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How California can make its cap-and-trade program more equitable

Last week California celebrated a big milestone: The state announced it had succeeded in bringing down its carbon emissions to levels it hasn’t seen since the 1990s. And the Golden State managed to hit that benchmark four years earlier than it had set out to, all while laying to rest the tired old argument that an economy can’t grow while emissions shrink.

There is, however, a catch: Carbon emissions may have dropped statewide, but according to a study published in the journal PLOS Medicine, low-income and communities of color that border heavy industry are seeing greater amounts of greenhouse gases and other airborne pollutants. Further, the analysis validates criticism against one of the state’s most celebrated climate interventions: its cap-and-trade program.

Historically, proposed climate solutions have focused on addressing aggregate carbon dioxide numbers while ignoring localized impacts, says Amy Vanderwarker, senior policy strategist at the California Environmental Justice Alliance. And communities in closest proximity to greenhouse gas emitters have long argued that cap-and-trade has concentrated airborne contaminants on those who are most vulnerable to pollution.

“In many ways we have thought of the work that these research partners are doing as the ‘I Told You So Report,’” Vanderwarker says. “It’s academic and data- driven verification of the lived reality and experience and knowledge and wisdom of low income communities of color across the state.”

Unfair Trade

Through it’s cap-and-trade program, California sets a “cap” for the total amount of carbon that can be emitted by certain companies operating within the state. Companies can purchase or “trade” emission allowances with each other, allowing bigger polluters to essentially purchase the right to emit from state auctions or from other companies that aren’t sending out as much carbon and have allowances to sell. The danger of this system is that the companies that end up purchasing those allowances — and thus polluting more — tend to be located in “fence-line” communities, which are typically lower-income and inhabited predominantly by people of color.

The report shows a correlation between greenhouse gas emissions and the presence of other harmful pollutants, like particulate matter and volatile organic compounds, that have been linked to cancer, respiratory problems, and other health issues. (Grist board member Rachel Morello-Frosch is a study co-author.) Put simply, facilities are usually emitting more than just carbon: so when greenhouse emissions go up, so does the amount of other bad stuff in the air.

The new research confirms that facilities regulated by California’s cap-and-trade program are disproportionately located in “fence-line” communities: Neighborhoods within 2.5 miles of regulated facilities on average had a 34 percent higher proportion of residents of color and a 23 percent higher proportion of residents living in poverty than areas beyond that boundary. And more than half of these polluters actually increased the amount of greenhouse gases they released since the system started in 2013. Those facilities were surrounded by neighborhoods that had higher rates of poverty and more residents of color than those surrounding facilities that cut down their emissions .

“When it comes to climate change and to greenhouse gas emissions, place does matter,” Vanderwarker says. “When you look at what’s happening on the ground, you see a different picture than what a statewide analysis and statewide numbers show.”

Clean Air for All

So what is a well-meaning, climate-concerned state to do? In addition to pointing out California’s discrepancy in cap-and-trade pollution, the new study outlines potential solutions to make the program more equitable.

While cap-and-trade is designed to tackle climate change by reining in greenhouse gases statewide, it’s federal statutes, like the Clean Air Act, that regulate the quality of the air we breathe. One of the keys to improving California’s air overall, according to the study’s lead author Lara Cushing, is to quit thinking about measures designed to address climate change and those targeting air pollution separately.

“Having them harmonize those efforts instead of regulating them separately might help the state achieve both its climate and its equity goals,” Cushing says. “From a public health perspective, getting the biggest bang for your buck for the emissions reductions you’re undertaking means prioritizing emissions reductions from sources that also release a lot of health-damaging pollutants.”

Another obvious course of action is for California to significantly lower the cap and give out fewer allowances to companies. An initial glut of allowances may have made it too easy for companies to purchase additional permits to pollute.

Then there’s the issue of offsets — investments companies can buy in green projects, like forest-preservation efforts (since trees absorb carbon dioxide). Facilities regulated by the cap-and-trade program can use offsets to cancel out up to 8 percent of the emissions they’re allowed under California’s cap. The problem: A majority of these investments — 75 percent — have been made on out-of-state initiatives. Cushing’s research suggests that regulations incentivizing or requiring companies to put their money in local green projects could help alleviate the health impacts facing California’s fence-line communities.

