Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—and How It Can Renew America

By Thomas l Friedman

Farrar, straus, and Giroux, $27.95

You’ve probably already got an opinion or ten about New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman—most do. Maybe you’re a technology diehard and think the sun shines out of his Lexus. Maybe you bash him at cocktail parties for his support of biofuels, globalization, and carbon trading, and wish those Brown University students (who hurtled two pies at him during an energy speech on campus) had done more. Whatever sentiments his name evokes in you, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, his fifth book, is one green title you’ll want to have read—if only because of the buzz it’s sure to garner. Drawing heavily on reporting done for his column, extensive world travels, and conversations with an overwhelming num ber of today’s most fascinating leaders—from Bill Gates to the crown prince of Bahrain—Friedman calls America to a no-nonsense revolution. Revolution means sacrifice and hard work, he says, but time is running out for our hot, flat (as in economically level, due to rapidly expanding and resource-hungry middle classes worldwide), and crowded world. Meanwhile, post 9/11 fear is undoing the spirit of openness and exploration that made America great. Enter: Operation Code Green, Friedman’s blueprint for saving the planet and curing America of its malady at the same time. Friedman’s knack for asking the big questions at the intersection of politics, economics, sociology, and environment, and for drawing memorable quotes and anecdotes out of prominent figures, makes for an absorbing read. —Tobin Hack 

Strategies for the Green Economy: Opportunities and Challenges in the New World of Business

By Joel Makower

McGraw-Hill, $27.95

In 2007, WalMart asked food giant General Mills to straighten out the noodles in its iconic product, Hamburger Helper, allowing them to fit into a considerably smaller box. The change resulted in an annual savings of 900,000 pounds of packaging and took 500 delivery trucks off the roads. And if corporate environmental strategist Makower had his way, General Mills wouldn’t stop at removing the squiggles from a few noodles. Is the wheat in the noodles organic? Is the packaging made from recycled paper? Are the Helper factories solar-powered? In order to cash in on America’s transformation to a green economy, Makower asserts, companies will need to engage in this kind of holistic thinking and seek out sustainable initiatives in every nook and cranny of their operations. Today’s average consumer still can’t identify a single green brand, and 70 percent of the population believes green claims are largely marketing tactics, but Makower is optimistic: Corporations will choose green to save money and reputation, and the rest will follow. —Randall Hack

Scarred Land and Wounded Lives: The Environmental Footprint of War

Directed and produced by Alice and Lincoln Day

Videotakes inc, $19.95

If you can make it through this downer of a documentary without drowning your misery in a bottle of Agent Orange, you’ll come away knowing a whole lot more than you ever wanted to about war’s impact on the environment—and that’s just one of the reasons you should watch it. Sure, your middle school history class covered Hiroshima and the Kuwait oil spills. But did you know that Earth Policy Institute’s Lester Brown thinks we could restore the earth’s ecosystems and fight climate change for $161 billion—a mere third of the annual US military budget? Or that only a small patch of the lush pistachio tree forests that once blanketed Afghanistan remains today, in large part due to war-induced poverty and social unrest? Or that sixty-odd WWII ships sunk by the Japanese are lying like ticking ecological time bombs on the ocean floor, just beginning to leak the tons of cargo oil they’d been carrying when taken down in combat? Or that in one hour, a single F-16 fighter jet uses twice as much fuel as the average American uses in his or her car over the course of a year? It goes without saying that Scarred Land falls closer to the suicide-inducing end of the spectrum than would, say, Happy Feet, but it’s well-made, fresh, and compassionate. You’ll agree by the end that the environment is actually war’s silent casualty. What’s more, you might even want to get up and do something about it. —TH

Green Inc.: An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause Has Gone Bad

By Christine MacDonald

Lyons Press, $24.95

When journalist Christine MacDonald left media for the world of nonprofit environmental conservation, she looked forward to spending her days saving endangered species. Instead, she ran smack into environmental leaders touting fat expense accounts and hobnobbing with celebs on extravagant, globe-trotting tours. Green Inc. is a critical examination of what MacDonald sees as the too-cozy relationships between major conservation groups—World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, Environmental Defense Fund, and others—and major players in the coal, oil, logging, and gas industries. Environmental groups de fend their fast-lane lifestyles and suspect partnerships as necessary steps toward gaining influence, but MacDonald suggests that “the companies are getting more out of the current setup than the endangered species.” —Victoria Schlesinger

Tea Leaf Green: Raise Up the Tent

Surfdog Records, CD, $15.98

Tea Leaf Green lead singer-songwriter Trevor Garrod would rather be out hiking (field guide in hand) than doing almost anything else, so it’s no surprise that he often pays tribute to nature in his songs. Having grown up on a farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains and majored in botany at San Francisco State University, he draws inspiration from the pastoral scenes of his early days to pen lyrics about depleting natural resources and pesticide-spraying tractors. Recent release Raise Up the Tent is no exception—Garrod calls “Red Ribbons,” one of the album’s eleven tracks, his most urgent environmental warning to date. But Tea Leaf’s sound—rock flavored with folk and jazz—isn’t in the least bit morose; it’s funky, buoyant, and often calming. The band practices what it preaches too: Tea Leaf offsets almost all its tours, packages albums in 30 percent post-consumer-waste recycled materials, and plays major green festivals like NYC’s Green Apple Festival, Bonnaroo, and the Echo Project. — TH

Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff

By Fred Pearce

Beacon Press, $24.95

Ever wonder where your favorite pair of slacks started? How about the aluminum can holding your chilled beer, or the cotton in your cosy, new socks? In his latest book, science writer Pearce traces items Western consumers use every day—from food to fabrics to metals—to their often-shocking roots. Confessions could easily have become an odious guilt trip of a book, but instead, it’s packed with jaw-dropping stats and introductions to heroes like Cheung Yan, China’s “Queen of Trash” (founder of Nine Dragons, probably the largest paper recycling biz on the planet). You’ll never again be able to hide behind the “I’m just one person” excuse...

This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Eco-tainment picks
Some great book and film selections any ecophile should check out.