Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water,
Reisner. Penguin Books, New York, 1986.
Cadillac Desert provides an in depth examination of the history
of water use in the American west, from the first exploration and
settlement to modern technological feats that have allowed continued
inhabitance and agriculture to exist. Marc Reisner writes with a
narrative and often entertaining approach, describing the power,
politics, and attitudes that have shaped development of Western
lands. Reisner calls into question how such an enormous demand for
water can continue to be met when the supply of water to the area
is finite. From the earliest damming and diversion of rivers to
current proposals of piping water from Alaska to California, this
book provides an excellent background for gaining a strong understanding
of American water use and policy.
see resource listing for the PBS documentary,
Cadillac Desert: Water and the Transformation of Nature.
as Entropy: Toward a Unified Theory of Biology,
R. Brooks and E.O. Wiley. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1988.
This book examines the origin of life and evolution into ecological
hierarchies in terms of the organization of information. The authors
bring together research on information theory, physical information
systems, energy and entropy to understand how forms of energy and
information shape and stabilize ecosystems. A physics or chemistry
background is necessary for a good understanding, but the overall
philosophy is new and intriguing.
Ecosystems, David A. Perry. Johns Hopkins University Press:
This is a well-written, well-illustrated book that can be of help
as a general text on ecosystems, especially for the teacher. The text
describes the basic elements of the science of ecology and the relationships
of forests to the global ecosystem. Factors contributing to ecosystem
decline and ways to manage forest sustainability are explained well
with several good figures and photographs.
Green History of the World, Clive Ponting. Penguin Books:
Clive Ponting provides examples throughout history where overuse
and abuse of natural resources have led to the downfall of civilizations,
great and small. He provides specific and detailed examples, but
also steps back and examines the bigger picture: what lessons can
we take away from these stories? How can we prevent our civilization
from repeating these mistakes?
Better Environmental Decisions: An Alternative to Risk
argues that the process of risk assessment is fundamentally flawed
because it fails to ask the questions: "Is this hazardous activity
essential? Do more sensible alternatives exist?" (p.84) She
contends, "Risk assessment is primarily used to defend unnecessary
activities that harm the environment or human health." (p.39)
she proposes that we make decisions in the public arena similar
to how we make them as individuals: by weighing the pros and cons
of several (if not all) alternatives, and following a precautionary
principle of "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
also argues that we should shift the burden of proof from those
defending the integrity of the environment to those proposing a
potentially harmful activity. In other words, we should no longer
take the "innocent until proven guilty" route with seemingly
Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution, Lynn
Dorion Sagan. University of California Press: Berkeley, 1997.
The authors--mother and son--have written a beneficial, clear, tightly-woven
book on the symbiotic theory of evolution on Earth, and particularly
the roles of microbes (or bacteria) in originating and maintaining
life on Earth. They trace evolution from the perspective of bacteria
and show the concurrent evolution of planetary conditions. The style
is lucid, tracing the characteristics of evolutionary change from
bacteria to plants, animals, and man, inquiring where we go next.
A Gaian perspective--the Earth and Life forming a supraorganism(?)--is
necessary, they say, if we are to survive inhabiting other worlds.
A beautiful, thought-provoking book!
Margulis is Distinguished University Professor at the University
of Massachusetts, Amhurst. Dorion Sagan is a writer.
Stolen Future, T. Colborn, D. Dumanoski, and J.P. Myers.
Books: New York, 1997.
Our Stolen Future is a controversial and powerful examination
of how man-made chemicals may be affecting humans and ecosystems.
It steps outside of the "cancer paradigm" by demonstrating
that while so much money and efforts have gone toward studying carcinogenic
effects of chemicals, affects on other biological systems have gotten
only minimal attention. The book focuses primarily on the effects
of chemicals on the endocrine system. It shows that many human-made
agents mimic hormones, and can disrupt the delicate balance of the
system that regulates development and reproduction, both in animals
and in humans.
Stolen Future compiles and relates much of the current research,
but does so in effort to inform the general public. It explains
the science thoroughly and as simply as possible, bringing together
much of the evidence on the subject and making a very strong case
for further study.
more information, see the book's official site: http://www.ourstolenfuture.org/
Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental
Joe Thornton. MIT Press: Cambridge, 2000.
Arrow and Evolution, Harold Blum. Princeton University Press:
Harold Blum, then lecturer at Princeton University, writes that
he "began to think about possible relationships between the
Second Law of Thermodynamics and organic evolution during the summer
of 1933" (preface). He was inspired by the book "Fitness
of the Environment" by the famous chemist, Lawrence J. Henderson,
written in 1913. Using the Second Law (Arrow of Time) to see how
the chemistry of biology has progressed on Earth is the main theme
of the book. Starting with a chronology of evolution, the book goes
into the materials and kinetics that maintain life. Clearly, with
elegant examples, many of the basic mechanisms are explained. The
book then attempts to deal with ideas of "complexity"
and "organization" and the role of time in their evolution.
Early books on such topics are fascinating and important to read
to understand and appreciate the historical progress of ideas. For
example, the chronology of the Earth figure in Blum's book goes
only to 3 billion rather than the 4.5 billion years we take it to
be now. This book is also "pre-DNA" and makes us appreciate
the deep systems thinking that led to very important insights even
before the analytical phase in which we are now.
the Vanishing Frogs: An Ecological Mystery, Kathryn Phillips.
Books: New York, 1994.
World? : Scenarios for the 21st Century, Allen Hammond.
Press / Shearwater Books: Washington, D.C.: 1998.
Allen Hammond is the director of strategic analysis and a senior
scientist at the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit
organization focused on policy research. Which World? emerged
out of his work on the 2050 Project, a five-year research endeavor
examining the use of scenarios to help policy-makers and citizens
make smarter decisions about our future. The book first introduces
the concept and uses of scenarios, and demonstrates how they affect
our perceptions of the future. The second main section, around which
the remainder of the book is centered, presents three alternative
global scenarios: Market World, Fortress World, and Transformed
World. Only one of these scenarios is largely pessimistic, while
the other two present more balanced views of the future. However,
Hammond argues that all three of the scenarios are well within the
realm of possibility given the current "critical trends"
(Demographic, Economic, and Technological). The next section delves
into the details of some of these "critical trends," showing
both what the trends are today, and how we can expect these trends
to continue (or not) into the future. Hammond also discusses important
environmental, security, social, and political trends in some detail.
Throughout the book, Hammond emphasizes the interdependence of all
these societal elements, showing that one area cannot change without
influencing many others. Finally, Hammond provides several chapters
of regional information, underscoring the fact that, while we are
rapidly moving toward a global community, each region faces very
unique problems and struggles that cannot be ignored in formulating
scenarios for the future. Which World? is an important tool
for stimulating thought and discussion about the future, and about
how decisions we make in the present will have profound impact on
our quality of life in the future. It also is enormously valuable
for its explanation of how so many factors influence and impact
environmental quality, and our commitment to its improvement.