Monday, October 2, 2017

Extinction: A Radical History by Ashley Dawson

Summary (from Amazon):
"Some thousands of years ago, the world was home to an immense variety of large mammals. From wooly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers to giant ground sloths and armadillos the size of automobiles, these spectacular creatures roamed freely. Then human beings arrived. Devouring their way down the food chain as they spread across the planet, they began a process of voracious extinction that has continued to the present.

Headlines today are made by the existential threat confronting remaining large animals such as rhinos and pandas. But the devastation summoned by humans extends to humbler realms of creatures including beetles, bats and butterflies. Researchers generally agree that the current extinction rate is nothing short of catastrophic. Currently the earth is losing about a hundred species every day.

This relentless extinction, Ashley Dawson contends in a primer that combines vast scope with elegant precision, is the product of a global attack on the commons, the great trove of air, water, plants and creatures, as well as collectively created cultural forms such as language, that have been regarded traditionally as the inheritance of humanity as a whole.

This attack has its genesis in the need for capital to expand relentlessly into all spheres of life. Extinction, Dawson argues, cannot be understood in isolation from a critique of our economic system. To achieve this we need to transgress the boundaries between science, environmentalism and radical politics. Extinction: A Radical History performs this task with both brio and brilliance."

Free Copy of the Book online:

Los Angles Review of Books:!

Publisher Site: OR:

Video from Smithsonian Channel:

Princeton Environmental Institute - Author:

Facebook page:

Discussion Questions: (Please check back)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein

Summary from Amazon:
"The most important book yet from the author of the international bestseller The Shock Doctrine, a brilliant explanation of why the climate crisis challenges us to abandon the core “free market” ideology of our time, restructure the global economy, and remake our political systems.

In short, either we embrace radical change ourselves or radical changes will be visited upon our physical world. The status quo is no longer an option.

In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism.

Klein argues that the changes to our relationship with nature and one another that are required to respond to the climate crisis humanely should not be viewed as grim penance, but rather as a kind of gift—a catalyst to transform broken economic and cultural priorities and to heal long-festering historical wounds. And she documents the inspiring movements that have already begun this process: communities that are not just refusing to be sites of further fossil fuel extraction but are building the next, regeneration-based economies right now.

Can we pull off these changes in time? Nothing is certain. Nothing except that climate change changes everything. And for a very brief time, the nature of that change is still up to us.

Jury citation: The Izzy Award:

“This is the best book about climate change in a very long time— reminding us just how much the powers-that-be depend on the power of coal, gas and oil. And that in turn should give us hope, because it means the fight for a just world is the same as the fight for a liveable one.”
Book and film website:

Videos on Vimeo

Film trailer:

Author interview on:
Guardian Live:

Bucks County Audubon Society Associated Event: September 13: Advocacy for a Cleaner Earth Fall Speaker Series held at Delaware Valley University at 6:30 p.m. with Maya van Rossum, who will be discussing the impact of gas pipelines on clean water.

Classroom Curriculum Guide by Caroline Sarmiento of Uni. of Wisconsin:

Interview with Steve Colbert with David Keith on Geoengineering:

Official Book and Film Guide:

Study Guide by Author:

Discussion Questions: (Heidi will be leading the discussion)
The book is divided into 3 parts: I. Bad Timing, II. Magical Thinking and III. Starting Anyway, with 13 Chapters total. I’ve provided questions for each section, some of my own and some taken or inspired from the above listed Classroom Curriculum Guide. Be sure to get a flavor for the whole book, at least skimming and especially making it to end chapters, which are more hopeful.
1. How has this book challenged your position on climate change? How do you conceptualize the relationship between the environment, society, and nature? How do current events, i.e. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria reinforce these issues and perhaps be wake up calls/tipping points for governments and societies to push for change? What do you think of the statement by Pruitt that it seems “insensitive” to discuss climate change at this time?”
2. “The earth is not our prisoner, our patient, our machine, or, indeed, our monster. It is our entire world. And the solution to global warming is not to fix the world, it is to fix ourselves.” With that said, how does consumerism connect to Climate Change?  Is this just an US dilemma? Can we can consume less and change how much energy we use and if yes, how? (p. 90)

