Tag Archives: world

Pigeons – Andrew D. Blechman



The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird

Andrew D. Blechman

Genre: Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: December 1, 2007

Publisher: Grove Atlantic

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC

A “quirky, endlessly entertaining” look at the surprising history of the pigeon (Simon Winchester).   Domesticated since the dawn of man, pigeons have been used as crucial communicators in war by every major historical superpower from ancient Egypt to the United States and are credited with saving thousands of lives. They have been worshipped as fertility goddesses and revered as symbols of peace. Charles Darwin relied heavily on pigeons to help formulate and support his theory of evolution. Yet today they are reviled as “rats with wings.”   To research this lively history of the humble pigeon, the author traveled across the United States and Europe to meet with pigeon fanciers and pigeon haters in a quest to find out how we came to misunderstand one of mankind’s most helpful and steadfast companions. Pigeons captures a Brooklyn man’s quest to win the Main Event (the pigeon world’s equivalent of the Kentucky Derby), as well as a convention dedicated to breeding the perfect bird. The author participates in a live pigeon shoot where entrants pay $150; he tracks down Mike Tyson, the nation’s most famous pigeon lover; he spends time with Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Pigeon Handler; and he sheds light on a radical “pro-pigeon underground” in New York City. In Pigeons , Andrew Blechman reveals for the first time the remarkable story behind this seemingly unremarkable bird.   “A quick and thoroughly entertaining read, Pigeons will leave readers chuckling at the quirky characters and pondering surprising pigeon facts.” — Audubon Magazine   “Manages to illuminate not merely the ostensible subject of the book, but also something of the endearing, repellent, heroic, and dastardly nature of that most bizarre of breeds, Homo sapiens.” — Salon  

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Pigeons – Andrew D. Blechman

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The Camp Fire’s flames were deadly. Its smoke could be even more dangerous.

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A year of fire and relentless heat has spilled over into a grimy, smoky, full-blown public health crisis in northern California.

While the epicenter of the Camp Fire’s gruesome tragedy is in the town of Paradise, where 63 people are known to have died and 631 are still missing, many more people in the region are suffering from the life-threatening impact of wildfire smoke.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar officially declared a public health emergency for California on Tuesday, and since then, air quality conditions have only gotten worse.

On Thursday, northern California’s Air Quality Index, a measure of how polluted the air is, was the worst of any region in the world. Chico, Oroville, and Sacramento reported pollution levels in the “hazardous” category — the highest on the scale — topping parts of China and India and breaking records for the worst air quality in the area since record keeping began. It’s the equivalent of smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day.

Friday is the eighth consecutive day that millions of people in Northern California are breathing wildfire smoke. Public health officials fear that chronic smoke inhalation could lead to a whole suite of new health problems, like those seen in Asian megacities.

The smoke in the region is so bad, it’s disrupting the regular flow of life. The vast majority of schools are closed across the Bay Area. The cable cars in San Francisco have stopped running. Flights are being delayed due to reduced visibility. Cars are forced to use headlights in the middle of the day.

The current smoke emergency mirrors one earlier this year in the Pacific Northwest, which darkened the skies over Seattle for days.

So far, there hasn’t been a noticeable uptick in emergency room visits across California, but that’s likely to change. Past studies show that particulate pollution, like smoke, aggravates pre-existing conditions, especially in seniors. Young children are particularly at-risk because they are still growing and tend to be more active than adults. Homeless populations, farmworkers, and low-income residents are all especially vulnerable because they are more likely to work and live in places where it’s difficult to avoid exposure to the pollution.

Smoke, not flames, is the deadliest public health risk of wildfires. The fine-grain air pollution it carries (classified as particulate matter fewer than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) is already one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. — an estimated 17,000 people die of wildfire smoke-related causes each year. By the end of the century, it could cause twice as many deaths as it does now — to 44,000 each year.

Each year, wildfire smoke leads to thousands of premature deaths, much more than other types of extreme weather. It often hits with little warning, adversely affecting people who aren’t prepared in places hundreds of miles away from the fires.This summer, when wildfires broke out in British Columbia, public health alerts were issued as far away as Minnesota — roughly 2,000 miles east of the fires.

Across the world, more than 7 million people die each year due to air pollution from smoke and exhaust from fossil fuel burning. A study last month from the World Health Organization found that more than 90 percent of children in the world breathe toxic air every day.

