . Born and raised in a rural Minnesota town built around a meat-processing plant and defined mostly by its brutal winters and Scandinavian restraint, Jahren assumed that the grim endurance of her Norwegian-immigrant ancestors was her legacy. She did turn out to be tenacious, though not exactly in the way she had pictured: Long hours spent entertaining herself as a child in her physics-teacher father’s work space piqued Jahren’s interest in science, and her housewife mother’s unhappiness propelled her to pursue higher education all the way to a UC Berkeley Ph.D. Today, she’s an internationally renowned geobiologist with three Fulbrights, her own world-class laboratory, and a Wikipedia page longer and starrier than most U.S. senators’. Lab Girl is her recounting of the near half century of adventures, setbacks, and detours that brought her from there to here. But even more than that, it’s a fascinating portrait of her engagement with the natural world: she investigates everything from the secret life of cacti to the tiny miracles encoded in an acorn seed, studding her observations with memorable sentences . . . Jahren’s singular gift is her ability to convey the everyday wonder of her work: exploring the strange, beautiful universe of living things that endure and evolve and bloom all around us, if we bother to look. A-” — Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
“Deeply affecting . . . a totally original work, both fierce and uplifting: a biologist’s natural history of her subjects, and herself. In Lab Girl, pioneering geobiologist Jahren limns her journey [from] insecure young scientist [to] medals and professional and personal fulfillment. Jahren recognized as an undergrad that science would be her true home—a place of safety, warmth, and light [where] she could be part of something larger than herself. A belletrist in the mold of Oliver Sacks, she is terrific at showing just how science is done. But her prose reaches another dimension when she describes her remarkable relationship with a lab guy, an undergraduate loner named Bill. The research partners dig holes, gather soil samples, battle personal demons, and keep each other grounded. Jahren’s writing is precise, as befits a scientist who also loves words. She’s an acute observer, prickly—and funny as hell.” — Elizabeth Royte, ELLE
“Jahren grew up in small-town Minnesota, playing in her father’s science lab and laboring in her mother’s garden. Her first book invites readers to fall in love, as she did, with science and plants. The award-winning scientist travels the world studying trees with her best friend and lab partner, and finds refuge from life’s conflicts in the lab. ‘There I transformed from a girl into a scientist, just like Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man, only kind of backward,’ she writes.” — Jennifer Maloney, The Wall Street Journal, “The Hottest Spring Nonfiction Books”
“Jahren, a professor of geobiology, recounts her unfolding journey to discover ‘what it’s like to be a plant’ in this darkly humorous, emotionally raw, and exquisitely crafted memoir. Jahren, who ‘loves [her] calling to excess,’ describes the joy of working alone at night, the ‘multidimensional glory’ of a manic episode, scavenging jury-rigged equipment from a retiring colleague, or spontaneously road-tripping with students. She likens elements of her scientific career to a plant driven by need and instinct. But the most extraordinary and delightful element of her narrative is her partnership with Bill, her lab partner and caring best friend. It’s a rare portrait of a deep relationship in which mutual esteem [is] unmarred by sexual tension. For Jahren, a life in science yields the gratification of asking, knowing, and telling; for the reader, the joy is in hearing about the process as much as the results.” — Publishers Weekly
“Award-winning scientist Jahren delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world. The author’s father was a science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from student to scientist has the narrative tension of a novel, and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way . . . Trees are of key interests to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic. The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist. Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Lab Girl made me look at trees differently. It compelled me to ponder the astonishing grace and gumption of a seed. Perhaps most importantly, it introduced me to a deeply inspiring woman—a scientist so passionate about her work I felt myself vividly with her on every page. This is a smart, enthralling, and winning debut.” — Cheryl Strayed
“Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl burns with her love of science, teaching us the way great teachers can. This is a powerful book that is as original as it is deeply felt.” — Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
“Lab Girl surprised, delighted, and moved me. I was drawn in from the start by the clarity and beauty of Jahren’s prose, whether she was examining the inner world of a seed, the ecosystem around the trunk of a tree, or recounting her own inspiring journey. With Lab Girl, Jahren joins those talented scientists who are able to reveal to us the miracle of this world in which we live.” — Abraham Verghese
“Some people are great writers, while other people live lives of adventure and importance. Almost no one does both. Hope Jahren does both. She makes me wish I’d been a scientist.” — Ann Patchett
Editorial Comment by GreenPolicy: We would like to see and hear a wide-ranging discussion between Hope Jahren and Sylvia Earle. Subject: Life on Land and Life in the Ocean. Author Jahren's opening statement in her book: "The ocean is a lonely, empty place..." sets the stage for a first question. Perhaps the 'microbiomes' and the 'ecoregions' of the seas and soils would do well to be more deeply looked at in the web of life and evolving science. We believe expanding our understanding of the extent and role of 'little ones' on the tree of life as it is coming to be understood as a necessary step in geo-science, -biology and ecology studies.
Blue-Green in the Oceans & Connection to Life on Earth
- "A single kind of blue-green algae in the ocean produces the oxygen in one of every five breaths we take"
- ~ from "The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One" by Sylvia Earle / National Geographic
- "A single kind of blue-green algae in the ocean produces the oxygen in one of every five breaths we take"
from: Tiny Blue-Green - www.tinybluegreen.com
- The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
- The Power of Quietness by Susan Cain presenting at TED
- With examples you can relate to, especially if you enjoy time reading...
SJS: This second quarter of 2016 is a time for reflection. Personally, your siterunner is recalling a period with Danny Moses and David Brower and working on new visions with Green Education as our goal.
Visit our friends at Earth Island Institute for the latest new environmental books and projects. For years they have funded, hosted, supported and shared many worthwhile ventures with green energy and foresight.
Nation on the Take: How Big Money Corrupts Our Democracy
By: Wendell Potter, Nick Penniman
- Published: 03-01-2016
- ISBN: 9781632861108
- Imprint: Bloomsbury Press
- List price: $19.99
Paperback: 704 pages
Publisher: Penguin - May 2013
“ExxonMobil has met its match in Coll, an elegant writer and dogged reporter… extraordinary… monumental.”
