Some Tax Day Advice: Use Your Tax Refund for a New You
Poetry Month Giveaway: Win a Sonia Sanchez Poster

Beacon Press Authors on Earth Day

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.

Blue Revolution by Cynthia Barnett book coverRecovering A Lost River by Steven Hawley book cover The Coming Population Crash by Fred Pearce book cover Finding Higher Ground by Amy Seidl book cover

Cynthia Barnett


Author of the forthcoming Blue Revolution: Unmaking America's Water Crisis

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.


Author of Recovering A Lost River: Removing Dams, Rewilding Salmon, Revitalizing Communities

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. 


Author of With Speed and Violence, When The Rivers Run Dry, Confessions of an Eco Sinner, and The Coming Population Crash

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.


Author of Early Spring: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World and Finding Higher Ground: Adaptation in the Age of Warming

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.