Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books


Ecological Economics and Sustainability

Sustainability is the key to a survivable future on Earth: we must find ways to conserve our resources, reuse the materials we have extracted from the Earth, and turn to renewable resources for energy . . . learn more about Ecological Economics and Sustainability»

The recommended books in this section take a hard look at the global economic realities of our current situation, and offer a variety of methods to address the challenge of creating a new paradigm for growth, one founded on sustainability of resources and protecting our environment for generations to come.

Recommended Books on Ecological Economics and Sustainability

Beyond GrowthBeyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development
Herman E. Daly

Daly's iconoclastic views are coming to seem more and more plausible. For many years, he has maintained that economic growth cannot be sustainable in a finite world. He argues that traditional economic theory is mainly useful in only one of the three core areas of economics (the optimal price and allocation of scarce resources) and does not address in any meaningful way the other two issues - the distribution of resources and determining the overall scale of the economy that can be sustained within the biosphere. He sees that current population growth and globalization are not sustainable, and place us on a collision course with ecological catastrophe without a substantial and thorough-going course correction. 1997, Beacon Press

Blueprint for a Sustainable EconomyBlueprint for a Sustainable Economy
David Pearce and Edward Barbier

The authors call attention to the challenges facing us in the 21st century. Global environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss and trade-environment linkages require greater cooperation towards new international agreements, institutions and distributive measures. The complex problems facing many poor economies such as deforestation, land degradation, overpopulation and resource exhaustion demand the increasing use of environmental economics in development policy-making. In all these areas, Blueprint shows how sustainability can be brought from the periphery to the center of economic management. 2000, Earthscan Publications

Break ThroughBreak Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility
Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus

The authors argue that the politics that dealt with acid rain and smog can't deal with global warming. In short, "environmentalism" must die so that something new can be born. Break Through articulates a new politics for a new century, one focused on aspirations, not complaints; human possibility, not limits. What the new ecological crises demand is that we unleash a new kind of economic development. We cannot tear down the old energy economy before building the new one. The invention of the internet and microchips, the creation of the space program, the birth of the European Union - those break throughs were only made possible by big and bold investments in the future. The era of small thinking is over, the authors claim. We must go beyond small-bore environmentalism and interest-group liberalism to create a politics focused as much on uncommon greatness as the common good. 2007, Houghton Mifflin

The Bridge at the Edge of the WorldThe Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability
James Gustave Speth

How serious are the threats to our environment? Here is one measure of the problem: if we continue to do exactly what we are doing, with no growth in the human population or the world economy, the world in the latter part of this century will be unfit to live in. Of course human activities are not holding at current levels—they are accelerating, dramatically—and so, too, is the pace of climate disruption, biotic impoverishment, and toxification. Speth contends that this situation is a severe indictment of the economic and political system we call modern capitalism. Our vital task is now to change the operating instructions for today’s destructive world economy before it is too late. 2009, Yale University Press

The Case Against the Global EconomyThe Case Against the Global Economy
Jerry Mander, editor

The contributors to this handbook argue that the rush toward economic globalization, based on free trade and deregulation, is both harmful and revesible. Its consequences, they contend, include overcrowded cities, widening of the gap between rich and poor, lowering of wages while prices soar, destruction of wilderness, flattening of local traditions and cultures. Their recommendation? Pursue the opposite path - promote greater economic localization through cooperatives and small companies that cater to local amd regional markets. Essays deal with corporate control of the media and of financial markets; the worldwide small-farm movement; and the emergence of local currencies, barter and work exchange networks. 1997, Sierra Club Books

Common WealthCommon Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet
Jeffrey D. Sachs

"Common Wealth explains the most basic economic reckoning that the world faces. We can address poverty, climate change, and environmental destruction at a very modest cost today with huge benefits for shared and sustainable prosperity and peace in the future, or we can duck the issues today and risk a potentially costly reckoning in later years. Despite the rearguard opposition of some vested interests, policies to help the world's poor and the global environment are in fact the very best economic bargains on the planet."--Al Gore, Winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize 2009, Penguin

The Corporate PlanetThe Corporate Planet: Ecology and Politics in the Age of Globalization
Joshua Karliner

"Increasingly flagless and stateless," eco-activist Karliner warns, multinational corporations "weave global webs of production, commerce, culture and finance virtually unopposed." These corporations work with cooperative politicians and officials to avoid existing laws and squash attempts to strengthen environmental protections - exporting pollution to countries with lax environmental laws, displacing indigenous cultures and sustainable local economies. This strong critique includes case studies of corporations like Chevron and Mitsubishi, demonstrating corporate responsibility for creating pollution. 1997, Sierra Club Books

Deep EconomyDeep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
Bill McKibben

