Category Archives: Nature and Ecology


Just recently my husband has become a fan of the Carson Daily Show, but we’re the kind of people who are rarely awake at that time of the night, that time when it is so late, it is early. Solution? One of the small pleasures of our technological age: the DVR!

A few weeks ago, I happened to wander into the room when he was looking at an old episode. One of the segments featured Joel Sartore, a National Geographic photographer who has a project with the goal of photographing all of the endangered species on the planet. As his website states: “Joel is on a mission to document endangered species and landscapes in order to show a world worth saving.

In order to compensate for size and scale — so that an elephant, by its sheer size, does not seem more important, than a small endangered frog — Sartore does portrait style studio shots on a plain background. I’m not sure which would be more difficult: shooting a gigantic elephant weighing a few tons or a small poisonous frog who tips the scales at only a few ounces. Whether you are a photographer or not, take the time to look through Joel’s Biodiversity project gallery. As you look through the site, think about the same or similar animals that you have seen in your life — maybe a bird in your backyard when you were a child, or an elephant at a zoo. Maybe the animal you just thought of is not the same species on the endangered list, but is a related species. It may only be a matter of time before the animal in your memory joins that exclusive but unwanted list.

Time is one of the important things about Sartore’s project: worse than having an editor wanting to know if something is going to be done by the deadline, Sartore is running out of time because many of these animals are running out of time. For some, it may be too late to turn back the clock. These animals are fantastic and deserving of our time — time to look at the photos, time to learn about them and their habitats, time to learn what conservation programs are doing to help endangered and threatened species, and time to figure out how each can contribute in our own ways. Take time to look and learn about The Biodiversity Project.

““It is folly to think that we can destroy one species and ecosystem after another and not affect humanity. When we save species, we’re actually saving ourselves.” ~ Joel Sartore

I’ve always been a bit conflicted about zoos. Seeing animals in cages saddens me; seeing animals in ersatz environments that mimic their native savannah, or a harsh, hot desert, makes me realize how captive they are. The faux home is not their real home. The tigers in the zoo don’t hunt for meat; it’s brought by the staff. But, as Sartore points out on his website, zoos are on the forefront of research and conservation efforts for endangered species. In some cases, an animal may no longer have the natural environment to live in successfully and the zoo home may be the only feasible place for captive breeding programs.

One way to support the project is to purchase a print of Sartore’s work. I’m thinking about either the wise old elephant or the blue poison dart frogs.

>Quote from Lewis Thomas:


Viewed from the distance of the moon, the astonishing thing about the earth, catching the breath, is that it is alive. The photographs show the dry, pounded surface of the moon in the foreground, dead as an old bone. Aloft, floating free beneath the moist, gleaming membrane of bright blue sky, is the rising earth, the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos. If you could look long enough, you would see the swirling of the great drifts of white cloud, covering and uncovering the half-hidden masses of land. If you had been looking a very long, geologic time, you would have seen the continents themselves in motion, drifting apart on their crustal plates, held aloft by the fire beneath. It has the organized, self-contained look of a live creature, full of information, marvelously skilled in handling the sun.

— Lewis Thomas, The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher. 1974.

I first read Thomas in the late 70s and have read all of his books, but it has been 20 years since I last read him. If you are not familiar with Thomas, and you are interested in science writing, especially reading an excellently written literary discussion of scientific ideas, or if you are interested in observations about nature, our planet and ecology, I would recommend The Lives of a Cell. Since I no longer own this book, I think I need to put it on my wishlist so I can re-read this.

I came across this quotation in Earth Community, Earth Ethics, by Larry L. Rasmussen (1997). In a discussion with Emily earlier this week, she mentioned Rasmussen and his theological perspectives on nature and the environment and our part in it (not just an agent acting on behalf for or against nature). I immediately went to the web to find book titles by him. I’ll be posting on this book here and at the Eco Justice Challenge blog in the coming weeks. You can read Emily’s explanation of why it’s eco-justice and not environmentalism here.


>Have you read the EcoJustice08 blog yet? If not, go to this site setup by Emily of Telecommuter Talk. Read about her challenge to you to challenge yourself to change in ways to benefit the planet.
Emily writes that this is about justice, not simply environmentalism:

The term “ecojustice” encompasses justice for all of creation (plant, other animal, and human alike). It does not assume any one species (i.e. human) is better than any other species. It assumes that within the human race, those who are most negatively affected by the rape of the earth are the poor … and that by making this planet a safer and better place to live, all will benefit. It assumes that every living being on this planet deserves its rightful, ecological place (whether certain species want others here or not). It also assumes that we humans are the ones doing the most damage with the most means to stop what we are doing.

