Alien species are taking over nature. Rogue rats, predatory jellyfish, suffocating super-weeds, snakehead fish wriggling across the land–all are headed for an ecosystem near you. These biological adventurers are travelling the world in ever greater numbers, hitchhiking in our hand luggage, hidden in cargo holds and stuck to the bottom of ships. Our modern, human-dominated world of globalized trade is giving footloose species many more chances to cruise the planet and set up home in distant lands. Some run riot, massacring local species, trashing their new habitats and spreading diseases.
We all like a simple story with good guys and bad guys, so the threat of invasive species invading fragile environments and causing ecological mayhem instantly gets our attention. For half a century, conservationists have been in the forefront of the battle to hold back the invasive tide. And as an environmental journalist, I have written my share of stories about the mayhem they can cause.
Some of it is true. But do we fear the invaders too much? Do zebra mussels, kudzu, salt cedar and the rest do as much damage as is claimed? And what about the thousands of other visitors who fit in without trouble? Is our fear of invasive species little more than green xenophobia? In my new book The New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature’s Salvation(Beacon Press, 2015), I explore these questions.
Most of us don’t treat foreign humans as intrinsically dangerous. Yet the orthodoxy in conservation is to stigmatize foreign species in just that way. Native is good, and foreign is bad. I believe it is time for a rethink—time to consider whether invasive species can sometimes be the good guys, and whether nature’s go-getters are actually rebooting ecosystems corrupted by human activity.
2015 marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. This could be the most dynamic year in environmental history. Economic growth and sustainability, once mutually exclusive, have begun a symbiotic relationship. Citizens and experts have set up defenses for their homes and the survival of other species from the encroaching effects of ecological devastation and extinction. New business ventures have transformed renewable energies into a viable market. As challenging and daunting as these issues are, it has become more apparent that we still have a chance of preserving our home. This Earth Day, we at Beacon Press are featuring titles that showcase individuals and organizations taking a stand for our home and encourage readers to take the stand with them.
Environmental journalist Fred Pearce presents a unique twist on a taking the lead on progress. In The New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature’s Salvation, he implores environmentalists of the twenty-first century to celebrate the dynamic nature of invasive species and the new ecosystems they create. The case for keeping out invasive species is not only flawed, but also contradictory to the environment’s capacity for change, accelerated now by climate change and widespread ecological disaster.
California’s limited water resources have made headlines at the start of this year. It won’t be long until the rest of the country is affected by threats of shortage. Journalist Cynthia Barnett calls for the simplest and least expensive call to action in Blue Revolution: Unmaking America’s Water Crisis. Selected as one of the Boston Globe’s top ten science books of 2011, it outlines a water ethic to reconnect Americans with our rivers, aquifers, and other freshwaters . This blue movement will turn us to “local water” the way the green movement turned us to local foods.
Pictured, left to right: Burmese python, Tamarisk, Chinese mitten crab, water hyacinth
Most of us think in stark terms about invasive species: they are evil interlopers spoiling pristine "natural" ecosystems. But what if the traditional view of ecology is wrong—what if true environmentalists should be applauding the invaders? In his latest book, The New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature's Salvation, veteran environmental journalist Fred Pearce argues that we should applaud the dynamism of alien species and the novel ecosystems they create. Recently, we talked with him about why he turned his focus to invasive species, what role humans have played in their rise, their benefits, and more. Read on!
Fred Pearce: Invasive species are often said to be the second most important threat to nature, after habitat destruction. And for a long time I accepted that claim. As a journalist, I have written plenty of stories about various “alien threats,” from zebra mussels and kudzu to water hyacinth and snakeheads. But I also like to question environmental assumptions. And when I delved into the world of invasive species, I found that—unlike, for instance, the warnings of climate change—there was little evidence to back up the fears. I saw little evidence that there was anything intrinsically bad about invader species. Their downside is often hopelessly hyped; and their potential benefits, such as increasing local biodiversity, are almost never researched.
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.
Faced with rising anger from environmentalists last year over his plans for a transcontinental pipeline to deliver treacly Canadian tar sands to Texas oil refineries on the Gulf of Mexico, the CEO of TransCanada, Russ Girling, expressed surprise. After all, his company had laid 300,000 kilometers of such pipes across North America. "The pipeline is routine. Something we do every day," he told Canadian journalists.
