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19 Books to Improve Your Environmental IQ

  • Feb 7, 2010
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Over the past decade I have read a number of books concerning environmental matters.  These books cover a myriad of interesting topics and are presented for your consideration in no particular order.  I have read each and every one of them and reviewed them here on Lunch.  So regardless of your political persuasion if you are concerned about the environment how about checking out one or more of these titles?  Lots of great reads here! 
Not One Drop
Author Riki Ott was there when it happened. And ever since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 she has been fighting the good fight seeking justic for those whose lives were changed forever by this environmental disaster. And Riki Ott is no rank amateur when it comes to these issues. She is a rare combination of commercial salmon "fisherm'am" and PhD marine biologist. As such, she knows what she is talking about. This excellent book will get you up to speed on these issues. You will discover that after more than two decades the cleanup is still not complete in Prince William Sound.
See the full review, "People in the Gulf should know......two decades later the cleanup is still not complete in Alaska!!".
The Last Forest
From high atop our comfortable perches here in the developed world we sit and urge our brothers and sisters in the Third World to preserve for perpetuity the world's remaining rainforests. But is this realistic? Mark London and Brian Kelly spent a considerable amount of time in the jungles of Brazil doing research for their 1983 book "Amazon". Now some 25 years later London and Kelly have returned to the Amazon to report on how this incredibly vast region and its people have fared during those intervening years. London and Kelly found that the Brazilian government is really quite sensitive to environmental issues in the Amazon but they must balance these concerns with the sobering reality that their citizens need to put food on the table and must have jobs to go to. Learn more about these fascinating issues in this highly readable and very informative book.
See the full review, "Fair and balanced assessment of the current state of affairs in the Amazon.".
Green Inc.
Are capitalists and corporations the only ones capable of dishonesty and corruption? Well if you know anything at all about human nature you realize that this proposition is preposterous. There are plenty of examples of corrupt government officials and agencies, NGO's and charitable organizations.Christine MacDonald is a journalist who has worked for such prominent newspapers as The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, and the Dallas Morning News. In 2006 MacDonald decided to give up reporting to accept a job as a manager with Conservation International's Global Communications Division. What she learned during her brief stint with this organization would greatly disturb her. Read about what she discovered in "Green, Inc: An Environmental Insider Reveals How A Good Cause Has Gone Bad". What she has to say is a real eye-opener.
See the full review, "Corporations are not the only organizations with questionable ethics.".
Silence of the Songbirds
If you love songbirds like I do Then Bridget Stutchbury's 2008 book "Silence of the Songbirds: How We Are Losing The World's Songbirds and What We Can Do To Save Them" should serve as a wake-up call. The evidence that Stutchbury has uncovered clearly indicates that migratory songbirds are disappearing at a frightening rate. By some estimates, we may already have lost almost half of the songbirds that filled the skies only forty years ago. A sobering and very informative read!
See the full review, "What we all can do to help reverse this alarming trend.".
Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer
Did you know that In his State of the Union Address last week, President Obama called for more nuclear power plants? The budget proposes $36 billion in loan guarantees to help pay for new plants, adding to $18.5 billion already available. The budget also calls for eliminating funding for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility in Nevada, which he promised to close as a candidate. Hardly a position you expect from the most liberal of Democrats. You might want to get up to speed on this topic by reading Dr. Helen Caldicott's 2006 book "Nuclear Power is Not The Answer". If building more nuclear plants is once again on the table for discussion people must be aware of the risks involved. A very timely read!
See the full review, "Stop the madness before we inflict additional irreparable damage to the planet.".
Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future
Here we are in 2010 and the American people continue to fritter away valuable energy at an alarming rate. Energy is still relative cheap in this country and most folks just don't seem to be willing to curtail their use in any meaningful way. Most people remain blissfully unaware of the high environmental costs we are paying for our self-indulgent ways. Case in point is Jeff Goodell's 2007 book "Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future". I have to chuckle when the President and members of Congress from both parties talk about "clean coal". Let me assure you....there is no such thing. "Big Coal" was a real eye opener for me and I recommend it to all.
See the full review, ""Big Coal's" goal is to keep us comfortable not curious!".
The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World
Here again most Americans continue to ignore the fact that petroleum is a finite resource that we should be using much more wisely. Estimates of world oil reserves vary but all indications are that were are about to reach peak oil production. This comes at a time when developing nations like China and India have increased their demand for oil dramatically. WIll there be enough to go around? Will there be enough energy for our children and grandchildren? And what are the future political implications of all of this? Paul Roberts explores all of these topics and more in "The End of Oil".
See the full review, "Overwhelming evidence that we Americans need to change our wasteful ways.".
The Hundred Year Lie
Were you aware of the fact that the average American now carries a "body burden" of 700 or more synthetic chemicals, including Teflon, plastics, and dozens of pesticides? Did you know that musk fragrances used in detergents and air fresheners are not filtered out by our current water treatment facilities, ending up in our drinking water? And would you be surprised to learn that for the most part industry has absolutely no idea of how various compounds will react with each other in the environment? Randall Fitzgerald explores these and dozens of other fascinating issues in "The One Hundred Year Lie". This was without a doubt one of the most important books that I have read in the past decade and I strongly recommend it to you!
See the full review, "A look at the highly toxic world we have created in just the past century.".
The Sixth Extinction
"The Sixth Extinction" is a haunting account of the age in which we live. Author Terry Glavin presents very compelling evidence that we are in the midst of a nearly unprecedented, catastrophic vanishing of animals, plants, and human cultures. He argues that the language of environmentalism is inadequate in describing the unraveling of the vast system in which all these extinctions are actually related. As an example, Glavin points out that multinational corporations continue to invade more and more remote areas of this earth with their hybrid fruits and vegetables. As a consequence of this invasion the world is rapidly losing thousands of varieties of plants and a frightening number of species of birds and other wildlife. His case is logical and sobering. Recommended reading.
See the full review, "Focusing on issues surrounding environmentalism and extinction.".
Hell and High Water: Global Warming--the Solution and the Politics--and What We Should Do
While I am pretty conservative on most fiscal and social issues I tend to part company with Republicans and conservatives on environmental matters. I had a pretty opn mind on the issue of global warming when I began reading extensively about it 6 or 7 years ago. As you will see by reading my review of the 2006 book "Hell and High Water" I had become pretty convinced that there was something to this phenomenon. Author Joseph Romm makes a passionate case that it is essential that we drastically cut our carbon emissions in order to prevent catastrophe. However, with some of the revelations in the recent "ClimateGate" scandal some of Mr. Romm's arguments have been called into question and rightfully so. Still, I think this is a book worth reading.
See the full review, ""Consensus as strong as the one that has developed around this topic is rare in science."".
Strategic Ignorance
Carl Pope is the Executive Director of the Sierra Club. As such he definitely has an ax to grind but I must tell you that I was quite impressed by the arguments he puts forward in the 2004 book "Strategic Ignorance". I especially did not care for the Bush administrations proposal to privatize the National Parks. Hands off! A very readable and informative book!
See the full review, "Scathing indictment of the Bush administration.".
America's Environmental Report Card
Here is a book that would serve as a great introduction for someone just beginning to explore environmental issues. Author Harvey Blatt is a geologist by trade. His book "America's Environmental Report Card" focuses on the environmental issues that polls show are most important to Americans today. Blatt covers all of the major issues in clear and easy to understand language. No technical jargon here and the book is supplemented by numerous graphs and illustrations.
See the full review, "Fine overview of the major environmental issues we face".
Condor To The Brink and Back
The year was 1984 and the outlook for the California condor was grim. There were only 24 birds left. There were deep divisions among environmentalists about how to attempt to rescue this glorious brid from extinction. In the late 1980s, the federal government made a wrenching decision -- the last remaining wild condors would be caught and taken to a pair of zoos, where they would be encouraged to breed with other captive condors. The good news is that the giant bird with "one wing in the grave" appears to be recovering, The bad news is that the wildlands it needs to survive keep disappearing. The struggle to save this ancient species is just one small facet of the ongoing debate over environmental policy in this country. A very readable, highly informative and quite entertaining book.
See the full review, "Issues abound in the struggle to save the magnificent California condor.".
