Sustainability Reading List

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Learning about the most current news and information on climate change can be overwhelming with a growing list of books, news articles, and websites out there. The Sustainability Committee has created a list of resources that can help you find new information and perspectives.  In an effort to help inform the Portola Valley community the committee will continue to read new materials and add them to the list. If you have recommendations for other reference material please email your suggestions. 

Climate is the result of hundreds of interacting elements and even with sophisticated computer-modeling programs projections of climate change are not exact.  Thus this project began as an attempt to understand the numerous narratives circulating about climate change. By reading as many and as broadly as possible - historic articles versus recent publications, science journals versus general audience, big picture versus minute detail - I hoped to gain greater insight into the issue of climate change.  The ultimate goal is to educate myself about the issue and to be able to discern which information has more validity. The books on this list are all available through the San Mateo County Library System; the ranking system simply indicates my judgment of the author’s skill at describing a complex issue and making a reasonable judgment.

About the reviewer:

I am Loverine Taylor. A Portola Valley resident since 1974.  I have a Ph.D. from Stanford and am a Professor (emerita) in Plant Molecular Biology at Washington State University. I serve on the Sustainability Committee of the Town of Portola Valley.  I want to share the information I have gathered with interested residents because I think the subject of climate change has profound significance for all of us. 

 

Books on Climate Change

Title

Author

Publisher

Available at SMC Library

Stars

Highest 4

Overview

Water in Plain Sight

Judith Schwartz

St. Martins Press 2016

y

**

Worldwide tour of 8 sites where locals try to solve water issues with creative solutions (e.g. cattle grazing management /beaver introduction/dew capture).

Water 4.0

David Sedlak

Yale Univ Press, 2014

y

****

Historic review (Romans!) of how we got clean drinking water and disposed of sewage and kept them separate. Discusses how to ensure potable water and how to process sewage in a new era of rising populations and decreasing water sources.

Liquid Rules

Mark Miodownik

Penguin Books 2019

y

**

The author describes the interesting properties of several liquids that he encounters on a plane trip from London to SFO. Tea, ball point pen, jet fuel, ocean, clouds, LCDs... Some interesting physics and material science facts.

The Soil Will Save Us

Kristin Ohlson

Rodale Press 2014

y

**1/2

Describes underlying scientific principles of, and provides examples of, the ability of soil to sequester atmospheric CO2. Either a hopeful outlook or rather naïve. Carbon Farming Movement.

Rain

Cynthia Barnett

Crown 2015

y

**1/2

Subtitle: a natural and cultural history. Natural part is most informative; cultural less so. Easy reader description of science. Early meteorological history interesting. Climate change effect on rainfall will be hard to predict.

Create an Oasis with Greywater

Art Ludwig

Oasis Design 6th ed. 2015

y

***1/2

This is the book you need to plumb your property for grey water use. Plumbing for Dummies. Excellent list of Resources/ Further Reading.

DirtThe Erosion of civilization

David R. Montgomery

Univ. of CA Press. 2007

y

***

Dirt is the thin crust on surface of earth surface that sustains agriculture. Soil: rock weathering and erosion. Civilizations that do not husband this resource are destined to fail: Mesopotamia, ancient Greece, Rome, China, Mesoamerica and on into modern era.

Your Water Footprint

Stephen Leahy

Firefly Books. 2014

y

****

Picture book that graphically illustrates the shocking amount of water we use everyday. Interesting facts on how much water there is and where it is.

Deep Creek

Pam Houston

WW Norton 2019

y

*

Memoir by writer who buys 120 acre ranch in Colorado Rockies

End of Doom

Ronald Bailey

St. Martins Press; Cato Institute Book 2015

y

***

A climate change skeptic who now believes in GHG-induced global warming. Summarizes lots of studies and probes them in an interesting way. Worth reading if only to get a different viewpoint than usual.

Rising

Elizabeth Rush

Milkweed Editions 2018

y

**

Polyphonic book. Author travels to areas on both coasts of USA and records reactions of locals affected by sea level rise. Good section on SF South Bay project around Alviso.

Being the Change Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution

Peter Kalmus

New Society Publishers 2017

y

****

An astrophysicist turned NASA climate scientist describes his life-style changes upon becoming aware of the impact of anthropogenic (human-caused) activities on climate change. The book makes YOU think about how YOU contribute to the problem and how YOU can do something about it.

Are We Screwed? How a New Generation is Fighting to Survive Climate change

Geoff Dembicki

Bloomsbury 2017

y

***

Written by a Millennial about how the Millennial Generation is dealing with the existential challenge of climate change. Each chapter profiles an individual that is taking radical action, either on a personal level or on a world-wide stage to challenge “business as usual.” Seeing the issue thru the eyes of a generation who are not afraid to challenge CEOs and politicians is illuminating.

Losing Earth A Recent history

Nathaniel Rich

Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2019

y

**

Our current understanding of the forces affecting climate change were in place by 1979 (and agreed to by 97% of scientists). The personalities (mostly politicians) that “dropped the ball” are identified and the birth of climate change denial is documented.

Industrial Cowboys

David Igler

Univ. of CA Press 2005

y

***

Details the history (from 1850 to 1920) of how land in CA came to be controlled by a few “cattle barons”. Using political influence, they established the control of water access and water rights that still pervades our current system. Dense and fascinating. Miller and Lux were butchers in SF!

