By Marcus Eriksen | On the table were familiar objects from Kamilo Beach, Hawaii: degraded toys, bottles and caps, glow sticks, small net ﬂ oats, and pieces of crates with Chinese characters on them, arranged in glass cases like museum artifacts. “Do you know this place?” Sophie asked.
In a world polluted by plastics that humankind just won’t quit, Starbucks plans on phasing out plastic straws in its 28,000 stores by 2020. Many applaud the company’s decision to do its part in reducing marine plastic pollution, even though the caffeine watering hole will be replacing the straws with sippy cup-like lids made from—you guessed it!—plastic. So how much of a dent will this make in the grand scheme of protecting our environment? We have less than two years to see the results. And what about those of the disability community who depend on straws? Did Starbucks think their decision through? We reached out to some of our authors to get a broader sense of the impact this will have on several fronts: environmental activism, consumer activism, and disability rights.
By Fred Pearce: Lanzarote, an island off the west coast of Africa, was a tranquil place in the eighteenth century, ruled by Spanish priests and visited occasionally by ships making the transatlantic crossing. Farming was rudimentary and the living poor. The island had less rain than much of the Sahara desert. Then came a series of massive volcanic eruptions that shook the island almost without a break from 1730 to 1735. A priest described how, at the height of the eruptions, “the earth suddenly opened… a gigantic mountain rose and sank back into its crater on the same day, covering the island with stones and ashes”.
A Q&A with Fred Pearce: Nuclear scandals and disasters have been a recurring theme of my life as an environment journalist for several decades. But they seemed to have fallen off the radar. Old news, but definitely not fake news. Then I was commissioned to visit the heart of Britain’s nuclear industry, both military and civil, at a remote spot on the northwest coast of England called Sellafield. I was profoundly shocked at what I found, from the mile-after-mile of coastal mud that qualifies as radioactive waste to the world’s largest stockpile of plutonium, sitting inside a warehouse and wide open to terrorist attack. I set out to explore the world’s hidden legacy of nuclear fallout and debris, and this book is the result.
By Philip Warburg: Donald Trump’s much-touted tariff on imported solar panels and cells couldn’t be a worse fit for America’s energy needs. Instead of accelerating our use of solar power, it will discourage the development of this clean energy resource and rein in the growth of solar jobs. For a president who—in his rhetoric at least—is hell-bent on creating US jobs and putting America First, does this move make any sense?
By Dina Gilio-Whitaker: By now it’s obvious that Donald Trump is acting out a twisted vendetta to erase every trace of Barack Obama’s eight-year legacy. The creation of the Bear’s Ears and Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monuments are part of that legacy, which were efforts to protect vast swaths of relatively pristine and undeveloped land in southern Utah in one of his last acts as president. That’s one frame for understanding Trump’s recent reversal of the monument designation for most of that land—approximately fifty percent for Staircase Escalante, and eighty-five percent in the case of Bear’s Ears. Altogether, the national monument designation protected roughly 3.5 million acres of public lands.
By J. A. Mills: “Trump administration to reverse ban on elephant trophies from Africa,” read an ABC News headline on November 15. The first thing I thought—and tweeted—was, “Of course, President Trump lifted the US ban on import of elephant ‘trophies’ from Zimbabwe and Zambia! Don Jr. is a big game hunter!” Apparently, Eric Trump is, too. The next thing I thought was, “Zimbabwe? Are you kidding me? Where President Robert Mugabe dismisses wildlife conservation as “neocolonialism” and once celebrated his birthday with an elephant barbecue in a display of his disdain? Does the Trump administration really think the Mugabe government puts hunting fees back into conserving wild elephants?”
By Philip Warburg: At a time when President Trump and his followers in Congress are hell-bent on dismantling the clean energy architecture of the Obama era, many Americans are looking beyond Washington, and even abroad, for solutions to our climate crisis. I recently witnessed one of these transformative gems on a visit to the Danish island of Samsø, which just passed the twenty-year mark in a campaign to supply all of its energy needs from local renewable resources.
By Steve EarlyThe Chevron fire became a wake-up call for citizen action to make California refineries safer for their own workers and less harmful to air quality, community health, and the environment in general. Since August 2012, labor and community organizers have used lobbying, litigation, regulatory intervention, electoral politics, and strike activity to pursue these goals. There has been some safety enforcement progress, modest financial concessions by Big Oil, and related promises to behave better in the future. Yet, thanks to Big Oil’s legal and political clout in our nation’s second largest oil refining state, the wheels of environmental justice turn much too slowly.