- -- Washington Post
“Fascinating… Private Empire is a book meticulously prepared as if for trial, a lawyerly accumulation of information that lets the facts speak for themselves… a compelling and elucidatory work.”
- -- Bloomberg
“Private Empire is meticulous, multi-angled and valuable… Mr. Coll’s prose sweeps the earth like an Imax camera.”
- -- Dwight Garner, NY Times
"ExxonMobil has cut a ruthless path through the Age of Oil. Yet intense secrecy has kept one of the world's largest companies a mystery, until now. Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power is a masterful study of Big Oil's biggest player… Coll's in-depth reporting, buttressed by his anecdotal prose, make Private Empire a must-read. Consider Private Empire a sequel of sorts to The Prize, Daniel Yergin's Pulitzer-winning history of the oil industry… Coll's portrait of ExxonMobil is both riveting and appalling… Yet Private Empire is not so much an indictment as a fascinating look into American business and politics. With each chapter as forceful as a New Yorker article, the book abounds in Dickensian characters.”
- -- San Francisco Chronicle
"Coll makes clear in his magisterial account that Exxon is mighty almost beyond imagining, producing more profit than any American company in the history of profit, the ultimate corporation in 'an era of corporate ascendancy.' This history of its last two decades is therefore a revealing history of our time, a chronicle of the intersection between energy and politics."
- -- Bill McKibben, NY Review of Books
"Groundbreaking... Masterful as a corporate portrait, Private Empire gushes with narrative."
- -- American Prospect
GrnPolicy360: Threat Environment
Oil Change International ... "Exposing the true costs of fossil fuels"
ExxonMobil predicts "long-term demand growth" and profits in investor report
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Before Bill McKibben's newest book, Oil and Honey, arrives, we're revisiting his classic: The End of Nature.
As much as some rail against any 'new world order', as if a conspiracy of totalitarian leftist or rightist, state or corporate forces will arrive to dictate policy, in fact the world has already been reshaped and reordered and is continuing apace to be impacted in new ways yet to be understood, measured, or taken into account.
The End of Nature, by Bill McKibben, is one of the first looks at this new reality, where one no longer can stand on top of a mountain and 'feel' unallayed nature at work. In the new world the natural order has be impacted, changed, shaped by humans upwind and upriver, in ways too numerous to know, and so the wind blows from distant cities now, with distant forces at work, atmospherically, above, and hydrologically below and nearby. The physics of change are real and humans are an integer and ecological integral in this active new world order.
The world is alive and is changing with dynamic, fluid elements moving around, through and with the human species, homo sapiens, in ways nature has never moved before.
Welcome to the Anthropocene.
You are the new world order.
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The End of Nature
by Bill McKibben
Excerpt of MIT Review By Eva Regnier
The message of The End of Nature justifies its ominous title: According to Bill McKibben, true nature, which was independent of human influence, has been replaced by an artificial nature in whose processes human beings play a part.
This concept may not seem frightening but McKibben points out that the changes we have made, and are continuing to make, in the chemistry of our atmosphere are not the kind of environmental changes we have experienced in the past. We cannot escape them by fleeing to the woods. We have progressed beyond removing parts of the earth from the domain of true nature -- through farming, mining, construction -- to actually altering the global processes that define our environment.
The human hand acting on the earth is not a guiding hand but a clumsy hand. Most of our influence on climate, for example, has been inadvertent. The new natural world we have made -- complete with changing temperatures, sea levels, and atmospheric chemistry -- will be less predictable and perhaps more violent than the natural world of the past. The human race has evolved in the old natural world that brings hurricanes and other natural disasters; on a large scale this is quite predictable. McKibben tries to give a sense of the magnitude of the risk we take as we fiddle with the controls of "spaceship Earth" (an expression McKibben uses and an idea whose implications he should have discussed).
McKibben's incisive discussion of the components of the environmental crisis is broad but detailed, and illustrated brilliantly in terms both human and scientific.
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When Money Talks
by Derek Chessman
Berrett-Koehler Publishers (January 2016)
The connection between money and politics in Washington DC and throughout the US is a matter of fact. The extent of lobbying, the power of lobbyists and well-funded (and often secretive) interest groups, Super Pacs and individual billionaires have risen to impact most every substantive policy element of the US government.
Campaign financing is acknowledged as a sine qua non of realistic politics. Candidates are products of campaign 'war chests' and elected officials literally devote most every day to fundraising. Campaign cycles every two and four years approach new political campaign spending records, in the billions at the presidential level.
As a result of quid pro quo politics, a payback system that directly ties money to policy, the public's business and common good of environmental protection are systematically neglected.
"When Money Talks" casts a light on this quotidian reality, the business of political power and the escalating, extensive costs of pay-to-play politics.
According to Derek Chessman, without a serious change in how politics is conducted in the US, the future portends crisis.
It is difficult to argue with this -- that the US democratic system of governing is at a crossroads.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
Speaking of 'Dark Money' by Jane Mayer
"Apparently, impending catastrophe doesn't mean much to some of the United States' wealthiest people. Once again a report has arisen documenting how fossil fuel millionaires pumped more than $100 million into Republican presidential super PACs last year. That means that $1 out of every $3 donated to Republican candidates coming from hyper-rich individuals came from people who made their fortunes from fossil fuels. In boosting GOP politicians, these funders were simply acting to protect their cash cows from those of us who happen to give a damn about the planet.
"A recent report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund shows that more than six out of every 10 Americans are represented by someone in Congress who denies the reality of ACD. According to the report, 59 percent of the Republican House caucus and an amazing 70 percent of the Republicans in the Senate deny ACD is real. The report also reveals that, according to the US Census, 202,803,591 Americans are represented by an ACD denier."
