And RECOMMENDED BOOKS AND ESSAYS
"From Charismatic Carnivores to Slithery Serpents: How Predation Keeps Nature Whole"
This is another early essay published at Tomdispatch.com. It touches hard on a subject I wrote about in my book Hope's Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the American Land - the key role that large predators like wolves and lions and bears play in regulating food webs and keeping the ecosystems they serve healthy.
Again, it was published widely across the Internet as well as in Utah's Catalyst Magazine. The version posted here is from Alternet.org, a favorite place of mine for finding provocative stories and perspectives.
BOOKS AND ESSAYS I RECOMMEND:
"The mental habit of the West is one in which being is posited as a being and called God; in which process is arrested in substyance and called material reality; and in which mind is the made into an organism without and environment and called the self." William Irwin Thompson
One of the primary reasons we damage the very ecosystems that sustain our lives is that we tend to think of the world as a storehouse of commodities rather than a web of communities that is complex and dynamic. Learning how systems behave is a key to changing our destructive, ultimately self-destructive, behaviors. Donella Meadows "Places to Intervene in a System" is a good summary of a "systems thinking" approach to the world (Google the title and you can find summaries on the web). Here is a link to her classic essay"Dancing with Systems" that is easier to read and assimilate. http://www. sustainer.org/pubs/Dancing/html. Roger Lewin's Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos is a good introduction to "complexity science." Try also James Gleick's book Chaos: Making a New Science.
Books and essays on deep ecology can also be useful for challenging assumptions and seeing the world through a biocentric rather than a contemporary anthropocentric perspective (Google and explore).
Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World by Brian Walker and David Salt is a good introduction to resilience thinking, another new perspective on how the world works. It is easier than most books on the subject but not that easy. Unfortunately, I do not know of a good book on the topic for lay readers.
Two books that helped me escape my culturally inherited mechanistic/linear worldview were Fritjof Capra's The Turning Point and Morris Berman's The Re-Enchantment of the World. Both seem rather dated to me now and both authors have written newer books, especially Capra, to explain a way of seeing the world that incorporates systems thinking, complexity science, chaos theory, and ecology. But both books are a good place to begin if you sense that the way life unfolds on our planet is not only more complex than we thought, but perhaps more complex than we can think. The complexity/biocentric way of seeing and being in the world is also a humbling and awesome experience. Hubris has always been an underlying drive of industrial civilization - consider the books I am suggesting as at least an healthy antidote to that.
A book that profoundly changed my way of seeing the world is Overshoot by William Catton. An excellent summary is at a web site I highly recommend even though it has been discontinued, Rachel's Democracy & Health News at http://www.rachel.org . The archives are still very valuable. Type in 998 in the search box and you'll get the summary of Catton's main point, that we have drastically overshot the carrying capacities of the earth and are stealing from the future. According to Catton's thesis, living in unsustainable relationship to the planet is not only self-destructive and foolish, it is immoral since we are condemning future generations to dire struggle for the basics (*water, soil, energy) that we will not leave them.
Let's get practical - what do we do about our destructive habits? If you go to the same web site above, http://www.rachel.org , you can also find "What We Must Do" by Peter Montague. Peter has been at the forefront of the precautionary principle and Rachel's (named after famous environmentalist Rachel Carson) is his web site. His final essay is a great summary of the principles and criteria for ecologically sustainable policies and law.
When I wrote Canaries on the Rim, I hoped it would be an introduction to more thorough books on the subject of how the closestr link we have with the natural/physical realm is our own flesh and blood. Sandra Steingraber helped me understand the ways that the chemicals our industrial world produces cross biological boundaries and make us sick and vulnerable. Her books are Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment and Having Faith: An Ecologists Journey to Motherhood. Other authors who write well on pollution/health issues are Joe Thornton, Mary O'Brien, and Carolyn Raffensperger.
Of course, our dependenc on thousands of synthetic chemicals and our production of toxic wastes can't be separated from our constant and ever-accelerating drive for more stuff. A recent book that makes an excellent case for why we must move from the prevailing philosophy of "more is better" and the assumption that unlimited growth is possible is Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future by Bill McKibben. An author who also makes a compelling case for being a member of a community rather than a mere consumer is Wendell Berry. Google his essays or go to Amazon.com to get summaries of his books.
Food, of course is central to how environment and body mix. Eating, says Michael Pollan is an ecological act. His two books, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto are highly readable and enlightening. My friend Claire Hope Cummings has written an excellent book, Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds.
Some folks who have concluded that our economy is unworkable and will be brought down by unrelenting greed, materialism, the end of cheap oil, and the disturbances of rapid and unpredictable climate change. Civilization as we know it will collapse and that's inevitable. the goal, they say, is a "long descent" (Google John Michael Greer) or "transition" to a new way of living in the world. Two recent articles describing this movement are "The End is Near! (Yay!)" by Jon Mooallem in a recent New York Times essay at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/19/magazine/19town-t.html . Another essay "The Transition Initiative" by Jay Griffiths describes the same movement and can be found in the July/August, 2009, issue of Orion Magazine at http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/4792
Another hopeful slant on the crises we are enduring, is Paul Hawken's Blessed Unrest: How the Larget Movement in the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming. Hawken's recent commencement address, "Healing or Stealing?" is also worth reading and can be found at http://www.up.edu/commencement/default.aspx?cid=9456
Rebecca Solnit is a friend and mentor. When I was writing Hope's Horizon, she was writing Hope in the Dark: Untold Stories, Wild Possibilities, a book I often recommend to those who feel overwhelmed by all the bad news. Rebecca and I referred to ourselves as the "hope posse." Her most recent book is A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, another glimmer of hope in a darkening landscape.
Back to a more philosophical slant, two books I liked for an inspirational understanding of my place in the cosmos are The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World by David Abram and The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature by David Suzuki.
Other favoritre authors and formative authors in my mind are William Irwin Thompson, Wendell Berry, Fritjof Capra, Theodore Roszak, Morris Berman, Susan Griffin, Paul Shepard, Jerry Mander, and Chellis Glendinning.
More recently, I read anything by Bill McKibben, Mike Davis, Rebecca Solnit, Tom Englehardt, Tim Flannery, Jonathan Rowe, Peter Barnes, Derek Jensen, Thomas Homer-Dixon, Steve Trimble, Terry Tempest Williams, Amy Irvine, and Jared Diamond to name just a few of the great writers now helping us through the maze of disconnection, dysfunction, and misunderstanding.