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The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change by Yoram Bauman

The Cartoon Introduction to Climate ChangeThe Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change by Yoram Bauman

My Rating★★★★☆

From the back cover of the book:

“Can’t wait!” —Godot

 

“Stand-up economist” Yoram Bauman wants us to learn more about climate change, and he intends to take us there laughing all the way. After all, climate change is serious business and the best comedy is provided by the most morbid of human fears.

Yoram and Klein’s aims are laudable, and by creating this cartoon introduction (which also throws in a good Big History lesson, to sweeten the pot), they make the ‘gloomy’ topic not only more accessible but also fun to learn about. And that could be an important first step, especially for kids (or those childish adults that run after the shopping carts).

Based mainly on the IPCC reports and statistics, this book is as hard-hitting as any other, but might find itself more digestible even by the nonbelievers. Of course, coming from an economist, there is a marked bias towards ‘market is the Answer’, running throughout the book. It is simplistic and doesn’t put forth any great ideas and the last section was, quite honestly, a waste of time. But the first three educational, non-policy-prescription sections are really worth your time and money.

See here for a quick video guide through the book (you can also donate to the project there): https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/…

You can also get an early b/w peak of a draft of the Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change via this 15-meg 2-to-a-page PDF.

I think this would be a good book to donate to your neighboring school’s library or suggest for your kid’s school, or even stock up for yourself – and hey, it is real eye candy too!

 


This book was provided by Island Press as an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Book Reviews, Books

 

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Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet

Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our PlanetEco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet by Edward Humes

My Rating★★★★★

Eco Barons is a well-written, and profoundly moving collection of inter-linked real-life stories that is surprisingly dramatic and engaging in its concise chronicling of the lives of these heroes who are making it their life’s work to save the planet in their own outrageous, touching and sometimes idiosyncratic, but always genuine ways.

There are thousands of  environmentalists and activists doing important work in America and around the world. But a few of them go farther—these dreamers, schemers, moguls, and coupon clippers; these eco barons. There are others out there, certainly, more all the time; this book is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is an inspiring selection. The eco barons depicted here stand out because they are  game-changers, accomplishing  something  extraordinary, raising the bar of  the possible, usually after being told that what they are attempting is impossible. They have undertaken an epic project: to set an example for the rest of us.

Their actions are their message: that there is a clear choice, a difficult choice, a right choice, and to make it is to express the faith that it is not too late to save the world—and that a new way of living can be better, healthier, smarter, and more prosperous.

The first and probably the most inspiring is the story of how the legendary Doug Tompkins, millionaire and the founder of Espirit, abandoned his sprawling fashion empire, found a rugged cabin in the middle of Eden (read Chile), and started saving and restoring paradise, one plot, one fence, and one tree at a time, conquering government antagonism, lobbyists and big industry that wanted to make concrete jungles out of these majestic old-growth forests.

The second story elaborates on two naturalists and lawyers who lived like monks and found a way to use the law to save forests, species, and clean air when no one else could.

Then is the techy tale of a professor and his students building magical cars that burn no gas and trying to redefine the doomsday trajectory plotted by Big Oil, Big Auto, Big Coal and the other leviathans and to set us on a new course. His cars are cleaner, cheaper, faster, more enduring, gives more mileage – how many more boxes do you want your dream car to tick?

Also, there is the story of a cosmetics queen who, like Doug, sold her empire and is spending her fortune to save the last great forests of Maine and having to fight every inch of the way to do it.

Not to be forgotten is the Media Mogul who gave us CNN and Cartoon Network and numerous other entertainments, who owns more land than anybody else in the country and is devoting his real estate might to trying so hard to return the land to its pristine state before humans arrived to despoil it, working step-by-step to re-wilding the lands and to reintroduce native species and to preserve a heritage fast vanishing.

Last, and seemingly the least, but still an eco-baron, is the “turtle lady” who walks along a beach inspecting turtles and single-handedly saved a species – As good a story as the traditional rags-to-riches story that makes for a newspaper headline? Shouldn’t it be?

These eco-barons see, clearly, that what we’re doing as a society is not working. Their response is not to shout about it, or lobby about it, or generate self-aggrandizing headlines about it. Their response is to do something about it, and their results have been spectacular.