But that's the point. It is routine. The oil industry does do it every day. And if it carries on, it will wreck the world.
We need not rely on climate-changing fossil fuels. Alternative energy technologies are available. But fossil fuels, and the pipelines and other 20th-century infrastructure that underpin them, have created what John Schellnhuber, director of Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, describes in a new paper as "lock-in dominance" (PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1219791110). Even though we know how harmful it is, the "largest business on Earth" has ossified and is proving immovable, he says.
The question is how to break the lock and let in alternatives. Schellnhuber, a wily and worldly climate scientist, has an idea, to which I will return. But first the tar-sands pipeline, known as Keystone XL in the parlance of outsize clothing. Proponents say it would create jobs and improve US energy security. But for environmentalists in the US, the decision—due any time— on whether it should go ahead is a touchstone for Barack Obama's willingness to confront climate change in his second term.
Superficially, Keystone XL doesn't look like a huge deal. Since 2010, there has been a cross-border pipe bringing oil from tar sands in northern Alberta to the US Midwest. But this second link would double capacity and deliver oil to the refineries of the Gulf for global export. It looks like the key to a planned doubling of output from one of the world's largest deposits of one of the world's dirtiest fuels. And because the pipe would cross the US border, it requires state department and presidential sign-off.
Environmentalists are up in arms. They fear leaks. No matter what its sponsors suggest, this is no ordinary pipeline. The tar-sands oil— essentially diluted bitumen— is more acidic than regular oil and contains more sediment and moves at higher pressures. Critics say it risks corroding and grinding away the insides of the pipes. The US National Academy of Sciences has just begun a study on this, but its findings will probably be too late to influence Obama.
If there is a leak, clean-up will be difficult, as shown by the messy, protracted and acrimonious attempt to cleanse the Kalamazoo river in Michigan after tar-sands oil oozed into it in 2010.
To make matters worse, the pipeline would cross almost the entire length of the Ogallala aquifer, one of the world's largest underground water reserves, from South Dakota to Texas. Ogallala is a lifeline for the dust-bowl states of the Midwest. While TransCanada has agreed to bypass the ecologically important Sand Hills of Nebraska, where the water table is only 6 metres below the surface in places, a big unseen spill could still be disastrous.
Climate change is still the biggest deal. Extracting and processing tar sands creates a carbon footprint three times that of conventional crude. Obama would rightly lose all environmental credibility if he were to approve a scheme to double his country's imports of this fossil-fuel basket case. Yet he may do it. Why? Because of fossil-fuel lock-in. Changing course is hard. Really hard.
Part of the reason for the lock-in is the vast infrastructure dedicated to sustaining the supply of coal, oil and gas. There is no better symbol of that than a new pipeline. Partly it is political. Nobody has more political muscle than the fossil fuel industry, especially in Washington. And partly it is commercial. As Schellnhuber puts it: "Heavy investments in fossil fuels have led to big profits for shareholders, which in turn leads to greater investments in technologies that have proven to be profitable."
The result is domination by an outdated energy system that stifles alternatives. The potential for a renewable energy revolution is often compared to that of the IT revolution 30 years ago. But IT had little to fight except armies of clerks. Schellnhuber compares this lock-in to the synapses of an ageing human brain so exposed to repetitious thought that it "becomes addicted to specific observations and impressions to the exclusion of alternatives". Or, as Girling puts it, new pipelines become "routine".
What might free us from this addiction? With politicians weak, an obvious answer is to hold companies more financially accountable for environmental damage, including climate change. But Schellnhuber says this won't be enough unless individual shareholders become personally liable, too.
Here, he says, the problem is the public limited company (PLC), or publicly traded company in the US, which insulates shareholders from the consequences of decisions taken in their name. Even if their company goes bankrupt with huge debts, all they lose is the value of their shares. The PLC was invented to promote risk-taking in business. But it can also be an environmental menace, massively reducing incentives for industries to clean up their acts.
"If shareholders were held liable," he says, "then next time they might consider the risk before investing or reinvesting." More importantly, it could prevent us being locked into 20th century technologies that are quite incapable of solving 21st century problems. Fat chance, many might say. But just maybe Keystone XL and its uncanny ability to draw global attention will help catalyze growing anger at the environmental immunity of corporate shareholders.