Challenging the prevailing wisdom that the goal of economies should be unlimited growth, McKibben argues that the world doesn't have enough natural resources to sustain endless economic expansion. Rather than promoting accelerated cycles of economic expansion—a mindset that has brought the world to the brink of environmental disaster— McKibben thinks we should concentrate on creating localized economies: community-scale power systems instead of huge centralized power plants; cohousing communities instead of sprawling suburbs. He gives examples of promising ventures of this type, such as a community-supported farm in Vermont and a community biosphere reserve in Himalayan India. McKibben's proposals for new, less growth-centered ways of thinking about economics and offer hope that change is possible. 2008, Holt

Designing the Green EconomyDesigning the Green Economy
Brian Milani

Milani explores the world's enormous potential for human and ecological regeneration. He also explains why this potential has been suppressed or distorted by industrial institutions, thus creating the "waste economy". He believes that the great divide between waste and green economies can be narrowed by emerging approaches to production and environmentalism. He calls for these new productive forces to be fully unleashed, creating community-based ecological economies. Designing the Green Economy argues that neither sustainability, social justice nor economic stability can be secured without comprehensive redesign of the economy along ecological principles. 2000, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Eco-economyEco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth
Lester R. Brown

Eco-economic theory calls for harmony between our economy and natural resources. Our current, untenable, short-term profit-focused economic model, says Brown, depletes forests, oil, farmland, topsoil, water, atmosphere and species beyond a sustainable level. The goal, presented here in convincing detail, is to design a profitable economy that accurately reflects the social cost of abuse of resources. Brown suggests shifting taxes from income to environmentally-destructive activities, such as carbon emissions. 2001, W. W. Norton

Ecological EconomicsEcological Economics: Principles and Applications
Joshua Farley and Herman E. Daly

Conventional economics is often criticized for failing to reflect adequately the value of clean air and water, species diversity, and social and generational equity. By excluding biophysical and social systems from their analyses, many conventional economists overlook problems of the increasing scale of human impacts and the inequitable distribution of resources. Ecological Economics puts forward an emerging paradigm that addresses this flaw in much economic thought, embracing the linkages among economic growth, environmental degradation, and social inequity. 2003, Island Press

Our Ecological FootprintOur Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth
Williams E. Rees and Marthis Wackernagel

This book presents an internationally-acclaimed tool for measuring and visualizing the resources required to sustain our households, communities, regions and nations, converting the seemingly complex concepts of carrying capacity, resource use, waste-disposal and the like into a graphic form that everyone can grasp and use: the "footprint." The ecological footprints of people in developed countries are much wider and deeper than those of people in developing countries - and Americans have huge ecological footprints compared to most. We are using up the resources of the planet at an astounding rate: our present lifestyle is unsupportable. 1995, New Society Publishers

The Ecology of CommerceThe Ecology of Commerce
Paul Hawken

Paul Hawken believes "we need a design for business that will ensure that the industrial world as it is presently constituted ceases and is replaced with human-centered enterprises that are sustainable producers." He thoughtfully reviews ecological theories and disasters and insists that ecology offers a way to examine all present economic and resource activities from a biological rather than a monetary point of view. He calls for a restorative economy, one that does not draw upon resources unsustainably, degrade other people's environment, or displace other species by taking over their habitats. 1994, Collins

The Economics of Hydroelectric PowerThe Economics of Hydroelectric Power
Brian K. Edwards

Brian Edwards provides an in-depth analysis of how dams are used in water management, flood control and irrigation, as well as the environmental impacts of their construction and operation. He examines the types of restrictions imposed on operators to mitigate impacts, and the resulting tradeoffs between achieving hydroelectric generation and environmental management objectives. Case studies of dams operated by the United States Department of Energy are also included. 2003, Edward Elgar Publishers

Environmental Economics for Tree Huggers and Other SkepticsEnvironmental Economics for Tree Huggers and Other Skeptics
William K. Jaeger

Environmental Economics for Tree Huggers carefully explains the tools of economic analysis and shows how they can be used to help reveal the root causes of and potential solutions for environmental and natural resource problems. Jaeger's proven techniques and conversational tone assume no economics training, and his presentation of the material is designed to facilitate clarity. 2005, Island Press

Fish, Markets, and FishermenFish, Markets, and Fishermen: The Economics of Overfishing
Suzanne Iudicello, Michael L. Weber and Robert Wieland

A significant number of the world's ocean fisheries are depleted, and some have collapsed, from overfishing. Although many of the same fishermen who are causing these declines stand to suffer the most from them, they continue to overfish. The authors argue that the reasons are primarily economic, and that overfishing is an inevitable consequence of the current sets of incentives facing ocean fishermen. They provide a primer on fish population biology and the economics of fisheries under various access regimes, and use that information in analyzing policies for managing fisheries. 1999, Island Press

