Showing posts with label environment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label environment. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Who Will Roar if I Go? by Paige Jaeger, Carol Hill Quirk

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Illustrated beautifully by artist Carol Hill Quirk, and written poetically by the author with the highly appropriate name of Paige Jaeger (Jaeger in German means 'hunter'! Page Hunter? Great name for a writer! LOL!), this book highlights some of the endangered animals on the planet, and we really need to start paying close attention.

We need to focus not just on the species charmingly depicted in this book, but to entire ecosystems that we are despoiling not only through hunting, poaching, and habitat destruction, but also through climate change, which notwithstanding our idiot president's delusional view of science, IS caused by humans, IS happening right now, and IS dangerously affecting the entire planet.

The lion is considered a 'vulnerable' species, which is only one step up from endangered. The gorilla is critically endangered, which is one step below 'merely' endangered. Well over a thousand rhinos were killed by poachers in 2015. Their population cannot remotely sustain such wanton murder. The western black rhino and the northern white rhino are already extinct along with a sub-species of the Javan rhino. We will never see their like again. The rest of the Javan, and also the Sumatran rhinos are critically endangered, and the Indian rhino is vulnerable.

In the mid-nineteen thirties - Ernest Hemingway's puffed-up 'Great' White Hunter era - there may have been as many five million elephants in Africa. Now there is far less than a million. The tiger is Asian, and it's endangered. There is much less than four thousand of them left in the wild. Most zebra species are endangered. One of them, the quagga, is already extinct.

The quetzal bird is much better off, being 'only' near-threatened, while the Chinese giant salamander is critically endangered because the idiot Chinese hunt it for food and medicine. The North American Karner blue butterfly - which I have to be honest and say the art in this case does not do justice to (sorry, Ms. Quirk!) - is vulnerable, and all eight species of the pangolin - which live across the southern hemisphere and which are utterly adorable - are threatened with extinction. Despite China doing the right thing (but perhaps only because it's a national treasure) the panda is still considered vulnerable.

This gorgeous picture book is the beginning of what I hope will be a successful and informative series because it has a lot of potential not only to do good, but to be inventive in how it informs readers. This first makes a colorful statement and a plaintive call for help.

There's a glossary of long words in the back. I would have liked to have seen a short section giving some details - for the grownups! - in the back along with some ways they could help - for example by means of listing URLs of conservation and wildlife protection organizations, but any enterprising adult ought to be able to find those for herself these days. Other than that I though this was a treasure and I commend it for its message and its presentation.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Touch the Earth by Julian Lennon, Bart Davis, Smiljana Coh

Rating: WARTY!

Now it's time to review some children's books written by celebrities and we have a sorry bag, I'm saddened to say.

This one is by that Julian Lennon, son of John. This is a short but colorful book illustrated by Smiljana Coh, and co-written by Bart Davis. That's the first bit that I didn't get. Not to be confused with North Concord/Martinez, which is the closest BART station to Davis, or with the politician, this guy is an author who hasn't, prior to this (and to my knowledge) ever written a children's book. Lennon is a composer of some skill, so why did he need a co-writer/ghost writer, whatever this guy's job was? It made no sense to me. In fact, this entire book made no sense.

The idea of the book is to promote awareness in children of what their parents are unthinkingly doing to the environment, but if their parents don't give a damn about the environment, they're sure as hell not going to buy this book for their kids. If they do care, then they'll be educating their kids accordingly, regardless of what books are out there, and sending their money, if they have any to spare, to organizations that are going to use all of it - not 'a portion' to help the environment, instead of it going to publishers and book creators who root up trees, pulp them, and print books on them that talk about saving the environment!

The book is weird because the text tells the reader to tilt and turn it and to press (printed) "buttons" to do various things which magically - and with zero effort - fix the depredations of unrestrained capitalism, but unless your child can already read, this isn't going to work if you're holding the book to read to your child, because they can't do all these things while you're holding the book! It especially doesn't work if you want to read it to group of kids.

Lennon founded an organization called White Feather and the book advises that "a portion" of the profit will go to benefit it. it doesn't say 'all profits' or anything like that, so what this tells me is that most of what this book earns is going into the pockets of the creators and publisher and only a portion goes to the charity. I don't see any other rational way to interpret that, so what's the point of the book? To me it seems, at best, to be misguided. Why not just send the list price ($12 for the hardback) to the charity or to any charity of your choice and skip the book altogether? I can't in good faith commend this at all.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Welcome to Shirley by Kelly McMasters

Rating: WARTY!

It's been a while since I've reviewed a non-fiction, so I am due for a few. This is the first of those and it's a negative, I'm sorry to have to report. I came to this book via interviews conducted in a documentary I watched about nuclear pollution. The author was one of those interviewed and it mentioned that she'd authored this book about the nuclear waste leakage from Brookhaven National Laboratory which was apparently causing an unduly-high number of cancers in the town of Shirley.

The incompetence and irresponsibility has cost roughly a half billion dollars to clean up, to say nothing of health concerns. There's no way in hell, given the track record it has demonstrated, that this country is fit to be running nuclear power plants, labs, and and other such facilities with this level of abuse of public health and public trust. The world has a half million tons of toxic nuclear waste and nowhere to put it safely. This needs to stop right now, period. Nuclear power plants need to be permanently decommissioned. It's that simple.

I thought that this would make an interesting read, but it didn't. The entire first half of the book had nothing whatsoever to do with any nuclear waste issues. It was a memoir of the author's childhood and youth, none of which was interesting to me. It wasn't even very factual according to one reviewer who actually lives (or lived) in the town. I became so bored reading it, and seeing it fail - on page after page - to actually get to the topic I thought the book was going to be about, that I simply gave up on it. I cannot recommend this.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

One Green Omelet Please by Sally Huss

Rating: WORTHY!

My first positive review out of my last nine! Eek! Of course it has to be Sally Huss, writer and illustrator of young children's books who never lets me down. Told in rhyme with joyful colored pictures, this tells the story of the family who went out to eat. Jenny orders a green omelette, which frankly sounds disgusting, but it turns out it's not so bad.

The important thing is that Jenny takes a minute to ponder the origin of everything from which the omelette is made. Eggs of course, but also broccoli and spinach, green onions and peas. There's a tomato and some cheese. I'm not sure why Jenny says a prayer of thanks, since it's the farmers who ultimately provide all this stuff, but at least she took the time to be grateful for it all. Another fun and useful book from a writer who seems never to run out of ideas!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction by Mary Ellen Hannibal

Rating: WARTY!

I normally rate science books highly, but here is one I'm afraid - and sorry - I cannot get behind, because I was never convinced this was doing what it set out (according to the blurb) to do. I know authors cannot be held responsible for their book blurbs unless they self-publish, so I don't blame the author for this, but for me the promise in the blurb of a "wide-ranging adventure in becoming a citizen scientist" was not met. I wasn't even sure who it applied to: the author? the reader? the people featured in the book? For me it seemed like there was very little about actually becoming a citizen scientist, and certainly not in the manner of offering very much in the way of pathways or advice in pursuing such an ambition.