The state is actually starting to do this: When it passed an expansion of the cap-and-trade system last year, the bill included a measure that reduces the amount of offset credits a company can purchase and requires half of those credits to go towards projects that benefit California.

The California Environmental Justice Alliance — which opposed the expansion of the cap-and-trade system approved last year — is now paying close attention to how the state moves forward with implementing the program. Vanderwarker wants trends in the amount of greenhouse gases and co-pollutants emitted in fence-line communities to be clearly tracked as part of cap-and-trade, and she argues there needs to be a plan in place to address any hot spots where air concentrations are increasing.

“We haven’t really seen any clarity on that plan from the California Air Resources Board,” she says.

What California does to address equity within its climate policies matters not only for vulnerable communities in California, but for those across the country — particularly as other places consider their own carbon-trading systems.

“California is a leader on climate change, and California can be proud of that,” Cushing says, “It’s important that we get it right and that we continue to study this program — and whether disadvantaged communities are seeing the full benefits of California’s carbon reduction efforts — so that we can continue to play that leadership role.”

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How California can make its cap-and-trade program more equitable

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Fastest Things on Wings – Terry Masear


Fastest Things on Wings
Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood
Terry Masear

Genre: Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: June 16, 2015

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC

A heartwarming memoir by “one of California’s hardest-working hummingbird rehabilitators . . .  will leave the average bird lover agog” ( The Washington Post ).   Before he collided with a limousine, Gabriel, an Anna’s hummingbird with a head and throat cloaked in iridescent magenta feathers, could spiral 130 feet in the air, dive 60 miles per hour in a courtship display, hover, and fly backward. When he arrived in rehab caked in road grime, he was so badly injured that he could barely perch. But Terry Masear, one of the busiest hummingbird rehabbers in the country, was determined to save this damaged bird, who seemed oddly familiar.    During the four months that Masear worked with Gabriel, she took in 160 other hummingbirds, from a miniature nestling rescued by a bulldog to a fledgling trapped inside a skydiving wind tunnel at Universal CityWalk, and Pepper, a female Anna’s injured on a film set.   During their time together, Pepper and Gabriel formed a special bond and, together, with Terry’s help, learned to fly again. Woven throughout Gabriel and Pepper’s stories are those of other colorful birds in a narrative filled with the science and magic surrounding these fascinating creatures. “This is a book about birds that is actually a book about love, and Masear does us a favor by risking heartbreak every day” ( Los Angeles Times ).   “I cannot believe what a gripping read this is.” —Robin Young, host of NPR’s Here and Now   “A book that will change forever the way you look at these little birds.” — Los Angeles Times   “This is a charming and lively summertime read, something for the patio or balcony, glass of iced tea at hand, a hummingbird or two zipping around the azaleas.” — Dallas Morning News   “I was riveted, charmed, delighted, devastated, profoundly moved, and taken to a magical place few people ever get to glimpse.” —Stacey O’Brien, author of  Wesley the Owl  


Fastest Things on Wings – Terry Masear

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On Amazon’s Prime Day, the environment gets a raw deal

This Tuesday is day two of Prime Day, a late-capitalist online extravaganza for Amazon Prime members only. The once-a-year sale, which Amazon says rivals Black Friday for low prices, has become famous for its deals on increasingly bizarre items. But before you rush to purchase a hot dog toaster or a life-size yeti garden statue, consider the environmental footprint of that purchase — and Prime in general.

Transportation experts are split over whether online shopping reduces or increases emissions. In theory, online shopping can be more environmentally friendly than a traditional brick-and-mortar store: Either way, a truck has to deliver the items, and in the case of online shopping, you don’t have to drive to the store as well.

“Our research shows that delivering a typical order to an Amazon customer is more environmentally friendly than that customer driving to a store,” said Melanie Janin, sustainability representative at Amazon, in an email.