Mostly, I agree with this philosophy, although I have to consider the comment about no species being better than another. I’m not sure that I can agree with that, but I do agree that even if other species are not our equal, humans have a responsibility to be good stewards of this planet and life on it.

Participants in this challenge will commit to trying at least one change each quarter that can have a positive impact and bring about ecojustice. Then, if you wish, blog about your experiences incorporating that change into your life.

I’ve already taken on one change so far this year: using canvas tote bags instead of grocery sacks. It is a simple change, one that causes little disruption in one’s life. But, it’s damn difficult to remember to bring those bags with you to the market!

This weekend, my local Farmer’s Market opens. Usually I skip the local markets during May as there is little offered that I usually eat until the local summer vegetables are in season. But, I’m going to stop by to see if that is the case again this year. I don’t know much about the ‘eat local’ movement, but from what I do know, it makes sense to buy locally grown foods.

My new commitment for this month is to make use of the Energy Efficiency Kit provided by the local power company. This kit was available in limited quantities to those who asked for one. When I heard about this, I dug out my bill to get my account number and registered. The kit contains:
– two CFLs (a 14-watt, the equivalent of a 60 watt incandescent, and a 20-watt, equal to a 75-watt incandescent.
– a water-saving showerhead
– a hot water gauge
– a refrigerator thermometer
– a luminescent night light
– switch & outlet draft-stoppers
– water flow meter bag.

I replaced many of the incandescent bulbs in my house a few months ago. But, these 2 bulbs will force me to do a recheck. I bet there are still a few incandescents in fixtures in my son’s room. Since he’ll be home from school in a week, I need to check it out.

I used the water flow meter bag on my kitchen sink. It passed the efficiency test, but I’m sure that there are some bathroom faucets that won’t fare as well. Once we know which aren’t efficient, it will be off to the hardware store to buy plumbing parts (aerators, etc).

The Hot Water Gauge was put to use immediately. Results: kitchen sink temperature was below scalding and in the ‘OK’ zone, but it was above the recommended 120-130 degree zone.

I’ll try the others. If I can’t use the showerhead, I will give it to someone who can (and will). Since the Water Flow Meter Bag is a plastic bag, similar to a bread bag or a newspaper bag, once I’m done, I’ll pass it along to someone else who will use it. I’ll have to assess the fridge temperature. I’d guess that there is a wider gap that there should be between bottom shelf and top shelf. It’s an old unit and I doubt that it is EnergyStar compliant. The Night Light isn’t something that I’ll use, but I will install the draft-stoppers.

I have other ideas of how I will take on this challenge, such as a few books I want to read (thanks to Emily for an interesting title that will soon find its way to my front door), a commitment to learn more about issues related to ecojustice, possibly riding my bike to work (we’ll have to see how that goes! I’m sure there will be a story in that effort — or two!), and some discussions here about topics related to poverty and environmental sustainability, along with, I hope, the occasional photograph of the natural world.

If this sounds like something you are interested in, visit the EcoJustice blog and consider joining us. Even if you don’t want to be an active participant and blog about your efforts on your site, you can read along for suggestions that you can incorporate in your home or office.

>I don’t do tags, except….

>In addition to being a most sporadic blogger of late, typically I’m very lackadaisical about doing memes when I’ve been tagged. Ditto for participating in various reading challenges, weekly themed posts, and group blogs. It seems that as soon as I agree to participate, I break that commitment. I think there are still a few people I’m suppose to send questions to for the ‘interview’ meme last summer.

But, Emily tagged me for this meme created by Litlove & son: What to do in the event of a crisis. Brava! to Litlove for such an ingenious way of dealing with her son’s fears about a possible energy crisis: have him write about it.