There were some stories about people who are citizen scientists, and some of these were quite interesting, but they were few and far between, and they were buried under the overwhelming volume of what was, to me, extraneous information about anything and everything that had little or nothing to do with citizen science. This first came to my attention when I noticed how much the author talked about losing her father to cancer. I can sympathize. Both of my parents are dead, and it's an awful thing to lose a loved one, but it really has nothing to do with scientific study, much less citizen science. If it had been mentioned briefly, that would be one thing, but the author kept coming back to it as though it were central to the theme of the book. I kept waiting for a point to be made in keeping with the book's title, and it never came.

All of the first five chapters were of this nature - either starting out off-topic, or starting out on topic and then meandering far from it. For example, the entire 20 pages or so of chapter 4 is about author's father and about Lewis & Clark, and about the California gold rush. There was nary a word about modern citizen science, how to become involved, what they do or why or how they find or make the time for it. I simply didn't get the point of chapter four at all. Chapter five began in the opposite way, by launching a story of cellphone use to track and report illegal logging, which was a great example of citizen science, but there was not a word in there about how this operation was brought together.

The chapter then switched to Google's admirable outreach program, which has led to advances in detecting and neutralizing land mines, and other such important and vital community projects, but just as I was starting to appreciate some citizen science here, the chapter veered off completely into a lecture about people protesting corporate malfeasance in logging and mining, which to me is not actually citizen science. It may employ science, and of course a corporation is now legally a citizen, isn't it? But realistically? No! To me this was the biggest problem - the book was not a guide or an exploration, but a tease. We were offered burlesque-like glimpses of the flesh of the topic, but we never got a full frontal! Each time we thought we would see something wondrous and beautiful, down came one of the seven veils and hid it from us while the spotlight was whisked away to another part of the stage.

Some of the arguments seemed to me to be poorly thought through. For example, one part of the book discussed the disappearance of whales and what a huge hole (both practically and metaphorically to my mind) they leave in the environment. This is a tragedy and the people who have been carrying out the genocide on whales are the ones who really need harpooning in the ass, but the argument about whales being valuable because they sequester carbon - embedding it into their thirty to one hundred tons of flesh and then carrying it to the bed of the ocean when they die - was not a balanced one. Worse, it was a wrong-headed one.

The author seems to have forgotten that whales are air breathers and as such output carbon dioxide throughout their lives - lives which may extend in some species to a hundred years. I read somewhere that whales as a whole, output some 17 million tons of carbon a year. That said, they also help decrease carbon by stirring up iron in the water, which then supports plankton growth. The science is not exact; it's still under study, but it seems to me that the best we can say is that some species of whales could be carbon sinks or at worst, carbon neutral.

The study - as far as I can tell - was not exactly scientific either, in that it failed to take into account whale farts! This might seem frivolous, but whales pass gas and that gas contains carbon dioxide and methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. Some more work needs to be done, but as far as I can see, removing whales from the oceans, as humans have so mercilessly done for centuries, is a capital crime, yet it would seem that it has no overall effect on global warming, as the history of the last forty million years has shown! We need to save the whales not because they are carbon sequesters, but because they are sentient, feeling beings, period.

Digging deep into history might be interesting for some readers, but it offers not a whit of help for anyone who was interested in learning what opportunities there are for citizen scientists and how potential volunteers might avail themselves of these. This is far more of a memoir and a history book than ever it is a useful guide to citizen science, and I felt saddened by that. It seemed like a great opportunity was squandered here, and what was here was certainly not something I would want to read some four hundred pages of! I can't in good faith give a positive recommendation for this book, although I thank the publisher for the opportunity to read it, and wish the author all the best in her future endeavors.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Five Horsemen of the Modern World by Daniel Callahan

Rating: WARTY!

"humanity can solve the carbon and carbon problem" ??!
"but is now is now more" makes no sense.
"develop a successor to the Kyoto Prptocol is planned for Paris in December 2015" misspelling of protocol and poor grammar.
"such as improving automobile engine efficiency to reduce mileage per gallon" improve mileage per gallon, surely?!
"Too many cooks," the old saying has it, "spoils the broth." person mismatch.
"Of that amount $275 llion was spent on the top 1% of patients" million is missing a few letters.
"Michael Grubb has laid out the pathway that successful funding of technological research must follow to move from the beginning, research, to the end, successful implementation and dissemination." This made no sense to me.
"Most of that increase will come from the developing countries, which will account for 90% of the increase, with the Organisation for Economic Co -operation and Development countries (essentially developed countries) contributing only 17%." 107%?
" The IEA has projected a one-third increase in global energy demand between 2011- 2035, with a small decline in the share of fossil fuel from 83% to 76%. Renewables and nuclear energy will meet about 40% of basic demand during that same period." Again maybe I am misunderstanding this, but 76% *or 83%) plus 40% add up to more than 100, unless 'global energy demand' is somehow different from 'basic demand'. If it is, it should be made more clear.
Minor quibble: "between 2011- 2035" To me the hyphen equates to the word 'to' so this reads like 'between 2011 to 2035', whereas it should read 'between 2011 and 2035'. If I were going to use the hyphen, I'd write it as 'from 2011- 2035', but maybe others read it differently.

Note up front that this was an advance review copy and I appreciate the opportunity to read it. What I have identified as problems or potential problems with it may well have been taken care of by the time of publication! That said, this book, properly titled The Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Climate, Food, Water, Disease, and Obesity by Daniel Callahan was a disappointment to me. I usually try to give environmentally themed books a positive review if I can because I think they're tremendously important, but i cannot honestly do that here.

The author has done an impressive amount of work, but what's presented does not appear to be intended as a popular handbook on solutions to important problems facing us in the near future. It's much more of a survey of five major problems which the author sees - problems which will impinge upon us all - and what options have been put forward in attempts at or as suggestions for the mitigation of these problems. As such, it can make for very dense and dry reading. I can't recommend undertaking it unless you're a true devotee of environmental literature, because for me, even that wasn't quite enough.

It was interesting in many ways, but I would not recommend it for casual reading. In addition to this, there were multiple issues with it which drew it out of my favor (for what that's worth!). There were areas that read - to me - like pure gobbledygook. For example, I had no idea what this meant: "Most proposals for mitigation and adaptation change require forging or greatly enhancing government- private sector alliances, a receptive government with public support, industry incentives to take chances with uncertain long-term profit, and multidisciplinary and integrated systems, among others." I'm sure I could have parsed it out and derived the intended meaning if I spent some time on it, but I wasn't willing to spend my time doing the very work I felt the author should have done.

