McDonald’s promises to use only beef, coffee, fish, chicken, and cooking oil obtained from sustainable sources. Coca-Cola promises to achieve water neutrality. Unilever has set a deadline of 2020 to reach 100 percent sustainable agricultural sourcing. Walmart has pledged to become carbon neutral. Today, big-brand companies seem to be making commitments that go beyond the usual “greenwashing” efforts undertaken largely for public relations purposes.
Americans take for granted that when we flip a switch the light will go on, when we turn up the thermostat the room will get warm, and when we pull up to the pump gas will be plentiful and relatively cheap. In The End of Energy, Michael Graetz shows us that we have been living an energy delusion for forty years. Until the 1970s, we produced domestically all the oil we needed to run our power plants, heat our homes, and fuel our cars. Since then, we have had to import most of the oil we use, much of it from the Middle East.
We live today in a global web of interdependence, connected technologically, economically, politically, and socially. As a result of these expanding and deepening interdependencies, it has become impossible fully to control--or foretell--the effects of our actions. The world is rife with unintended consequences. Wall Street’s reckless investment in toxic assets recently produced massive defaults and a global economic recession. Our attachment to fossil energy is producing a climate default.
We often enjoy the benefits of connecting with nearby, domesticated nature—a city park, a backyard garden. But this book makes the provocative case for the necessity of connecting with wild nature—untamed, unmanaged, not encompassed, self-organizing, and unencumbered and unmediated by technological artifice. We can love the wild. We can fear it. We are strengthened and nurtured by it. As a species, we came of age in a natural world far wilder than today’s, and much of the need for wildness still exists within us, body and mind.
The Earth’s oceans are overfished, despite more than fifty years of cooperation among the world’s fishing nations. There are too many boats chasing too few fish. In SavingGlobal Fisheries, J. Samuel Barkin and Elizabeth DeSombre analyze the problem of overfishing and offer a provocative proposal for a global regulatory and policy approach.
Today most major cities have undertaken some form of sustainability initiative. Yet there have been few systematic comparisons across cities, or theoretically grounded considerations of what works and what does not, and why. In Taking Sustainable CitiesSeriously, Kent Portney addresses this gap, offering a comprehensive overview and analysis of sustainability programs and policies in American cities.
Although nature conservation has traditionally focused on the countryside, issues of biodiversity protection also appear on the political agendas of many cities. One of the emblematic examples of this now worldwide trend has been the German city of Berlin, where, since the 1970s, urban planning has been complemented by a systematic policy of “biotope protection”—at first only in the walled city island of West Berlin, but subsequently across the whole of the reunified capital.
Urban freeways often cut through the heart of a city, destroying neighborhoods, displacing residents, and reconfiguring street maps. These massive infrastructure projects, costing billions of dollars in transportation funds, have been shaped for the last half century by the ideas of highway engineers, urban planners, landscape architects, and architects—with highway engineers playing the leading role.
The biosphere—the Earth’s thin layer of life—dates from nearly four billion years ago, when the first simple organisms appeared. Many species have exerted enormous influence on the biosphere’s character and productivity, but none has transformed the Earth in so many ways and on such a scale as Homo sapiens. In Harvesting the Biosphere, Vaclav Smil offers an interdisciplinary and quantitative account of human claims on the biosphere’s stores of living matter, from prehistory to the present day.
The vast majority of scientists agree that human activity has significantly increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere–most dramatically since the 1970s. Yet global warming skeptics and ill-informed elected officials continue to dismiss this broad scientific consensus.