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Book Roundup Wednesday: Environmentalism's Past, Present, and Future

Posted Jun 23 2010 12:20pm

Book review Every Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. This week we’re recommending books about the past, present, and future of environmentalism.

This Borrowed Earth: Lessons from the 15 Worst Environmental Disasters Around the World (by Robert Hernan, $12, Palgrave Macmillan, Feb. 2010) This tome recounts some of the past century's worst environmental disasters: Chernobyl, Bhopal, and Exxon Valdez included – calling attention to the greed, ignorance, and apathy that causes these events, but also the inspirational and exceptional individuals that arise to restore the damaged communities and environments. Hernan reveals the striking similarities between several of these catastrophes, shedding light on how similar calamities can be avoided in the future.

Living Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism (by Paul Wapner, $15, MIT Press, Mar. 2010) This book highlights the current state of nature – and it’s not pretty – arguing that the human world has encroached on every inch of the natural world. Wapner explores the idea that there's no such thing as nature itself anymore, and the implications of this on future of environmentalism. He believes, though, that the "end of nature" presents a great opportunity to bridge both ends of the environmental spectrum – those who wish to live in harmony with nature and those who seek to master it – in a way that strengthens future environmental policies.

What We Leave Behind (by Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay, $17, Seven Stories Press, Feb. 2009) This harsh eye-opener might be a bit difficult for some to digest, but if you can get through the grim beginning, which illuminates the irreversible and unparalleled damage our current culture has wreaked on the planet, the ending does provide a glimmer of hope. In this sometimes unsettling portrayal of how industrial society destroyed the natural systems of growth and decay, Jensen and McBay hold that the only way life can continue will not be through technological salvation, but by returning to the foundations of sustainability.  

Economic Thought and U.S. Climate Change Policy (edited by David M. Driesen, $24, MIT Press, June 2010) This book chronologically explores how the U.S. is stagnating with its environmental policies; once a world leader in addressing these challenges, our nation is now failing to deal with today's most pressing issue: global climate change. The book illustrates how the fact that the free-market economy conflicts with U.S. climate-change policy has led to this inaction, concluding with recommendations that would shift America away from classic neoliberal economic thought and toward more sound environmental, health, and safety policies.

Invisible Energy: Strategies to Rescue the Economy and Save the Planet (by David B. Goldstein, $13, Bay Tree Publishing, Apr. 2010) Centered on the ideas of energy efficiency, this book identifies the market failures that led to the most recent economic crisis, and how changes in energy policy would enable us to get out of the hole we're in while drastically reducing carbon emissions. Goldstein simplifies what would otherwise be some very dense policy-laden reading, luring readers with the concept of “invisible energy” to demonstrate how simple improvements could allow us to move beyond foreign oil, repair the economy, and lessen the threat of climate change.

--Allison McCann

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