But research has shown that it’s a different story when companies incorporate “rush” shipping. Free two-day shipping — the hallmark of Amazon’s plan to squeeze out traditional retailers — burns through significantly more emissions than standard shipping or traditional in-store shopping.

And Amazon has only increased its shipping speeds, offering select products on Prime Now that can be delivered in one to two hours.“With one-hour or two-hour delivery, there is no time for companies to consolidate shipments,” says Miguel Jaller, professor of civil and environmental engineering at University of California Davis. “And that means more vehicles, more emissions, and more health impacts.”

When you wait three to five days for shipment, Jaller explains, Amazon has time to find the most efficient (and cheapest) way to deliver goods. Aviation is by far the most carbon-intensive transit option, and with more time the company can route your package by land, instead of by air. Slower shipping also allows Amazon to group your package with other, similar deliveries. But with Prime, there’s almost no incentive to choose a slower option.

“The concept of Amazon Prime pushes us towards more emissions,” Dan Sperling, another professor at UC Davis, tells Grist. “It makes the marginal cost of purchases very small, so you have motivation to buy more. And of course, that’s what Amazon wants.”

Emissions aren’t the only problem — the company has previously come under fire for truly unreasonable amounts of packaging for small items and more recently for troubling labor practices. But transport continues to be a sustainability problem for Amazon, and we don’t even know the full extent of the problem: the Seattle-based conglomerate is highly secretive about what their emissions actually are.

It’s not hopeless: Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, could take a stance on green delivery and prioritize low-emission vehicles. (Not a bad decision for a man recently named the richest in modern history). According to Jaller, Amazon could also offer higher incentives for Prime customers to opt for slower shipping. Other researchers have suggested labeling standard shipping as the green choice, or giving consumers the chance to purchase carbon offsets.

At the end of the day, however, it will take consumer pressure to make any of these changes. So please, consider whether you can wait a few days to receive your garden yeti — or better yet, whether you even need it at all.

“Amazon isn’t the villain in this,” says Sperling. “The villain is us — it’s what people are willing to pay for.”

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On Amazon’s Prime Day, the environment gets a raw deal

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The Song of the Dodo – David Quammen


The Song of the Dodo
Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions
David Quammen

Genre: Nature

Price: $2.99

Publish Date: March 15, 2011

Publisher: Scribner


David Quammen’s book, The Song of the Dodo , is a brilliant, stirring work, breathtaking in its scope, far-reaching in its message — a crucial book in precarious times, which radically alters the way in which we understand the natural world and our place in that world. It’s also a book full of entertainment and wonders. In The Song of the Dodo , we follow Quammen’s keen intellect through the ideas, theories, and experiments of prominent naturalists of the last two centuries. We trail after him as he travels the world, tracking the subject of island biogeography, which encompasses nothing less than the study of the origin and extinction of all species. Why is this island idea so important? Because islands are where species most commonly go extinct — and because, as Quammen points out, we live in an age when all of Earth’s landscapes are being chopped into island-like fragments by human activity. Through his eyes, we glimpse the nature of evolution and extinction, and in so doing come to understand the monumental diversity of our planet, and the importance of preserving its wild landscapes, animals, and plants. We also meet some fascinating human characters. By the book’s end we are wiser, and more deeply concerned, but Quammen leaves us with a message of excitement and hope.

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The Song of the Dodo – David Quammen

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WeWork kicks meat to the curb in the name of climate change

WeWork announced a company-wide meat ban on Thursday: Poultry, pork, and red meat are officially no longer on the menu at WeWork events. And employees can’t charge meals that contain meat to the company card, either. That’s because the coworking Goliath seems to be moderately concerned that the human race is hurtling toward ecological collapse.

Like it or not, eliminating meat and dairy from your diet is probably the No. 1 thing you can do for the planet. Cutting out plastic straws? Sea turtles the world ’round appreciate it, but in terms of addressing climate change on a planetary scale, it doesn’t cut the mustard. That’s why the folks here at Grist dot org didn’t throw a party when Starbucks made plans to ditch straws and replace them with … plastic sippy cup lids. Perhaps it should take some inspiration from WeWork?

