Recommended – Book Reviews

Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World
by Katharine Hayhoe,  Published September, 2021 by Atria/One Signal Publishers

Personal anecdotes serve as an antidote to climate doom, empower readers -  Winnipeg Free PressAs we learn from the acknowledgements, this book is the direct result of the right people listening to the right TED talk and asking the presenter “Do you want to write a book?” When the presenter is Katharine Hayhoe, the narrator of the PBS Global Weirding series, it is guaranteed to have an audience. Saving Us does not disappoint in bringing home its main message – we need to talk about climate change and how to start the conversation with friends, family and strangers alike.

She breaks down the barriers that stop these conversations in their tracks. Whether it is describing people as believers vs non-believers, people running from fear or guilt messages, brains visually shutting down as you present fact after fact, advocates trying to change the trajectory of climate change have seen all of these many times over. This is really a truth of any strong belief or crusade – but is there an alternative?

Hayhoe’s answer is yes! It is possible if you take the time to find common ground outside of the topic you are advocating for and finding the overlap with your cause. Whether it’s a hobby, job, sport, etc. Or are you a parent, do you have a pet? Finding that shared experience allows people to be more open to your message as part of a normal conversation. She shares one story of a colleague who was totally dismissive of her views as a climate scientist, but later came to find that he was living the lifestyle that she would have advocated for him to limit his climate footprint.

This book is a great read even for those who are looking for tips on effective interpersonal speaking. There are many examples of how the wheels turn in order to find the right message to the person or group at hand (check out her Rotary Club talk at the beginning of the book). Compared to many books dealing with the issues of climate change, the tone is very upbeat and this may be the best reason to read this book.

Reviewed by John Szalasny, Sierra Club Niagara Group

Toxic Legacy: How the Weedkiller Glyphosate Is Destroying Our Health and the Environment  by Stephanie Seneff   Published June 1, 2021 by Chelsea Green Publishing Company

NOTE: I made it through the book with high school biology/chemistry classes that I took 45 years ago. The author provides details on the science behind the processes she is discussing but keeps the book accessible for all.

Toxic Legacy: How the Weedkiller Glyphosate Is Destroying Our Health and  the Environment by Stephanie Seneff, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble® The book lives up to the praises on the back cover as well as the front cover plug that it is “A bold and heroic work (that) will stand shoulder to shoulder with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.” As with Carson’s DDT, Stephanie Seneff has her glyphosate (you may know it better by the brand name Round Up). And as DDT was messing up life for plants, animals and humans, glyphosates have been linked to a list of global issues that science is just starting to research.

Dr. Seneff focuses her book on how this “safe” weedkiller affects human health. It doesn’t directly harm human life, but it is toxic to the bacterial life in your gut that is necessary to a healthy life. It doesn’t harm human cells, but it acts as a chelator (binder) to many minerals, making them unavailable for the body to use for various biologic processes. It doesn’t harm the protein building blocks of life, it becomes part of it by attaching itself as a replacement part of protein chains.

If there is a criticism that can be placed on this book, it is only because the science is just starting to research the wide variety of issues raised in this book. Phrases such as “could cause” and “strong argument” are found throughout the book, but there is enough circumstantial evidence to back up the claims.

Like Silent Spring, Toxic Legacy is just the proverbial shot across the bows in the battle against the chemical industry. Rachel Carson was vilified by the industry both for her gender and that she, as a marine biologist, did not have the “expertise” to note what common sense was showing her. Critics will look at Dr. Seneff and note that she is at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Undoubtedly, she will also be painted as a fish out of water, but her focus has been on the effects of drugs, diet AND TOXIC CHEMICALS on human health and disease. This is a starting point for researchers who should read this book and run to their labs to start research to validate her claims. Like the immediate danger of DDT in the 1960’s, we have gone on too long with the dangers of glyphosates. It’s time to take the focus off of the “Frankenplant” GMO fears and place the focus on the right issue. It’s not the plant that is the problem. It is the chemical that the plants are resistant to – GLYPHOSATE.

Reviewed by John Szalasny, Sierra Club Niagara Group

Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet by Michael R. Bloomberg, Carl Pope  (Published 2018 by St. Martin’s Griffin)

Untitled 3Like most climate books, there’s enough to scare the believers that know that action is needed. Unlike a lot of climate books, it is written by someone who knows how to take action in making an impact in climate resiliency. I only have one beef about the book. The co-author is Carl Pope, former executive of the Sierra Club. One would think that Mr. Bloomberg’s love for Nuclear Power would have been a non-starter for his collaboration. However, even with this non-starter for environmentalists in the book, it is well worth your time to hear how a billionaire can speak and act green. Showing us how business leaders can help lead the way through our climate catastrophe.

I write this the day after reading that it was 47° C (117° F) in South Australia earlier this week and hearing a weather forecast from Toronto that the wind chill will be -30° C (-22°F) tomorrow. If this isn’t a sign that we need to do everything to change the course of our changing climate, I don’t know what is. Climate of Hope can be a start towards that change.