Some Resources for the interested/concerned:

To Know more on the Eco-barons:

For the Internet supplement to this book, including photos of the eco barons and their projects, maps, background information, links to their individual Web sites, and more resources, visit http://ecobarons.wordpress.com.

For general environmental information, news, and advice:

Grist: Environmental News and Commentary: www.grist.org and the related blog, http://gristmill.grist.org.

Greenwash Brigade: www.publicradio.org/columns/sustainab….

The Sietch Blog: www.blog.thesietch.org.

Green Options: http://greenoptions.com.

Climate Debate Daily: Get all sides of the global warming debate at http://climatedebatedaily.com.

For advice on ‘living like an Eco-baron”:

Terrapass:  Calculate  your  carbon  footprint  and  find  green  products  at  www.terrapass.com.

NativeEnergy:  Learn  about  and  purchase  carbon  offsets  at  www.nativeenergy.com.

Service trips: Earthwatch Institute and the Sierra Club maintain lists of volunteer vacations that put you to work on conservation and public lands projects.

Earthwatch: www.earthwatch.org/expedition.

Sierra Club: http://tioga.sierraclub.org/TripSearc….

Treehugger: This environmental Web site’s How to Go Green guide offers tips on green home buying, green dishwashers, green gift buying, greening your sex life, and more at www.treehugger.com/gogreen.php.

On “driving like an Eco-baron” 

EPA Green Vehicle Guide: Learn about the greenest cars in America at www.epa.gov/greenvehicles.

Plug In America: www.pluginamerica.com

Green Car Congress: News, reports, and information on sustainable transportation at www.greencarcongress.com.

The California Cars Initiative: www.calcars.org.

Drive Green: Calculate and offset the greenhouse gas emissions for your travel at www.drivegreen.com.

On “eating like an Eco-baron”

Green Daily Green Eating Guide: www.greendaily.com/2008/02/07/eating-….

Eat Well Guide: Find, cook, and eat sustainable food at www.eatwellguide.org.

Sustainable Table: Another excellent resource for local and sustainable food is www.sustainabletable.org.

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Posted by on September 3, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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Civilizations : Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature

Civilizations : Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of NatureCivilizations : Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature by Felipe Fernández-Armesto

My Rating★★★★☆

The eloquent historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto has clearly meant this book to be a counter-proposal to the geographic determinism espoused by scholars such as Jared Diamond. And for the most part he does an admirable job of convincing the reader that ‘civilization’, as defined by him, is a truly random and almost inevitable accretion wherever human societies develop. Even though he agrees that geography has always been a vital factor in any civilization’s progress, thus providing ammunition for the “geography is destiny’ cry of the determinists, he also quickly pulls that argument down.

In Armesto’s vision, the geography a civilization finds itself in, or the latitude to be more accurate, is not a determining factor in its history, but a limiting factor in their growth. It is something to be overcome, a basic tenet of the ‘civilizing impulse’ that Armesto believes is a part of all of mankind – the desire to modify the environment as much as possible. To show that geography can be transcended thus, he takes us on a long tour that encompasses all the major geographic niches that the earth has to offer – spanning the frigid snow-lands, the arid deserts, the sultry tropics, the gloomy marshes, the cloudy highlands, the loamy riversides, the stormy coastal areas and the lonely islands – and shows magnificent examples of stunning civilizational attempts that flourished and faded on those vastly different habitats in every latitude of the world. The current predominance of certain civilizations is less than a few centuries old, and could just be a freak of history; after all quite a few civilizations that were less strategically placed geographically have had longer reigns in the past. Armesto makes a compelling case and argues that a lot of things go into the cauldron that spawns civilization and to limit the explanation to any single ingredient is clearly an over simplification.

But then, Armesto too is a historian and like all historians, unfortunately, he cannot avoid trying to construct a story that can explain the present from the past. Why write a history book if it has no thesis to offer on how things got this way? So Armesto proposes his own counter-thesis: Though he struggles throughout the book to avoid any kind of determinism, he goes on to admit in his concluding argument that “geography, in the broadest sense, the palpable realities of the planet, the exigencies of nature, the soils and seeds, the winds and waves has shaped the world presented in these pages.”

