This Sunday, September 21st, concerned citizens from across the globe are convening in New York City for what’s being called the largest climate march in history. Over 100,000 participants will march two miles through the streets of Manhattan “to demand bold action on climate change.” For those who are planning to march, or for those who wish to take action from afar, we’ve compiled a list of essential titles that raise awareness about impending climate change—the most pivotal environmental crisis humankind has yet to face:
Today is World Water Day. Observed every March 22nd, World Water Day reminds people around the globe about the importance of freshwater and urges them to advocate for the sustainable use of freshwater resources.
This year’s theme is water cooperation, a rallying cry to recognize water as a resource that we are all entitled to and for which management responsibility is shared. On the surface, coming together as a global community for the good of water sustainability seems simple. But freshwater is becoming a scarce resource—one that is not evenly distributed around the world. And, with climate change shifting growing seasons and sea levels, our understanding of water’s boundaries and availabily is becoming even more muddled. To ensure a viable future, water must be a shared, not bought and sold to the highest bidder, not polluted and ignored at the detriment of our communities.
In addition to the small steps towards water conservation that people
can take each day, World Water Day asks us to look toward the future,
understand the realities of the water crisis that we as a planet are
facing, and take steps to change it.
At Beacon Press, we have published a number of books over the last decade that explore water usage and sustainability concerns from a variety of perspectives. Below are six titles that focus on the many ways access to water affects our lives, and uncover how the lack of collaboration by individuals, corporations, and government agencies has put us on a perilous path towards international water shortages.
The first book to call for a national water ethic, Blue Revolution is a powerful meditation on water and community in America. The book combines investigative reporting with solutions from around the globe to show how local communities and entire nations can come together to stretch vanishing water supplies and protect themselves from increasingly devastating floods. Barnett challenges the conventional wisdom that the United States can build its way out of water crisis and argues that no solution would be more powerful than an ethic for water—embraced not only by citizens, but by government and major water users including the energy and agricultural sectors.
Journalist Brad Tyer moved to Montana looking for big skies, clear waters, and change of scenery. But, soon after he arrived he discovered that “the treasure state” had buried secrets. Opportunity, Montana explores how a century of copper mining devastated the Clark Fork River, which runs through the state of Montana, as it took on the bulk of the pollutants and industrial waste. In the 1980s the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated the river as a Superfund site in need of environmental clean-up—one of seventeen in the state. It took twenty years for the EPA and the responsible parties to agree on what to do about it, and another ten before any change would be seen. How do you fix a broken river, Tyer asks? The financial implications, estimated to be 1.3 billion dollars, were just the beginning. First, 400 acres of toxic sediment had to be dug up and disposed of, and as Tyer discovered, mining waste doesn’t go away, it just gets moved and covered up. For the second time in Montana’s copper history, that burden would fall on the small town of Opportunity.
In the last decade, the inventory of dams in the United States has been reduced by nearly 500. Though many of those have been small, privately-owned ventures, the positive impact has led to proposals for larger dam removal projects nationally. In Recovering A Lost River, Hawley advocates for the removal of dams and the restoration of the rich and thriving environments that can be found in and around free flowing water. Assessing the current state of freshwater ecosystems nationally, he reports that a third of freshwater species are threatened or endangered, forty percent of freshwater bodies in America are too polluted for swimming or fishing, and half of the nation’s wetlands are gone. This book is a call to action for overcoming corporate and federal obstacles in order to restore free flowing waterways and reinvigorate long suffering wildernesses.
In 2007, When the Rivers Run Dry was a groundbreaking exploration on the state of water sources around the world, and the looming possibility of a world-wide water shortage. It is now considered to be required reading for anyone looking to understand the water crisis.
In 2012, Fred Pearce revisited the issue of water sustainability in The Land Grabbers, exploring how the need for abundant water in industrial agriculture has resulted in wealthy countries and powerful corporations in need of water seeking to obtain it, while impoverished countries with access to water are looking to profit from it. These practices have led to the exploitation of vulnerable land, people, and water, with the potential for devastating consequences.
In 2001, at the age of twenty-two, Rajeev Goyal joined the Peace Corps. Assigned to teach English in Nepal, he found himself in the remote mountain town of Namje where villagers spend most of their day walking to and from a far-off stream to fetch water. Goyal sets out to create a water project that would pump water directly into the town, in hopes of improving every part of village life, from health and prosperity to education. With the support and dedication of the villagers, the mission is successful, but the long-term consequences of development go beyond anything Goyal could have imagined. The Springs of Namje explores how water can hold back or propel a community forward.
I’m beginning to believe it’s the deep social/political/religious divides that have us too angry at one another to roll up our sleeves and work on relatively small problems, much less biggies such as climate change and freshwater scarcity.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this because I’m in the middle of writing the commencement address for Unity College. This is the wonderful environmental-themed college in Unity, Maine, where President Stephen Mulkey has elevated climate change as an ethical imperative for colleges and universities everywhere.
I’m telling the graduates: “As the global atmosphere warms, as the Arctic ice thins, as Americans sweat in the warmest spring in recorded history, our political, cultural and business leaders, and our government and private institutions, remain frozen stiff.My generation’s paralysis, which extends from the geo-political to the local, is the single-greatest barrier to solving the climate crisis...”
Part of the answer is that ethical imperative President Mulkey talks about. My latest book, Blue Revolution, is a call for a water ethic for America, in the same spirit that Aldo Leopold called for a land ethic sixty years ago. My favorite thing about the response so far is how the ethical framework transcends politics and other points of division. I am asked to speak at Vacation Bible Schools as well as universities, and make my way into the hook & bullet literature as well as the green.
