The environmentalist’s library

Build your environmental vocabulary

More than 30 years into a movement that began in earnest in the 1960s, we are witness to an environmental campaign that has become a ubiquitous cause around the world. “Going green” is no longer a mark of zealotry but a measure of personal commitment to a universal imperative. As the movement generates steam, now seems an appropriate time to build our collective environmental vocabulary by boning up on some key literature.

Cadillac Desert

By Mark Reisner

The oft-heard mantra of new business is location, location, location. In the West, it is water, water, water. In 2000, the West lost one of its most vocal proponents of responsible water stewardship, Mark Reisner, to cancer. Before he died, however, he drafted this canonical work on the history and plight of the arid Western United States. Cadillac Desert is not a new book, but it is so prescient, it’s scary. It is also an indispensable read for those of us who are in no position to take water for granted.

The World Without Us

By Alan Weisman

Make a Po Boy sandwich out of the meat of your college Earth Sciences textbook, and then spread a little Mad Max-lite all around, and you can sink your teeth into the base of Weisman’s The World Without Us. The book constitutes a blow-by-blow report of what happens to planet Earth if human beings are suddenly wiped off of its face: Our architecture bleaches and crumbles, our waterlines crack and burst—giving way to prodigious flora—and the avian population flourishes vastly without the relentless onslaught of active power lines. This is the end, my friend, and it’s really, really, interesting. Animal, Vegetable, MiracleBy Barbara Kingsolver; Steven L. Hopp; Camille Kingsolver

It’s a family affair as Barbara Kingsolver teams up with her husband and daughter to narrate a year in conscious food consumption. After 25 years living in Arizona, Kingsolver and company jumped ship and moved to Virginia. Their objective was to live on a farm, where they could embark on the project of eating only locally grown foods or those that the family produced in their own garden. Hopp, Kingsolver’s husband and environmental studies professor at Emory and Henry College, contributes naked statistics to the text, while daughter Camille lends a hand in the recipe department. Kingsolver envelopes it all with a witty, educational narrative that doesn’t sermonize.

The Weather Makers

By Tim Flannery

This is the kind of book with the power to seduce English Literature students away from their flock and into the folds of the sciences—it’s that fascinating. As a scientist forecasting future weather based on trends in the earth’s history, Flannery is in prodigious company. His take on this controversial issue feels especially reliable, however, due to compelling recent research on human effects on weather patterns. Already hailed as one of the most important books yet written about global warming, it is at least a great place for the layperson to begin serious study. The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices MatterBy Peter Singer

Bacon, no doubt, tastes good, and countless potlucks across our picnicking nation feature the delectable additions of KFC buckets stacked next to retro ambrosia on foldout tables. So what’s the problem? According to Peter Singer, renowned ethicist, the trouble lies with how pork, chicken and beef reach our dinner tables. As omnivores, we need not apologize for our proclivities in the food arena, but if human ethics extend to recognizing thresholds for suffering in other sentient animals, we’ve got to take heed. Would you knock the head off of a cow if you were starving? Sure. Would you shrug off factory farms full of chickens with breast sores and atrophied muscles when you have a choice to let the poultry roam happily before biting down? Chew on that for a while.