First I want to look at the things which were interesting - or disturbing, depending upon your perspective. They were actually both: interesting for now, and very disturbing for the not-too-distant future. There were many of these. They were not always presented in the most coherent manner, though, which rather robbed them of their power and deluged the reader in statistics rather than an engaging relation of clear facts and opinions. It's hard to get a good feel for a situation when the reader has so many numbers, percentages and assorted facts spit out in short order with little by way of explanation or context.

While the book did a pretty decent job of presenting many disturbing facts, the apparent lack of good solutions was also upsetting; however, some solutions were completely overlooked. For example, we're informed that "Some 80% of all infectious disease in poor countries can be traced to dirty water" and some pertinent issues are discussed, yet one promising solution, from Dean Kamen (the inventor of AutoSyringe, the Segway, and the iBOT Mobility System) went unmentioned. Similarly, and still on the topic of water, I felt that sea-water filtration as a solution to fresh water shortage, was given way too short shrift, being largely dismissed as expensive. Well energy is expensive, but the places where water is often in very short supply are the same ones where solar power can provide abundant low cost energy, and we did get told how cheap that had become. That doesn't solve all the issues with sea water use, but I would have liked to have seen this explored more, given how much water this planet does have available even if it is mixed thoroughly with salt.

I confess that it was with a certain amount of smugness that I read about bottled water, which I do not drink. I learned that "Bottled water is an exceedingly profitable item, vigorously advertised, stoutly defended by its manufacturers, and seeming adored by the public. In 2009 Americans spent $10.6 billion to consume 8.4 million gallons of it. It is a strikingly popular item in upscale restaurants, where it is served at 80% markups." I also read that "A 2006 study found that 17 million barrels of oil a year are required to produce the plastic bottles, while the cost of tap water production is around a thousandth as much" and "Americans drink around 29 gallons of bottled water a year per capita." That's a lot of expensive water being consumed by the very people who have least need of it. One thing which was not explored was the potential health risk in the possibility of leeching of chemicals from plastic water bottles into the water which these people are consuming in such massive quantities.

Aging was another area of interest. While those of us in spoiled-rotten western cultures have access to decent food (though we may not choose to avail ourselves of it), clean water, good healthcare, non of us can escape aging! "In 1975 there were six children for every older person, but by 2035 there will only two." This is another area of concern: how we will take care of our growing aging population when they are going to outnumber the very people who can physically and financially care for them. I would have liked this to have been explored in greater depth.

Climate change was disturbingly summed-up in this section which quoted James Hansen:

with current policies in place we are locked into a rise of between 2 ° C and 5.3 ° C, " adding in an interview that 4 ° C "would be enough to melt all the ice . . . we are now three years away from that point-of-no return.
For me, part of the problem with this book was the extensive quotation of the work of others. It felt more like reading a compilation than an original book and very little of what was quoted made much impact upon me, the above being one of the few exceptions.

In addition to those problems, there were assorted issues with grammar and with percentages not adding up. While those are on the author and publisher, another issue, the formatting of the book as read in the Kindle app on my phone which left a lot to be desired, is purely a fault of the app rather than with the book itself. Authors can take steps to mitigate the damage the Kindle conversion process subjects your work to, but this restricts creativity rather a lot. One thing which could have been fixed, I think, would have been to have had the references (with which the text was replete) clickable. It was annoying to read something, see a reference number, and not be able to click to it and click back. In a print book, it's easy to stick your finger between pages and look up a reference, returning to where you left off. It's not possible to do that in a kindle app unless the references are clickable and the book provides a return click to get you back to where you started. Perhaps this will be available in the final published copy, but without having a copy available to me that is close to what's intended to be published (which this book was hopefully!), I can't give an adequate review of those things.

Overall, and while I like, as I said, to review environmental books positively if I can, I wasn't able to do that with this one because it left too much undone and did not leave me feeling better educated afterwards than I had been before. Yes, it was an ARC, but in this electronic age, I felt it could have been in a lot better shape, including a final run-through with a spell-checker. I can't see this appealing to a wide readership, not without being better presented. With all these things in mind I cannot in good faith recommend this book, and I'm sorry for that.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Sowing Seeds in the Desert by Masanobu Fukuoka

Rating: WARTY!

The library had this book on a display about water use and smart farming. It sounded interesting, but turned out to be not so much once I started reading it. It was first published in 1996, and unfortunately is filled with "Gaia" talk along the lines of the whole planet being one living, breathing entity and it's blabbering about spirit and stuff, which is odd given that the authors appears to be an atheist. Some of what Fukuoka says makes sense, but none of what he says is ground-breaking or hitherto unknown. The author's main thesis seems to be that plants which have grown wild and become used to local conditions will do better than artificially engineered or bred plants. Well duhh!

The books seems full of contradiction, too. He talks on the one hand of naturally revitalizing areas which human depredation have rendered waste land, yet he derides attempts to irrigate those same areas and grow plants. Either growing stuff there will contribute to increased rainfall, as he advocates, or it will achieve nothing, as he also claims in deriding these projects! He doesn't seem to grasp that increased rainfall won't automatically precipitate just because you plant seeds and get a few plants growing. There are climactic, geographical, and topological reasons for rainfall or the lack of it. No one ruined the land to create the Sahara. That happened perfectly naturally.

In other instances he repeatedly says there are no bad insects - such as on page 43, where the page title is "In Nature There are No Beneficial or Harmful Insects" which is such patent bullshit that it would definitely fertilize crops organically. Later, he talks of protecting plants from insects and disease - such as on p93 (protect the seeds from animals and insects), p109 (susceptible to insects and disease), and p156 (more resistant to insects and disease). If there are no bad insects and no disease, why must we protect plants?! This scatter-brained approach to writing undermines everything he says.

Another contradiction lay in his relation of a story about an orchard on his family's farm. On the one hand, later in the book, he talks about letting nature work in our favor instead of fighting it, but at the start of chapter one, he tells us of this orchard which as a young man, he left to its own devices purely from his own laziness (i.e. letting nature rule instead of tending the trees). The result was that 200 trees died. What he did was natural farming - not doing anything to the trees and letting nature take its course, yet immediately after telling us this story of the dead trees, he then claims what he did wasn't natural farming! He makes no sense. He doesn't even revisit this to explain to us what he ought to have done - how the death of his two hundred apple trees could have been avoided.

The book is all over the place and full of unsupported anecdote. Repeated tales of the nature, "I did X and got a wonderful result Y" do not explain anything, or support his thesis - whatever that was supposed to be (he never really makes it clear other than to say nature knows best which is patently obvious). There are a lot of people who urge us to go back to nature, back to organic, back to the land, but not a one of them addresses the massive increase in farming yields brought about by modern farming methods or how we're to feed seven billion people by living as hunter gatherers.

