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Books Reviewed by Jo Marshall

The Last Little Polar Bear ~ A Global Change Adventure Story
by Tim Foresman ~ Illustrated by Laura Lee Cundiff, published June 2007

This is a beautifully written, absorbing story enhanced by delicate, otherworldly illustrations. Young children will be captivated by the adventures of a trusting, young, polar bear cub and his wary mother in their endangered arctic environment. From the start the reader is swept into a fragile world described through the eyes of the cub and also through the experiences of two Inuit children. All are caught in a struggle for diminishing resources due to global warming, which is explained in a factual way and adeptly woven into the story. Every elementary school should have this book in its library and classrooms. Young students will enjoy the escapades of the bear cub as it grows up, and they will also learn about the culture of the Inuit people. Educators will enjoy the ease with which challenging themes of climate change can be discussed by using this story as the framework, even if a few tears will be shed for the last polar bear. Wonderful and timely book for children, educators, and parents!

Hack the Planet
by Eli Kintisch, published 2010

4 Stars Weather Tinkers

 Do you think regulating carbon emissions worldwide is a lost cause?  Well, don’t worry about it because there are a few scientists and a lot of politicians who agree, and like Dr. Strangelove, they have a plan! Just fix the atmosphere and ocean, so we can continue our merry way burning fossil fuels and destroying ecosystems.  Then a privileged few will enjoy life within climate controlled superdomes, and to heck with those who can’t afford a seat at the game.  'Hack the Planet' discusses two methods of surviving climate mayhem.  Unfortunately, they are presented as polarities.  On one end, reduce carbon emissions via enforceable, economic regulation, and restore our ecosystems to health with green technology – a formidable task when seeking global cooperation; and on the other end, futuristic technological solutions to diffuse the effects of a greenhouse atmosphere with ‘hands-on’ climate warping like reflective cloud-seeding and forcing ocean algae blooms.  Why spend money to regulate a green planet, when we can just fix it, and continue to sell oil?

Kintisch’s research is packed with quotes from prominent scientists and environmental movement leaders from our long history of tinkering with climate control.  Unfortunately, so many quotes often get in the way of what Kintisch is trying to tell us.  Still, eventually, we’re left with the key words ‘control’ and ‘consequences’.  Both are the nightmare of climate warping schemes, which is why we haven’t seen more of them.  Kintisch may call it hacking, whereas others may call it developing climate software.  A green planet without burning fossil fuels is still the goal, and that vision will become a reality.  Perhaps it’s time to practice an efficient green life, and maybe tinker a little, too.

by David Quammen, published 2012

5 Stars  Of Birds and Bats

'Spillover' will absolutely change your perspective on chopping down all those rainforests, and not because of greenhouse gases, but because the survivability of man is at stake. Quammen's writing is, as usual, excellent. The parameters of his pandemic research and study are focused on zoonotic viruses - those viruses spilled from animals into man. With casual simplicity, he explains the science of it, yet his examples are horrifying. We learn exactly how spillover happens in the most obscure ecosystems and in those much closer to home, like your local bat cave or duck pond. Quammen's self-deprecating humor infects his writing throughout, but when he relates actual zoonotic events and their consequences, even he sobers up. This is a fantastic read, and I'll read it again, I'm sure. Of course, since viruses mutate constantly, there has to be a `Spillover II' within a few years. At least, I hope so. I had an uneasy feeling at the end of Quammen's book, there is a great deal more to learn. Can't wait for the sequel!

by Bill McKibben, published 2010

5 Stars  From Grave New World to Adapted Everyman

Knowing we’ve passed the point of no return, I began Bill McKibben’s Eaarth prepared to be shocked and dismayed by an extensive litany of dire consequences of climate change wrought by man. There were plenty of scary events described, but McKibben presented a more personal view of many of these, and how they relate to ‘everyman’. His writing style and humor almost made it fun to read about climate change and the weirdness of man responding to it. He kept me racing along at a lively pace with the enticement he had solutions for this grave new world we’ve created at the end of the book – and he did. He described a new mindset and ecosystem for the adapted man, which is inspiring. After all the chilling statistics, thank goodness, McKibben offers possibilities, ways to act and prepare, and embrace changed lifestyles. Although, a warmer world is now inevitable, we still have options. Thanks, Bill, I needed that! Eaarth is truly an inspiring book for anyone needing a more positive and practical approach to climate change.

A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the Southwest
by William deBuys – published Dec 12, 2011

5 Stars  Excellent and moving study of the American Southwest

William DeBuys offers an unsettling description of the developing climate crisis in the Southwest. It's especially disturbing as those events are indicators of future crises in other regions. His book is a heartfelt study of a distressing man-made and climate-made downward spiral of this beautiful and fragile land and its inhabitants. It's a poignant plea to take adaptive conservation action in the Southwest now. A must read for those who love the Southwest, and a should read for all others.

The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction
by David Quammen – published April 14, 1997

5 Stars  The Song of Quammen and Other Fascinating Creatures

After reading 'The Flight of the Iguana' by David Quammen, I had no qualms about undertaking another amazing journey, 'The Song of the Dodo' even though I had no clue at the time what island biogeography was, and only an elementary concept of extinction. This book could actually have had many titles that would have been equally mysterious to an environmental layman like me: 'The History of Biogeography and What That Actually Is' or 'Great Men With Controversial Theories of Biodiversity, and Other Such Stuff' or 'The Inevitable Spiral Toward Species Extinction - And That Includes All Species' or even 'How We Came to Value Modern Conservation Science or Something Like That.'

But I began reading Quammen's story anyway because I knew from his earlier book that he was incredibly informative in a casual, "favorite professor" sort of way. Meaning that just when your comprehension starts to fail, he speaks directly to you from his narrative, and snaps you back onto a level playing field of enlightenment. I read it because I knew Quammen would teach me something important that I would remember, and that his topics always matter.  I call this a story, because it reads like one. It begins simply, and ends the same way. In between, all the historical facts, scientific theories, and personality studies come to actually mean something in today's world, and will to anyone who reads this book. And I guarantee that you will cry because you've never heard the song of the dodo, and cry, too, because Quammen helped you hear those of the indri and the cenderawasih.

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America
by Timothy Egan, published Sep 7, 2010

5 Stars  An Impressive Story from an Excellent Writer

I am astonished by Timothy Egan's ability to research and present such epic events as the deadly forest fire of 1910 and the birth of conservation in such an exciting and absorbing narrative style. Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and John Muir, are fascinating and fallible. I never imagined how their personalities intertwined and conflicted with their hopes for our national forests, or how they struggled to give birth to and battle for their precious child Conservation in spite of mean-spirited, greedy political leaders.

Growing up in the West myself, and twice mesmerized by the sight of the Sierra Mountains ablaze behind my home, the discussion of wildfire out-of-control is not a distant topic. I watched firefighters walk into these life and death struggles with awe and disbelief. The Big Burn is a heroic record of the lives of men and women that mattered during the terrible fire on August 20, 1910. Egan tells us the very personal story of how the leaders of our country created policy that led these foresters into this firestorm of overwhelming horror with no means to fight it, protect the towns in its path, or save the people in its way.

From the wealthiest idealists of that time to the immigrants working for no pay, Egan painstakingly gives us the details of their lives, the richness of their desires, and the bitterness of their decisions, which led many to their deaths. And yet, there are so many deserving heroes, too, which thankfully Egan offers for our consideration, like Gifford Pinchot and Pulaski. In the end, the reader will thank Egan for bringing these great men to life and light, and helping us understand the controversy between conservationists and those who might use our forests for personal gain.

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