What do I fear about a serious energy crisis?
I fear that we are not doing enough to prevent a global catastrophe. We have made a mess of our environment and not moved forward with finding viable alternative sources of energy. Greed — individual and corporate — will leave our children and grandchildren with a messy legacy. A potential energy crisis is only a portion of the problem. If supplies of oil diminish rapidly, will we rely on other existing technologies like coal that are harmful to our environment? Burning coal and other fossil fuels contributes to climate change. One of the reasons for deforestation in many third world countries, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, is to get wood for fuel. Our world — man & nature — is interdependent; we need to be better stewards of our environment. Lack of resources and wealth are root causes of war; a world without fuel for transportation, with limited food supplies, with little access to medical care, is something that most privileged people cannot imagine, although there are people around the globe that live like this now. We need to start imaging it and take steps to make a difference. It is our responsiblity, ethically, morally, spiritually.

What would I miss most in a world with rationed energy supplies?
I think I would miss the conveniences of the modern world that I have known my entire life: being able to drive to the store and to work, allowing me to live where I do at some distance from both; lighting in my home and in public places where we gather — restaurants, theatres, churches, stores, libraries; computers and access to the internet which provide me with information and entertainment; having the ability to heat my home to a comfortable temperature when it is cold outside — I would not like having to chop or gather wood when it is 9 degrees; having the option to travel further than a day’s walk by train or plane. I can live without any of these things, but I will miss the convenience of them. I’m working to cut out the unnecessary occurrences of the use of these — like consolidating car trips, turning out lights, or setting the thermostat at a lower temperature. Conserving is much different than doing without!

What can I do to help?
I’m making small changes that can help. I started using canvas bags when shopping. I pay attention to overpackaging and avoid buying those products when I can. I try to coordinate my trips so that I do less driving (there is no public transport where I live). A grocery is being built within walking/biking distance of my house, so that will be one more option for reducing my use of fuel. When the weather is warmer, I want to ride my bicycle to work. I’ve started unplugging electrical chargers when not in use. I turn the thermostat down when not at home and at night. Spring through fall, I buy local produce at the farmers’ market. Other measures that I could do but haven’t done yet: replace the outside lights with CFL, turn the water heater down to 120, capture rain water for the indoor plants, stop drinking bottled water, educate myself more on legislative issues and write elected officials in support of those that protect our environment, encourage eco-friendly measures at work, church, in my neighborhood, register at Green Dimes or a similar site to stop junk mail.

What will you do?

>Observing what surrounds you

>Many throughout the bloguniverse yesterday were posting on the environment. Whether it was a deep-seated desire not to be part of the crowd, procrastination, or just no motivation to write much yesterday, I’m a day late with this post. But, I’m not going to preach about how we should be green, or give 50 helpful ways in which you can aid the environment, or write about the geopolitical implications of drought in developing countries. Not that those aren’t worthy topics, but you can read about them elsewhere from more authoritative sources.

What I will write about, though, is being aware of the natural world that surrounds us.

Last week I sat for awhile on a bench at ‘Lettuce Lake’ at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, an Audubon Society sacntuary near Naples, Florida. At first I was a little disappointed when I arrived. I’ve never been to Corkscrew at this time of the year. I expected it to be lush. But it took me a few minutes to realize that what I expected was not lush, but colorful. There was not an abundance of different colors; there was an abundance of green.

It’s the end of the rainy season. The water level in the swamp was higher than when I’ve been there in other seasons, although it is clearly nowhere near high levels. Typically, at Corkscrew I see lots of birds, flowers, and an alligator or two. There are spiders, and snakes, bugs, and other little critters that scamper through the cypress swamp.

At first it seemed that the swamp was very quiet. There were few birds nearby, although I could hear them, and saw several fly overhead. I closed my eyes to listen to the variety of sounds throughout the quiet place. Slowly I was able to distinguish the different calls, chirps, and sounds of the swamp. The animals were there, but apparently it’s when it’s drier that they tend to congregate more in one place. When there is more water, there are more places for life to spread out. And with the plant growth, there were more places to hide.

I have an acquaintance who claims to abhor nature. I’m not sure what that means. Nature is all around us, even in cities. But we tend to ignore it in the everyday. I went to the swamp expecting nature to put on a show for me, to present its colorful panorama for my enjoyment. But life is not like that.

The natural world exists without regard for us. Too often we exist without regard for the it. Close your eyes today for a few minutes and listen to the sounds around you. Open your eyes today and see what is there. If we did this more often, if we were more aware of and had more respect for the cycles of life that go on without us, then I think there would be less need to teach (or preach) about the care of the environment and our unwitting and sometimes selfish impact upon it.

Here are a few of the photos I took last week, at the swamp and at the shore:

>Of Islands and Oranges

>My job took me to this island, the island of the City Like No Other, many times over the last 6 months:

As much as I love New York, I was more than ready to spend some time on a different type of island:

When I logged into Blogger this morning, I was surprised to realize just how long it had been since I posted to this blog. I composed dozens of vignettes this summer, mentally thought of writing about different scenes, sights, sounds and smells in NYC, but few have made it to paper and none have been posted here. Perhaps they will be posted in the future.

For now, I’m enjoying my time at the beach, listening to the surf pound, the birds squawk, and the occasional squeal with delight as the waves break around a child’s ankles; feeling the warmth of the sun absorbed by the sand as I walk at the shoreline, watching the coral and pink skies at sunset, eating fresh seafood, drinking fresh squeezed orange juice, and — what else? — reading!

On impulse the other day, I picked up a copy of John McPhee’s Oranges. How many books can you think of that are categorized as both ‘Food’ and ‘Literature’, as this one is?

Oranges is a thoroughly delightful work of non-fiction that seemingly describes all there is to know about the luscious orange (at least at the time it was published in 1967): where they came from and how the introduction around the globe of this succulent, sweet fruit has followed the courses of history; how oranges have inspired poetry and wars and been used as religious symbols in art and influenced architecture (think orangeries); how they have have been coveted as objects of beauty; how crop failures due to insects and freezing weather have wrecked havoc on the economy of towns; how the engineering inventions to make concentrated orange juice almost destroyed the market for the fresh fruit, and how an adequate mechanical means for harvesting had yet to be invented. After finishing the book this afternoon, I read a bit on the web on oranges. Consumption of oranges has decreased in the last few years. The acreage of orange groves has decreased since McPhee wrote his book 40 years ago although the number of trees and yields per acre have increased. Brazil — the originating place of the navel orange — is now the leader in orange exports, exporting almost twice as many as the US. But, apparently, oranges are still hand-picked in the field, a difficult task described by McPhee when he profiled the ‘Orange Men’ of the Florida groves.

One curiosity spawned by this book is the origin of the word orange. McPhee writes about the origin of the English word, evolving from the Sanskrit, then likely, after many linguistic transformations, being confused with the Provencal place name for the town that eventually became known as ‘Orange’. In many parts of the world, there are two words for oranges, differentiating between sour oranges (like the blood oranges of Seville that are so delicious in marmalade) and sweet oranges. Sweet oranges in many languages are known as “portugals” because they were developed in that country. But — and this is my curiosity — what about the derivations of the word for the color orange? The fruit can be a range of colors. The word orange to represent the color wasn’t used until the mid-1500’s. In Thailand, oranges are as green as limes. Yet, the Thai word sohm is used for both the fruit and the color.

Did Western Europeans have a word for the color orange before oranges were brought to Spain by the Arabs in the 12th century? Or did they need to invent a word for the color of the fruit that grew in the luxurious gardens of the Alhambra? Apricot, bittersweet, coral, peach, red-yellow, salmon, tangerine, titian are all listed as synonyms for the color orange. Three of them, interestingly, are names for other types of fruit. In some languages (e.g., Dutch, German, Russian) the word for orange has a similar origin to the word for apple, as oranges were once called ‘Chinese apples’ by the Romans. As different as apples and oranges: whether fruit or hue, they are very different things on my mental map.

I started to read McPhee’s In Suspect Terrain about 15 or 20 years ago. I never finished the book, although sometimes, when I travel through northern Indiana and southern Michigan, I think about the theoretical existence of undiscovered deposits of diamond pipes under the Great Lakes that I learned about from McPhee’s book. After reading Oranges I think that I will read other books by McPhee. Looking to read “Literary” nonfiction? McPhee would be a good choice.



Item #1: Following up on my ‘what I did for fun’ post: yesterday I went for a bike ride. The intention was to ride to Butler U, meet up with a walking group, and then walk through the gardens. Here is a picture that I snapped while there:

What I like about this photograph is that you can see the blooms on the redbud tree framed by the green bush below and the blue sky above. If you look closely, you can see the leaves on the tree are about ready to burst forth, but for now, it is the smaller bushes and trees that reign with their early foliage and blooms.

What was fun about the ride was that my son rode with me. For those of you who don’t know or have forgotten the teenage syndrome of ‘can’t be seen in proximity to a parental unit’, I must explain how rare and unexpected of an occurrence this was.