An unprecedented land grab is taking place around the world. Fearing future food shortages or eager to profit from them, the world's wealthiest and most acquisitive countries, corporations, and individuals have been buying and leasing vast tracts of land around the world. The scale is astounding: parcels the size of small countries are being gobbled up across the plains of Africa, the paddy fields of Southeast Asia, the jungles of South America, and the prairies of Eastern Europe. Veteran science writer Fred Pearce spent a year circling the globe to find out who was doing the buying, whose land was being taken over, and what the effect of these massive land deals seems to be.
The Land Grabbers is a first-of-its-kind exposé that reveals the scale and the human costs of the land grab, one of the most profound ethical, environmental, and economic issues facing the globalized world in the twenty-first century. The corporations, speculators, and governments scooping up land cheap in the developing world claim that industrial-scale farming will help local economies. But Pearce's research reveals a far more troubling reality. While some mega-farms are ethically run, all too often poor farmers and cattle herders are evicted from ancestral lands or cut off from water sources. The good jobs promised by foreign capitalists and home governments alike fail to materialize. Hungry nations are being forced to export their food to the wealthy, and corporate potentates run fiefdoms oblivious to the country beyond their fences.
Pearce's story is populated with larger-than-life characters, from financier George Soros and industry tycoon Richard Branson, to Gulf state sheikhs, Russian oligarchs, British barons, and Burmese generals. We discover why Goldman Sachs is buying up the Chinese poultry industry, what Lord Rothschild and a legendary 1970s asset-stripper are doing in the backwoods of Brazil, and what plans a Saudi oil billionaire has for Ethiopia. Along the way, Pearce introduces us to the people who actually live on, and live off of, the supposedly "empty" land that is being grabbed, from Cambodian peasants, victimized first by the Khmer Rouge and now by crony capitalism, to African pastoralists confined to ever-smaller tracts.
Over the next few decades, land grabbing may matter more, to more of the planet's people, than even climate change. It will affect who eats and who does not, who gets richer and who gets poorer, and whether agrarian societies can exist outside corporate control. It is the new battle over who owns the planet.
Fred Pearce is an award-winning author and journalist based in London. He has reported on environment, science, and development issues from sixty-seven countries over the past twenty years. Environment consultant at New Scientist since 1992, he also writes regularly for the Guardian newspaper and Yale University’s prestigious e360 website. Pearce was voted UK Environment Journalist of the Year in 2001 and CGIAR agricultural research journalist of the year in 2002, and won a lifetime achievement award from the Association of British Science Writers in 2011. His many books include With Speed and Violence, Confessions of an Eco-Sinner, The Coming Population Crash, and When the Rivers Run Dry.
"Wherever I went, people were being moved off with little or no regard for their historic or cultural rights. The grabbers want big spaces – 50,000 hectares – and you can only get that if you take commonly owned ancestral lands. They come in and put in an airstrip and a compound and roads and canals and the villagers are told to go to the nearest town and they lose absolutely everything." Read an interview with Fred Pearce at the Guardian.
One idea promoted at last month's UN Climate Summit in Durban was “climate-smart agriculture," which could make crops less vulnerable to heat and drought and turn depleted soils into carbon sinks. The World Bank and African leaders are backing this new approach, but some critics are skeptical that it will benefit small-scale African farmers. Here, in a post that originally appeared on Yale Environment 360, Fred Pearce looks at what this kind of agriculture could mean for some of the world's poorest farmers.
The glacial pace of international efforts to curb climate change continued at the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa last month. Governments concluded that by 2015 they should agree on legally binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions that involve all major nations — including China, India and the United States. But they also agreed that those targets would probably not come into force until 2020.
The climate isn’t waiting for the diplomats. Most experts agree that by 2020 it will likely be too late to halt dangerous warming above two degrees Celsius. So the race is now on to find new, unconventional initiatives to fill the gap. One possibility that came to the fore in Durban is fixing some of that carbon dioxide in the soils of Africa. And that is why the continent’s political leaders met in Durban to launch an initiative known, somewhat cryptically, as “climate-smart” agriculture.
