John Allen (right) at the book launch for "Me and the Biospheres"; with Ecoversity web editor Stephen Miller (left) and the poet Rose (center).
(see more pics) Photos: Lisa Law
Ecoversity: Recent Books of Note
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The End of Growth Adapting to Our New Economic Reality
by Richard Heinberg
Currently the world news is full of market panics over low-growth forecasts, and desperate politicians offering conflicting prescriptions for restarting economic growth. All of this while it becomes more and more obvious that the human economy cannot continue to 'grow' in the way it has since the early 20th century. Heinberg makes a strong case that with the economic crisis which began in 2008 we are seeing the end of 'growth' as we knew it. He develops in detail three main factors in this upcoming change, to wit: 1) resource depletion, 2) the proliferation of negative environmental impacts, leading to snowballing costs from both the impacts themselves and the efforts to avert them, and 3) financial disruptions due to the inability of our monetary, banking, and investment systems to adjust to both resource scarcity and soaring environmental costs- and their inability in the context of a shrinking economy to service the vast government and private debt accumulated over the last decades.
So what could a society in a no-growth economy look like? Heinberg:
"The absence of growth does not necessarily imply a lack of change or improvement. Within a non-growing or equilibrium economy there can still be continuous development of practical skills, artistic expression, and certain kinds of technology. In fact, some historians and social scientists argue that life in an equilibrium economy can be superior to life in a fast-growing economy: while growth creates opportunities for some, it also typically intensifies competitionthere are big winners and big losers, and (as in most boom towns) the quality of relations within the community can suffer as a result. Within a non-growing economy it is possible to maximize benefits and reduce factors leading to decay, but doing so will require pursuing appropriate goals: instead of more, we must strive for better; rather than promoting increased economic activity for its own sake, we must emphasize whatever increases quality of life without stoking consumption."
Read more excerpts from The End of Growth at the PostCarbon website
In Defense of Food An Eater's Manifesto
by Michael Pollan
Pollan is one of our best- and most entertaining- investigative journalists and writers, and we are fortunate that he has focused on food-related issues for the last years. His clear and fascinating narrative illuminates the peculiar histories underlying the realities we take for granted today; specifically, how we think about food and how we produce and consume it in a world of of industrialized food production and an immature and misguided science of 'nutritionism'. Pollan begins and ends Defense of Food with a rule of thumb: "Eat food; not too much; mostly vegetables." He clarifies: 'food' - not 'edible food-like substances'. Reading this book you will understand the wisdom in 'shop the perimeter of the supermarket', 'don't eat anything that won't eventually rot', and 'don't eat it if your grandmother wouldn't know what it is'.
We've put together a playlist of videos of Pollan discussing "In Defense of Food" as well as his earlier books "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "The Botany of Desire"; watch the videos here.
Harvest the Rain How to Enrich Your Life by Seeing Every Storm as a
by Nate Downey; illus. by George Lawrence
A guest review by T.R. Knoblauch
I am a big fan of Nate Downey, especially with the publication of his most recent book, "Harvest The Rain". He writes cogently about a subject he knows well after many years of professional experience. His monthly columns in the Santa Fe New Mexican Real Estate Guide have sparkled with his knowledge and good sense of humor, and readers will find the same enjoyment in "Harvest The Rain", which is not just a how-to book about water catchment but a testament to Downey's passion for the subject.
Read on . . .
Eaarth Making a life on a tough new planet
Bill McKibben's latest book is an earnest and important effort to help humanity come to terms with the facts of anthropogenic climate destabilization, to understand and prepare for what will likely happen in the years to come, and to familiarize us with the ways we can already now start building a sustainable future and ameliorating the worst effects of our impacts on Earth systems.
If you had to read only one book on climate change, it's consequences for us, and what we can do about it, this is it. (If 2, then include James Hansen's "Storms of My Grandchildren" reviewed below.)
-Read the complete review including book excerpts here.
Storms of My Grandchildren The truth about the coming climate catastrophe and our last chance to save humanity James Hansen
James Hansen, dean of US climate scientists, first warned the world of the danger of radical climate change due to CO2 emissions a generation ago; he considers himself a scientist and 'not a communicator' and hoped that his research would be enough to motivate necessary policy changes. A few years ago he decided he had to do more, and he has been speaking out ever since. "Storms of My Grandchildren" is his first book, and as the title implies, represents his effort to set the record straight in a comprehensive way on the question of human-caused climate change, and deliver a blunt warning to us about our future on Earth.
-Read the complete review including book excerpts here.
The Empathic Civilization
The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis
"a new rendering of human history and the meaning of human existence."
Arianna Huffington has chosen The Empathic Civilization for this month's HuffPost Book Club. She writes:
"The Emphatic Civilization is a fascinating book that boldly challenges the conventional view of human nature embedded in our educational systems, business practices, and political culture - a view that sees human nature as detached, rational, and objective, and sees individuals as autonomous agents in pursuit primarily of material self-interest. And it seeks to replace that view with a counter-narrative that allows humanity to see itself as an extended family living in a shared and interconnected world.
"Please read The Empathic Civilization and join in our month-long discussion about it. Not only will Jeremy Rifkin be regularly blogging about the issues his book raises, we will also be featuring posts from over 30 of the world's leading scientists, scholars, and public policy intellectuals in a many fields, which will allow us to have a robust and informed discussion on what it will take to create and nurture a truly empathic civilization." (HuffPo Book Club)
An Ocean of Air Why the Wind Blows and Other Mysteries of the Atmosphere
An Ocean of Air is a highly engaging history of the discovery of the nature of our world's atmosphere, and the reader will quickly discover there is much more to the story than he or she might have thought.
Gabrielle Walker has been climate-change editor at Nature and features editor at New Scientist; she has presented many programs for the BBC, and is visiting professor at Princeton University.
Willem Malten has reviewed "Mycelium Running" on his Vortex blog; here is an excerpt:
Paul Stamets is a legendary observer of the fungi kingdom, and has been, ever since his first encounter with mushrooms as a forester some 30 years ago. They soon took over his imagination. Over the years Stamets wrote a series of beautiful books which generously informed an increasingly fungi-philic public on every step of his investigations into the life-form of mushrooms: their growth and cultivation, their phenomenal reach and expansive properties, their potential in medicine and environmental re-mediation strategies, and their key role as decomposers.
"... Mycelium is the neurological network of nature....interlacing mosaics... information-sharing membranes... in constant molecular communication with its environment ..." - Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World
Gardening at the Dragon's Gate
"Wendy Johnson follows in the footsteps of Thoreau . . . Her book is succulent, full of surprises, wise, tender, tough, and delicious to read. It is for everyone who wants to live a rich, deep, life." - Jack Kornfield, author of The Path With Heart
and After the Ecstasy, the Laundry
"A glorious book . . . deep philosophy with dirt beneath its fingernails." - Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy
and The End of Nature
"If Earth took a human voice, it would be Wendy's: wry, fierce, passionately attentive to detail, and so startling in its wild freedom it's almost scary.. . . This book is a tonic to the soul. I dare anyone to read it and not be shaken into a fuller, gladder life." - Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self
Field Notes from a Catastrophe; Man, Nature, and Climate Change
Highly acclaimed in it's original form as a series in the New Yorker magazine, this smart and lucidly written book is composed of vignettes of the people who are in effect the scouts out there on the front lines of the approaching catastrophe of climate change.
With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change Fred Pearce
This is an absolutely fascinating and compelling read... a survey in 37 chapters of the triggers to rapid climate change which most concern climate scientists now. No summary can do Pearce's book justice, so I'll defer to Lester Brown's endorsement from the book jacket:
"If you want to quickly get up to date on climate change and its consequences, I recommend With Speed and Violence. If you can only read one book on climate change, this is it."
New Green History of the World
Ponting masterfully surveys the impact of humanity on the biosphere of earth, starting with our hunter-gatherer period (99% of human history), the agricultural revolution, rapid population growth and the beginning of large scale human-caused exterminations (e.g. chapter 8, "The Rape of the World"), and through the petroleum age until now. This guide is an easy, compelling read, which in the end builds a portrait of our species' impact on the planet over the last 10,000 years, with many surprising narratives filling in the details along the way.
Clive Ponting's "New Green History of the World" is the 2007 updated version of his 1992 "Green History of the World".
The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth E.O Wilson
The Harvard pioneer of conservation biology and creator of The Encyclopedia of Life, wrote this impassioned plea from a 'secular humanist' to a Southern Baptist pastor- a plea to fully appreciate the wonder of life on Earth and cooperate to preserve it in it's full healthy diversity.
"In my opinion, Pastor, the ascent to Nature and the restoration of Eden do not need more spiritual energy. Of that, people have a superabundance. Rather, spiritual energy must be more broadly applied, and more exactly guided by an understanding of the human condition. Humanity's self-image has risen far during the past three hundred centuries. First lifted by religion and the creative arts, it can rise still higher on the wings of science."
The Superorganism The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies
E.O.Wilson, Bert Holldobler
"...promises to be one of the most important scientific works published in this decade. Coming eighteen years after the publication of The Ants, this new volume expands our knowledge of the social insects (among them, ants, bees, wasps, and termites) and is based on remarkable research conducted mostly within the last two decades. These superorganismsa tightly knit colony of individuals, formed by altruistic cooperation, complex communication, and division of labor represent one of the basic stages of biological organization, midway between the organism and the entire species..."
Me and the Biospheres John Allen
Winner of the prestigious Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Autobiography in 2010, and Best Biography/Memoir in 2009 New Mexico Book awards From the press release: "Anyone suffering from the Global Warming Blues will cherish this uplifting account of the most ambitious environmental experiment of our time: Biosphere 2, a miniature Earth under glass, the world's largest laboratory for global ecology. John Allen's memoir, 'Me and the Biospheres' is a rich and complex narrative, filled with rollicking adventure, exceptional camaraderie and mind-bending science."
Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization Lester Brown's new book can be read or downloaded online at Earth Policy.
Lester Brown spoke at the Lensic in Santa Fe on Oct 29. Watch a 5-part Youtube sequence of Lester giving essentially the same presentation at Greenfest 08 here.