5280 The Denver Magazine recently featured an article on “Everyday Environmentalists,” presenting over 40 ways to live greener. Pointing out that Coloradans are not as environmentally virtuous as we may think we are, the article featured excellent advice on such topics as home insulation, composting, gardening, biking–the usual and more. Some items were very detailed, such as the advice to buy a live Christmas tree instead of an artificial one, and then plant it outside. Readers who hike popular mountain trails were encouraged to go during the week so as to increase the likelihood that they will stay on the trail and minimize trail deterioration. Yes, yes, yes, I’m saying to myself as I read, but when do we get to the huge environmental impact of meat consumption?
Livestock agriculture is responsible for over half of greenhouse gas emissions–contrary to the article’s assertion that electricity is the largest source–and uses far more water than anything else humans do. You could save more water by not eating a pound of beef than you could save by not showering for a year. Not to mention the tons of manure livestock produce: have the 5280 staff ever driven past the feedlots in northeastern Colorado? According to “A Life Connected,” livestock agriculture nationwide creates enough manure to rebuild the entire Denver skyline out of poop every 24 hours. Continue reading 5280 Magazine Misses the Meat of the Matter
The Ogallala Road; A Memoir of Love and Reckoning, by Julene Bair. Viking, 2014.
I was delighted to discover this exceptional memoir about how powerfully our loved ones shape our lives, be those loved ones family members, lovers, or the land we call home. Here the prairie landscapes of western Kansas come alive in exquisite beauty, along with an unsettling concern for the future: the huge Ogallala aquifer beneath them is being pumped out at an alarmingly unsustainable rate to irrigate crops that could never be grown there otherwise. It’s not a case of outside developers coming in to exploit the land’s resources, as happened in Appalachia, for example. On the prairie the long-time residents who love it the most are responsible, whether they fully realize it or not, for robbing their descendants, and many species of indigenous wildlife, of a future there.
As I read I was reminded of another skillful and moving book I loved about the prairie ecosystem: PrairyErth, by William Least Heat-Moon. But Julene Bair has the advantage of having grown up on the land she describes, telling the story as only a native can do. She went away for some years, then returned to the farm with a young son to raise. She develops an environmental awareness that puts her at odds with the locals. Later on, her family must decide what to do with their land after the patriarch dies, his son is ready to retire, and none of the younger generation wants to farm.
Bair combines the sensibility of a poet with an activist’s command of the facts, but neither side runs away with the narrative. The prairie is not just a place on the map to her, but inhabits her mind and heart, allowing her to persuade readers to care more deeply.
The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture, by Mary Pipher. Riverhead Books, 2013.
For anyone struggling to stay hopeful in a society in which corporate power rules and serious action on climate change by our government has not even begun, this timely little book provides strong support. As in her previous books, Mary Pipher writes simply, powerfully, humbly, and with a great heart. Instead of giving some intellectual treatise about how to sustain hope, she movingly describes her own experience, along with similarly motivated friends, in opposing the Keystone XL pipeline in her home state of Nebraska (which is on the proposed route of the pipeline). Continue reading The Green Boat
Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources , by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013.
I am glad to see a serious and wide-ranging discussion of the need for a steady-state economy–and not a moment too soon to be getting this discussion going! Every day we inch closer to the limits to growth.
I’d have liked more detail about how to implement many of the ideas; for example, if we wanted to launch a local currency, how would we go about it? If we agreed that we need a public works program like the New Deal’s CCC to repair infrastructure and keep people employed, how would we persuade our political representatives to establish it? Give us not just an outline but a guidebook, I say, although in fairness to the authors, there are so many unknowns in implementing many of these ideas that a guidebook may not be possible at this time.
The more people we can get to read and discuss the ideas in this book, the better.
Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation. Philip Cafaro and Eileen Crist, editors. University of Georgia Press, 2012.
This anthology’s authors include some I’ve known about for years–Paul Ehrlich, Dave Foreman, George Wuerthner, Stephanie Mills, Paul Watson, Richard Lamm–and others I was reading for the first time. Overpopulation, as a critical factor leading us down the road to planetary catastrophe, is so little talked about that one can easily think one’s own concern about it is exaggerated. Thus I felt supported to read that leading activists agree: it is essential that overpopulation be racheted up substantially in public discourse. Continue reading Life on the Brink
Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In Without Going Crazy, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone. New World Library, 2012.
Macy and her co-author provide a boost of encouragement to everyone worried about seemingly hopeless environmental and social crises. Practical as well as inspirational, the book includes numerous exercises to strengthen those qualities that will best serve us as we work toward a more life-sustaining world. Macy has been giving workshops on these ideas for many years, testing and refining her methods, and the book reflects the depth of that process. Continue reading Active Hope
The 100 Thing Challenge: How I Got Rid of Almost Everything, Remade My Life, and Regained My Soul, by Dave Bruno. Harper, 2010.
Dave Bruno, a fairly average guy, decides to set himself the challenge of living for a year with only 100 things for his personal use. He spends a year reducing his possessions down to that number, and setting the rules of how he will proceed. I really liked that the guy was thinking and blogging about this, honestly trying to stop buying stuff that leads to clutter and no additional happiness, followed his plan for a year and wrote a book about it. He stopped going to malls and doesn’t own a TV. His wife and three daughters are OK with him doing the challenge although they don’t set themselves the same challenge. By the end of the challenge year, he seems to have changed in ways that will last. Continue reading The 100 Thing Challenge
EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want, by Frances Moore Lappe. Nation Books, 2011.
Scientists are telling us a lot of depressing news these days about climate change, species extinction, overpopulation, and dwindling resources. In addition, we have unrestrained corporate power, vast wealth disparity, and workers in crisis. It can seem hard to stay hopeful and engaged–until, that is, you encounter Lappe’, who has taken on the role of cheerleader to show us positive efforts currently underway. Continue reading EcoMind
Just Food: How Locavores Are Endangering the Future of Food and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly, by James E. McWilliams. Little, Brown, 2009.
Want to get a lively discussion going among people who care about food sustainability? This book will do it!
The author hits the ground running with a spot-on sendup of the locavore mania, and not a moment too soon. Then we get chapters on organics and GM food, which I’m still digesting (pardon the pun). I’d thought it was clear that organics should be embraced and GM foods opposed, but here are considerations that were new to me. The uncompromising chapter on livestock had me cheering “You tell ’em!” and wondering if the author is also a vegan. Not yet, we find out: he tells us he’s given up eating land animals, but still looks favorably on aquaculture, as detailed in the following chapter. (Later note: McWilliams is now a vegan advocate. Follow his blog Eating Plants.) Continue reading Just Food
The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies, by Richard Heinberg. New Society, rev.ed 2005.
Heinberg has helped thousands of readers understand what our energy future may look like. He considers what we know at this time, the science of what various alternative energy sources can provide, and the opinions of experts in a variety of relevant fields to form his predictions. He speaks calmly and in as positive a tone as he can wring from the facts. He avoids deadening the discourse with excessive detail, and includes practical suggestions to prepare for the future. This is a good introduction for nonscientists to the coming energy descent.