What we didn’t plan for was how heavy the winds were yesterday and how much it would slow us down. We didn’t arrive at our destination until an hour after the group was to depart — 3 times longer than we estimated. Didn’t matter though; the fun was in the journey. Not so much fun was the return trip home. Rode about 15 or 16 miles, which is far more than my usual bike trip around the neighborhood. And it wasn’t all flat! Ack! My legs are killing me today!

Item #2: Biking to Butler reminded me that we’re going to hear a lecture on 4/27, given by this guy, probably the best-known writer originally from Indianapolis. I’ve heard Vonnegut speak twice, the last time about 25 years ago. It will be interesting to see if he still rambles on and on in a way that surely must be unique to him — rambling, yet interesting. There was a nice article in the local paper a few months ago in which Vonnegut said he was honored to be recognized in this manner by his home town — a recognition that he said that none of his peers had received from their hometowns.

Item #3: Categorizing films
My husband told me this evening about a podcast he heard today that posed the question: Can you name 10 great movies about women’s friendships with other women? This was aired on Filmspotting; although I don’t have time to listen to podcasts often, I really like this one. A listener response to a show last week challenged the hosts to come up with 10 movies revolving around friendship between two women that aren’t also about women’s dysfunctional relationship with men (rules out Thelma and Louise), or about lesbianism.

When my husband asked me this, I found it difficult to name more than one. I begrudingly named Beaches, although I never thought it was a great movie. Beyond that, I’m at a loss to name other movies. Spouse’s comment was that women aren’t able to cut through the Hollywood boundaries to get recognized in the film industry and that there are no good parts for women because male writers don’t know how to write about the average female.

What about you? Can you think of any movies that fit this category?

>Little Cat Feet, With The Ferociousness of a Mountain Lion

The fog comes/ on little cat feet
— Carl Sandberg

Sandberg was correct: fog can be stealthy, like a cat, quietly moving in, hovering for a short time, then, uninterested, moving on. But not always.

The fog this evening came with the roar of the flooded creek, as if the sound of the rushing water was made as the stream released molecules into the air. Freed by the transformation, the fog kept up with the water’s flow, tumbling downstream, swirling around the branches in counterpart to the water’s eddies around the lower trunks. Elsewhere, in small, quieter pools on newly swamped banks, it lingered, hovering over loose leaves and branches, beer bottles, an old shoe, and other detritus loosened from the mud to be cast ashore further downstream.

I was standing on my drive, looking at the daffodil blooms, recent additions with the warmer weather, when I looked south across the road. At first I thought there was a fire in the woods, that the fog was smoke billowing along the greenway trail. As I hurried towards it, I realized that it was both to the east and the west in thick patches that obscured the road. As I neared the banks I realized that much of the trail was underwater and that the creek — in summer shallow and calm enough to cross by stepping on a few large rocks — had breached its banks and was almost to the road.
I sat on a portion of the trail still above the water’s edge, but close enough to feel that it was just a little dangerous. A misplaced foot in the mud might have landed me too close to the water, but I not only wanted to snap these photos, but also to feel the power of the water flowing quickly. An out-of-place, bright orange construction fence, not removed after the trail was completed in late fall, was the only marker of where the bank usually is. A pair of ducks stood on a narrow hump of land around a tree. The female was distressed. Her nest, once thought safe near the tree, must have been underwater. As a new batch of fog neared me, I could feel the change in the air temperature. The cloud was preceded by an earthy smell of mud, fish, water. My skin tingled as the fog surrounded me on its journey downstream. I was awed by this phenomena of nature, refreshing as being caught in a sudden summer storm.

“Water is the most corrosive element there is,” a plumber told me once. At the time, I didn’t understand the wonder in his statement.

Corrosive. Powerful. Swift. Awesome.

>Where I Write

>Update: Bloglily and I were definitely on the same blogging wavelength, as she made her previous post into a meme too. Same thing, except she has stated that if you don’t post a picture, she’ll come to your house to snap one for you. It’s hardly a threat, as I’m sure she’d arrive with a nice cup of tea for a charming afternoon of conversation. Had I read her post first — and didn’t live ~1900 miles away — I would not have posted the pictures below so that I could be so lucky as to have her knock on my back door.

Yesterday, the lovely BlogLily (I’m so glad you’re back, BL) shared a photo of her writing space. When I saw it, I thought: “Of course, BlogLily would write at a wonderful wood table, with a tree blooming out her window. How lovely.” You can see her writing space here.