Admittedly a lot of the bounty produced by modern farming techniques unfortunately goes to waste or to feed animals instead of feeding starving people, but you can't argue with the yield which is far higher than nature's original versions of the fruits and grains ever was. The truth is that there is nothing that we farm which is 'natural' - defined as 'exists in this form in nature'. Everything out there is a result of genetic manipulation - except that the purists are too dishonest to call it that. The food we enjoy was originally not manipulated in a lab in the manner in which modern agribusiness pursues those same aims, but it certainly was genetically manipulated for quantity and size over many years by farmers.

Fukuoka is absolutely right in his assertion that no gods or Buddhas will save us. The plain fact is that no gods have ever saved us or ever will; it's in our hands, and we've screwed it up, but vague appeals to some non-existent, nebulous 'golden past' will not save us either. Neither will claims that there are no parasites and harmful insects. Yes, there are! Nature is indeed red in tooth and claw - and in virus and parasite. That doesn't mean we've been smart in attacking these problems, but sticking our fingers in your ears and chanting "Gaia will save us! Gaia will save us" doesn't work either. If it did, humanity would not have been almost wiped out a few thousand years ago - and Homo sapiens wouldn't be the only human species remaining on the planet. Everything save for about one percent of all living things has been wiped out, and none save the most recent of those were wiped out because ancient Middle-East farmers genetically manipulated crops or laid waste to land, or because Cro-Magnon people used chemical farming methods.

Fukuoka is woefully ignorant about evolution, and anyone who ignores or misunderstands those particular facts of life is doomed. Yes creationists, I'm looking at you. There was no oxygen on Earth when life first began. No free oxygen, that is - it was bound up in minerals and compounds. Contrary to Fukuoka's evident belief, it was life which produced the very oxygen which in the end killed life. Only those organisms which had mutations which could handle this highly poisonous and dangerously corrosive gas - a waste product back then - survived to go on to evolve into what we see today. The old life - the anaerobic life as we now know it - exists only in obscure, out-of-the-way locations these days, buried in mud, hidden away from the deadly oxygen which would lay waste to it. Yes, modern life lived on the excrement of anaerobic life!

Fukuoka also appears rather clueless about the nature of time and of the value of taxonomy, and he seems ignorant of the fact that E=MC² was in the scientific air long before Einstein derived it. Scientists like Henri Poincaré and Fritz Hasenöhrl had been all over it, but had never put it all together in the way Einstein did.

At one point in this book (p86) there's a footnote which declares that Fukuoka is not saying his orchard was grown on a desert, yet less than a dozen pages later (p97), he says in the text "You may think it reckless for me to say that we can revegetate the desert. Although I have confirmed the theory in my own mind and in my orchard..." Clearly he is thinking of his orchard as a desert. And good luck with confirming a theory in your own mind very scientific! LOL! The problem is that he never actually defines desert so we don't know if he views a desert in the way in which deserts are commonly defined (through rainfall or lack thereof), or if he merely means impoverished land or land to which waste has been laid in one way or another. He appears never to have heard of the dangers of invasive species either in his advocating taking seeds from Thailand to plant in India to revegetate the deserts there. India has no native vegetation that would serve this purpose?

So no, I have no faith in what this author claims except in the very vaguest of terms: yes, variety is better than monoculture, and yes, we can't keep poisoning our planet in the name of agriculture, but experiments confirmed the mind are not the same as real practical verified results, and he offers no references for any of the claims he makes, so for me the take home was nothing I didn't already know. I refuse to recommend this book.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Marsh Mud and Mummichogs by Evelyn B Sherr

Title: Marsh Mud and Mummichogs
Author: Evelyn B Sherr
Publisher: University of Georgia Press
Rating: WORTHY!

Evelyn Sherr has a BS in Biology and a PhD in Zoology. She's Professor Emeritus in the Oregon State University's Ocean Ecology and Biogeochemistry department. Judged from her writing in this book, she also has a sly sense of humor and her knowledge of salt marsh life is quite 'littorally' amazing. There is one thing on which I have her beat, though: I know that snakes are venomous, not poisonous! Although I guess some snakes might be poisonous if not cooked properly before eating...!

The book is pretty dense and strong on science, but it's not dry and unreadable. Obviously it isn't for everyone, but it is for anyone who has an interest in wildlife, especially if you live in Georgia, or plan on visiting and don't want to end up bitten or stung (or even eaten) by something nasty when all you wanted to do was enjoy the coastline.

So I know what you're wondering: what the heck is a mummichog? Well I didn't know either, and I'm not going to tell you because I have to admit the obscurity of the title was part of the attraction, as I'm sure the author planned. All I'm going to say is that it has nothing to do with killer fish.

The book is well organized and supported with a host of really nice quality gray-scale photographs. I found myself wishing for more, even so. So many animals and plants are mentioned that it would have been nice to see a few more of them. There were too many to show images of them all, but fortunately, if you're reading this on something like an iPad, you can have your browser open, and do an image search to keep up. I was doing this almost spastically. It's one of the major advantages that ebooks have over print books.

And this author really does cover everything. Here's a list of the chapter headers so you can gauge how thorough she is for yourself:

  1. Marine habitats of the Georgia Coast
  2. What You Don't See: Microscopic Life
  3. Marsh Grass, Live Oaks, Sea Oats
  4. Creatures of the Black Goo
  5. Mud Dwellers of Marshes and Creeks
  6. Creepy Crawlies: Insects and Spiders
  7. Marsh Life: Scales
  8. Marsh Life: Feathers and Fur
  9. What Lies Beneath; Zooplankton
  10. Attachment to Place: Settlers
  11. Sound Swimmers: Nekton
  12. On, and Under, the Beach: Living in the Sand
  13. Loggerheads
  14. Shore Birds
  15. seasons in the Sun
  16. The Once and Future Coast

There is also: three appendices, a bibliography, and an index. And there's a preface which I didn't read. I never read forewords, introductions, prefaces, prologues and whatever. Just a personal quirk.

I love the chapter titles that played on movie titles such as 'Creatures of the Black Goo', and 'What Lies Beneath', and the play on words in 'Sound Swimmers'. In the 'Feathers and Fur' chapter I learned of the rice rat - something I had never heard of before. That sounds so cute - and looks just as cute. Any budding animator needs to Disney-fy that before Disney does!

The chapters, as the list above indicates, covered everything from microscopic life to the megafauna of the area, which includes whales and squid. It covered pretty much every class of life there is, from invertebrates to vertebrates, and pretty much every group those two orders include, and it did not shy away from plant life either, which was really nice.