The new buzz phrase went down well. Host president Jacob Zuma extolled it. Kofi Annan, the Ghanaian former UN secretary-general, praised it as a panacea to Africa’s problems. “Till now agriculture has been sidelined from climate change discussions,” he said. “But Africa has a huge potential to mitigate climate change.” Beside him sat the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the chair of the African Union Commission. They were all on hand as the World Bank announced plans to turn climate-smart agriculture into the next big thing for the world market in carbon offsets.
So what exactly is climate-smart agriculture? It sounds as if it might involve making agriculture resilient to climate change, by making soils and crops less vulnerable to droughts and heat waves. And that is part of the plan. But only part. The real prize — the one that can lure private finance — is the potential for carbon offsetting. If farm soils can be used to soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, then they can generate carbon credits that can be sold to industrial polluters who want to offset their emissions.
The offer from the world of carbon finance to poor farmers in Africa and elsewhere is this: Let us use your soils to capture carbon from the atmosphere, and we will, in return, make those soils more productive and less vulnerable to the climate.
This is a big deal. Nurturing the organic matter in soils on the world’s farms has as much potential to absorb carbon dioxide emissions from industrialized countries as the much better-known plans to fund forest conservation, such as REDD. Rattan Lal of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center at Ohio State University suggests soils worldwide could capture as much as a billion tons of carbon a year — more than a tenth of man-made emissions.
Climate-smart agriculture neatly combines the twin goals of today’s climate negotiators, helping to prevent climate change while at the same time adapting farms to inevitable change.
Africa is the big prize. Its farmers are more vulnerable than any others to climate change. Some estimates suggest a hotter, more dire world could cut African farm yields by as much as 20 percent by mid-century. Without an African green revolution, that would spell disaster for a continent with a population that is expected to double to two billion people.
But the continent’s huge land area — greater than the U.S., China, India, Mexico and Japan combined — also holds huge potential as a planetary carbon sink that, many believe, could create the necessary green revolution.
Currently, African soils are leaking carbon as they erode and lose organic matter due to bad farming practices. An estimated 43 percent of Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions come from land clearance, including farming. But the same soils could be turned from a carbon source to a carbon sink, absorbing many tens of millions of tons of carbon a year, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
If an agricultural carbon offset program were in place, carbon dollars from Western companies could pay for composting, mulching, recycling crop waste, planting farm trees, and much else on the world’s poorest farms. Those improved soils, richer in organic matter, would grow more crops, help soils withstand droughts and floods, and — vital to earning those carbon dollars — capture carbon from the atmosphere.
The World Bank is keen to mastermind a global effort to fix carbon in African soils. It brought agriculture ministers from across the continent to Johannesburg in September to promote the idea and continued to push it in Durban.
For the past year, the bank’s BioCarbon Fund, which sets up demonstration carbon-capturing projects in both forests and farms, has been running the first pilot African soil project among smallholder farmers near Kisumu in western Kenya. The bank’s climate envoy Andrew Steer said in Durban that the maize and bean farmers “are getting higher yields, improving the resilience of the soils to drought and getting stronger soils that sequester more carbon.”
If all goes according to plan, the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project, which covers 40,000 hectares of farmland in a densely population region of the country, should capture 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. It could also increase annual farm incomes by $200 to $400 per hectare.
That’s the plan. Will it work? The Stockholm Environment Institute, a think tank that looks at both climate and development issues, is supportive. The institute’s Olivia Taghioff, who has studied the Kenyan scheme, says, “Carbon finance even in modest amounts can make a big difference for smallholders.”
But there are concerns. In Durban, Annan warned: “These efforts must have at their heart smallholder farmers. Without their participation we will fail.” And many critics fear that climate-smart agriculture is in reality a Trojan horse for marginalizing smallholder farmers. They believe the arrival of carbon markets, brokers and traders in the fields of Africa can do nothing but harm.
“Soil carbon offsets will promote a spate of African land grabs and put farmers under the control of fickle carbon markets,” said Teresa Anderson of the UK-based Gaia Foundation, an NGO that promotes indigenous farming, speaking in Durban. “The [World] Bank’s agenda is more money for the bank and for carbon project developers, not development,” said Doreen Stabinsky of the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
The high costs of employing scientists, consultants, and field surveyors to assess and monitor the carbon uptake of farm soils will make it impossible for smallholder farmers to pocket any income from the sale of the carbon absorbed by their soils, these critics maintain. Only large landowners will be able to reduce these transactions costs sufficiently to profit from the carbon markets, they say, and the result will be a new phase of land grabbing. “Soil grabbing,” some are calling it.