3. What are the connections between trade agreements, pollution, and labor exploitation? What implications does localizing our economies have on climate change? Are there some negative consequences? (p. 76 -)
4. How are the political and economic interests behind certain “bridge fuels” linked to preventing us from making a full switch to zero carbon sources of energy? (p. 128-) Who are the local actors and players who can become renewable energy providers?
5. “Extractivism is a nonreciprocal, dominance-based relationship with the earth.” (p. 169) What different forms of power does this entail when reducing life into objects for the use of others and irreversibly destroys large tracts of earth? The production and power in spite of nature (example of the steam engine) is based on the right to conquer nature.
6. "A Great many progressives have opted out of the climate change debate, in part, because they thought that the Big Green groups, flush with philanthropic dollars, had this issue covered. That, it turns out, was a grave mistake.” Which environmental groups participated in this and were you surprised? (p. 192 - , p. 226) Why does it matter where funds come from? What are the central dangers of the merge between the environmental movement and the economic interests behind soaring emissions? What might be other unintended consequences?

7. What is the role of big businesses and powerful people or the “green billionaires” in the climate movement if not to save us?  (p. 232) Who are some local messiahs? How does this idea of messiahs influence the way we see change in other social movements as well?

8. “The cure could be worse than the disease.” (p. 275) What do you think about “Geoengineering” and the “Geocliche”? What do you think about the finding that older respondents are more amenable to Geoengineering than younger ones? Is this a generational difference? Access to information? Faith in technology?

9. Klein presents the argument that we are all in sacrifice zones, yet we do see different rates of state violence and displacement in low-income communities of color. (p. 310 -) How do these stark forms of state violence place different pressures on certain communities to participate in different ways?

10. Klein asserts that the power of “ferocious love” and when individuals or a community fight for their identity, a culture, a beloved place, that there is nothing a company can offer as a bargaining chip. (p. 342) What are your thoughts and perhaps, observations of this?

11. Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands, territories and resources and they have a right to redress lands, which have been taken or damaged without their consent. Many non-natives are beginning to understand that indigenous land and treaty rights have provided a major barrier for the extractive industries and are asking for their help. Discuss this and coalition building. (p. 367 - )

12. This book provides a space to reflect on our own actions as individuals as well as a community. What are you doing personally to combat CO2 emissions and going green? What are some of your goals?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Humane Gardener by Nancy Lawson

Summary from Amazon:
"In this eloquent plea for compassion and respect for all species, journalist and gardener Nancy Lawson describes why and how to welcome wildlife to our backyards. Through engaging anecdotes and inspired advice, profiles of home gardeners throughout the country, and interviews with scientists and horticulturalists, Lawson applies the broader lessons of ecology to our own outdoor spaces. 

Detailed chapters address planting for wildlife by choosing native species; providing habitats that shelter baby animals, as well as birds, bees, and butterflies; creating safe zones in the garden; cohabiting with creatures often regarded as pests; letting nature be your garden designer; and encouraging natural processes and evolution in the garden. The Humane Gardener fills a unique niche in describing simple principles for both attracting wildlife and peacefully resolving conflicts with all the creatures that share our world."

Library Journal: "This gorgeously written, well-argued title will help backyard gardeners see all creatures, from insects to elk, as visitors to be welcomed rather than pests to be removed. Highly recommended for gardeners at all levels in all regions."

Nancy Lawson's Website:

Article by author, "Wild by Design" on the Humane Society site:

Humane Society Gardener sign

Radio Interview with Nancy Lawson

***Bucks County Audubon Society Event: We will be hosting Nancy Lawson, who will be conducting a demonstration at our Organic and Pollinator Gardens, discussing her new book, The Humane Gardener and also be doing a Book Signing from 10:00 to 12:00 on September 23 at our Visitor Center at Honey Hollow Environmental Center located on 2877 Creamery Road in Solebury near Peddler's Village. ***

Current Citizen Science Programs at Bucks County Audubon Society at Honey Hollow:

Useful native plant and helping pollinator sites:
>Native Plant Database for PA:

>Bowman's Hill"

>Xerces Society:

> Pollinator Partnership:

Quotes from the book:
"As I wage a halfhearted battle with barberry and other invaders that ended up here through no fault of their own, I often wish I could hold an international plant exchange with gardeners overseas, together reversing the sins of our horticultural past in whatever small way we can."

"What systemic insecticides are doing is they're breaking up 146 million years of coevolution."

"Your yard is part of a larger environment. And it's not like deer are coming into your living room and eating your couch. They're just trying to make a living."

Discussion Questions:
1.     What did you find surprising or intriguing in this book?