March 2016 / Truthout
More on money-in-politics:
The dominance of influence of big money in U.S. politics is becoming an issue-of-issues, how a handful of ultra-rich political players can change American politics, policies, and ultimate outcomes. Media coverage of the issue is increasing and is sharply drawn across the political spectrum. Two recent books stand out covering the 'dark' and billion-dollar plus 21st century money-in-politics arena... Washington DC is awash with dollars lobbying, drafting legislation, writing and rewriting 'mark-ups', setting agendas, and shaping campaigns. Every state has targeted legislative initiatives that are coordinated across the nation by monied groups. 'Legislative exchanges' like the "American Legislative Exchange Council" are developing model laws as templates that are funded state-by-state. Voting/districting/apportionment create legislative districts that are the result of well-organized and -funded campaigns. Many of the most high profile political headlines have individual players behind the scenes and spending hundreds of millions in supporting activities.
Think-tanks with agendas, media, educational influence at work -- the modern money game has powerful interests that act to shape U.S. politics, domestic and foreign. The unprecedented power of the U.S. military, from 800 overseas bases and nuclear arsenal, to dealing with interests at home with wealth, inequality, poverty and infrastructure all have at core the influence of dark money and big money.
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- The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right
By Jane Mayer
Publisher: Doubleday (January 19, 2016)
Dark Money / NYT - January 2016]
What Happened to Jane Mayer When She Wrote About the Koch Brothers / NYT - January 2016
Dark Money is “Revelatory. . .persuasive, timely and necessary. . . . [O]nly the most thoroughly documented, compendious account could do justice to the Kochs’ bizarre and Byzantine family history and the scale and scope of their influence.” : — The New York Times
[D]eeply researched and studded with detail. . .it seems destined to rattle the Koch executive offices in Wichita as other investigations have not. [Dark Money] could inspire a more intense discussion about the impact of this wealthy conservative cadre on the Republican Party and the recent course of American politics.” : — Washington Post
“[B]ombshells explode in the pages of Dark Money, Jane Mayer’s indispensible new history . . . .combines her own research with the work of scores of other investigators, to describe how the Kochs and fellow billionaires like Richard Scaife have spent hundreds of millions to ‘move their political ideas from the fringe to the center of American political life.’”
- — The Guardian
“A careful exposé. . . . Mayer closely documents her charges. . .while delivering a swiftly flowing narrative. . . . A valuable contribution to the study of modern electoral politics in an age that Theodore White, and perhaps even Hunter S. Thompson, would not recognize.”
- — Kirkus
- 2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp—on the Trail of the Ultra-Rich Hijacking American Politics
by Kenneth Vogel
PublicAffairs (June 2014)
From Editorial Reviews
James Kwak, New York Times Book Review
- “What Vogel gives us is a detailed look at this new political landscape, where voracious money-sucking beasts mingle with megadonors hungry for behind-the-scenes access…Whether we are witnessing is a tectonic shift or a gradual evolution, ‘Big Money’ amply and colorfully makes the case that our elected leaders are increasingly dependent on a small number of seven-digit checks written by a few dozen members of the 0.01 percent, and therefore politics are becoming a type of thoroughbred horse racing.”
Barton Swaim, Wall Street Journal
- “With ‘Big Money’—-which takes up the Kochs and other rich political contributors, including Sheldon Adelson, Rob McKay and liberal Texas lawyers Steve and Amber Mostyn—-Mr. Vogel has succeeded in doing what I, for one, didn't think possible. He has made the subject of money in politics entertaining—indeed, gripping. He does this by a combination of factual analysis, eyebrow-raising scoops and zany stories.”
Michael Levin, Huffington Post
- “Vogel is a master of Politico's deliciously snarky political style and offers us glimpses of our elders and betters at their least dignified. …Vogel's Big Money is a must-read if you are concerned about politics and the future of this country.”
Bethany McLean, Washington Post
- “[Vogel] knows the characters and gets the game. Want to understand Mitt Romney’s fundraising operation, how Jim Messina mobilized big donors for Obama’s 2012 campaign or the war chest that is already growing underneath Hillary Clinton? Vogel tells the stories. He also offers lots of detail on one of the most fascinating frenmities in modern right-wing politics: Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. And he offers great facts to bolster his overall claim...To his great credit, Vogel is also pretty even-handed...This is a book by an insider, for insiders.”
Daniel Ben-Ami, Financial Times
- “Kenneth Vogel, chief investigative reporter for Politico, the news organisation, does an excellent job in untangling this story. Much of the book consists of reportage, with him trying to attend secretive meetings between ultra-wealthy donors and electoral candidates seeking funding. Often he was barred from entering or ejected after being identified as a journalist….He is commendably non-partisan in his reporting. Vogel sketches the shadowy fundraising worlds of both of the main parties. He also reports on the intense factional rivalry that sometimes exists within their respective camps.”
Walter Shapiro, Brennan Center for Justice
- “Vogel's paparazzi tactics -- coupled with relentless traditional reporting -- have made Big Money the smartest and most revealing book chronicling the Super PAC era. Instead of predictable legal analysis and a mind-numbing march of statistics, Vogel tries to grasp what motivates the wealthy to invest so heavily in Super PACs. And his answers do not fit into the neat ideological cubbyholes of either campaign reformers or believers in the nonsensical, but powerful, doctrine that money equals free speech.”
Chris Moody, Yahoo! News
- “Pull[s] back the curtain on some of the most important players... Through impressive sourcing, Vogel’s work...offers a peek into the secretive universe of megadonors in the post-Citizens United era.”
The Economist's Democracy in America blog
- “A highly entertaining account of the adventures of billionaires in politics.”
Joel Connelly, SeattlePI.com
- “Vogel manages to entertain while reporting on the politics of excess, even when things turn sinister… The most fascinating aspect of Vogel’s book is what manner of candidate big money culture produces, with a look back to 2012 and ahead at 2016... Buy Hillary’s book for your coffee table, but take 'Big Money' on vacation.”
Jim Newell, Bookforum
- “Vogel’s decision to adopt a gonzo-style approach allows us to check out our new oligarchic digs as the contractors near completion. Throughout the book, Vogel shares versions of the same first-person story that never seems to lose its alternatingly comedic and terrifying edges: Here’s a closed-door donor conference I snuck into, and here’s what happened when they found me out.”
- “Excellent and revealing.”