God's Last OfferGod's Last Offer: Negotiating for a Sustainable Future
Ed Ayres

"The window of opportunity is cloing fast," cautions World Watch editor Ayres, who urges us to reverse the global trends that threaten ecological catastrophe and societal collapse. He identifies four revolutionary changes that endanger planetary survival: global warming, loss of biodiversity, a surge of unsustainable resource-depleting consumption, and exploding population growth. 2000, Four Walls Eight Windows

Natural Capitalism
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
Paul Hawken, Amroy Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins

Natural Capitalism shows how leading-edge companies are practicing "a new type of industrialism" that is more efficient and profitable while saving the environment and creating jobs. The authors write that in the next century, cars will get 200 miles per gallon without compromising safety and power, manufacturers will relentlessly recycle their products, and the world's standard of living will jump without further damaging natural resources. They call their approach natural capitalism because it's based on the principle that business can be good for the environment - and the tools are at hand to make it work. A fascinating and provocative read. 2000, Back Bay Books

In a Perfect OceanIn a Perfect Ocean: The State of Fisheries and Ecosystems in the North Atlantic Ocean
Daniel Pauly and Jay Maclean

Recent decades have been marked by the decline or collapse of one fishery after another around the world, from swordfish in the North Atlantic to orange roughy in the South Pacific. This volume presents the first empirical assessment of the status of ecosystems in the North Atlantic ocean. The authors analyze 14 large marine ecosystems to provide an indisputable picture of an ocean whose ecology has been dramatically altered, resulting in the phenomenon they describe as "fishing down the food web." This landmark study is essential reading, providing a specific and detailed example of resource depletion through unsustainable practices, with no thought for the future. 2003, Island Press

Radical SimplicityRadical Simplicity: Small Footprints on a Finite Earth
Jim Merkel

Imagine you are first in line at a potluck buffet. The spread includes not just food and water, but all the materials needed for shelter, clothing, healthcare, and education. How do you know how much to take? How much is enough to leave for your neighbors behind you - not just the six billion people, but the wildlife, and the as-yet-unborn? This book guides the reader to a personal sustainability goal, then offers a process to monitor progress to a lifestyle that is equitable amongst all people, species, and generations. "Ecological economics" in its most practical form - one footprint at a time. 2003, New Society Publishers

Sharing Nature's InterestSharing Nature's Interest: Ecological Footprints as an Indicator of Sustainability
Nicky Chambers, Craig Simmons and Mathis Wackernagel

Ecological footprinting is rapidly being adopted as the most effective and practical way to measure our impact on the environment. This book provides a simple and straightforward introduction to ecological footprint analysis, showing how it can be done, and how to measure the footprints of activities, lifestyles, organizations and regions. Case studies clearly illustrate its effectiveness at national, organizational, individual and product levels. 2001, Earthscan Publications

Small Is BeautifulSmall Is Beautiful, 25th Anniversary Edition: Economics as if People Mattered: 25 Years Later . . . with Commentaries
E. F. Schumacher

In this edition, Schumacher builds on what he first said almost 30 years ago: our economy is unsustainable. We treat natural resources (particularly fossil fuels) as expendable income when they should be treated as capital, since they are not renewable and thus subject to eventual depletion. He further points out that similarly, the capacity of nature to resist pollution has finite limits. Schumacher's philosophy is a philosophy of enoughness, appreciating both human needs and limitations, and the appropriate use of technology. 2000, Hartley and Marks Publishers

A Survey of Sustainable DevelopmentA Survey of Sustainable Development: Social and Economic Dimensions
Jonathan Harris, editors

Perpetual economic growth is physically impossible on a planet with finite resources. This survey volume brings together 66 of the most important essays and articles on sustainable human and economic development, covering such relevant topics as population and demographic transition, energy and materials use, local and national strategies, the North/South balance, globalization and corporate responsibility, and agriculture and renewable resources. 2001, Island Press

The Sustainability Revolution
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

The Sustainability Revolution: Portrait of a Paradigm Shift
Andres R. Edwards

Edwards examines sustainability issues in five major sectors of society: community, commerce, natural resources, ecological design and the biosphere. Sustainability Revolution emphasizes the importance of an attitude of stewardship of the Earth's resources; the need for economic restructuring promoting no waste and equitable distribution of resources; an understanding and respect for the principles of nature; the restoration of life forms; and an intergeneratinal perspective on solutions. The book describes innovative sustainable projects and policies in Colombia, Brazil, India and the Netherlands. 2005, New Society Publishers

Sustainable PlanetSustainable Planet: Solutions for the Twenty-first Century
Juliet Schor and Betsy Taylor, editors

This book, a project of the Center for a New American Dream, aims to "help people consume responsibly to protect the environment, enhance quality of life and promote social justice." The 16 essays in Sustainable Planet contain case studies, illustrations and examples of successful sustainability projects. The authors offer practical action suggestions to consumers who are not fully alert to the impact of their consumer choices and show how interwoven with environmental and social quality each purchase can be. This is a positive, informative, hopeful, and concrete anthology. 2003, Beacon Press

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