2.     The author talks about how nature can creep into your garden or yard, if you let it. What wonderful unexpected things have you found?

3.     Have you had the opportunity to make changes in your yards or gardens to make spaces for critters, including pollinators, snakes, etc., to add native plants, to provide a water source, to reduce pesticide use, turn lights off at night, etc.? If yes, what have you done and what have you observed?

4.      “To make the task of converting to wildlife-friendly plants less daunting, Parker recommends starting with a dozen native wildflower species – four for each season of bloom and adding a few grasses, fruiting shrubs, and nut bearing trees.” What do you think of this recommendation? What are some of your favorite native plants?

5.     What do you think of fighting invasives with vigorous natives?

6.     The author states, “As I wage a halfhearted battle with barberry and other invaders that ended up here through no fault of their own, I often wish I could hold an international plant exchange with gardeners overseas, together reversing the sins of our horticultural past in whatever small way we can.” If you could, what plant would you hand off?

7.     What kind of problems, i.e. invasives, pests, etc. do you have in your yard/garden and hope to solve, after reading this book?

8.     Are you familiar with or have you participated in any of the 150+ Citizen Science programs, like Monarch Watch, Bumble Bee Watch, Audubon Christmas Bird Count, ebird, etc. and if yes, which ones?

9.     After reading Chapter 5, “ A Harvest for All: Share the Bounty through Peaceful Coexistence”, where the author writes, “Evolution towards a more humane ethic is not just a moral imperative but also the only practical solution in an increasing crowded world. “, what are your reactions to her ideas regarding treating humanely animals, such as deer, groundhogs, skunk, opossums, raccoons, etc.? Have you had any personal experiences with any of these animals?

10. What suggestions in this book do you hope to incorporate in your own yard/gardens?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner

Summary from Amazon:
"On a desert island in the heart of the Galapagos archipelago, where Darwin received his first inklings of the theory of evolution, two scientists, Peter and Rosemary Grant, have spent twenty years proving that Darwin did not know the strength of his own theory. For among the finches of Daphne Major, natural selection is neither rare nor slow: it is taking place by the hour, and we can watch.

In this dramatic story of groundbreaking scientific research, Jonathan Weiner follows these scientists as they watch Darwin's finches and come up with a new understanding of life itself. The Beak of the Finch is an elegantly written and compelling masterpiece of theory and explication in the tradition of Stephen Jay Gould."

New York Times: "In Darwin's Footsteps":

Kirkus Review:

(2014) The Origin of Species: The Beak of the Finch: 
(2017) NY Times: Feather Fancy:

Pulitzer Prize Winner for 1995 in General Nonfiction

Author, Jonathan Weiner's, website

2016 Article about Rosemary and Peter Grant: 
"The Legendary Biologists Who Clocked Evolution's Astonishing Speed": 

Discussion Questions (by John, who will be leading the discussion):
1. Darwin’s theory of evolution, natural selection, and origin of species were based on interpretations of observations. How is this different from normal scientific process? What is the role of experimentation for proving and supporting theories?
2. What were the Grants’ and their collaborators critical contributions for demonstrating these phenomena? Why did they focus on Galapagos finch species? How were beak sizes and shapes used as critical determinants of divergences and speciation?
3. What role did weather and climate shifts play in their observations of selection? Similarly, what were the accompanying changes in vegetation effect selection?
4. How did the interplay of bees and nectar drinking finches demonstrate that different species can exert selective pressure on each other, not only intra-species effects?
5. What are the characteristics of a species?
6. How may species’ boundaries be tested and sometimes stretched?
7. What are the differences in natural selection versus sexual selection and how do they combine to produce diversity and speciation?
8. How did the African guppies studies conducted by Endler support the Grants’ conclusion?
9. How did the fruit fly studies contribute to understanding selection and formation of species?

10. In the 20 years since this book was published, genetic sequencing of DNA has become a very powerful tool for biologists, enabled by complete DNA analysis of individual organisms. How might this type of analysis affect our understanding of natural selection and the studies conducted in this book?
11. The book includes numerous, diverse examples separate from the finches of the Galapagos of selection pressures leading to divergence including for bacteria (antiobiotic resistance), insects (pesticide resistance), moths (color change), elephants (loss of tusks).  How do these phenomena extend and mostly reinforce the observations of the Grants?
12. The subject of evolution is still difficult and controversial for many people.  Why do people for the most part appear to understand and accept the observations of selective pressure and divergence, such as those described in this book, yet reject evolution?