3 books on the environment

August 11, 2011

Once the mantra of a passionate few, the virtues of green living are now embraced by millions from coast to coast. Although the environmental movement has gone mainstream, the fate of the environment still faces considerable hurdles, especially in the current Congress. Dozens of riders have been attached to the Interior appropriations bill in the House, many of which would curtail the department, as well as the EPA, from enforcing a range of environmental protections. While this latest legislative showdown will unfold in the fall, here are several new titles that make the case for a greener planet.

1. Urban Green: Architecture for the Future, by Neil B. Chambers (Palgrave Macmillan, $28). A professor of green design and environmental policy at NYU, Chambers sketches an ambitious way forward for the green building industry. Defining what green building is and how well its goals are being met, he explores where the movement needs to be a century from now. That progress will require a marriage of new engineering and conservation, a way of living in harmony with nature that allows architects and biologists to plan individual buildings and the infrastructure serving them to minimize their impact. In this new relationship, cities and ecosystems will live symbiotically — what Chambers dubs “ecomimicry,” allowing our civilization to function as a habitat. He also offers less lofty steps that everyday folks can take, including letting your lawn run wild. But that may not fly with your homeowners’ association.

2. Following the Last Wild Wolves,by Ian McAllister (Greystone, $19.95). The gray wolf, which once roamed most of the Northern Hemisphere, has had mixed fortunes in North America, where it was all but exterminated in the United States by the 1960s. Even Canada, a relative sanctuary for the species, saw dramatic drops in population. Now, wolf packs restored by conservation initiatives face a renewed threat from developers encroaching on their habitat. This book examines a remarkable subspecies of wolves in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, where the wolves live as they have for centuries, swimming between coastal islands and ranging through the inland rainforest. McAllister, a nature photographer and writer, originally chronicled the wolves’ secluded lives in “The Great Bear Rainforest” (2007), and this book is a follow-up to that groundbreaking account.


This image provided by Yellowstone National Park, Mont., shows a gray wolf in the wild. (Mcneil Lyons/AP)

3. My Green Manifesto: Down the Charles River in Pursuit of a New Environmentalism, by David Gessner (Milkweed, $15). For nature writing enthusiasts, Gessner needs no introduction. His books and essays have in many ways redefined what it means to write about the natural world, coaxing the genre from a staid, sometimes wonky practice to one that is lively and often raucous. Yet he’s wary of the “environmentalist” label. “Why does environmentalism, much of which is just common sense, often sound like nagging?” he asks in the book’s introduction. Many Americans wonder the same thing and need some inspiring anecdotes (not lectures) to get or keep them on the conservation bandwagon. Enter Dan Driscoll, a Massachusetts state planner tasked in the 1990s with evaluating the health of the Charles River. He seized the opportunity to develop plans to revitalize the sludgy waterway, from connecting green spaces to replanting native species. This book is an account of Gessner’s travels with Driscoll by canoe down the Charles River. For Gessner, it was a chance to answer some questions of his own about how to push the environmental movement forward and encourage people to get involved. Perhaps, as Driscoll so passionately demonstrated, the answer is to act locally.

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