Tired of the same old conversation about environmentalism? If you’ve been yearning for a new dialogue, look no further: From the ways in which we think about nature, to the very language we use to describe it, each of these books shows how our conversations about and concepts of environmentalism must change. Though the subjects that inspired them range from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the effects of climate change to rethinking our very concept of wildness, each of the books on this list is a sort of rallying call to think about and work toward environmental solutions in fresh, new ways.
Publisher: Milkweed Editions
David Gessner has had a prolific past couple of years: Two of the books in this roundup are his, published only a few months apart. Unfortunately, the abundant sources of his material are environmental crises; fortunately, he approaches and writes about these crises much in the same way he might hash them out with an old friend. There’s nothing precious or nagging about "My Green Manifesto," which chronicles Gessner’s journey — both physical and mental — down Boston’s Charles River. In fact, it’s the preciousness and nagging that permeate the current environmental movement that Gessner seeks to obliterate. Fed up with ineffective theories and policies, frustrated by paralyzing promises of impending doom, and exasperated with the widespread habit of describing the natural world in mystic, hushed, voiced-over tones, Gessner works at outlining a new source of environmentalism. Somewhere removed from our computers, our think tanks, and all of our theories, Gessner declares that he “would like to put forth a sloppier form of environmentalism, a simultaneously more human and wild form.” His role, as he sees it, “is to try to pull the pole out of the collective environmental [butt]." This offbeat commentary on contemporary environmentalism is just the thing for those who are tired of the fearmongering and looking for a new way to connect with and fight for the natural world.
by David Gessner
Publisher: Milkweed Editions
In "The Tarball Chronicles," an eye-opening, jaw-dropping account of the days and weeks after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, David Gessner tells the story that the national media missed. “Never before have I experienced so intensely the disparity between hearing a story on the ground, from the people it is happening to, and the way it is told to the country,” Gessner writes as he learns about the fascinating history and vanishing ecosystems and cultures of the gulf. Honest about the ironies of his own road trip through the South to cover an oil spill (“The United States consumes 40 percent of the world’s oil. About 70 percent of that is for transportation, mostly for our cars”), Gessner crafts a powerfully informative but also immensely relatable narrative. He shows that while the national media has moved on to other stories and the oil has sunk to the ocean floor, the full impact of the gulf oil spill remains to be seen and the questions it raised must still be answered. Somehow he succeeds in teaching without lecturing or moralizing, making "The Tarball Chronicles" entertaining and rousing despite its disheartening subject matter.
Publisher: Nation Books
Like David Gessner, Frances Moore Lappé is eager to embrace a new environmentalism. The author of 18 books, including the 3-million copy “Diet for a Small Planet,” and the cofounder of Food First: The Institute for Food and Development Policy, the Small Planet Institute, and the Small Planet Fund, Lappé is a heavyweight in the world of environmentalism. Despite the overwhelming evidence of what is wrong with our world — from eroding soil to eroding democracies — she believes that solutions to global crises are within reach, and posits that “our challenge is to free ourselves from self-defeating thought traps so we can bring these solutions to life.” Suggesting that our very ways of thinking about the world are out of sync with human nature and nature’s rhythms, Lappé identifies seven “thought traps” that keep us collectively mired in fear, guilt, despair and denial. If we can shift some basic thought patterns, she explains, we can shift the balance of power in the world. “EcoMind” is a rallying cry and guide on how to think like an ecosystem.
by Emma Marris
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
“Getting rid of our obsession with the past is going to help us have a relationship with the nature of the present,” Emma Marris said recently, in an interview about her first book, “Rambunctious Garden.” The book calls for a new approach to preserving, protecting and fostering relationships with the natural world. Rather than concentrating our attention on conserving the fewer and fewer pockets of nature that remain in a pristine, pre-human state, she argues that practices such as rewilding, assisted migration and the embrace of so-called novel ecosystems should become our focus. Her concept of the rambunctious garden describes a hybrid of wild nature and human management that acknowledges — even embraces — the reality of our impact upon the landscapes we inhabit. Rather than bemoan the ways in which we’ve caused injury to the natural world, “Rambunctious Garden” encourages readers with interesting theories and fascinating narratives that show how we can work to create a global, half-wild rambunctious garden planet, cultivated and sustained by us.
Publisher: University of California Press
"Changing Planet, Changing Health" brings into focus the already visible and growing effects of climate change on human health. Dr. Paul Epstein and Dan Ferber show why a warming planet inexorably leads to what they call an epidemic of epidemics: the emergence and reemergence of diseases such as cholera, malaria, and dengue. They detail a number of revolutionary studies to paint a thorough picture of the challenges that lie ahead. Through history and anecdotes, they show that among other problems, warming climate causes the spread of mosquitoes that carry dengue and malaria, the emergence of dormant cholera bacteria from hibernation, and massive spikes in asthma. It’s a bitter pill, but not an unbearable read. In fact, "Changing Planet, Changing Health" is as engrossing as it is serious: An excellent book for those looking to step beyond the massive amounts of misinformation on the subject and educate themselves on the proven facts of a warming climate. Epstein acknowledges that the magnitude of the challenge is overwhelming, but he encourages optimism when he writes, “we must not lose sight of a very simple and reassuring fact: we have already invented virtually everything we need to get us out of this crisis. The job won’t be easy, and we could certainly use a few more clever tools. But we can build a low-carbon society. Indeed, it’s already happening.” An excellent read for those looking for practical, digestible information about the effects of climate change on human health and wellness, plus ideas on what we can do to put things right.
Thumbnail photo: Amelia-Jane/Flickr