The company’s cofounder dropped the meat ban announcement on his employees in a memo. WeWork, valued at $20 billion, serves 253,000 members across the globe, and none of them will be nibbling on pigs-in-a-blanket on company premises anymore — unless they bring them from home, I guess.

The new meat ban will do the following by 2023, according to the company’s estimates:

Save 16.6 billion gallons of water
Prevent 445.1 million pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere
Spare the lives of more than 15,000,000 animals

While WeWork’s meat-free commitment is no doubt the most environmentally impactful step it’s taking, the company is also working to reduce its energy consumption by installing LED lights, automatic light switches, and a “global energy consumption dashboard,” something it hopes will help employees keep track of energy usage. It’s also working to reduce construction waste, increase the density of its real estate, and minimize additional construction. The company says its spaces are already 2.5 times more efficient than a typical office.

That’s pretty impressive! And to those of you who say you can’t give up meat, I ask you: Would you rather drink from a plastic sippy cup like a giant baby, or forgo the chicken skewers at your next company picnic like a well-adjusted grownup? The choice is yours. Unless you’re at WeWork, because your bosses already decided for you.

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WeWork kicks meat to the curb in the name of climate change

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Scott Pruitt can’t escape his investigations just because he resigned

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Scott Pruitt may be out at the EPA, but he left in the midst of more than a dozen federal investigations into his conduct. The bulk of these investigations are audits that the EPA’s Office of Inspector General agreed to take on. A week after Pruitt’s resignation, the OIG confirmed that these investigations won’t be ending just because Pruitt is no longer in office.

The independent EPA office will continue work on at least five audits, “all of which focus on programmatic, systemic, and/or operational agency issues,” Kentia Elbaum, a spokesperson for the OIG office, wrote in an email to reporters. Some of these audits were already examining issues that predated Pruitt’s arrival, but they have all expanded in scope to include revelations about how Pruitt deployed EPA resources. That includes whether the EPA adhered to its policies on Pruitt’s first-class flights and travel through December 2017; Pruitt’s approval of raises for two employees using the Safe Drinking Water Act; and reports of his staff deleting records that should be preserved under the Freedom of Information Act. And the two others pertain to his 24/7 protective security detail.

Three of these audits could be completed as soon as August, according to Elbaum.

Now, audits are not the same as criminal investigations. Once the office issues its findings, Pruitt would only face public embarrassment since he’s no longer employed by the agency and can’t be directly reprimanded. But a number of Pruitt’s critics have said that he is worthy of a criminal probe, given the reports that he used his public office to find a job for his wife. OIG would not comment on whether Pruitt faces a criminal investigation. “While the EPA OIG announces nearly all of our audit work, we cannot confirm or deny the existence of criminal investigations, which look for violations of law,” Elbaum said. “We can say that any criminal investigations that may have existed at the time of Mr. Pruitt’s resignation will continue.”

In May, Pruitt confirmed that he established a legal defense fund to help him through his investigations. As head of the EPA, he would have had to walk a fine line to not run afoul of ethics law in collecting his donations. Now, he’s free from those restraints.

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Scott Pruitt can’t escape his investigations just because he resigned

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This year’s global hurricane boom could go into overdrive

The powerful weather pattern known as El Niño has been blamed for massive wildfires, crippling droughts, and global food shortages. And it’s looking increasingly likely that another one is on the way.

The latest outlook from the National Weather Service, out Thursday, says there’s a 70 percent chance that El Niño will arrive before the end of the year. Summertime outlooks for El Niño are generally pretty accurate, so it’s a big deal that the weather pattern is still in the forecast.

Another El Niño would carry far-reaching consequences for the world’s weather, one of which may have already arrived: Hurricanes and typhoons have been popping up more often than normal this year. (Both are place-specific names; the meteorological term for these storms is tropical cyclone.) El Niño warms the waters of the Pacific Ocean, providing additional fuel for tropical cyclones and increasing their activity by about 15 percent.