- “Big Money is a fascinating, yet often depressing, tale about what—and who—really matter in American elections…Most books about campaign finance are dry tomes detailing the technicalities of political action committees (PACs), hard vs. soft money, and the like. It's enough to make a reader's eyes glaze over after the first chart or regression analysis. Big Money is instead an incisive, at-time hilarious, look at the very rich human beings who now dominate big-time political fundraising…To learn about who is likely to give and why, Kenneth P. Vogel's Big Money is a must-read.”
About the Author
Ken Vogel is chief investigative reporter at Politico and covers the confluence of money, politics, and influence. He’s won awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists, and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He analyzes politics on national television and radio, and lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with his wife, Danielle, and their dog, Ali.
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- The Environmental Basis of Political Stability
by Norman Myers
W.W. Norton & Company / Island Press
GP360: Looking back to the beginning of the concept of "environmental security" as it began to be seen as an integral idea in the 1980s and 1990s...
Reviewed by Francis Fukuyama: This book seeks to present environmental concerns as security concerns in a way that will be convincing to even the most hardheaded traditional realists...
"I do not see how anyone can claim to be informed about what is probably humanity's single most important problem without having read Ultimate Security."
- — Robert Heilbroner, New School of Social Research (and faculty adviser in the 1980s to GreenPolicy's siterunner)
"In a provocative description of the new concept of environmental security, which he helped establish, the author offers much evidence that environmental factors-from deforestation and desertification to global warming and ozone depletion-will loom larger in world affairs. His book is chockablock with recent portents ... and [predictions of] loss of stability or out-and-out conflict over natural resource related issues."
- — Publishers Weekly
References on Environmental Security
The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf
Knopf; First Edition September 2015
In "The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World,” Andrea Wulf reclaims Humboldt from the obscurity that has enveloped him. Wulf, author of several works that combine biography with explorations of natural history in the Age of Enlightenment, is as enthusiastic as her subject. “Humboldt revolutionized the way we see the natural world. He found connections everywhere . . . ‘In this great chain of causes and effects,’ Humboldt said, ‘no single fact can be considered in isolation.’ With this insight, he invented the web of life, the concept of nature as we know it today.”
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The key word is “connections."
As we (GreenPolicy) often say: "It is all connected"
Alexander Humboldt is one of the first scientists to study and explore shared connectivity of all natural systems...
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From initial reviews:
“Andrea Wulf reclaims Humboldt from the obscurity that has enveloped him.... [She] is as enthusiastic as her subject.... Vivid and exciting.... Wulf’s pulsating account brings this dazzling figure back into a dazzling, much-deserved focus.”
- — Matthew Price, The Boston Globe
“[Makes an] urgent argument for Humboldt’s relevance. The Humboldt in these pages is bracingly contemporary; he acts and speaks in the way that a polyglot intellectual from the year 2015 might, were he transported two centuries into the past and set out to enlighten the world’s benighted scientists and political rulers.... At times The Invention of Nature reads like pulp explorer fiction, a genre at least partially inspired by Humboldt’s own travelogues.... It is impossible to read The Invention of Nature without contracting Humboldt fever. Wulf makes Humboldtians of us all.”
- — Nathaniel Rich, New York Review of Books
“A magnificent work of resurrection, beautifully researched, elegantly written, a thrilling intellectual odyssey.”
- — Christopher Hart, The Sunday Times (London)
“A superb biography. Andrea Wulf makes an inspired case for Alexander von Humboldt to be considered the greatest scientist of the 19th century. . . . Wulf is especially good, [on the ways that] his ideas enjoyed an afterlife.... Ecologists today, Ms. Wulf argues, are Humboldtians at heart. With the immense challenge of grasping the global consequences of climate change, Humboldt’s interdisciplinary approach is more relevant than ever.”
- — The Economist
“On one level, [The Invention of Nature] is a rollicking adventure story.... Yet it is also a fascinating history of ideas.”
- — Sarah Darwin, Financial Times (London)
Ecological Civilization: China
- Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting (2015)
Meltdown: China's Environment
- Pulitizer Center on Crisis Reporting (2013)
- Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles
by Astronaut Ron Garan
iBook-Apple - Kindle-Amazon
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers (February 2, 2015)
"You don't need to be an astronaut to have the orbital perspective..."
Higher Education in the Digital Age by William G. Bowen
Two of the most visible and important trends in higher education today are its exploding costs and the rapid expansion of online learning.
Will the growth in online courses slow the rising cost of college and help solve the crisis of affordability? Can the rapid rise of online learning internationally change education and bring new opportunities?
Networking experiences of environmental science-earth science-bio-sciences / planetary science/engineering / appropriate technology/media-IT provide guideposts...
The World Is Blue:
- How Our Fate and the Ocean's Are One
By Sylvia Earle
- "A Silent Spring for our era..."
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"A single kind of blue-green algae in the ocean (Prochlorococcus) produces the oxygen in one of every five breaths we take"
- --Sylvia Earle
Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change
... Or How to go beyond preaching to the choir
- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (August 18, 2015)
- ISBN-10: 163286102X
Small to Immense
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Let us begin with a Creative Commons sharing of a short, seminal essay from a visionary scientist, Loren Eisely
A modest man who was a planet citizen, a star dreamer, an uncommon man who could see far beyond what most of us see...
Let us begin with Planet Earth and our shared Immense Journey... perhaps begin by picturing millions of years ago when "there were no flowers at all."
“The truth is, however, that there is nothing very “normal” about nature. Once upon a time there were no flowers at all.”
― Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey: An Imaginative Naturalist Explores the Mysteries of Man and Nature
“HOW FLOWERS CHANGED THE WORLD” ... from the Immense Journey
by Loren Eiseley
If it had been possible to observe the Earth from the far side of the solar system over the long course of geological epochs, the watchers might have been able to discern a subtle change in the light emanating from our planet. That world of long ago would, like the red deserts of Mars, have reflected light from vast drifts of stone and gravel, the sands of wandering wastes, the blackness of naked basalt, the yellow dust of endlessly moving storms. Only the ceaseless marching of the clouds and the intermittent flashes from the restless surface of the sea would have told a different story, but still essentially a barren one. Then, as the millennia rolled away and age followed age, a new and greener light would, by degrees, have come to twinkle across those endless miles.