Across Africa, governments are already leasing wide areas of land traditionally used by smallholder farmers to foreign companies for industrial agriculture or for planting trees as carbon sinks in order to gain carbon credits. The fear is that the process will accelerate if the soil itself becomes a carbon commodity.
There is another reason why peasant farmers may lose out. Early evidence gathered by the World Bank in Kenya suggests that the cultivation of commercial crops of the kind that large agribusinesses specialize in have a much greater potential to soak up carbon than smallholder subsistence crops.
Data presented last year at the FAO in Rome by Rama Reddy of the World Bank’s carbon finance unit show that the carbon-capture potential for a hectare of smallholder maize in Kenya is around half a ton of carbon dioxide per year, whereas the potential for commercial biofuels is between 2.5 and 5 tons, and for a sugar cane plantation up to 8 tons per hectare.
The dream of enthusiasts for climate-smart agriculture is that investors will one day invest billions of dollars in the fields of Africa in order to purchase the resulting credits from capturing carbon, while at the same time improving the continent’s soils. In truth, any credible solution to climate change will probably involve finding ways to get the landscape to absorb more carbon, whether in trees or soils, probably financed from carbon markets. Can it be done in a way that helps smallholder farmers? Or will it drive them off their land? That remains far from clear.
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.
From excerpts to interviews, blog posts to online forums… Here are just a few updates from this week.
Gail Dines, author of Pornland, appeared on CNN News and in the Boston Globe this week, discussing "gonzo" pornography's grip on the young minds of an entire generation. Dines was also mentioned in a recent article on the website Independent Woman which discussed how porn addiction can ruin a marriage.
Dylan Edwards, who is at work on a graphic book about genderqueers and FTM transsexuals, had his picture snapped at Comic-Con and is part of this great roundup of LGBT comics folks at the Prism Comics blog.
A green myth is on the march. It wants to blame the world's over-breeding poor people for the planet's peril. It stinks. And on World Population Day, I encourage fellow environmentalists not to be seduced.
The actor Jeremy Irons has announced that he plans to make an Al-Gore style movie about the population problem. The screen idol with a social conscience — who famously has seven homes and a pink castle in Ireland – says his inconvenient truth is that "there are just too many of us."
Overpopulation is driving global warming, mass starvation and accumulating pollution, making the planet uninhabitable. Irons thinks a new plague, like the Black Death 700 years ago, is going to be nature's way of solving the problem.
He is far from alone in thinking that all efforts to save the world are doomed unless we "do something" about continuing population growth. But this is nonsense. Worse, it is dangerous nonsense.
From science to sports, from nature to population studies, our authors cover a wide range of subject matter. But at the root of their discussions are the interweaving strands of human rights, racial and gender equality, and a shared interest in the betterment of society. Our authors have been receiving a great deal of attention this week. Here are a few highlights:
Fred Pearce has become a strong voice in the counteracting of overpopulation theories. In his book The Coming Population Crash, Pearce describes a "reproductive revolution," one in which women have been celebrating their rights and ultimately changing the face of the planet. An excerpt from the book can be found on Scientific American. This excerpt also includes two video links (found in the highlighted words "liberation" and "baby bust") on the impact of women's rights on birthrates. Pearce was also quoted in Seed Magazine for his more positive outlook on "defusing the population bomb."
In her book The Match, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, Beth Whitehouse, documents a family as they struggles to keep their child alive through the help of a newborn sibling. In an hour-long interview for Minnesota Public Radio's Midmorning program, Whitehouse discusses the ethics behind "savior siblings" with Jeffrey Kahn, the Director of the Center for Bioethics and professor in the department of medicine at the University of Minnesota.
For fans of soccer and the World Cup, The Boys from Little Mexico, by Steve Wilson, documents the struggles and successes of an all-boys' Hispanic soccer team as they lead the way to victory at the Oregon state championship. Wilson's book received a nice write-up from a pretty move, a popular soccer blog that is scheduled to post an interview with Wilson post-cup. Enter to win one of the twenty-five copies of Wilson's book through the Good Reads Giveaway.