I don't normally pay attention to covers because the author typically has little or nothing to do with them unless they self publish, but in this case, and regardless of who chose the cover, I have to say it was part of the attraction for me. It reminded me of the time I visited a salt marsh (in Texas, not in Georgia, and I walked with my dogs along a raised boardwalk just like this one, hoping the gators wouldn't launch themselves up onto it and try to take one of the dogs! I have to say that Texas gators are pretty decent folk. I saw them in the marsh, their eyes just above the water, but they didn't try anything funny, which just goes to show why you never see a gator doing stand-up comedy. It was a bit scary, but great fun and quite bracing.

So before I wax lyrical with an ocean of comments, let me beach this review by simply saying that I loved this book, loved the way it was written, the sweet sense of humor and the extensive detail of everything to be found in nature on the Georgia coast. I recommend this.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What Stands in a Storm by Kim Cross

Title: What Stands in a Storm
Author: Kim Cross
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Page 109 "...right bicep..." should be "...right biceps..."

Most of what I review is fiction, however rooted in reality it night be, but occasionally I review non-fiction where I think it’s important, and those reviews tend mostly towards books about the environment. This one falls into that category and it’s the first one of which I haven't felt merited a passing grade.

Wikipedia has a brief introduction to this storm, but author Kim Cross (not to be confused with author Kimberley Cross Teter) makes it personal and goes much deeper so you get a real feel for what it might have been like to be there as this storm was brewing. There is a problem with this approach, however, in that a certain amount of fiction, however unintended, necessarily creeps into a story written this way. In my opinion, this fictional element detracted from the humanization of the story.

For example, a lot of conversations are reported where those conversations were not recorded as they happened, and are clearly made-up. By made-up, I mean reconstructed, not made-up to distort or misrepresent. They're constructed to convey what people were saying and feeling, and even though they're based on personal recollections, no one can recall verbatim what was precisely said and exactly felt at times like those. It’s interesting and important to know how people felt looking back, of course, but it’s also rather misleading to present recollection as though it was 'happening live".

Where we don’t have actual texts or recordings, these recollections are necessarily based upon what people reported after the fact, but they nevertheless are to one extent or another a fictional representation of events and conversations which are in this case and in my opinion, biased towards the emotional. For me, I felt that the story was emotional enough without this "augmentation", and while a tedious recital of plain facts would have done an equal disservice, I'm by no means convinced that this was the smartest approach to reporting these particular stories.

I know that the author comes from a journalistic background and journalists are all-but-brainwashed into going after the human angle, but in this day and age, people are more mature in their view of stories (although nonetheless gullible, unfortunately) and don’t necessarily respond in the same way to a traditional journalistic approach. The author does tell us that the quotations were taken from recordings in some cases and eye-witnesses in others, but eye-witness testimony is the most unreliable of all evidence.

I don’t doubt that the author conveyed her interviews accurately, and I don’t doubt that people told it they way they remembered it without consciously changing anything, but memory is an extraordinarily malleable entity. I don't believe that these people accurately recalled precise reactions and verbatim conversations from times when they were highly (and understandably) emotional and to represent it here as though they did seems unfortunately misleading at best.

It's not that they were lying or attempting to mislead or obfuscate, but the fact is that no-one save an eidetic can accurately report word-for-word conversations, especially not from traumatic events like these. I felt that the reporting here ought to have striven for less "verbatim" and more general representation of how people behaved, what they thought, and how they felt and reacted. For me that would have made a more authentic story and it would have been better for it.

The story is split into three parts: the storm, the aftermath, and picking up the pieces. We follow not only the people it affected, but also the weather forecasters who were trying to predict what it would do, and when and where, and the rescuers who had to find the victims after the storm passed. There had already been an outbreak earlier that same month - indeed, April 2011 currently holds the record for most prolific tornado month with a total of 757 reported overall. In the outbreak of 25 -27 April, 348 people died, 316 of these on April 27th, which spawned four EF5 tornadoes. The writer tells us that "Only one EF5 is reported in the United States in a typical year. In 2011 there were six. Four of these struck on April 27th." It’s pretty scary stuff even when stated baldly like that.

This was an horrific event by any measure. Or series of events more accurately. The storm-front spewed-out tornado after tornado, some of those splitting themselves. At least one of those which didn’t split grew to be a mile wide. When people thought it had passed, it meant only that they were in the eye (and remember this is a tornado, not a hurricane!), and the winds would come again, this time in the opposite direction, finishing off damage which the first massive wall of wind had begun.

A power transmission tower was literally bent in half, a school bus was stripped to its chassis. Not only were homes removed, but the concrete slabs beneath them were lifted. Motor vehicles took to the air. Entire apartment complexes were raised. It was lifting asphalt off the roads. It was lifting bulldozers and dump trucks. It lifted an SUV into a water tower. Community after community was savaged. In addition to the irreplaceable lives lost, property damage totaled eleven billion dollars.

The story mentions many forecasters and storm-chasers, but the weather forecasters it focuses most strongly on are James Spann and Jason Simpson, and there's some back story on Spann, which I skipped since it wasn't interesting to me. It may be more interesting to people who watch these guys on TV (apparently they have quite a following). I was much more interested in exactly what happened that day, and that's pretty gripping. Frankly I’d have preferred it if that story had not been broken-up with flashbacks. I’d also have preferred it if we had learned much more about it. To me this was one of several lost opportunities in this book.

The book focused tightly on people and personal experiences, and I can see why a journalist would take that approach, but in doing so, a much bigger and ultimately more important picture was missed in my opinion. The bigger picture concerns climate change, and personal safety in the event of a natural disaster. There was also a bigger picture in other dimensions, too. In focusing on people, nature was missed. We learn nothing of animals - wildlife, domesticated animals, and pets - it’s like they didn’t exist in this book. We learn something of damage to trees, but only in passing, and nothing of how nature suffered and eventually recovered afterwards. I was sad that all of this was lost in a welter of personal stories, important as those are.

Even on that personal level we missed a golden teaching opportunity to wise-up readers on how to avoid the mistakes and about poor decisions which people can make during catastrophes like this one. I can see how this would conflict with telling a tale of loss and tragedy: no one wants to say "your child/sibling/parent/relative died because they made bad decisions." Of course not, but people even in their best light do not act rationally when understandably overwhelming disasters envelop them.

Ultimately it’s more important and practical to try to prevent deaths than it is to dwell on the past, tragic as it was, and painful and meaningful as those losses were. A chapter on what might have been done to prevent, to ameliorate, to avoid, wouldn't have been out of place in this book. The author does touch on these things in a rather half-hearted and widely-scattered manner, but a solid statement in a chapter of its own would have been more useful and practical. How did those who survived actually survive? Why didn't those who died actually survive? People always ask "Why me?" after events like this, but this book not only fails to offer answers, it doesn't even attempt them. I think that was a sad omission and a disservice to those who died and those who survived them.

I think the role of religion was overplayed here too. Yes, churches do contribute in important ways at times like these, but that's the church. No god did anything to save lives here, and while a small issue was made out of a stained glass window which withstood the storm, four churches were completely demolished in one community (as well as others elsewhere, no doubt), yet this was rather glossed over because that one window was what stands in a storm! I found that distasteful.