A Q&A with Marcus EriksenPlastic can entangle wildlife, but much of the harm comes from ingesting micro plastics. Single-use products that leave our land are shredding in the oceans to form microplastics the size of grains of rice or smaller. These absorb other pollutants, like pesticides and industrial chemicals, in high concentrations. The literature is showing that these chemicals then migrate into the bodies of marine life when ingested. Plastic is proving to be a vector for pollutants to get into the food chain, which much of humanity harvests to feed itself.
By Wen StephensonThere’s a popular image of Henry David Thoreau as an apolitical hermit, a recluse, aloof and detached, even misanthropic, a crank indulging his private fantasy in his cabin in the woods. This has always been a caricature; his active involvement in the Underground Railroad and resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act put the lie to it. We know that he helped multiple fugitives on their way to Canada, guarding over them in his family’s house—the Thoreau family were committed abolitionists, especially his mother and sisters—even escorting them onto the trains, which entailed no small personal risk. And of course, we know that he wrote and spoke forcefully and without compromise against slavery and for human freedom.
By Tom Montgomery FateIn Walking Thoreau writes “Above all, we cannot afford not to live in the present.” In his Journal he writes. “Both for bodily and mental health court the present.” But how is that possible in the modern world?
By Howard AxelrodApple Sirs, I thank you for your appreciation of my lecture at the recent TED Dead conference: “Thinkers of Yesterday, Challenges of Today.” (Your company, as Mr. Jobs declared in his own lecture, truly has eyes and ears everywhere.) I must confess some of your letter eluded my understanding—for instance, the polite imperative: “Please drill down to deliverables.” Am I to understand that you view my ideas as buried underground, like a vein of gold or a healing spring?
By Claire Hope CummingsThe flooding of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault comes as a warning. Although the seeds are safe for now, this close call should caution us not to assume we can control and predict the natural world. Climate change, natural disasters, and social unrest are ever-present threats to seeds. The best response is to take action on two fronts: globally, as the Svalbard Seed Vault is doing; and regionally, by supporting traditional plant breeding on farms and by local seed banks, as well as conserving natural areas that protect plants.
By Marc Bekoff and Jessica PierceThe number of animals kept captive as pets is mind-boggling. In US households alone, there are an estimated seventy-eight million dogs, eighty-six million cats, ninety-six million freshwater fishes, nine million reptiles, and twelve million small animals. These numbers have been steadily growing for the past four decades. Even in the economic downturn, the pet industry was one of the few that showed continued growth. Unlike farming and laboratory research and especially zoos, where good welfare for animals lines up with productivity and quality, the same is not true within the pet industry.
The critical role that scientific research plays in our health, safety, understanding of the natural world, and future as a species is under threat. With an administration that is pushing to suppress scientific evidence and keep scientists from communicating their findings, our need for empirical inquiry into how to protect our home and sustain our resources is more important than ever. That’s why the March for Science, an emerging and growing grassroots movement, is launching nationwide tomorrow, April 22. Scientists and science supporters, teachers and parents, global citizens and policymakers will take to the streets, united, to defend and advocate for science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity.
By Wen StephensonSome of you have heard me say this before. I’ve said it many times, and I’m going to keep on saying it, because it’s true: Given what scientists know, and have known for decades, about climate change—indeed, given what Exxon Mobil has known for decades about climate change—to deny the science, deceive the public, and obstruct any serious response to the climate catastrophe, is to ensure the destruction, the eradication, of entire countries and cultures; and the suffering and death of untold millions of human beings. There’s a word for this. These are crimes. And they’re not just financial crimes. They’re not just crimes against shareholders. They’re crimes against humanity.
By Dina Gilio-WhitakerThe resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline taking place at Standing Rock right now is the most significant political event in Indian country since those struggles of the early 1970s, and there was no way I was going to miss it. I managed to carve out a few days and take a side trip to Standing Rock during Thanksgiving weekend, with a story assignment in my role as a journalist at Indian Country Today Media Network. I was there to bear witness to what is an unprecedented historical moment.
The results of the 2016 presidential election have left many people in shock and disappointment. In a time where people are fearing that a new administration will work to reverse much of the progress made in the last eight years, we are left wondering what the future holds. How do we continue to fight against climate change, fight for reproductive rights, LGBTQ protections, and racial and economic justice?
Throughout this election cycle, we’ve seen the rise of the radical right reminiscent of the pull of ultraconservative organizations from the past; increasing calls to prevent new immigrants from entering our country; increased calls to improve gun control legislation; a resurging wave of religious intolerance against Muslim Americans; and nationwide protests imploring racial justice and economic progress. These issues and others that have made headlines in the news have become focal points in this year’s presidential debates. To help inform the conversation about these topics, we’re recommending a list of titles from our catalogue.