With Red Sox season in full-swing, Howard Bryant chronicles the history of racial integration of this historic baseball team in his book, Shut Out. Bryant will be joining a panel discussion on June 22 at the Loeb Drama Center (64 Brattle Street, Cambridge) following the performance of Johnny Baseball, a new musical about the iconic Boston Red Sox. For tickets to the event, visit the American Repertory Theatre. Bryant's new book, The Last Hero, documents the life of African-American baseball legend, Henry Aaron. Having just been released, it is a must read for all baseball fans.
In Write These Laws on Your Children, author Robert Kunzman looks into the economic, social, religious, and personal reasons behind the growing trend of homeschooling. In a recent essay for Religion Dispatches, Kunzman further examines Generation Joshua, the civic education program for homeschoolers that combines social interaction with political engagement.
Looking at a different spectrum of children's interactions with the law, I Don't Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine documents how juveniles are actively being placed into adult prisons. Author David Chura has devoted his life to the education of at-risk teenagers, particularly during his time teaching at a New York county penitentiary. Chura's book was spotlighted on the blog Juvenile Prison Watch this week. Democrat Unity recently posted an article by Chura on the harsh reality behind solitary confinement. In his second radio interview for WHMP's Bill Dwight Show, Chura discusses this article along with the recent decision by the Supreme Court to ban life sentences for juveniles who have not committed murder.
Since the advent of the Internet, the world of pornography drastically changed for the worse. Gail Dines, author of Pornland, describes this evolution as one that actively accepts violence, racism, and sexism. Dines was recently quoted in the Daily Beast for her views on the mainstreaming of violence against women in these videos. Dines was also quoted inThe Boston Herald for her interpretation of porn, an opposing voice as pro-pornography feminists protested at a conference at Wheelock College here in Boston.
Chuck Collins, economic inequality expert and coauthor ofWealth and Our Commonwealth, describes how society's investment into healthcare, education, and economic development promotes individual success. In a recent article on the estate tax, Collins is quoted in The New York Timesfor his opinions on the changing face of the middle class and the creation of a "generation of dilettantes."
In a special announcement, a reading of Flashback, by Penny Coleman, will take place on Friday, June 25, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, June 26, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at The Clockwork Theatre in New York City. A part of their 2010 Reading Series, Flashback is a look into the history of posttraumatic stress disorder in soldiers returning home from war proving that their battles are hardly over. To reserve your seat, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From economic inequality to economic giants, Stacy Mitchell's book, Big-Box Swindle, examines the negative contributions that large retailers inflict upon the American economy and environment; she also addresses the positive future in store for us all should the economy lean in favor of smaller, independent businesses. In a recent article for The New York Times, Mitchell was quoted for her concerns for independent companies and their direct competition with these corporate giants.
This week, our authors' words have been quoted, posted, and commented on throughout the online community on a wide range of urgent topics. They're going viral and we invite you to continue the conversation. Here are a few highlights:
Mark Hyman's book, Until It Hurts, is a central topic for Jane Brody's recent article in the New York Times. Documenting the history and facts of overworked young athletes, Brody's piece delves into the Phelps family and other fascinating examples of the
abuses of our obsession with youth sports.
From its highly lucrative revenue to its inherent racial biases, the adult film industry continues to thrive and affect many. Marie Claire addresses five shocking facts from Gail Dines's book, Pornland, set to release this July.
In an interview with WBUR, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner is described as "push[ing] for better science, better evidence and convictions that she can have more faith in." Gertner's new book, In Defense of Women: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Advocate, is due spring 2011.
In an article on Grist correlating falling birthrates to sexism, Fred Pearce author of The Coming Population Crash, is quoted for his research on the conservative ideals of Italy and the Vatican versus the flexibility of Swedish gender roles.
Finally, we close honoring a writer whose teachings still inspire conversation today. In a 1972 lecture titled "Why to Believe in Others" (recently posted on Ted.com), Viktor Frankl, author of Man's Search for Meaning, expresses the psychiatry behind reaching human potential through his use of insight and humor. Frankl states with zeal: "If we take man as he is, we make him worse; but if we take man as he should be, we make him capable of becoming what he can be!"