Later, on a blog I recently discovered, Tea Reads, I found a link to articles in The Guardian where AS Byatt, David Hare, Sarah Waters, Hilary Mantel, Beryl Bainbridge, and Michael Frayn shared photos of their writing areas along with a description.

I had my inspiration: where I write. Perhaps you’ll play along and describe your writing space as well.

My writing space is a sparsely furnished room with a fireplace I haven’t used in years. It has a sturdy old desk of dark-stained oak. An obscure phone number is carved lightly into one side, a ghost of a previous owner. I rescued the desk from a garage sale, its owner claiming that she couldn’t fit it through a door in her newly remodeled home. Years later, I realized that the heavy top is removable with some effort, allowing the desk to be tipped and slid through most doorways. Her loss was my gain. I love the desk’s wide, deep, top that allows me space to write while leaving plenty of area for the detritus that lands on its top: books, magazines, bills, half-forgotten directions to craft projects, stationary.

Sometimes I will write at one of the other computers in my house. They are both on the main level of the house, so I am nearer to family activity. But, downstairs in my room, I can still hear life above me: footsteps, the faint drone of the television, doors opening and closing, the washing machine spinning. I don’t need to be in the center to feel the house’s pulse. The lower level room allows me to be nearby, but not in the thick of things.

My desk is positioned in front of a window. Right now, all I can see is snow drifts. The window is slightly above eye level when I’m seated, and only about 2 feet above grade. In the spring, I can see the waterside plants around my pond, but I cannot see the water or the fish. If I rise slightly, I can see the waterfall. I can always hear, though, the mesmerizing sound of the falls echoing off of the stone walls.

What I can see when I look out the window are the trees that hold up the hill behind my house. Nine months of the year, they mask the nearby neighbor’s house. In the winter, they stand tall, bending gracefully in the wind, a few lone brown leaves still hanging onto branches. There are two giant ash trees that were destroyed by lightening years before I came to live on this wonderful little plot of earth. The previous owners chose not to remove the trees, opting instead to cut off the limbs, leaving 20-foot pole-like trunks. The decay of the trees has increased rapidly over the last five years. I know that soon I will need to have them removed, lest they tumble and land on a car or the house or crash down on the stone terrace that separates the pond from the drive. But, they provide a delightful perch for three different kinds of woodpeckers. Cardinals, robins, nuthatches, jays, and wrens also hop up and down the trunks, dining on a gourmet insect feast.

In about three or four weeks, the trees will begin to leaf out. All sorts of wildflowers, most unknown to me by their botanical names, will begin to peep out from beneath the viney carpet of ground cover. White, yellow, and purple stars will shine for a few days, then fade. In mid-April, the may apples will begin to grow. It is one of the oddest flowers I know, growing rapidly, looking like a green leafy mushroom. Soon it will begin to look like a collapsed beach umbrella. As if they were aware of our calendars, the umbrellas open up as soon as it is May, stretching out their leaf canopy until it is almost flat, then displaying one single blossom before settling in for the summer underneath the shadow of the trees.

So that is my writing space. Inside and out. If I’m not at my desk, I’m likely to set up my laptop elsewhere near a window — a necessity both in terms of light and view — looking out at the trees and birds and flowers, nature both my inspiration and a willing participant in any writing procrastination.

What about your writing space? Why do you like it? Describe it and its surroundings and share a photo on your blog. Then leave a link in the comments so that we can see where you write.

>Book Review: Hell and High Water

>Hell and High Water: Global Warming — The Solution and Politics — And What we Can Do Joseph Romm. William Morrow, 2007.

I so wanted to give this book a hearty recommendation. Its topic is one that I am very interested in –I think we all should be concerned about the global warming and need to take individual grassroots-level action to help find remedies. I was curious by the subtitle. Besides being one of the longest subtitles I’ve come across recently, I was concerned that the book might do a little over-reaching in it’s purpose. And that was confirmed as I read through it.

Romm’s book presents a worse-case scenario for the implications of society not doing anything to curb the effects of global warming. This book presents lots of well-footnoted facts — facts I’ve read elsewhere, ones I find convincing, although I do not have the technical background to refute any scientific flaws that may exist. In addition, Romm’s book is a analysis of what hasn’t been done by our government to implement means of reducing activities that are leading to global warming. It is this part — the attack on politics — where the book disappoints. While Romm is good with presentation of the data supporting the global warming trends, he relies more on unsupported (although not untrue) and suggestive attacks on the current administration, than on persuasive argument to convince the reader that the government is not doing enough to enact needed legislation. (Note: I’m not a supporter of the Bush administration, and can’t disagree with Romm’s premise, so bear with me here….)