This is the beauty of water. Literally a chemical bond, water is also one of the deepest bonds among people. The initial impacts of our changing climate all involve water–- changing rainfall and storm patterns, more-extreme flooding, more-severe drought. These are happenings people love to talk about, even people who don’t want to talk about climate change.
This is why I think water will be the issue around which the shouting match over climate change finally becomes a conversation. Ultimately, it will unite us.
Win a copy of Cynthia Barnett's new book, Blue Revolution: Unmaking America's Water Crisis, and an aluminum water bottle from Beacon Press to get you started developing your own water ethic! Drawing is open to residents of the United States. Entries will be accepted through Friday, November 18, 5 pm EST. You may enter once per day.
Americans see water as abundant and cheap: we turn on the faucet and out it gushes, for less than a penny a gallon. We use more water than any other culture in the world, much to quench what's now our largest crop-the lawn. Yet most Americans cannot name the river or aquifer that flows to our taps, irrigates our food, and produces our electricity. And most don't realize these freshwater sources are in deep trouble.
Blue Revolutionexposes the truth about the water crisis-driven not as much by lawn sprinklers as by a tradition that has encouraged everyone, from homeowners to farmers to utilities, to tap more and more. But the book also offers much reason for hope. Award-winning journalist Cynthia Barnett argues that the best solution is also the simplest and least expensive: a water ethic for America. Just as the green movement helped build awareness about energy and sustainability, so a blue movement will reconnect Americans to their water, helping us value and conserve our most life-giving resource. Avoiding past mistakes, living within our water means, and turning to "local water" as we do local foods are all part of this new, blue revolution.
Reporting from across the country and around the globe, Barnett shows how people, businesses, and governments have come together to dramatically reduce water use and reverse the water crisis. Entire metro areas, such as San Antonio, Texas, have halved per capita water use. Singapore's "closed water loop" recycles every drop. New technologies can slash agricultural irrigation in half: businesses can save a lot of water-and a lot of money-with designs as simple as recycling air-conditioning condensate.
The first book to call for a national water ethic, Blue Revolution is also a powerful meditation on water and community in America.
In honor of Earth Day, we asked a handful of our environmental writers two questions: 1. What is today’s most pressing environmental issue? and 2. What’s one small thing people can do to make a big difference? Here are their answers.
1. What is today’s most pressing environmental issue? The global freshwater crisis – because it’s life-threatening to people and children right now. A billion people on our planet still do not have safe, clean drinking water. More than 2.2 million people die each year from diseases associated with that lack of access.
2. What’s one small thing people can do to make a big difference? My book Blue Revolution deals with freshwater woes in America, which are not comparable to the global crisis that kills thousands of children a day. But its call for a water ethic is pivotal locally, nationally and globally: Learn about freshwater resources and teach a young person – or a classroom full – about water and the consequences of over-extraction and pollution, both in their own community and elsewhere in the world. Inspiring such an ethic in the next generation – something lacking in our own – could give water the sense of urgency it deserves.
1. What is today’s most pressing environmental issue? Fixing our broken political system. Every worthy environmental cause-- from local and regional issues like access to healthy food and clean water, to pressing global concerns like climate change-- is running up against a government that's simply not working for its people anymore.
To crib from an old bluegrass tune, government may not be broke, but it's badly bent. The federal government claims to be spending better than a billion dollars a year to restore endangered salmon. What they're doing instead, with the help of Senators, Congressmen, lobbyists, bureaucrats and an army of sycophants is maintaining fat subsidies for industry while holding meaningful salmon recovery at bay.
The environmental movement in forty years has had some amazing successes. But most of the ecological indicators by which we gage the health of the planet tell us we're in deep trouble. A few battles were won, but we're losing the war. The best move for environmentalists would be to begin the work of forming broad coalitions with other "civil society" advocates of every stripe, and begin the work of returning us to the idea that government of, for and by the people should be central to solutions, and possibly our most effective means to averting a host of impending disasters.
2. What’s one small thing people can do to make a big difference? Become engaged in politics in some way beyond just voting. Mark Twain said if voting made any real difference they wouldn't let us do it. So raise hell in church committees, school boards, and state houses. It's likely our last best hope.
1. What is today’s most pressing environmental issue? Humanity’s assault on our planet's life support systems. That's the carbon cycle, which we disrupting by burning carbon that has been stored underground by nature over millions of years in fossil fuels. By releasing this carbon into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide we are triggering both global warming and other big effects down the track like acidifying and deoxygenating the oceans. And the nitrogen cycle. We are fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere to make chemical fertilizers that eventually wash into rivers and oceans, causing more deoxygenation and dead zones. These are major changes to the basic chemistry of our planet. We still have very little idea where they will lead. Climate change may just be the start. A dead ocean may be the ultimate ecological horror. It would kill the planet.
2. What’s one small thing people can do to make a big difference? Slow down. Take your foot off the gas. Take time and care. Think. Smile. Grow old gracefully.
1. What is today’s most pressing environmental issue? It is difficult to choose a single pressing issue; there are many that compete for the top spot. But all are linked by what I see as a crux in environmental problem-solving: a reliance on linear versus systemic thinking.
We live in an increasingly complex world, one that is experiencing the effects of global climate change, population growth, fisheries depletion and ocean acidification, and peak oil (among others) at the same time. When considered individually they appear monumental but it is actually their simultaneity that poses the greatest threat. This is why we must address environmental problems from a systems perspective. Each of these problems is influenced by and influences others; therefore they should be seen as part of a whole, complex system. When we try to solve one issue at a time, we miss the relationships among them, and the ability to optimize our efforts.
2. What’s one small thing people can do to make a big difference? Small and big are relative terms. That said, plant a garden and spend more time in wild nature.