This is the only difference those far watchers, by the use of subtle instruments, might have perceived in the whole history of the planet Earth. Yet that slowly growing green twinkle would have contained the epic march of life from the tidal oozes upward across the raw and unclothed continents. Out of the vast chemical bath of the sea--not from the deeps, but from the element-rich, light- exposed platforms of the continental shelves-- wandering fingers of green had crept upward along the meanderings of river systems and fringed the gravels of forgotten lakes.
In those first ages plants clung of necessity to swamps and watercourses. Their reproductive processes demanded direct access to water. Beyond the primitive ferns and mosses that enclosed the borders of swamps and streams the rocks still lay vast and bare, the winds still swirled the dust of a naked planet. The grass cover that holds our world secure in place was still millions of years in the future. The green marchers had gained a soggy foothold upon the land, but that was all. They did not reproduce by seeds but by microscopic swimming sperm that had to wriggle their way through water to fertilize the female cell. Such plants in their higher forms had clever adaptations for the use of rain water in their sexual phases, and survived with increasing success in a wet land environment. They now seem part of man's normal environment. The truth is, however, that there is nothing very "normal" about Nature. Once upon a time there were no flowers at all.
A little while ago--about one hundred million years, as the geologist estimates time in the history of our four billion-year-old planet--flowers were not to be found anywhere on the five continents. Wherever one might have looked, from the poles to the equator, one would have seen only the cold dark monotonous green of a world whose plant life possessed no other color.
Somewhere, just a short time before the close of the Age of Reptiles, there occurred a soundless, violent explosion. It lasted millions of years, but it was an explosion, nevertheless. It marked the emergence of the angiosperms--the flowering plants. Even the great evolutionist, Charles Darwin, called them "an abominable mystery," because they appeared so suddenly and spread so fast.
Flowers changed the face of the planet. Without them, the world we know--even man himself--would never have existed.
Francis Thompson, the English poet, once wrote that one could not pluck a flower without troubling a star. Intuitively he had sensed like a naturalist the enormous interlinked complexity of life. Today we know that the appearance of the flowers contained also the equally mystifying emergence of man. If we were to go back into the Age of Reptiles, its drowned swamps and birdless forests would reveal to us a warmer but, on the whole, a sleepier world than that of today. Here and there, it is true, the serpent heads of bottom-feeding dinosaurs might be upreared in suspicion of their huge flesh-eating compatriots. Tyrannosaurs, enormous bipedal caricatures of men, would stalk mindlessly across the sites of future cities and go their slow way down into the dark of geologic time.
In all that world of living things nothing saw save with the intense concentration of the hunt, nothing moved except with the grave sleepwalking intentness of the instinct-driven brain. Judged by modern standards, it was a world in slow motion, a cold-blooded world whose occupants were most active at noonday but torpid on chill nights, their brains damped by a slower metabolism than any known to even the most primitive of warmblooded animals today.
A high metabolic rate and the maintenance of a constant body temperature are supreme achievements in the evolution of life. They enable an animal to escape, within broad limits, from the overheating or the chilling of its immediate surroundings, and at the same time to maintain a peak mental efficiency. Creatures without a high metabolic rate are slaves to weather. Insects in the first frosts of autumn all run down like little clocks. Yet if you pick one up and breathe warmly upon it, it will begin to move about once more.
In a sheltered spot such creatures may sleep away the winter, but they are hopelessly immobilized. Though a few warm-blooded mammals, such as the woodchuck of our day, have evolved a way of reducing their metabolic rate in order to undergo winter hibernation, it is a survival mechanism with drawbacks, for it leaves the animal helplessly exposed if enemies discover him during his period of suspended animation. Thus bear or woodchuck, big animal or small, must seek, in this time of descending sleep, a safe refuge in some hidden den or burrow. Hibernation is, therefore, primarily a winter refuge of small, easily concealed animals rather than of large ones.
A high metabolic rate, however, means a heavy intake of energy in order to sustain body warmth and efficiency. It is for this reason that even some of these later warm-blooded mammals existing in our day have learned to descend into a slower, unconscious rate of living during the winter months when food may be difficult to obtain. On a slightly higher plane they are following the procedure of the cold-blooded frog sleeping in the mud at the bottom of a frozen pond.
The agile brain of the warm-blooded birds and mammals demands a high oxygen consumption and food in concentrated forms, or the creatures cannot long sustain themselves. It was the rise of the flowering plants that provided that energy and changed the nature of the living world. Their appearance parallels in a quite surprising manner the rise of the birds and mammals.
Slowly, toward the dawn of the Age of Reptiles, something over two hundred and fifty million years ago, the little naked sperm cells wriggling their way through dew and raindrops had given way to a kind of pollen carried by the wind. Our present-day pine forests represent plants of a pollen-disseminating variety. Once fertilization was no longer dependent on exterior water, the march over drier regions could be extended. Instead of spores, simple primitive seeds carrying some nourishment for the young plant had developed, but true flowers were still scores of millions of years away. After a long period of hesitant evolutionary groping, they exploded upon the world with truly revolutionary violence.
The event occurred in Cretaceous times in the close of the Age of Reptiles. Before the coming of the flowering plants our own ancestral stock, the warm-blooded mammals, consisted of a few mousy little creatures hidden in trees and underbrush. A few lizard-like birds with carnivorous teeth flapped awkwardly on ill-aimed flights among archaic shrubbery. None of these insignificant creatures gave evidence of any remarkable talents. The mammals in particular had been around for some millions of years, but had remained well lost in the shadow of the mighty reptiles. Truth to tell, man was still, like the genie in the bottle, encased in the body of a creature about the size of a rat.
As for the birds, their reptilian cousins the Pterodactyls, flew farther and better. There was just one thing about the birds that paralleled the physiology of the mammals. They, too, had evolved warm blood and its accompanying temperature control. Nevertheless, if one had been seen stripped of his feathers, he would still have seemed a slightly uncanny and unsightly lizard.