Something about that fact struck a chord with readers and, almost instantly, the phrase was being quoted, tweeted, retweeted, blogged, and forwarded all over the web. From well known writers and journalists to enthusiastic readers, it seemed everyone was moved to share this surprising information about our aging society.
In this video, Fred Pearce tries to answer the question of why this particular phrase made such an impact on people, and what an aging society will mean for our future.
Beginning today, Pearce will be taking part in a forum discussion about population issues, hosted by Mother Jones. To take part in the conversation, click here and leave a question for Fred Pearce or one of the other experts (including another Beacon Press author, Courtney E. Martin) weighing in on the issue.
This past week, Beacon authors have been very active out in the world, putting a human face on immigration and talking topics spanning a wide gamut of social justice issues, including: global population, feminism, consumer choices, education, and so much more. Visit our homepage to see the many books on immigrant rights that Beacon has published. And, if you're in or around Boston, learn more about the May Day March, which will begin on Boston Common at noon on Saturday.
WNBC New York talks to Stacy and Steve Trebing about their successful struggle to save their daughter with a "savoir sibling." The family's moving story is chronicled by author Beth Whitehouse in her new book The Match.
Author Bob Moses champions a constitutional amendment to guarantee quality education, the topic of his forthcoming book Quality Education as a Constitutional Right, in The Nationarticle about the 50th anniversary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Today marks the 35th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. Hear Dana Sachs talk about the nearly 3,000 "supposedly orphaned" children swept into "Operation Babylift" on NHPR's "Word of Mouth."
We've been listening to vital voices recently here at Beacon and hope you'll spend some time with them as well. We invite you to then lift your own in our comments section.
Author Fred Pearce joins Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" to discuss The Coming Population Crash. Pearce also gives a lively interview over on Salon.com in which he asserts that feminism and pop culture are preventing Earth from becoming too overcrowded.
Allison Martin reviews Dana Sachs's "gripping" new book about the aftermath of Operation Babylift, the story of how, in 1975, the U.S. government airlifted nearly 3,000 displaced children out of wartime Vietnam. Martin's website is devoted to helping families who are adopting children from Vietnam.
On a more somber note, Beacon Press mourns the passing of Civil Rights leader and renowned activist for racial justice and gender equality, Dr. Dorothy Irene Height, who died early the morning of April 20th at the age of 98. Among her lifetime of distinguished and selfless service, Dr. Height served as chair and national president of the National Council of Negro Women and worked on the original Historical Cookbook of the American Negro. You can listen to snippets of her speaking courtesy of NPR's "Morning Edition."
Fred Pearce is the author of The Coming Population Crash: and Our Planet's Surprising Future. He is environment consultant at New Scientist and a weekly columnist and investigative journalist for the Guardian. He has also written for Audubon, Popular Science, Time, the Boston Globe, and Natural History. His other books include Confessions of an Eco-Sinner, With Speed and Violence, When the Rivers Run Dry, Keepers of the Spring, Turning Up the Heat, and Deep Jungle.
I bring good news from Machakos, a rural district of Kenya, a couple of hours drive from Nairobi. Seventy years ago, British colonial scientists dismissed the treeless eroding hillsides of Machakos as "an appalling example" of environmental degradation that they blamed on the "multiplication" of the "natives." The Akamba had exceeded the carrying capacity of their land and were "rapidly drifting to a state of hopeless and miserable poverty and their land to a parched desert of rocks, stones and sand."
If you are reading this in Massachusetts or Maine, odds are
good you're enjoying a three-day weekend thanks to Patriots' Day, which our
history editor explains involves something historic, but many Bostonians
understand to be the day everyone watches the Boston Marathon. Even if you are
reading outside the region, we hope you enjoy these recent media appearances by
Beacon Press authors et al:
On "The View,"
the ladies talk to the Trebing family about their quest for a donor sibling to
help heal their daughter, a moving true story veteran journalist Beth
Whitehouse tells in her new book The Match.
Sachs joins NPR's
"Talk of the Nation" host Neal Conan to discuss Operation
Babylift and how, in 1975, the U.S. government airlifted nearly 3,000 displaced
children out of wartime Vietnam.
A Beacon Press editor related to the pink bird in the intro of "The Dylan Ratigan Show" recommends this Story Pirates video on financial deregulation. “This,”
she says, “is what I call educational programming.”