Imagine living in one of the remotest places on earth far away from industry, traffic and toxic waste. You live a very rudimentary life relying on primarily on fishing, whale and seal meat for your sustenance. There are very few creature comforts here. You are living at the top of the world in the Arctic Circle. But something has gone terribly wrong. Tons of dangerous chemicals and pesticides from the United States, Europe, and Asia are being carried to the Arctic by northbound winds and waves and amplified in the ocean's food web. Maria Cone is the environmental writer for the Los Angeles Times. She went to the Arctic Circle to investigate just what is going on there. She tells us about it in "Silent Snow". A very disturbing book!
See the full review, "More compelling evidence that we continue to wreak havoc with our environment.".
Three Mile Island A Nuclear Crisis in Historical
Former Pennsylvania governor Richard Thornburgh was in his first year in office in March 1979 when the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island forced his administration to confront the possible evacuation of thousands of people. The decisions that he and other state and federal officials made in response to this accident are the subject of the 2004 book "Three Mile Island". Author J. Samuel Walker captures the high human drama surrounding the accident, sets it in the context of the heated debate over nuclear power in the seventies, and analyzes the social, technical, and political issues it raised. Although the book can be a bit challenging because of some of the technical jargon I found it was still well worth reading.
See the full review, "A somewhat difficult read but an important research volume.".
Given the revelations of the past few months "Boiling Point" may in the long run prove to be very alarmist and a bit over the top. Still I thought author Russ Gelbspan made his point quite succinctly and convincingly. But at this point one has to wonder about the validity of the data his was citing. Some of the fallout from ClimateGate!
See the full review, "We cannot say that we did not know.".
The Citizen Powered Energy Handbook
The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook provides a clear-eyed view of the current energy situation and points toward a sustainable path forward. Greg Pahl examines renewable energy technologies currently available and homes in on strategies that can be adopted by individuals and, especially communities. One fact seems abundantly clear to me. There is no one technology out there capable of acting as the "magic wand" to solve all of our energy problems. Rather, we are going to have to resort to solutions that work best in particular geographic areas. Personally I think this could best be accomplished by creating tax incentives for industry to develop meaningful solutions. As far as I am concerned this book is "must" reading for any citizen who is interested in getting up to speed on these promising new technologies.
See the full review, ""It's time to return to the community, make amends, clean up the mess & get back on the right path."".
Cape Wind
When Jim Gordon set out to build a wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod, he knew some people might object. But there was a lot of merit in creating a privately funded, clean energy source for energy-starved New England, and he felt sure most people would recognize it eventually. Instead, all Hell broke loose. Gordon had unwittingly challenged the privileges of some of America's richest and most politically connected people, and they would fight him tooth and nail, no matter what it cost, and even when it made no sense. Discover just how hypocritical so many of the liberal politicians and media types can be when a "green" energy project is proposed near their backyard. A super book!
See the full review, "April 28, 2010 .....The first offshore wind farm in America has finally been approved!".
Climate of Uncertainty: A Balanced Look at Global Warming and Renewable Energy
A great book for those just beginning to investigate the whole global warming/climate change debate. This is a book that will make you aware of the arguments on both sides of the issue. Likewise, you will discover that whether or not global warming really exists dramatic changes in our lifestyles are on tap. Learn about peak oil production and its ramifications and investigate the pros and cons of the various renewable fuels. A terrific book written in language that even those in high school should be able to understand.
See the full review, "It would appear that much more modest lifestyles are probably inevitable for all of us.".

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March 30, 2010
That is a great list. There are so many things that average person doesn't know and really should know. Great insight and thanks for creating this list.
February 08, 2010
Great list! I am really encouraged to read some of these. Might be time for me to get a Kindle. :-)
February 08, 2010
What the others said -- phenomenal, great, and amazing, because it really is!  I'm especially interested in #3 and #8.  Thanks for the reading reccomendations, Paul!
February 08, 2010
amazing list Paul. wow. great topic, thorough descriptions, and full reviews of each book? you hit the trifecta with this one!!
February 08, 2010
Wow, what a great list! EcoMama has someone to look up to! :) If only I had the time to read these, but I don't - that's why I love reading your great reviews to keep me in the loop on the environment. Thanks so much! I am definitely sharing this on Twitter and Facebook.
About the list creator
Paul Tognetti ()
Ranked #2
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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