Summer Reading to Make Us Rise Up and Act for our Children

Andrew Barnosky is a paleoecologist. His new book, “Heatstroke: Nature in an Age of Global Warming”, speaks of four bad players creating the destruction of many ecosystems around the world: population, global warming, invasive species and forest fragmentation.  Professor Barnosky’s a scientific Sherlock Holmes who looks at how the world’s climate has constantly changed over millions of years. This sleuth brings us to caves and other places, including Yellowstone National Park that show the fossil evidence of climate change as well as extinctions over millions of years. With the greatest of clarity he explains his scientific terminology and is able to show the reader that in the past million years biodiversity has been able to ride out the worst of glacial or inter-glacial changes. Here’s an important word that we should all become acquainted with: ‘phenology’. It describes the correlation between climate and the natural cycles of nature such as migration of birds, hunting for food, polar bears or plant flowering. He says that species can’t keep up with humanity’s unprecedented tampering with Earth’s climate; extinctions are happening at an alarming rate compared to what has occurred in the last several hundred thousand years.  As well, huge human population increases in the last (and the next) fifty years pose some of the greatest threats to the stability of our planet’s ecosystems. Invasive species has lowered the wealth of biodiversity, making the Earth one big box store of the same species.
“The trick now, of course, is to actually use our foresight and abilities not only to dodge but also to deflect the bullets heading our way- including, perhaps especially, the ones aimed squarely at Earth’s ecological heart…The reason Earth is in peril is because of individual actions. Just as the problem is the sum of what each one of us is doing, so is fixing the problem. That means we each hold a little part of the future of the world in our hands. “

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s 2009 book “The Spirit Level: why more equal societies almost always do better” enables us to understand how we can make a difference in creating a better world   It is very clearly argued in the “Spirit Level” that the more equal a society is, the better it is able to wrestle with many of our problems, including global warming, and create a healthier, safer and happier nation.
Even though there are many graphs and statistics throughout the book, it never becomes one more academic treatise.  The authors are really speaking to us in the West and particularly in North America, saying the vast inequality between rich and poor is bringing down our society. As well, our monstrous carbon footprint points to an unhappy group of people addicted to consumerism.  These excesses include the self-indulged use of planes and cruises as well as creating a disastrous cult around the priority of economic growth over Nature and community. Flying or boating into a pristine sensitive destination such as the Galapagos Archipelago as an ‘eco-tourist’ is many times defended because of the economic benefits that are derived from such tourism.  It’s far better to stay close to home to enjoy Nature. The authors of ‘Spirit Level” show in great detail that more equal societies such as Cuba, Norway or even Japan are also much happier societies. Finally, a ‘steady-state economy’ keeps unwarranted growth at bay but need not be a stagnating society. Living within our ecological means creates a more resilient and creative people in balance with each other and the biosphere.

These are just two excellent reading possibilities.  W.H. Hudson’s ”Far Away & Long Ago: A childhood in Argentina” will inspire anyone who wants Nature to return to its former splendour,  Chris Goodall’s “How to Live a Low-Carbon Life: the individual’s guide to stopping climate change” is a great gift for a true friend who needs to drastically lower their carbon footprint and won’t hate you for telling her it’s time to change.

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