As of Thursday, according to Grist’s analysis of available weather data, cyclone activity in the Pacific Ocean is running about 42 percent above normal; in the Indian Ocean, it’s about 40 percent above normal. But in the Atlantic, it’s a whopping 370 percent above normal. Some of this is just random chance, but at least in the Pacific, the early signs of El Niño have already arrived.

All this has already led to several cyclone disasters in a season that’s just getting started.

In May, Cyclone Mekunu struck Oman, bringing two years’ worth of rainfall in a few hours and creating a huge swath of temporary lakes in one of the driest deserts on Earth. This week, more than 600,000 people were evacuated in China’s Fujian province before Typhoon Maria made landfall. Meanwhile storm-weary Puerto Rico received a scare from Hurricane Beryl, before it fizzled shortly after reaching the Caribbean.

Earlier this month, Typhoon Prapiroon kicked off a record-breaking torrential downpour in southern Japan. More than 70 inches of rain have fallen — about four-months worth in 11 days — a precipitation level on par with what Texas experienced during Hurricane Harvey last year. More than 200 people have died so far as a result, and the damage is so widespread that Japanese officials are comparing it to the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

To be clear, El Niño is a natural, cyclical phenomenon that the Pacific Ocean has undergone for millennia. And just because there’s an El Niño brewing doesn’t mean every rainstorm everywhere is connected to it. But there’s growing evidence that climate change is starting to make stronger El Niños happen more often. And that evidence, combined with the fact that climate change is increasing cyclone-related rainfall intensity anyway, is easily enough implicate human activity in the worst of  floods that occur against the backdrop of an El Niño year.

We need to look back only to 2015 — the last visit from El Niño — to find the busiest tropical cyclone season in recorded history. So far, this year is just a storm or two off that pace.

Over the past 15 years, the National Weather Service has called for an impending El Niño in their July outlooks six times. They’ve been wrong only once, in 2012. Sure, they could be wrong this year, but don’t bet on it. If the building El Niño arrives, global air temperatures will surge, lagging a few months behind the warmer oceans. That would give 2019 a good shot at knocking off 2016 as the warmest year on record. With a strong El Niño, global temperatures might even tiptoe across the 1.5 degree-Celsius mark — temporarily crossing a major milestone that climate campaigners are fighting to prevent.

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This year’s global hurricane boom could go into overdrive

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Hold on to your snowballs: More Americans accept the reality of climate change than ever before

Seventy-three percent! That’s the proportion of Americans who now think there is “solid evidence” of global climate change, according to a new report released by National Surveys on Energy and the Environment (NSEE). It’s the highest percentage since the survey started in 2008.

Good news? Sort of. Even those who accept the reality of climate change are still hazy on the causes. Only 34 percent of those sampled believed that climate change is due primarily to human activity, as established science indicates. As for the rest, 26 percent thought it was partially due to humans and 12 percent blamed natural causes. Come on, people!

Before you tear your hair out, here’s a quick lesson in the types of climate denial. “Trend deniers” are people who question whether the climate is changing at all — like the infamous snowball-throwing James Inhofe. “Attribution deniers,” on the other hand, question whether the changes can be linked to human influence — more in line with Scott Pruitt’s oh-so-vague climate beliefs.

Evidence suggests that trend deniers are on a sharp decline. Only 15 percent of those sampled in this study believed the climate was not changing at all. “That’s the lowest percentage since we started the survey,” says Barry Rabe, coauthor of the report and professor at the University of Michigan.

This has been a long time coming. Americans are experiencing more extreme weather on a personal level (heat waves, anybody?) and are seeing a growing number of reports about rising sea levels and melting polar ice.

National Surveys on Energy and Environment

But at the same time, attribution deniers are still around — and they present problems for anyone hoping to pass climate legislation.

“Those who are averse to mitigation aren’t as vehemently challenging the science of climate change, as they are the ability of policies to make any difference,” says Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg Institute of Public Opinion and another coauthor of the report.

This has been particularly visible in the Trump administration, where climate denial has taken the form of rejecting human influence rather than rising temperatures more generally. And, by denying the role of humans, the Trump team has absolved itself of making any significant policy changes — well, except for rolling back environmental regulations.