Air pollution caused by wildfires is a problem that’s just going to keep getting worse thanks to climate change. As drier and hotter weather continues to intensify the fire season — creating the conditions for massively destructive wildfires like the Camp Fire — the number of people affected by smoke on the West Coast is expected to increase by 50 percent in just the next two decades.

This week’s smoke outbreak should remind us that, as we talk about preparing for future fire catastrophes, we need to also prepare for their wider public health impacts.

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The Camp Fire’s flames were deadly. Its smoke could be even more dangerous.

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The Brain – David Eagleman


The Brain

The Story of You

David Eagleman

Genre: Life Sciences

Price: $2.99

Publish Date: October 6, 2015

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

Locked in the silence and darkness of your skull, your brain fashions the rich narratives of your reality and your identity. Join renowned neuroscientist David Eagleman for a journey into the questions at the mysterious heart of our existence. What is reality? Who are “you”? How do you make decisions? Why does your brain need other people? How is technology poised to change what it means to be human?  In the course of his investigations, Eagleman guides us through the world of extreme sports, criminal justice, facial expressions, genocide, brain surgery, gut feelings, robotics, and the search for immortality.  Strap in for a whistle-stop tour into the inner cosmos. In the infinitely dense tangle of billions of brain cells and their trillions of connections, something emerges that you might not have expected to see in there: you.    This is the story of how your life shapes your brain, and how your brain shapes your life.    (A companion to the six-part PBS series. Color illustrations throughout.)

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The Brain – David Eagleman

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Astonishing Animals – Tim Flannery


Astonishing Animals

Extraordinary Creatures and the Fantastic Worlds They Inhabit

Tim Flannery

Genre: Nature

Price: $11.99

Publish Date: March 1, 2012

Publisher: Grove Atlantic

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC

From the authors of A Gap in Nature, a breathtaking visual adventure showcasing ninety of the world’s most astounding creatures.   Sumptuous birds of paradise, amazing soft-shell turtles, frogs that look like tomatoes, and terrifying fish (including the deep-water angler fish from Finding Nemo ) are just some of the extraordinary creatures that can be found in Tim Flannery and Peter Schouten’s new book, Astonishing Animals .   Superbly illustrated with lifelike full-color paintings, Astonishing Animals details ninety of the world’s most amazing animals from around the world. In this book you will find the Hairy Seadevil, the spectacular Sulawesi Naked Bat, and in the depths of the limestone caves in Slovenia, the Olm, a pink, four-legged, sightless salamander that lives for a hundred years. In fascinating vignettes, Flannery offers the true evolutionary tale of how each of these bizarre creatures came to look the way they do. Alongside each historical account is a stunning hand-painted color reproduction (life-size in the original painting) by Schouten.   Filled with purple-faced apes, jagged-toothed dolphins, and antlered lizards, Astonishing Animals is a remarkable collection of the world’s most incredible creatures and the stories behind their remarkable survival into a modern age.   “An elegant paean to some of the world’s strangest and/or most beautiful creatures.” —Mary Ann Gwinn,  Seattle Times   “As beautiful as it is fascinating, this book will be relished by animal lovers of all stripes.” — Publishers Weekly  (starred review)

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Astonishing Animals – Tim Flannery

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Bitcoin: Are we really going to burn up the world for libertarian nerdbucks?

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The continued growth of power-hungry Bitcoin could lock in catastrophic climate change, according to a new study.

The cryptocurrency’s growth, should it follow the adoption path of other widely used technologies (like credit cards and air conditioning), would alone be enough to push the planet to 2-degree C warming, the red line value the world agreed to in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

Bitcoin essentially converts electricity into cash, via incredibly complex math problems designed to eliminate the need for government-sponsored currencies. It’s made a lot of bros rich over the past few years, but it’s also raised some significant concerns about the ethics of sucking up excess energy on a finite planet.

The libertarian nerdbucks account for only a tiny fraction (0.033 percent) of global transactions right now, but its rapid growth and already sizable energy usage are worrisome. This latest study, from researchers at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, adds to the pile of evidence that Bitcoin needs to cut down dramatically on energy use — or risk taking down our chances for a clean energy future with it.

The Hawaii researchers looked at every single Bitcoin that was “mined” in 2017 and the mix of fuel used to create the electricity that powered the huge computer farms that produced each of them. Unlike past calculations, they put a stronger emphasis on the types of computer processing equipment, factoring in older, less-efficient models still in routine use by Bitcoin miners. Through this analysis, they found that Bitcoin is likely already producing more than double the greenhouse gases of previous best estimates. That means that despite its infinitesimal reach, the global Bitcoin network already uses a lot of electricity — about as much as the entire country of Austria.

“Currently, the emissions from transportation, housing and food are considered the main contributors to ongoing climate change,” said Katie Taladay, one of the paper’s authors, in a statement. “This research illustrates that Bitcoin should be added to this list.”

Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its starkest warning yet about what a world that’s 1.5 or 2 degrees warmer than pre-industrial levels would be like, saying that civilization itself is at stake if the world fails to reduce emissions by half before 2030.

The entire world has somewhere between 250 and 750 billion tons of remaining carbon that can enter the atmosphere before a 2-degree world becomes inevitable. This includes everything: Every factory, every airplane, every tractor delivering hay to cattle on every ranch, every light in every building everywhere in the world.

The Hawaii study found that Bitcoin alone could use that entire budget in 22 years if it grows at the slowest rate of widely used technologies. And it could use it up in just 11 years — by 2029 — if it grows at a rate equal to the fastest-uptake technologies.

Or, Gaia willing!, Bitcoin could crash and burn or remake itself to use vastly less energy, according to the Hawaii team. The authors are clear that they’re not predicting exactly what will happen, only imagining the stakes of the worst-case scenario — with Bitcoin as ubiquitous as microwave ovens, with no significant changes to its algorithm to get more energy efficient.

There are glimmers of hope that have emerged in 2018 that Bitcoin could be heading for that first crash and burn scenario. After rising in value more than 300 percent in a little over a month late last year, Bitcoin has given up all those gains and stagnated for most of 2018. Lower prices for Bitcoin have given its proponents less of an incentive to invest in expanding the network.

And the Hawaii team pointed to tweaks to the overall system that could reduce energy usage. One of those modifications, building a Bitcoin mining system based on trust rather than continuing to escalate a computational arms race, has already been championed by some of the more ethical cryptocurrency activists. Bottom line: This is a solvable problem. And our future depends on us solving it.

What’s absolutely clear in a world like this is that we can’t afford to waste our precious time and energy on things (like Bitcoin) that aren’t directly related to decarbonizing the global economy as quickly as possible.

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Bitcoin: Are we really going to burn up the world for libertarian nerdbucks?

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Energy and Civilization – Vaclav Smil


Energy and Civilization
A History
Vaclav Smil

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $19.99

Publish Date: May 12, 2017

Publisher: The MIT Press

Seller: The MIT Press

A comprehensive account of how energy has shaped society throughout history, from pre-agricultural foraging societies through today’s fossil fuel–driven civilization. “I wait for new Smil books the way some people wait for the next ‘Star Wars’ movie. In his latest book, Energy and Civilization: A History , he goes deep and broad to explain how innovations in humans’ ability to turn energy into heat, light, and motion have been a driving force behind our cultural and economic progress over the past 10,000 years. —Bill Gates, Gates Notes , Best Books of the Year Energy is the only universal currency; it is necessary for getting anything done. The conversion of energy on Earth ranges from terra-forming forces of plate tectonics to cumulative erosive effects of raindrops. Life on Earth depends on the photosynthetic conversion of solar energy into plant biomass. Humans have come to rely on many more energy flows—ranging from fossil fuels to photovoltaic generation of electricity—for their civilized existence. In this monumental history, Vaclav Smil provides a comprehensive account of how energy has shaped society, from pre-agricultural foraging societies through today’s fossil fuel–driven civilization. Humans are the only species that can systematically harness energies outside their bodies, using the power of their intellect and an enormous variety of artifacts—from the simplest tools to internal combustion engines and nuclear reactors. The epochal transition to fossil fuels affected everything: agriculture, industry, transportation, weapons, communication, economics, urbanization, quality of life, politics, and the environment. Smil describes humanity’s energy eras in panoramic and interdisciplinary fashion, offering readers a magisterial overview. This book is an extensively updated and expanded version of Smil’s Energy in World History (1994). Smil has incorporated an enormous amount of new material, reflecting the dramatic developments in energy studies over the last two decades and his own research over that time.