Climate change, aka 'global warming' doesn’t necessarily account for every super-storm which breaks out, but what we can count on is that climate change will without a doubt exacerbate such storms; winters will become more harsh, summers will become more baking, and hurricanes and tornadoes will become more prevalent and stronger. This is why this is important, because instead of being a rarity, the events of late April 2011 could become the norm. I felt that a valuable educational opportunity was squandered when this book didn’t even mention climate, climate change, or global warming - not even once.

Be forewarned that a lot of this story is going to be really hard to read. It doesn't matter that this isn’t a news item on TV, that's it’s 'past history' - it was only three years ago and there are people out there still living with this as fresh and raw on their minds and hearts as if it happened this morning. The description of the tornado assault in part one is very well done, but I wished that there was more of it and more explanation for what it did and how it did it so people can understand it better and be better prepared for the future.

It’s the rescue stories afterwards - specifically the rescues that were already too late before the rescue teams even set out - that grab you, though. It’s the babies in the rubble and the loved ones lost, where not even experience can prepare you for the next one you find. And the next one. If we don’t want ever more of this in the future we need to start fighting now: fighting against climate change and fighting for safer buildings and a better educated public. I just wish the author had come down stronger on that.

As it is, I can't recommend this book. I think it got off to a strong start, but it faded quickly and became lost, for me, in parts two and three. The winds may blow differently for you.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Mason Meets a Mason Bee by Dawn Pape

Title: Mason Meets a Mason Bee
Author: Dawn Pape
Publisher: Good Green Life Publishing
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often reward aplenty!

This is a wonderful young children's story about the fact the bees are slowly becoming extinct, and when they do - if we do not prevent it - we're going to be in a much sorrier state than ever we will be through climate change. Climate change will screw up this planet, I promise you, but losing bees will hit us with a gut punch from which we will have a seriously hard time recovering.

Dawn Pape, a self-described "lawn-chair gardener" has a degree in Environmental Studies and a Master's in Environmental Education, and this story features her own son meeting a bee and learning all about what bees do and why it's important. It's told in a sing-song rhyme and illustrated with photographs, some of which are augmented to make the bee look a little more human, with startled eyes and smiles!

At first, Mason is scared of the bee, but slowly he comes to realize that it's not interested in him. It's just "wants to do its job" - gathering nectar and pollen for its own purposes, but incidentally pollinating the plants as it does so. This is a symbiotic relationship that's been going on for a hundred million years - that is until humans came along at the very end of that huge time period and started screwing things up.

Contrary to what you may have heard on Doctor Who(!), bees aren't aliens! There are some twenty thousand species of them, all evolved on Earth and they range in size from a variety of "sting-less" bee measuring only two millimeters (believe it or not - Trigonisco duckel!) to the Mason bee, featured in this story, which can grow to almost 40 millimeters.

The death of a beehive is referred to these days as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) - that is as long as it meets certain criteria. Forms of it have been noted for a hundred and fifty years on a small scale, but over the last forty years, the problem seems to have become far more serious than an occasional outbreak, with wild bee populations going into decline, and "domesticated" colonies being hit noticeably. By 2007, "...large commercial migratory beekeepers in several states had reported heavy losses associated with CCD. Their reports of losses varied widely, ranging from 30% to 90% of their bee colonies" (wikipedia).

There is a variety of causes for CCD "...such as pesticides, mites, fungus, beekeeping practices (such as the use of antibiotics or long-distance transportation of beehives), malnutrition, other pathogens, and immunodeficiencies. The current scientific consensus is that no single factor is causing CCD" (wikipedia). The author of this story book seems to place the blame on neonicotinoids a component of pesticides, and there seems to be a scientific consensus supporting her conclusion: "A 2013 peer-reviewed literature review concluded neonicotinoids in the amounts typically used harm bees and safer alternatives are urgently needed."

So there it is. It's an important topic, and it's one of a type which you do not usually see tackled in children's literature. That's why this book is important, and can be a useful part of any young child's environmental education. I recommend it as part of a complete environmental education that every child should have.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Price of Thirst by Karen Piper

Title: The Price of Thirst
Author: Karen Piper
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often reward aplenty!

This book is "The product of seven years of investigation across six continents and a dozen countries, and scores of interviews with CEOs, activists, environmentalists, and climate change specialists...", and if it's all true, it's truly scary.

Since author Karen Piper is professor of post-colonial studies in English and adjunct professor in geography at the University of Missouri, I'm going to come down on the side of veracity, backed up by the extensive end-notes in this book. Karen Piper has received a Carnegie Mellon Fellowship, a Huntington Fellowship, a National Endowment of the Humanities Award, the Sierra Nature Writing Award, and a Sitka Center residency. I'm guessing she knows what she's talking about!

For a planet which is 70% larded with it, you wouldn't think water shortage would be an issue, would you - but it's more than just water - it's clean, potable (and portable!) water that's the issue, and that's where the contention and cost come in. Talking of contention, it's long been mine that energy and water will be serious flash-points in the near future and that's why my blog, which is mostly about fiction writing, takes time now and then to review non-fiction books that I consider important. This book is one of them.

This was an advance review copy, which means one doesn't expect to be perfect, but I have to report some serious formatting issues here and there. I don't know what the original typescript looked like, but it didn't seem to have transitioned well for my Kindle. Unfortunately, there are no location or page numbers in this edition so I can't quote them, but Kindle search will find them.

One problem I found was "This dust has been shown to cancer cause cancer..." (too much cancer!) and a little bit later, "...his own p e ople" (spacing within the word 'people'). There were some other instances of this nature )oddball line breaks and so on) which I hope will be eradicated before the final version goes to the press (as it were). Other than that, it's very well-written, and the photographs accompanying the text looked good in the Kindle version, but the serious problem here is not the errors: it's that cancer. This is one side-effect of water shortage which you do not typically expect.

The cancer issue was raised as part of a report about the San Joaquin valley, which is drying up because the local water has been pumped out and nothing has been done to replenish it. This is an increasing and common problem with water tables. When places like Tulare Lake and Owens Lake are pumped dry, it exposes things like heavy metals which were - not so much safely, but at least held - in the lake bed, and they began blowing all over, particularly into people's lungs. Another issue with parched land is dust storms which can not only completely block visibility, hampering transport and causing accidents, but which can also unleash disease vectors, such as "Valley fever" which has quadrupled in the area over the last decade.

That's not even the scariest part of this book, believe it or not. The scariest part for me came in the beginning - not the introduction (I don't do introductions or prologues), but the beginning of the book proper, where we learn that uncomfortable and disturbing facts of water privatization. In 2001, five water corporations controlled three-quarters of the world's privatized water - but how much is that really? Well, a decade from now, a fifth of the world's population will be dependent upon corporate water and in the US, it will be more like double that. That frightens me.