He says that even though civilizations might have grown out of their environments of origin, they have been borne by the wind. This forms his principal argument of the book, and it takes shape only at the very end, catching the reader by surprise, after lulling him into the belief that civilizations are a chaotic emergent phenomena of complex human interactions. I would have liked him to stop there and I really don’t buy his causation arguments that make up the last 100 odd pages of the book. But, they are still compelling and thought-provoking and deserves to be presented too.

The crux of Armesto’s final argument then is that instead of the 10,000 BC that Diamond takes to be the point of divergence that led to the current state of the world, Armesto chooses 1490 AD (or the 1490s) as the diverging year that scripted the story of modern colonizations and formed our present. Armesto claims that the unique location of the ‘Western Civilization”, which he prefers to call the “Atlantic Civilization” along with their extremely fine timing to choose their moment for civilizational expansion was what contributed to their world domination – a case of luck and industry going hand in hand. The Europeans, he argues, were always backward in terms of technology, especially sea-faring tech, in comparison to China, India and even the Ottomans,.While they had trade across the Mediterranean (inherited from the Romans), the Atlantic was largely an unexplored territory even while the Indian Ocean had established itself as the preeminent, busiest and most profitable trade route in history. This was due to the fact that the civilizations that rimmed the Indian Ocean enjoyed the Monsoon winds which helped in promoting trade and making travel safe, fast and orderly, with its cyclic nature and seasonal reversal – aiding ships to and fro in their travels.

The unidirectional and turbulent winds of the Atlantic were much harder to decode, especially by sailors anxious about how they would ever make it back if they hitched a ride on these winds that never returned. Armesto claims that the Indian Ocean was so busy and so rewarding that it used up all the available resources (ships) in its own internal trade and the rich nations there had no reason to risk the treacherous voyage to the Atlantic and to Western Europe. The Western Europeans on the other hand, wanted to be in on the high-return trade of the Indian Ocean and was willing to take risks, and over time they decoded the cipher that is the Trade Winds of the Atlantic and eventually learned how to link the two wind systems (trade winds and the monsoon) when Vasco da Gama finally reached Calicut. Armesto says:

That may be the simple reason why Vasco da Gama appeared in Calicut, before an Indian or Arab or Chinese or Indonesian merchant “discovered” Europe by sea, despite the superior equipment and longer tradition enjoyed by the seafarers of the East. It was not because of any superiority on the Europeans part but, on the contrary, because of the urgings of a kind of inferiority: laggards have to catch up. In pursuit of the kind of advice Lazarillo de Tormes got from his mother, “the relatively poor reach out to the relatively rich in the hope that something will rub off”

This along with Columbus linking Europe to the New World set in motion the period in which Atlantic took over as the oceanic center of trade, catapulting all the countries on its rim (Armesto calls them the Rimlands) first into financial security, then trade dominance, then imperial eminence and finally into a common civilizational bowl. This western civilization coalesced into a single gel and then set about trying to remake the rest of the world in its image, borne by the new-found winds, and fueled by missionary zeal; infecting the coastal regions first and gradually encroaching inwards. The consequence was the creation of a single Atlantic civilization which spanned both shores of the ocean. In the seventeenth century, this inchoate civilization came to embrace North as well as Central and South America, and Africa as well as Europe, steadily seeping into the rest of the world as well.

That then is Armesto’s thesis, except for the concluding chapter which sketches a possible future in which the power base shifts from the Atlantic to the Pacific, thus altering everything again. This is not as believable since the world we know today is not shaped by marine trade as much as the world of the East India Companies.

This scholarly and poetic work tries to give us the history of civilization by giving us glimpses of the images that were the high-watermarks of each of the great civilizations that has graced this world. It is evocative of the splendor of these ancient wonders, even while being more descriptive than narrative. The sheer ease with which Armesto manages to make us feel that we are traveling with a Marco Polo or an Ibn Batutta of our own, enjoying the rise and fall of Rome, pondering the mysterious disappearances of the central American cultures, navigating the glory of Venice in its prime and shuddering at the all-conquering Ottomans bearing down on us – all these experiences ensures that the laborious and careful reading that a book like this demands is entirely worth the effort. Armesto’s masterpiece leaves you with a sense that you have witnessed history in all its nebulousness and that there is no history, no single narrative that can ever be told. It can only be glimpsed and appreciated, never understood.

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Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books

 

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