10 remarkable books on conservation and the environment published in 2021

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  • The books chosen for 2021 revolve around the central theme of not only cataloging declines and degradation, but also how we, as a species, work to live with, mitigate and reverse these changes.
  • The list below presents a sample of the important conservation and environmental literature published this year.
  • Inclusion in this list does not imply endorsement by Mongabay of the contents of a book; the opinions expressed in the books are those of the authors and not necessarily of Mongabay.

Signs of human impact seem to exist pretty much everywhere we look. We live in a world where microscopic pieces of plastic have made their way to the highest mountain peaks and the deepest ocean trenches. Our power to shape the world spans two-thirds of the planet covered by the global ocean, down to the largest animals that ever lived. We have changed the climate, pushed countless species to extinction and countless more to the brink of collapse. We have toppled forests, cut mountain tops, and changed the course of rivers. And yet, for all the power humans have to make the planet decline, we also have the power to help it recover.

The selections on this year’s list do not only grapple with the consequences of both aspects of that power, exercised individually and in concert by the more than 7.5 billion of us living today and those who have served us. preceded. The authors also question whether our responsibility is to allow nature to heal on its own, to induce it to adopt an idealized view of how the world must have existed before us, or to adopt a third option. : a future in which nature is nourished but also accepting that we have transformed the Earth in an almost unimaginable way that requires an overhaul of what it means to conserve and protect the environment.

1. Under a white sky: the nature of the future

By Elizabeth Kolbert

Image courtesy of Penguin Random House.

New Yorker Writer Elizabeth Kolbert’s coverage of climate change and the global extinction crisis has earned her acclaim, including a Pulitzer for her 2014 book, The sixth extinction: an unnatural story. The gist of this work has been how we humans, as a species, have altered the natural world – and caused a lot of trouble in the process.

Under a white sky look at the other side of this power to shape the world around us, this time in an effort to save it. Today, she writes, scientists are working hard to control the invasive species that we have introduced – sometimes knowingly, sometimes not – to new environments. They are feverishly working on a myriad of solutions to extract the carbon that heats the atmosphere from the atmosphere. And they are creating new strains of reef-building corals that resist the marine heatwaves that the industrialization of Earth has unleashed on them. In Under a white skywe can look over the shoulders of these researchers with Kolbert at the helm.

2. We are all whalers: the fate of the whales and our responsibility

By Michael J. Moore

Image courtesy of the University of Chicago Press.

As a veterinarian and marine scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the United States, Michael J. Moore has testified to how human activity has made the ocean a more difficult and hostile environment for the whales that inhabit it. . In We are all whalersMoore recounts his research over the past four decades, punctuated by the frustrating and sometimes confusing decline of the North Atlantic right whale, which has become a major focus of his work. Despite the attention of scientists like him and a growing body of conservation legislation, the numbers of right whales have continued to drop. Current best estimates bring the total to less than 350 surviving individuals today.

Right whales were once a favorite career of Yankee whalers. But today, a gauntlet of fishing gear in their home range and high-powered vessels plying through have put their existence in doubt. Most people will never hold a harpoon in their lives, but we have a grip on what happens to this animal – from the seafood we choose to eat and where it comes from, to produce shipped in massive containers to across the oceans of the world, which We buy.

This burden could be heavy enough to sink a book and its message. Instead, Moore makes it a responsibility we all share. By paying more attention to how the things we buy get to us and using new technologies, such as cordless gear for fishermen, we can help make the ocean a home. more welcoming.

3. