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All Environment Coverage

It’s an age-old dilemma. Each generation bears the weight of passing society’s burdens on to the next one, and climate change is no exception. But can the continuing escalation of this issue be prevented, or at least slowed, so that our children and grandchildren aren’t saddled with a disastrous future?

Climate activist Daniel Sherrell ponders the preciousness and fragility of life from the perspective of someone whose life is mostly still ahead of him in his debut book, Warmth: Coming of Age at the End of Our World. Although he’s still in his early 30s, Sherrell’s tone is that of an old soul as he reflects on the changing climate in a letter to his unborn child. Referring to climate change as the Problem (with a capital P), he outlines the weather- and natural disaster-related events he has already witnessed in his short lifetime, such as Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Maria and raging wildfires.

Sherrell is a passionate advocate for the climate movement, which he conveys with urgency and honest, raw emotion, expressing an anxiety he feels has infiltrated the essence of his being. He writes with a frightening sense of gravity that will give Generation X and the baby boom generation reason to take a close, hard look at what’s happening and do something.

This is exactly Sherrell’s message. We need to do something—about fossil fuels, corrupt politicians, global food and water security. The list goes on. Warmth is a pleading, informative call to action. As Sherrell writes, “Increasingly, the only viable future seems to be in shoring up the future itself.”

Climate activist Daniel Sherrell ponders the fragility of life from the perspective of someone whose life is still ahead of him in his raw, passionate debut book.

Poet, essayist and cultural commentator Lisa Wells takes on the complexities of our relationship to the climate crisis in Believers: Making a Life at the End of the World, a thought-provoking and heady mix of memoir, journalism and philosophy. Wells isn’t writing as a scientist or futurist here but as a former teenage idealist—someone who, as she puts it, “drifted into adulthood” after dropping out of high school and spending months in a wilderness survival program to gain the knowledge and skills needed to “form egalitarian villages on the post-apocalyptic frontier.”

Wells grew up in the Pacific Northwest in the 1990s and threads her personal journey throughout the book. “When we were kids, my friends and I went looking for a unified and stable theory of how to live—propping up idols and knocking them off their pedestals,” she writes. Eventually Wells realizes, “There is no solution to the problems we face, but there are solutions.”

Exploring those solutions drives the narrative of Believers. Wells seeks out a variety of people whose radical responses to the climate crisis challenge and defy the norm. The characters she profiles are varied and fascinating, and their stories may resonate with older readers who remember their own idealism during the 1960s counterculture movement.

One particularly strong presence in the book is the late Finisia Medrano, whom Wells met while Medrano was leading a group of ecological activists in the dry desert landscape of eastern Oregon. Wells dubs her “an itinerant outlaw,” dedicated to rewilding the American desert with foragable food so people can survive the eventual collapse of society.

Wells also explores the growing severity of wildfires in the West. One section details the work of Indigenous Americans such as Ron Goode, the Tribal Chairman of the North Fork Mono in California, to revitalize the landscape by reintroducing traditional practices like controlled burns and to shift our cultural understanding of the West’s fire-adapted landscapes.

While Wells is adept at communicating her own coming-of-age story and life journey, Believers is most compelling when the author allows the fascinating people she meets to speak for themselves, providing a rich mosaic of perspectives on life in the 21st century. Believers is a reckoning with climate change and a testimony about how to live on our threatened planet that will engage thoughtful citizens everywhere.

Poet and cultural commentator Lisa Wells profiles a variety of people whose radical responses to the climate crisis defy the norm.

Animal extinction is not a new phenomenon. Even ancient cultures appreciated the fragile balance of life and practiced sustainability while hunting and fishing. But as The Atlantic project editor Michelle Nijhuis stresses in her new book, Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction, the Industrial Revolution and its many technological innovations significantly ratcheted up the impact of environmental devastation caused by human activities.

By the late 19th century, environmentalists had begun to realize that unless preservation laws and regulations were introduced to help protect endangered species, many of those species would cease to exist. With candor and authority, Nijhuis focuses on the intertwined relationships, backgrounds and paths of the fervent scientists and activists who spearheaded the conservation movement. She goes into great detail about the movement’s origins and evolution, as well as the unrelenting passion of its advocates. “The assumption that species were static and enduring was not easily dislodged,” she writes.

Conservationism was also “infused with racism” and the narcissistic, egotistical behavior of many of its campaigners. As Nijhuis uncovers and examines these aspects of the movement, her reporting skills shine. For example, although co-founder of the New York Zoological Society Madison Grant is known for successfully championing laws restricting commercial and “unsportsmanlike” hunting, his agenda was drawn from the belief that hunting was “an elevating pastime for the wealthy and white.” Nijhuis also contextualizes the near extinction of the American bison with a reminder that “the rescue of the bison had nothing to do with the people who had depended on the species [the Native American population]—and a great deal to do with [conservationists’] own illusions about themselves.”

Throughout the book, Nijhuis conveys her thorough research with colorful prose, such as when she calls conservation writer Aldo Leopold “dangerously eloquent.” She also segues into the challenges facing conservationists today, such as climate change, organized crime and corporate interests. But the main takeaway from Beloved Beasts is a sense of hope for the future.

Michelle Nijhuis highlights the environmentalists who first realized that unless preservation laws were introduced, many amazing species would cease to exist.

The perilous state of our planet is a grim subject that often makes us feel powerless. Is it even possible as an individual to mount much of a defense against such a complex global threat? Two books help cut through the anxieties of climate change and suggest a place to start.

In The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac urge readers to push back against overwhelmed, hopeless mindsets. Far from ill-informed but earnest optimists, the authors led negotiations for the United Nations during the Paris Agreement of 2015 and are the co-founders of Global Optimism, working to incite environmental change from the personal level and extending globally. Their book is indeed a manifesto, but an elegant and hopeful one that acknowledges difficult realities while refusing to sink beneath them. They present a faultless argument supported by hard science and, alongside it, paint mesmerizing images of a potential future—reforested cities, shaded and carless streets, skyscrapers trailing vines and wall gardens, and neighbors who come together to grow food and share resources.

Equally appealing is their argument that, far from an austere world where we miss the extravagances of our past, a clean future would not only be healthy for the planet but would also provide mental and physical advantages for human beings. Greater community, better health through more exposure to the beauty of nature and more flexibility for spending time with loved ones are all benefits of their vision of a new society.

Chief among the benefits Figueres and Rivett-Carnac foresee for us is better health through better eating, and in How to Be a Conscious Eater: Making Food Choices That Are Good for You, Others, and the Planet, Sophie Egan takes a deeper look at the personal and global effects of ethical eating. While acknowledging that individual effort on a collective level creates large-scale change, Egan opts to address her reader one-on-one. A food writer for publications such as Bon Appétit and the Washington Post, she understands the tension between wanting to do what’s right and wanting to preserve what food often means to us. Therefore, she doesn’t guilt readers or hold them to unrealistic standards. With illustrations and a conversational voice, Egan takes note of the many ethical issues associated with the food industry and then lays out the options available to us to improve them.

Though we might think of dedicated ethical eaters as belonging to the ranks of ultra-healthy, well-moneyed vegans—those with resources to burn at the co-op and untold willpower—Egan’s common-sense tone makes eating according to our values an accessible and relatively stress-free realm for everyone.

Celebrate Earth Day with two books that remind us of our own power to honor, protect and save our threatened planet.

Toxic Free is a “quick-start” guide to help readers understand how toxic chemicals affect our health and how to avoid them. Consumer advocate and “Queen of Green” Debra Lynn Dadd (Home Safe Home) starts by targeting the home. Most of us figure on finding bad stuff in our cleaning products, but the author also scrutinizes various beauty products, indoor air pollution, pest control, water, food, textiles, office supplies and interior decoration. Who knew about formaldehyde in no-iron bed sheets, PVP plastic in toothpaste, lead wicks in decorative candles, hazardous chemicals in perfume and DDT in our coffee? For each toxic consumer product in this formidable list, the author offers simple, natural substitutions. She’s not out to scare us, but to mentor us into better health. Another chapter clues us in on how toxic chemicals harm the environment and how we can minimize our “toxic impact.” And what about the harm already done to our unsuspecting bodies? The book suggests many simple and sometimes surprising things we can do to help protect and support our natural detoxification system.

Toxic Free is a “quick-start” guide to help readers understand how toxic chemicals affect our health and how to avoid them. Consumer advocate and “Queen of Green” Debra Lynn Dadd (Home Safe Home) starts by targeting the home. Most of us figure on finding bad stuff in our cleaning products, but the author also scrutinizes […]

Scientists are finding that climate change has many ramifications, including stronger storms, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels. It is this last factor that is directly impacting tiny Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay of Virginia. Predicted to succumb to rising tides within 50 years, the island will likely become America’s first climate change victim, forcing its longtime residents to abandon their beloved home.

In Chesapeake Requiem, journalist Earl Swift recounts his experiences living on Tangier for a year, tracing its history, getting a firsthand look at the environmental impact on the island and discovering what makes the islanders tick. Tangier is just 1.3 square miles, and an area in the northernmost tip of the island has already largely disappeared. As Swift notes, “the lower Chesapeake’s relative sea level rise—the one-two punch of water coming up and land going down—is among the highest on earth.” As a result, “the island is slumping, actually subsiding into the earth’s crust.”

With a history that dates back to the 17th century, Tangier’s residents are a tight-knit community of hardworking, resilient individuals, most of them devout Christians. Their main source of income is crabbing, an expertise that has evolved over the past two centuries. So there is much at stake for them if the island disappears—not only their homes but their lifestyles and livelihoods, too.

Swift details both the joys and difficulties of life on Tangier, coming to the realization that its sinking situation makes it “an island both literal and metaphorical.” Tangier will ultimately become a model of how the U.S. handles rising sea levels for cities and communities up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

 

This article was originally published in the August 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Scientists are finding that climate change has many ramifications, including stronger storms, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels. It is this last factor that is directly impacting tiny Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay of Virginia. Predicted to succumb to rising tides within 50 years, the island will likely become America’s first climate change victim, forcing its longtime residents to abandon their beloved home.

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