Most of the facts on global warming have been presented elsewhere (Gore’s recent movie, An Inconvenient Truth comes to mind although it is not the only example), so Romm isn’t adding anything new to the body of knowledge for the lay reader who is aware of the situation and the overwhelming support in the scientific community for the need to address causes of global warming trends. But, Romm’s writing slants so much to attack — at points even seeming to contradict the point he is making. (e.g., at one point Romm writes of how a government representative made a statement which contradicts his (Romm’s) point in the previous chapter, but then states that they only agreed as a delaying tactic, not because they sincerely want to believe there is a problem.) I think that it is here that Romm could have been most effective if he hadn’t relied on attack-ad style tactics and hyperbole. He isn’t going to convince anyone who doesn’t already believe the facts about global warming that the US government is burying our collective head in the sand. But shouldn’t that be the point? If not, he is no better in advancing arguments for correcting the situation than the vocal and attention-grabbing mouthpieces of some oil companies who manipulate the data to disprove Romm’s scientific allies. The data about global warming is convincing enough that he should have changed the tone here. Instead, a reasoned voice is one that is more likely to be heard and to encourage action.

Another way in which the book disappoints is that it is very slim on the ‘what to do about it’ portion suggested by the title. A few paragraphs in the closing chapters is all that is presented. As someone interested in the topic who has read enough to convince me that something needs to be done, I was looking for something that would give reasoned, valid options for moving forward, rather than finger pointing.

I’m tired of divisive politics. I don’t think the issue is so one-sided that we can only blame one political party — I don’t see the other political party stepping to the forefront on this either.

The chapter, “Missing the Story of the Century”, did grab my attention though. Romm makes the point that as news media seek to ‘balance’ stories, they often give equal footing to both sides of the debate despite the preponderance of evidence. This is a different twist on the lament about so-called ‘media bias’, and I think that Romm has a valid point here. If the overwhelming number of scientists agree with the data on global warming and are in concurrence as to the root causes, why does the media give equal footing to those who oppose such data, including those that may be funded by the same industries that have the most to lose if we impose stricter governmental regulations? Romm uses the example of a recent (2005) segment on Meet the Press where there were four experts discussing avian flu. Romm’s point was that all were in agreement regarding the potential for a catastrophic bird flu outbreak, yet there are some who might disagree with the likelihood of such an occurrence. His point, specifically, is that the press wouldn’t think to have an opposing view since the majority concur; yet with global warming, they always give air to those who disagree. This may explain why studies show that few Americans think there is concurrence among scientists on global warming, while there are also studies that show that the majority of scientists do concur. I don’t know what the solution is — what percentage constitutes a majority opinion that dictates that we should listen to flat-earthers, regardless of the topic? Romm doesn’t offer a solution either, and I’m not sure that Romm’s reasoning behind the equal opportunity media time is because the media doesn’t want to be blasted for bias. This chapter could easily be a book; I’m sure that this isn’t the only topic where this is occurs.

While the above paragraphs might make you think that I wouldn’t recommend this book, that isn’t completely accurate. I think that Romm adequately lays out the facts regarding global warming trends, environmental impact of melting polar ice, and the reasons why we should reduce CO2 emissions (and sign the Kyoto treaty). He does make an argument about the dissembling actions of our government, although he seems more interested in painting the Republicans with a broad brush as ‘bad guys’ than in honest debate about how we should go about changing the situations and what types of economic plans we should have for doing so. He just seems to have taken on too much in one small book to make a strong case for how to change the problems — both politically and technologically/environmentally.

TWO NOTES: 1) If you are interested in a concise Q&A regarding environmental issues and how to defend against contrarians, check out this link. Courtesy of Rev Sam at Elizaphanian.

2) Some in the blog universe have posited recently that it’s important to disclose if a copy is a review copy. Here is my disclaimer in case you didn’t notice the 2007 pub date indicated above. I received this book as part of HarperCollins’ FirstLook program. Disproving, at least in this one case, the opinion that only positive reviews are done by bloggers when the book is free.