Neither the birds nor the mammals, however, were quite what they seemed. They were waiting for the Age of Flowers. They were waiting for what flowers, and with them the true encased seed, would bring. Fish-eating, gigantic leather-winged reptiles, twenty-eight feet from wing tip to wing tip, hovered over the coasts that one day would be swarming with gulls.
Inland the monotonous green of the pine and spruce forests with their primitive wooden cone flowers stretched everywhere. No grass hindered the fall of the naked seeds to earth. Great sequoias towered to the skies. The world of that time has a certain appeal but it is a giant's world, a world moving slowly like the reptiles who stalked magnificently among the boles of its trees.
The trees themselves are ancient, slow-growing and immense, like the redwood groves that have survived to our day on the California coast. All is stiff, formal, upright and green, monotonously green. There is no grass as yet; there are no wide plains rolling in the sun, no tiny daisies dotting the meadows underfoot. There is little versatility about this scene; it is, in truth, a giant's world.
A few nights ago it was brought home vividly to me that the world has changed since that far epoch. I was awakened out of sleep by an unknown sound in my living room. Not a small sound--not a creaking timber or a mouse's scurry -- but a sharp, rending explosion as though an unwary foot had been put down upon a wine glass. I had come instantly out of sleep and lay tense, unbreathing. I listened for another step. There was none. Unable to stand the suspense any longer, I turned on the light and passed from room to room glancing uneasily behind chairs and into closets. Nothing seemed disturbed, and I stood puzzled in the center of the living room floor. Then a small button-shaped object upon the rug caught my eye. It was hard and polished and glistening. Scattered over the length of the room were several more shining up at me like wary little eyes. A pine cone that had been lying in a dish had been blown the length of the coffee table. The dish itself could hardly have been the source of the explosion. Beside it I found two ribbon-like strips of a velvety green. I tried to place the two strips together to make a pod. They twisted resolutely away from each other and would no longer fit.
I relaxed in a chair, then, for I had reached a solution of the midnight disturbance. The twisted strips were wisteria pods that I had brought in a day or two previously and placed in the dish. They had chosen midnight to explode and distribute their multiplying fund of life down the length of the room. A plant, a fixed, rooted thing, immobilized in a single spot, had devised a way of propelling its offspring across open space. Immediately there passed before my eyes the million airy troopers of the milkweed pod and the clutching hooks of the sandburs. Seeds on the coyote's tail, seeds on the hunter's coat, thistledown mounting on the winds--all were somehow triumphing over life's limitations. Yet the ability to do this had not been with them at the beginning. It was the product of endless effort and experiment.
The seeds on my carpet were not going to lie stiffly where they had dropped like their antiquated cousins, the naked seeds on the pine-cone scales. They were travelers. Struck by the thought, I went out next day and collected several other varieties. I line them up now in a row on my desk -- so many little capsules of life, winged, hooked or spiked. Everyone is an angiosperm, a product of the true flowering plants. Contained in these little boxes is the secret of that far-off Cretaceous explosion of a hundred million years ago that changed the face of the planet. And somewhere in here, I think, as I poke seriously at one particularly resistant seedcase of a wild grass, was once man himself.
When the first simple flower bloomed on some raw upland late in the Dinosaur Age, it was wind pollinated, just like its early pine-cone relatives. It was a very inconspicuous flower because it had not yet evolved the ideal of using the surer attraction of birds and insects to achieve the transportation of pollen. It sowed its own pollen and received the pollen of other flowers by the simple vagaries of the wind. Many plants in regions where insect life is scant still follow this principle today. Nevertheless, the true flower--and the seed that it produced--was a profound innovation in the world of life.
In a way, this event parallels, in the plant world, what happened among animals. Consider the relative chance for survival of the exteriorly deposited egg of a fish in contrast with the fertilized egg of a mammal, carefully retained for months in the mother's body until the young animal (or human being) is developed to a point where it may survive. The biological wastage is less--and so it is with the flowering plants. The primitive spore, a single cell fertilized in the beginning by a swimming sperm, did not promote rapid distribution, and the young plant, moreover, had to struggle up from nothing. No one had left it any food except what it could get by its own unaided efforts.
By contrast, the true flowering plants (angiosperm itself means "encased seed") grew a seed in the heart of a flower, a seed whose development was initiated by a fertilizing pollen grain independent of outside moisture. But the seed, unlike the developing spore, is already a fully equipped embryonic plant packed in a little enclosed box stuffed full of nutritious food. Moreover, by featherdown attachments, as in dandelion or milkweed seed, it can be wafted upward on gusts and ride the wind for miles; or with hooks it can cling to a bear's or a rabbit's hide; or like some of the berries, it can be covered with a juicy attractive fruit to lure birds, pass undigested through their intestinal tracts and be voided miles away.
The ramifications of this biological invention were endless. Plants traveled as they had never traveled before. They got into strange environments heretofore never entered by the old spore plants or stiff pine-cone-seed plants. The well-fed, carefully cherished little embryos raised their heads everywhere. Many of the older plants with more primitive reproductive mechanisms began to fade away under this unequal contest. They contracted their range into secluded environments. Some, like the giant redwoods, lingered on as relics; many vanished entirely.
The world of the giants was a dying world. These fantastic little seeds skipping and hopping and flying about the woods and valleys brought with them an amazing adaptability. If our whole lives had not been spent in the midst of it, it would astound us. The old, stiff, sky-reaching wooden world had changed into something that glowed here and there with strange colors, put out queer, unheard-of fruits and little intricately carved seed cases, and, most important of all, produced concentrated foods in a way that the land had never seen before, or dreamed of back in the fish-eating, leaf-crunching days of the dinosaurs.
That food came from three sources, all produced by the reproductive system of the flowering plants. There were the tantalizing nectars and pollens intended to draw insects for pollenizing purposes, and which are responsible also for that wonderful jeweled creation, the hummingbird. There were the juicy and enticing fruits to attract larger animals, and in which tough-coated seeds were concealed, as in the tomato, for example. Then, as if this were not enough, there was the food in the actual seed itself, the food intended to nourish the embryo. All over the world, like hot corn in a popper, these incredible elaborations of the flowering plants kept exploding. In a movement that was almost instantaneous, geologically speaking, the angiosperms had taken over the world.