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Energy and Civilization – Vaclav Smil

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Wilderness and the American Mind – Roderick Frazier Nash & Char Miller


Wilderness and the American Mind

Fifth Edition

Roderick Frazier Nash & Char Miller

Genre: Nature

Price: $17.99

Publish Date: January 28, 2014

Publisher: Yale University Press

Seller: Yale University

Roderick Nash’s classic study of changing attitudes toward wilderness during American history, as well as the origins of the environmental and conservation movements, has received wide acclaim since its initial publication in 1967. The  Los Angeles Times listed it among the one hundred most influential books published in the last quarter century, Outside Magazine included it in a survey of “books that changed our world,” and it has been called the “Book of Genesis for environmentalists.”   For the fifth edition, Nash has written a new preface and epilogue that brings Wilderness and the American Mind into dialogue with contemporary debates about wilderness. Char Miller’s foreword provides a twenty-first-century perspective on how the environmental movement has changed, including the ways in which contemporary scholars are reimagining the dynamic relationship between the natural world and the built environment.

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Wilderness and the American Mind – Roderick Frazier Nash & Char Miller

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If Jeff Flake has taken up your cause, your cause is in danger

This weekend, someone — specifically, George Stephanopoulos — saw fit to ask Arizona Senator Jeff Flake what he thought of the Republican party’s position on climate change. Senator Flake, an active member of the party controlling our nation’s legislative branch (as well as its executive and judicial branches), said that he thinks the government should do more to combat warming.

You can always count on Flake to say something vaguely ethical and then do whatever will most directly undermine it. Most recently, you may remember him for giving an impassioned soundbite in support of Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of assault, … and then immediately voting to confirm Kavanaugh to the court. You may also recall him speaking out against the Republican tax reform effort last December … and then immediately voting to make it law.

Conflict-resolution theory, according to Kim Kardashian West’s makeup artist, dictates that when you are disappointed in someone’s behavior, you should mention some of their good qualities so that it’s clear you are viewing them in a balanced way. Here we go: Jeff Flake has very nice teeth. On Sunday, Flake showed off his excellent chompers while giving the following vacuous reaction to the recent, upsetting U.N. climate change report to Stephanopoulos on ABC’s The Week:

“There’s been more recognition [of the need for climate action] among Republicans, but the administration hasn’t taken the view of some of us that this is something we really need to deal with along with the rest of the world and address this. It’s going to be challenging — obviously, that report that came out was pretty dire. But I think there’s things we can do and should do, and Republicans need to be at the forefront if we want to keep our place and keep our seats.”

It is true that Republican officials have not been particularly proactive on the matter of climate change, to say the least. Just this weekend, in the aftermath of the “dire” IPCC report, President Trump’s economic advisor Larry Kudlow stopped just short of calling the assessment a “scare tactic.” And Flake’s colleague Marco Rubio, who represents Florida, where Hurricane Michael made its devastating landfall this past week, said he did not want to “destroy our economy” to combat climate change.

As a U.S. senator in a majority party, Jeff Flake is one of the one hundredth of one percent of humans in the world who can have a real, direct, tangible influence on slowing climate change. While he’s not seeking re-election this year, here is what he’s done with that position of power: He voted to confirm Rex Tillerson, Rick Perry, and Ryan Zinke to Trump’s cabinet. He voted against restricting methane pollution, incentivizing energy-efficient homes through the mortgage market, and banning fossil fuel drilling in the Arctic Refuge. He has a 8 percent pro-environmental voting record, according to the League of Conservation Voters.

Now that he’s made public comments about the need to take on climate change, I look forward to Jeff Flake’s upcoming vote to build more coal plants on top of whales.

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If Jeff Flake has taken up your cause, your cause is in danger

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If you’re suffering from climate grief, you’re not alone

Last week’s U.N. climate report gave a terrifyingly clear picture of a world on the brink of locking in catastrophe. It told us what was needed and the horrors that awaited if we failed to mobilize. As a scientific report, it was dazzling. But it didn’t tell us how to process, cope, and adapt our lives to the grief of that overwhelming knowledge.

In 1969, after interviewing hundreds of terminally ill patients, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote On Death and Dying, a milestone text on how humans process permanent loss. Kübler-Ross’ description of those reactions — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance — are now famous, but they were never meant to be an orderly progression of “stages.” There is no “correct,” linear way to grieve. Our reactions are complicated because people are complicated.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for taking in something like the looming existential threat of climate change. I’ve been listening to a lot of ’90s country music. One of my colleagues has substantially upped her sleep, while one of our Grist editors “stress bakes.” What we feel is what we feel, and it determines our reality — and importantly, our response, to the news. And that response is more important than ever.