Trees in Paradise

Jared Farmer

WW Norton 2013

y

****

Fascinating and compelling read. Dissects CA history and social changes through the lens of 4 trees: redwoods, eucalyptus. citrus and palms.

The Uninhabitable Earth

David Wallace-Wells

Tim Duggan Books 2019

y

****

One of the cover blurbs has the best description of this brilliantly written book as a ...”willfully terrifying polemic that reads like a cross between Stephen King and Stephen Hawking”. Couldn’t put it down.

The Dreamt Land

Mark Arax

Alfred Knopf 2019

y

****

Heavily documented history of land and water use in CA. The author is a central valley native and writes knowingly about agricultural practices there.

This is the Way the World Ends

Jeff Nesbit

Thomas Dunne Books 2018

y

**

A worldwide survey of the horrible consequences of climate change on social structures and human activity. Steel yourself for a depressing list of coming disasters/wars/famines and mass migrations.

Brave New Arctic

Mark C. Serreze

Princeton University Press 2018

y

***

Univ. of Colorado Prof and Director of National Snow and Ice Data Center details changes in the Arctic over the past 3 decades. Numerous interacting elements in the Arctic system generate a complexity that makes predictions difficult. The changes have political consequences as well: thawing permafrost and loss of sea ice make the Arctic more accessible to shipping and resource extraction.

Sea Change

Mark Fischetti

Scientific American V. 321, No.2 pg 28

y

****

Five nations are using scientific data to lay claim to overlapping areas of the Arctic. Increased access a direct consequence of global warming.

The Arctic

Multiple

National Geographic 9/2019

y

***

8 nations have territorial claims to Arctic and its abundance of natural resources. Native culture will be heavily impacted. Who else is involved?? China, who describes itself as a “near-Arctic state” is building a fleet of ice breakers to open the “Polar Silk Road”!!

Energy: A Human History

Richard Rhodes

Simon & Schuster 2018

y

***

Documents energy sources/technologies thru the ages from wood to coal to oil to gas to nuclear to renewables to… Highlights the humans (often obscure) who discovered, exploited and made technological advances to these energy sources (ex. the arc welder allowed efficient pipelines). The author makes a compelling case for nuclear power (Disclosure: won Pulitzer Prize for “The Making of the Atomic Bomb”)

Carbon Capture

Howard J. Hertzog

MIT Press, 2018 Essential Knowledge Series

y

***

Heavy on acronyms and technical specs. The authors’ chemical engineering perspective/experience is enlightening, especially the technical problems of removing CO2 from the flue gases of fossil-fuel burning plants or from ambient air (DAC). And where to store? In any case, not easy or cheap to do.

The Global Warming Reader

Bill McKibben, ed.

Penguin Books 2012

y

**1/2

The subtitle says it all: “A Century of Writing About Climate Change. 36 short essays/articles/reports from Arrhenius in 1896 to many voices in 2012. A bit dated now but the early articles give historical perspective of the early warning system. James Hansen’s 1988 report to congress alone is worth reading.

Drawdown

Paul Hawken, ed.

Penguin Books 2017

y

***

A large format glossy compendium of 80 solutions to reverse global warming. Each solution gets a 2 pg description with colorful photos. The list of contributors (research fellows) is broad and extensive as are the solutions from wind turbines to repopulating the Mammoth Steppe. A lot of ideas you may never have considered, e.g. Refrigerant Management tops the list.

Dirt to Soil

Gabe Brown

Chelsea Green Publishing, 2018

y

***

A “how to” primer for turning degraded agricultural land, the result generations of yield-driven farm practices, into productive, healthy regenerative soil. Written by a ranch family in North Dakota. The key is soil carbon!!!

Eager

Ben Goldfarb

Chelsea Green Publishing, 2018

y

***

Subtitle is” The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter”. Beavers and Climate Change?? Turns out these rodents, which were almost exterminated by early trappers (think fashionable top hats) are making a come back. Introduced into degraded ranchlands they are restoring marshes and wetlands. WA, OR, and even NV and UT have reintroduction programs. CA lags behind; still considers them pests (traps/kill!!), not proficient hydrologic engineers.

Inconspicuous Consumption

Tatiana Schlossberg. (JFK’s granddaughter)

Grand Central Publishing 2019

y

**

Subtitle: “the environmental impact you don’t know you have”. A young person’s analysis of the opaque environmental costs of your lifestyle. Interesting details about how environmentally destructive the fashion industry is. Heavy on statistics; Droll writing style.

Physics for Future Presidents: the science behind the headlines

Richard A. Muller, UC Berkeley Prof.

W.W, Norton 2008

y

**

Book is based on his popular UC class for non-science majors. Discusses science concepts behind terrorists’ weapons, energy production, and nuclear weapons/plants. Section on climate change dissects the data for and against extent of human causes. That part alone is worth reading. Definitely not a fan of “An Inconvenient Truth”.

Extreme Conservation. Life at the Edges of the World

Joel Berger, Colorado State Univ. Prof.

University of Chicago Press 2018;

y

*

A narrative by a field biologist of the adaptations necessary for animals (including humans) to survive and thrive in the extreme conditions of the 3 polar regions (think Himalayas) of earth. Heavy emphasis on musk oxen.