Grass was beginning to cover the bare earth until, today, there are over six thousand species. All kinds of vines and bushes squirmed and writhed under new trees with flying seeds.The explosion was having its effect on animal life also. Specialized groups of insects were arising to feed on the new sources of food and, incidentally and unknowingly, to pollinate the plant. The flowers bloomed and bloomed in ever larger and more spectacular varieties. Some were pale unearthly night flowers intended to lure moths in the evening twilight, some among the orchids even took the shape of female spiders in order to attract wandering males, some flamed redly in the light of noon or twinkled modestly in the meadow grasses. Intricate mechanisms splashed pollen on the breasts of hummingbirds, or stamped it on the bellies of black, grumbling bees droning assiduously from blossom to blossom. Honey ran, insects multiplied, and even the descendants of that toothed and ancient lizard-bird had become strangely altered. Equipped with prodding beaks instead of biting teeth they pecked the seeds and gobbled the insects that were really converted nectar.
Across the planet grasslands were now spreading. A slow continental upthrust which had been a part of the early Age of Flowers had cooled the world's climates. The stalking reptiles and the leather-winged black imps of the seashore cliffs had vanished. Only birds roamed the air now, hot-blooded and high-speed metabolic machines.
The mammals, too, had survived and were venturing into new domains, staring about perhaps a bit bewildered at their sudden eminence now that the thunder lizards were gone. Many of them, beginning as small browsers upon leaves in the forest, began to venture out upon this new sunlit world of the grass. Grass has a high silica content and demands a new type of very tough and resistant tooth enamel, but the seeds taken incidentally in the cropping of the grass are highly nutritious. A new world had opened out for the warm-blooded mammals. Great herbivores like the mammoths, horses and bisons appeared. Skulking about them had arisen savage fleshfeeding carnivores like the now extinct dire wolves and the saber-toothed tiger.
Flesh eaters though these creatures were, they were being sustained on nutritious grasses one step removed. Their fierce energy was being maintained on a high, effective level, through hot days and frosty nights, by the concentrated energy of the angiosperms. That energy, thirty per cent or more of the weight of the entire plant among some of the cereal grasses, was being accumulated and concentrated in the rich proteins and fats of the enormous game herds of the grasslands.
On the edge of the forest, a strange, old-fashioned animal still hesitated. His body was the body of a tree dweller, and though tough and knotty by human standards, he was, in terms of that world into which he gazed, a weakling. His teeth, though strong for chewing on the tough fruits of the forest, or for crunching an occasional unwary bird caught with his prehensile hands, were not the tearing sabers of the great cats. He had a passion for lifting himself up to see about, in his restless, roving curiosity. He would run a little stiffly and uncertainly, perhaps, on his hind legs, but only in those rare moments when he ventured out upon the ground. All this was the legacy of his climbing days; he had a hand with flexible fingers and no fine specialized hoofs upon which to gallop like the wind.
If he had any idea of competing in that new world, he had better forget it; teeth or hooves, he was much too late for either. He was a ne'er-do-well, an in-betweener. Nature had not done well by him. It was as if she had hesitated and never quite made up her mind. Perhaps as a consequence he had a malicious gleam in his eye, the gleam of an outcast who has been left nothing and knows he is going to have to take what he gets. One day a little band of these odd apes--for apes they were--shambled out upon the grass; the human story had begun.
Apes were to become men, in the inscrutable wisdom of nature, because flowers had produced seeds and fruits in such tremendous quantities that a new and totally different store of energy had become available in concentrated form. Impressive as the slow-moving, dim-brained dinosaurs had been, it is doubtful if their age had supported anything like the diversity of life that now rioted across the planet or flashed in and out among the trees. Down on the grass by a streamside, one of those apes with inquisitive fingers turned over a stone and hefted it vaguely. The group clucked together in a throaty tongue and moved off through the tall grass foraging for seeds and insects. The one still held, sniffed, and hefted the stone he had found. He liked the feel of it in his fingers. The attack on the animal world was about to begin.
If one could run the story of that first human group like a speeded-up motion picture through a million years of time, one might see the stone in the hand change to the flint ax and the torch. All that swarming grassland world with its giant bison and trumpeting mammoths would go down in ruin to feed the insatiable and growing numbers of a carnivore who, like the great cats before him, was taking his energy indirectly from the grass. Later he found fire and it altered the tough meats and drained their energy even faster into a stomach ill adapted for the ferocious turn man's habits had taken.
His limbs grew longer, he strode more purposefully over the grass. The stolen energy that would take man across the continents would fail him at last. The Great Ice Age herds were destined to vanish. When they did so, another hand like the hand that grasped the stone by the river long ago would pluck a handful of grass seed and hold it contemplatively.
In that moment, the golden towers of man, his swarming millions, his turning wheels, the vast learning of his packed libraries, would glimmer dimly there in the ancestor of wheat, a few seeds held in a muddy hand. Without the gift of flowers and the infinite diversity of their fruits, man and bird, if they had continued to exist at all, would be today unrecognizable. Archaeopteryx, the lizard-bird, might still be snapping at beetles on a sequoia limb; man might still be a nocturnal insectivore gnawing a roach in the dark. The weight of a petal has changed the face of the world and made it ours.
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The first daisies may have flourished while dinosaurs still walked the Earth, researchers reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Evidence from tiny grains of fossilized pollen suggests that the Asteraceae flower family, which includes daisies, chrysanthemums and sunflowers, is 20 million years older than previously suspected, writes Jonathan Tilley for HortWeek.
The flowering plant family Asteraceae (e.g. sunflowers, daisies, chrysanthemums), with about 23,000 species, is found almost everywhere in the world except in Antarctica. Asteraceae (or Compositae) are regarded as one of the most influential families in the diversification and evolution of a large number of animals that heavily depends on their inflorescences to survive (e.g. bees, hummingbirds, wasps). Here we report the discovery of pollen grains unambiguously assigned to Asteraceae that remained buried in Antarctic deposits for more than 65 million years along with other extinct groups (e.g. Dinosaurs, Ammonites). Our discovery drastically pushes back the assumed origin of Asteraceae, because these pollen grains are the oldest fossils ever found for the family.