Reviewed by John Szalasny, Sierra Club Niagara Group

The Carbon Crunch: Revised and Updated by Dieter Helm (Published August 4th 2015 by Yale University Press)

Carbon CrunchThe title may have been appropriate for the first edition, but the revised and updated edition blows the “Carbon Crunch” in the title out of the water. Dieter Helm lays out a compelling argument against the “peak” oil/coal/gas arguments. New technologies, including fracking, have created new sources of carbon-based fuels. In addition, technologies can squeeze more out of previously drilled oil and gas reserves. All of this make a transition to renewable energy as a replacement to declining carbon-based supplies not as an inevitable outcome as it appeared at the turn of the century. And, don’t forget that India and China are heavy on the dirtiest form of carbon energy – COAL.

The book is written with the (correct) belief that climate change is the biggest challenge we have today, and that governments have been largely unwilling to take actions needed to keep the planet within the 2 limit advocated by scientists.  Read more here…

Reviewed by John Szalasny, Sierra Club Niagara Group

The Great Transition: Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy by Lester R. Brown (Published 2015 by W. W. Norton Company)

Great TransitionThe Great Transition is a good, no-nonsense primer for those who want to know about the rapid change in our energy production. Each chapter goes through the pros & cons of each power source. With the price of wind and solar generated electricity already below the prices of coal, natural gas or nuclear, the author makes clear that renewable energies have already won the battle. And in the transition phase, the ease of installation for wind and solar, compared to the long construction cycles (and inevitable cost overruns) to build a dam or a power plant double downs the advantages for wind and solar.

Before reading, I would have expected the final chapter, The Accelerating Transition, to be the base of this book. It is rather short, although in reading, it is more like an epilogue to the book as the author has made his case in each of the preceding chapters. Overall, this is an easy read, written for the non-scientist. No charts, graphs, etc. to spoil the narrative, but written with enough concrete examples to prove his point.

Reviewed by John Szalasny, Sierra Club Niagara Group

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf (Published 2015 by Knopf)

Invention of NatureBefore I started reading this book, the only thing I knew about Alexander von Humboldt was that Frederick Law Olmsted found him worthy enough to name one of the parkways connecting his Buffalo, NY park system after him. And being active in the Sierra Club, I should have heard of his name somewhere in the past. But I, as well as most people in North America, was totally unaware of his existence.

After reading, I consider this book is a MUST READ for anyone who wants to know the full history of the environmental movement. Von Humboldt STARTS the movement. He is the first one who puts all the pieces together to show the interdependency of life on this planet, as well as the now established concept of climate zones based on climate and altitude that do not vary across the globe. Read more here…

Reviewed by John Szalasny, Sierra Club Niagara Group

Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben, 2010

“Imagine we live on a planet.”EaarthBill McKibben  

So begins Bill McKibben’s 2010 book, Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet.  Those few words powerfully contain the message of the book.  We do live on a planet, a very small one, interdependent one; there is no other place – here is home, our only home.  The point of the book is very clear:  global warming is not something that is going to happen, it is here now.  It is our reality, and we better start figuring out right now how we are going to respond to it.  Doing nothing is only a short term option that will result in wars over the last drops of fossil fuels, and after they are gone, we’ll still have to figure out something else.  So let’s do it now. Read more here….

Reviewed by:  Lynda Schneekloth, Chair, Sierra Club Niagara Group

Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, New World Library, CA (2012)

Active Hope Bit by bit, we are losing our world.  Joanna MacyWe are losing the forests, the fish, the bees; we are wiping out whole species. We are losing the richness of community and most of what makes life meaningful. We are now on the brink of losing the biological support systems we need to survive. (223)

But we can’t despair — that’s actually what the ‘forces of evil’ (the theological language feels appropriate) want.  But we do, occasionally, need help to carry on. I found Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone’ book, ACTIVE HOPE: How to face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy to be a formidable reminder of why we continue to work in the face of power, and how to take care of ourselves as individuals and communities of intention at the same time.  Read more here…

Reviewed by:  Lynda Schneekloth, Chair, Sierra Club Niagara Group

Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants,  Douglas W. Tallamy, 2009

Bringing Nature Home Douglas Tallamy Sometimes you read a book that addresses something you already knew, but does it in a way that radically opens your mind to the depth and importance of the issue.  Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home is one such book.

I’m a landscape architect, a real plantophile, and have been a strong proponent of native plants for years.  So what is it about this book that has captured my imagination and interest so completely that I urge everyone of you to read it?  Three reasons.  First, his discussion of the interactions of plants, insects and other species is clear, cogent and fascinating.  Second, he asserts that we – you and me — can undo much of the environmental damage we have inflicted on the land while doing our gardening.  And third, it is critical work to do.  Tallamy says, [m]y central message is that unless we restore native plants to our suburban [urban] ecosystems, the future of biodiversity in the United States is dim.    Read more here…

Reviewed by:  Lynda Schneekloth, Chair, Sierra Club Niagara Group