At least we don’t have to waste as much paper showing why a single snowball doesn’t disprove the reality of a warming world. But if you think that climate change is only partially — or not at all — caused by humans, you’re even less likely to take the drastic actions needed to prevent catastrophe.

“In general, having Americans accept the existence of climate change is a necessary condition for policy action,” Borick argues. “But it’s not sufficient.”

Borick and Rabe are hopeful that we will continue see slow movement toward both acceptance and action. The surveys show some hints that trend deniers can become attribution deniers — and that attribution deniers, in turn, may eventually accept the full science of climate change. But, if the last decade is any indication, it’s going to take a while.

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Hold on to your snowballs: More Americans accept the reality of climate change than ever before

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Chinese companies apparently broke an international ozone agreement. What happens next?

The Montreal Protocol is hailed as a major climate victory. The 1987 international agreement completely phased out ozone-damaging chemicals like CFC-11 — formerly used as a refrigerant — and likely saved the ozone layer from complete collapse.

Imagine the surprise, then, when National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers in May detected a 25 percent increase in atmospheric CFC-11 since 2012.

“From the moment these emissions were first detected, the parties to the Montreal Protocol have been in near constant communication with an intense focus on identifying the complete scope of any illegal production,” says head of U.N. Environment Erik Solheim in an email.

The nonprofit Environment Investigation Agency now thinks it caught the culprit: Chinese foam insulation manufacturers. An EIA investigation released Monday found evidence of 18 companies across 10 Chinese provinces using CFC-11. By the researchers’ estimates, this would likely account for most of the emissions spike NOAA detected.

Many Chinese companies use CFC-11 in manufacturing foam insulation, according to a New York Times piece published ahead of the investigation. A refrigerator factory owner admitted to the practice, saying it was a cheaper choice and that until recently, some manufacturers weren’t aware of the environmental impacts.

So then, what happens next to enforce the ozone-saving treaty?

First off, a meeting of the parties who signed on to the agreement is underway. Discussing how to act on the apparent treaty violation is high on the agenda, according to Keith Weller, head of U.N. Environment News and Media.

If necessary, trade restrictions could be enacted, explains Durwood Zaelke, founder of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development who’s been involved in the Montreal Protocol since its inception. But, he says the initial approach is usually kinder.

“The question becomes, what do you need if you’re the violator to bring yourself back into compliance?” Zaelke says. “We are here to offer you whatever that is.” That could mean offering  support on how to shift to a safer alternative to CFC-11, for instance.

Zaelke is pretty optimistic that this approach will be successful, since it’s what the treaty’s parties have used to address past violations.

But direct enforcement will have to come from within China — ideally from the highest levels of government, says University of California Los Angeles law professor Alex Wang. He says recent pollution crackdowns in the country suggest potential for action on CFC-11.

“China has been building its enforcement apparatus in air pollution,” he explains. “You could imagine it being shifted to this issue.”

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Chinese companies apparently broke an international ozone agreement. What happens next?

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Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland – Miriam Horn


Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland

Miriam Horn

Genre: Nature

Price: $2.99

Publish Date: September 6, 2016

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Seller: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Now a feature-length documentary on the Discovery channel narrated by Tom Brokaw. “Lush, gorgeously written…A profoundly hopeful book.” —Tina Rosenberg, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award A Kirkus Best Book of 2016 Many of the men and women doing today’s most consequential environmental work—restoring America’s grasslands, wildlife, soil, rivers, wetlands, and oceans—would not call themselves environmentalists; they would be too uneasy with the connotations of that word. What drives them is their deep love of the land: the iconic terrain where explorers and cowboys, pioneers and riverboat captains forged the American identity. They feel a moral responsibility to preserve this heritage and natural wealth, to ensure that their families and communities will continue to thrive. Unfolding as a journey down the Mississippi River, Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman tells the stories of five representatives of this stewardship movement: a Montana rancher, a Kansas farmer, a Mississippi riverman, a Louisiana shrimper, and a Gulf fisherman. In exploring their work and family histories and the essential geographies they protect, Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman challenges pervasive and powerful myths about American and environmental values.

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Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland – Miriam Horn

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