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The Loren Eiseley Reader
By Loren C. Eiseley
Foreword by Ray Bradbury
Illustrated by Aaron Franco
hardcover • 240 pages • 6 x 9 • illustrations, photos, map • $26.95 USD
Beautifully illustrated with charcoal drawings by Nebraska artist Aaron Franco, this 240-page hardcover book includes 15 selected works by noted Nebraska naturalist and philosopher Loren C. Eiseley. Published by Abbatia Press/Infusionmedia and the Loren Eiseley Society, the collection is intended to introduce Eiseley to a new generation of readers and to reach out to old friends who know Eiseley and wish to gain new perspectives on his work. Over 15 photographs and images of Eiseley and his life are included, as is a bibliography and a map of Eiseley's Nebraska.
With a foreword by noted author Ray Bradbury, the collected works include the "Prologue," "The World Eaters," "The Spore Bearers," and "The Last Magician" from The Invisible Pyramid; "The Slit," "The Flow of the River," "How Flowers Changed the World," and "The Judgment of the Birds" from The Immense Journey; "The Innocent Assassins" poem from The Innocent Assassins; "The Gold Wheel" from "The Night Country"; "The Running Man" and "The Letter" from All the Strange Hours; "The Star Thrower," "The Last Neanderthal," and "The Innocent Fox" from The Unexpected Universe.
Referred to by Publishers Weekly as a "modern Thoreau," Nebraska native Loren C. Eiseley (1907–77) was a nature science writer, philosopher, anthropologist, and educator, and was Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and History of Science at the University of Pennsylvania at his death. Ray Bradbury is a noted fantasy, horror, science fiction, and mystery writer, perhaps best known for his novel Fahrenheit 451. A graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in studio art, graphics, advertising, and journalism, Aaron Franco is a multimedia and graphic designer with a background in fine arts.
Publisher: The Loren Eiseley Society (2009)
As GreenPolicy begins to review 'Big Picture Books'
We reach out to GreenPolicy's former adviser Bill McKibben, who is focusing now on climate change at 350.org...
We initiate GreenPolicy's book reviews with a question about a Tree of Life and an exceptional species -- "What Are People For?"
Wendell Berry is a worthy homo sapien to ask this question of questions.
Prophet in Kentucky
by Bill McKibben / JUNE 14, 1990 NY Review of Books
What Are People For? by Wendell Berry
- North Point, 210 pp., $9.95 (paper)
and more from Wendell...
Collected Poems, 1957–1982
- North Point, 268 pp., $8.95 (paper)
The Hidden Wound
- North Point, 137 pp., $9.95 (paper)
Meeting the Expectations of the Land: Essays in Sustainable Agriculture and Stewardship
- edited by Wendell Berry, edited by Wes Jackson, edited by Bruce Colman
- North Point, 250 pp., $12.50 (paper)
Standing By Words
- North Point, 213 pp., $10.95 (paper)
The Wild Birds: Six Stories of the Port William Membership
- North Point, 146 pp., $8.95 (paper)
The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture
- Sierra Club, 228 pp., $7.95 (paper)
The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural
- North Point, 304 pp., $9.95 (paper)
- Home Economics
- North Point, 192 pp., $9.95 (paper)
A Continuous Harmony
- Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 182 pp., $5.95 (paper)
- Recollected Essays, 1965–1980
- North Point, 340 pp., $10.95 (paper)
- North Point, 124 pp., $14.95
- A Place on Earth: Revision
- North Point, 317 pp., $12.95 (paper)
Bill McKibben: Wendell Berry’s new collection of essays, What Are People For?, was probably the most important book published on Earth Day, even though it has very little to say about ozone depletion or global warming. (It is also, I feel sure, the best written.) What Are People For? continues Berry’s quarter-century-old argument with the modern world:
Berry is a poet and novelist as well as an essayist, but most of all he is a farmer. He believes that we face an agricultural crisis, and that it is a part of a moral, philosophical, and social crisis that demands that we change our lives.
Reviewed in The Bill McKibben Reader
- Paperback: 442 pages
- Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.; First Edition edition / March 4, 2008
- ISBN-10: 0805076271
- ISBN-13: 978-0805076271
More from Bill McKibben
It's All Connected
Dreaming the Future: Reimagining Civilization in the Age of Nature
- by Kenny Ausubel
"Without doubt, Kenny Ausubel has one of the most glorious minds on the planet. Herein he has crafted a dazzling treasury of essays on the destiny of humanity and its place on earth, a rosary of startling truths. His ability to describe the cataclysmic loss of living systems contrasted with the luminous and untold rise of human awakening is unique among living writers and speakers. Read this for its brilliance, but read it also to find joy in the intricate reimagination of what it means to be a human being at this parlous moment in civilization." -- Paul Hawken, author of Blessed Unrest; co-author, Natural Capitalism
"Kenny Ausubel is one of the planet's key people, a kind of hub for the new ideas that will, if we're smart, shape our future. He delivers them with the... brio and confidence that will help people overcome their fear and get to work!" -- Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth; founder of 350.org
"Dreaming the Future proposes a path forward that is both profoundly radical and full of common sense. An excellent read for everyone who wants to build a better future-and for those looking to supplement the many dry technical tomes about today's environmental problems. Ausubel explores the political, cultural, and personal changes needed to chart a sustainable path forward, leaving readers delighted and hopeful. -- Annie Leonard, author and host, The Story of Stuff; co-director, The Story of Stuff Project
"A brilliant new look at what it is to be human on a living planet. Kenny Ausubel has devoted his life to creating organizations that dream a new future. In this marvelous book he shares his vision in eloquent words that inspire us to take action. Read, enjoy, dream--and act! -- John Perkins, author, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and Hoodwinked
GreenPolicy's Oldie but Goodie Choice for Your E-Bookshelf
- Harken back to the beginnings of the modern environmental movement
- The 60s/70s and Whole Earth Catalog (as wrapped up in an online '86 archive edition)
- The Best of the Whole Earth Catalog: The Best of Environmental Ideas and Tools (1986)
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