What we need now is a major mobilization on climate change. That would require, in the words of the IPCC, “rapid and far-reaching transitions” in “all aspects of society.” We’re taking much more than just solar panels and reusable shopping bags here. After decades of delay, the scale of changes that are necessary will force us to rethink everything. To put in the changes necessary, we have to be able to connect our emotions to our actions. We have to process our grief. We have to somehow move through it, and we have to do all that together.

Last week, Scott Williams of Climate-KIC, a group affiliated with the European Union, wrote a short essay with the headline: “Do we need an IPCC special report for humans?” He explores what it would take to act on the U.N. report and asks provocative questions, like: “What does it mean when every coal mine town has no jobs in five years’ time? What does it mean when in ten years’ time if no airlines can fly over Europe? How do we feed our families if there’s an extended drought which causes mass crop failure? What is the point of putting away money into a pension fund if that fund is investing in a way that just makes things worse? And what are we going to do about it?”

For those of us dealing with climate grief, these questions are familiar. I get dozens of them every week, and I’m never sure exactly how to respond. My go-to reply is: Find a friend and talk about it. But in truth, although it works for me, I have no idea whether or not this is the right advice for everyone.

There are scant few people currently working on this. Kate Schapira, a climate activist in Rhode Island, has taken it upon herself to set up a Peanuts-style counseling booth each summer in a public park in Providence. Renee Lertzman, a psychologist and leader in this field, wrote a book on the subject called Environmental Melancholia — but in interviews, she admits there’s much more to learn.

The best guide I’ve seen so far is Josh Fox’s impressively named documentary How to let go of the world and love all the things climate can’t change. In it, Fox speaks with climate activists as they come to grips with the literal dying of a world they thought would last forever, and dedicate their lives to the struggle, not knowing exactly what the end goal might be. Through that catharsis, the activists re-engage with their role in helping avert the largest crisis in human history — and wind up aiming to build a different, better world. But others, we know, remain disengaged — some, overtly hostile to change — even as the stakes continue to rise.

We’ll need more than this. We’ll need a comprehensive crash course on human psychology to deal with the massive changes we’re seeing; a guide to self-care for the most important decade in human history. We need to know how climate change will change us as social beings, how we can deal with grief, how to go about the process of imagining a new society. We will need to know not only how we can survive in this new world, but how we will live.

This is a necessarily messy process and it won’t be easy, but I’m not sure what could be more important.

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If you’re suffering from climate grief, you’re not alone

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Is Sarah Silverman comedy’s new climate champion?

Finding humor in climate change isn’t easy (trust us!). That’s especially true this week, when U.N. scientists handed the world a big, scary report saying we’re on the road to catastrophe and Hurricane Michael carved a path of devastation through the Florida Panhandle. But Sarah Silverman is up for the challenge. The comedian delivered a nine-minute plea for climate action on Thursday in the latest episode of her Hulu show I Love You, America.

“I know climate change is not the most exciting issue, and the media knows it too, which is part of why it’s covered so infrequently,” Silverman said. She pointed to MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes’ controversial tweet in which he said climate change is a “palpable ratings killer” for news shows and so “the incentives are not great.”

“You know what’s a great incentive?” Silverman asked. “We’re all gonna f*#&’ing die.”

“I feel compelled to use my platform to speak out,” Silverman said. “Granted, my platform is on the third largest streaming network of three, so it’s not so much shouting from the rooftops as like complaining from an open mic at Panera Bread.”

Silverman covered a ton of ground in the segment, from scientists’ terrifying climate predictions to the “it’s a hoax” views of President Trump, who she calls a “Fox News grandpa.” Here’s a clip of her explaining how “absurdly rich and powerful people” are ruining the planet for the rest of us (the full thing is on Hulu):

“The only option is that we react to this massive state of emergency with massive action,” Silverman said. She brought up climate change on her show last month, too, explaining the Trump administration’s rollback of methane regulations.

Silverman isn’t the only comedian taking on climate change: Jimmy Kimmel and Trevor Noah also came up with jokes about the scary U.N. report … somehow.

So are comedians good messengers for climate change? Perhaps! A study from earlier this year found that humor, rather than fear or straightforward facts, got young people the most excited about taking action on climate change.

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Is Sarah Silverman comedy’s new climate champion?

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