The book comes with extensive end notes, and a conclusion which offers numerous solutions to help alleviate water problems. One of these which is not so obvious is one which I embraced a long time ago: become vegetarian. Eighty percent of the world's water is expended upon agriculture, and as the author quotes Sunder Lal Bahuguna saying,

If you use one acre of land to grow meat...then you will get only 100 kg of beef in a year. If you grow cereals, you'll get 1 to 1.5 tonnes. Apples you get 7 tonnes. Walnuts 10-15 tonnes.

The bottom line is that we're wasting water by feeding grain to animals so we can, in turn, eat meat - and we're robbing people of water in doing it. Here are some articles (URLs were good at the time of posting this blog) featuring or by this book's author to give you a little taste of what you can expect from the book itself:
Revolution of the Thirsty
No money, no water - not in Africa, but in Detroit!
People without water are more likely to become extremists
Water is the new oil
Explore the frightening landscape where water and thirst are political, and drought is a business opportunity.
Water Privatization Overlooked as Factor in Egypt's Revolt

I highly recommend this book. It may be a bit dry and fact-filled in parts, but overall it tells an engrossing and terrifying story about a problem which is not only not being competently handled, it's being actively mishandled. Any science story about the origin of life specifies right up front that water is critical to life as we know it, and that not only applies to origins, it applies to life ongoing. Water isn't a "resource", it isn't a "commodity". It's isn't a privilege. In my opinion, it's a human right to free, clean, and readily available water. Any other approach is sadism, period.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Shopping for Water by Culp, Glennon, & Libecap

Title: Shopping for Water
How the Market Can Mitigate Water Shortages in the American West
Author: Peter Culp
Author: Robert Glennon
Author: Gary Libecap
Publisher: Island Press
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often reward aplenty!

It began to pour with rain last night where I live, which makes it deliciously ironical that I'm reading this today! It’s long been my feeling that within the next fifty years there are going to be two major crises in the USA (and elsewhere in the world): water shortage, and energy shortage (this ignores more unpredictable problems such as acts of terrorism and disease outbreaks), so when I saw this book which addresses one of these serious issues, I was very interested in reading it.

When I say water shortage, Earth doesn’t have a water shortage per se - seventy percent of the planet is covered in the stuff for goodness sakes, but clean fresh water with no salt in it? Not so much! As the authors point out in a great summary which opens this book, the USA southwest is in major crisis, and has been for well over a decade.

Living in Texas (home of the Rio Sand) as I do, where we have routine water restrictions every single summer, they didn’t have to remind me of a problem which, as they point out, has over time caused nearly thirty billion dollars worth of economic damage, but perhaps for others it has been far less front and center. It certainly hasn’t been a major talking point in politics or in the news.

As the authors make clear, it’s not just ranching and agriculture which are hit by the shortage. Silicon valley is right in the middle of the dry zone, and their water needs are dramatic. Of course, with a lot of US electronics manufacturing going to the sweat-shops (nay, sweat cities!) of China and other so-called "low cost" areas, the problem is nowhere near as large as it could be, but there is still significant electronic production here in the USA, and it requires copious amounts of water. There is also, as the authors highlight, a significant demand (in both water and energy) in the growing use of "server farms" - massive facilities containing nothing but Internet server and storage computers for corporations like Google

California is worse off than Texas and unlike Texas (and as the authors note), California produces about half the USA's fruit, nut, and vegetable needs, yet their water shortage is far worse even than Texas. There is no sign of improvement. The authors seem to look forward to a time when the crisis will alleviate ("Even after the current drought ends…" p8), but personally, I'm far from convinced that it ever will! Climate change is now in the driving seat, and all bets are off, but whether this drought ever does alleviate or not, the water shortage is not going away. Like the energy shortage, it needs to be addressed now.

The authors give a disturbing example on page nine, of how ridiculously bad the situation is. They relate that the level of the Sacramento river became so low this year (2014) that salmon fry could not navigate it downstream to reach the sea. Believe it or not, thirty million fry were transported in climate-controlled tankers, hundred of miles to the ocean! How they'll ever find their way back, having had their exposure to their home river severely curtailed, is anyone's guess. The authors also offer more heartening examples of cities (such as Phoenix, Arizona, the Yuma area, and Santa Fe, NM), which have sustained growth by expertly managing their water use, so it's not all bad news.

The text deals only with what is, not what could be, and by that I mean the authors admirably address current issues and offer examples of solutions that are already being explored or in place. One thing which they didn’t cover was the obvious one: those areas in the southwest which are experiencing the worst of the drought, also receive copious and regular sunlight, and are next-door to the ocean. Solar-powered desalination plants would be expensive to build, but economical to run, and would solve the water crisis in these areas.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we can ignore other solutions, or that we should do nothing but build desalination plants, but it would have been nice to have seen this option explored and put on the table. Some 16,000 desalination plants throughout the world already provide water for 300 million people - coincidentally, about the population of the USA. Israel produces 40% of its water from this method. A plant in El Paso, Texas, produces over 27 million gallons a day at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant which is, this being Texas, the world's largest inland desalination facility, but it produces only 4% of El Paso's water. California has 17 plants "in the works". Texas has 44 such plants and is planning on building ten more, and these don't even use sea water, but saline ground water. This isn’t prototype or experimental science any more.

However, this book does a great job in exposing and exploring a real problem, and in considering real solutions to it. I recommend it. Right now (as of this blog post) the book is free on Amazon. Go get it!!!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Climate Peril by John J Berger

Title: The Fine Print of Self-Publishing
Author/Illustrator: John J Berger
Publisher: Northbrae Books
Rating: WORTHY!

My blog is mostly about fiction, but once in a while I come across a book that's non-fiction and too important to ignore. I have not yet reviewed any books on the topic of global climate change, so this seemed like a really good place to start, and I wasn't disappointed.

Be warned that the text is rather dense because it is filled with fact, and detailed extrapolation from that fact, so the reading can be a bit dry - if you'll forgive a climate pun! - but that doesn't take anything from the critical importance of the message which this book delivers, which is that global warming is real, it’s happening rapidly, we are reaching (if we haven't already passed) a tipping point, every month which goes by without anything being done about this catastrophe is a step deeper into a mire which will take a long, long time from which to extricate ourselves, and this warming is caused by humans. These are facts, climate-change deniers be damned.

Here's the contents list:

Global Climate, 2100 AD
Current Climate Impacts
Natural Climate Change
Unnatural Climate Change
The United States in Peril
Tipping Point Perils
Economic Perils
Health Perils
Extreme Weather Perils
Extinction Perils
Oceanic Perils
(7 Appendices)

I hate to be US-centric because global warming is going to affect the entire planet to one degree or another, but the US has such influence and is such a contributor to the problem that it also has a major responsibility to "man-up", so I think the chapter titled "The United States in Peril" is called for, and it does not exaggerate when it uses the word 'peril'. The following paragraph contains some - it’s tempting to use the word 'trivia' here, but there's nothing trivial about it - information about the impact in the USA. Note that temperatures are in Fahrenheit, the items below are paraphrased from the book, which itself takes data from the report titled Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States (GCCIUS).

While the Earth has warmed, on average, by about 1.4 degrees over the last century, the US has warmed by 2 degrees.
Coastal waters around the US could become as much as 8 degrees hotter over this century.
Temperatures in the Great Plains could be as much as ten degrees hotter.
US Coastal sea level rise could be as high as three or four feet. This will kiss-off coastal wetlands and marshes.
Most grains and vegetables do not do well in significantly increased heat.
With each percent drop in stream flow in the Colorado River basin, power production there will drop by 6% - 9%.
Two-thirds of California's native plant species could experience range reductions of up to 80%
(Note that this is only a limited summary of some of the points raised in this chapter)

Clearly the cost of global warming and climate change isn’t simply that summers are hotter and winters colder. It’s more complex than that, because the planet is a complex system, so costs will come in a variety of (sometimes unexpected) forms in terms of things like land loss, weather extremes, crop and property damage from these extremes, increased prevalence of exotic diseases, and species extinctions on an unprecedented scale.

So there's a monetary cost, too and this is explored in this book. The question is, do we want to pay a relatively small cost now, to try and prevent or at least mitigate this disaster, or are we going to do nothing now, and simply defer a much larger cost to our grandchildren? It's your choice and you're making it now. Read this book and do what you can.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Last Beach by Orrin H Pilkey and J Andrew G Cooper

Title: The Last Beach
Author: Orrin H Pilkey and J Andrew G Cooper
Publisher: Duke University Press
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

Note that this book has a lot of interesting and disturbing photographs illustrating the author's case. I don't have permission to post any of those, though I wish I did. However, I have substituted two images tagged as free to re-use on Google to illustrate the same concepts. To substitute for one related to sand (or beach) mining which I would have liked to share, please take a look at this website. To substitute for the images showing the difference between a beach which is driven on and one which is not, check out this page, in particular the images at middle right (which looks just like the one used in the book) and the one at bottom left.

This book, which is available from November 2014, isn't fiction. It's our future. In a no-nonsense, if slightly dry tone, this densely-packed book takes you through the facts of what we are, as a civilization, doing to our beaches through mismanagement, horrifying pollution, and our appalling dependence upon oil.

It takes a few pages to get to the meat. There are several pages of drawings before the foreword, three pages of that, and then five pages of preface, all of which I skipped as I routinely do with prologues, etc. This message is too important to delay. When you have a story to tell that's this powerful, preamble just hobbles it.

The story of our beaches is rich with startling images. It's tempting to use the cliché that it's "lavishly illustrated", but the images, while beautifully photographed are actually horrific because of what they show. They reveal, in the most graphic way, how we are hanging, drawing and quartering our beaches - the locations so many of us claim to love the most.

This is an advance review copy, and hopefully odds and ends will be, unlike our beaches, taken care of before this finally gets published, but the page numbering was sadly off in Adobe Reader. The cover is numbered as page 236, and some other pages are numbered seemingly randomly. Indeed, changing pages by typing a new page number into the bottom of the screen seemed to confuse Adobe Reader completely. I don't know why that is, but it's definitely another indictment of ebooks!

I was contacted by a representative of Duke University Press on this aspect of my review, all but demanding that I delete these comments, but that's not how this blog works. Publishers don't get to tell me what to blog or how to blog, and if that means I get no more review books from that publisher, then that's too bad. My comments stand because we're no longer in the era of literal galley proofs where metal type has to be set by hand and laboriously changed out to correct errors. We're in the era of word processing, desktop publishing, WYSIWIG, spell-checkers and grammar checkers, and there is no longer any excuse for sub-standard "proofs". I will, however, post the comments I got from Duke University press verbatim below

I would very much appreciate it if you would remove your criticisms of the book's design until you can see a final copy. There will be a properly formatted e-book available by the end of the year and a print book in November. The "filler pages" you refer to in your review are standard paper book formatting in order to fit required cataloging information.

Frankly I'm not sure what that last sentence means. There's a difference between pages which contain cataloguing and publication information (i.e. not filler pages), and having several pages of unnecessary drawings (filler pages), but if I see this as a print book somehwere this coming November, I will revisit this review and comment on it again then. Until then, my original comment (pagraph below) still stands and I still recommend this book.

There are several filler pages at the beginning of the book which I felt were unnecessary. This book is about a very serious environmental concern, and to me it detracts from that when we add unnecessary pages, each of which will use up part of a tree in the print version. I felt that this sent the wrong message, but maybe that's just me!.

The content of the book is what really won the day for me. The chapters come thick and fast, every one of them with a indictment of our insanity when it comes to how we treat our beaches. People agonize over rain-forest and wilderness, but beaches, for some reason, are ignored, undervalued, and treated like some vulgar relative.

In rapid succession, the stupidity of beach mining is exposed, along with the insanity of building houses upon sand, the failure of so-called 'beach replenishment', algal blooms, the disgusting trashing of beaches from a variety of sources, including the beach tourists who use those same beaches for recreation, the potential for horrific disease inherent in the misuse of beaches, the abusive driving on beaches of both 'official' and unofficial vehicles, and finally with the extensive and unforgivable oil and tar pollution.

Each chapter is exhaustively documented and supported by research as the appendices detail, and some of the information is as bizarre as it is disturbing. Did you know, for example, that there's an international trade in beach sand? That beach users have died from causes as disparate as flesh-eating bacterial infection and being run-over by a police SUV? That sea walls aimed at preventing beach erosion actually exacerbate it? That debris from the 2004 "St Stephen's tsunami" is still washing up on beaches across the Pacific, and right behind it is debris from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami that took out a Japanese nuclear reactors - a disaster which itself was caused by poor waterfront management and thoughtless construction?

The underlying message, just like the underlying sand, is that beaches are not the static environment we encounter when we go out there on a weekend or once a year on vacation. We think of the sea as restless, and ever in motion, yet we never see the shoreline in the same way. Why not? Beaches are vital and dynamic, and nothing we can do is ever going to change that, or stop it, or overcome it. You cannot control a beach any more than you can really control the activities of beach-goers, and any hard management scheme is doomed to fail. The only thing which works is the realization and appreciation of the value of the beach, and throwing all our efforts into protecting the natural ebb and flow, rather than foolishly trying to make it come to heel.

Pilkey and Cooper have done us all a huge service in drawing this to our attention and I recommend this book.
Article in NYT on disappearing beaches.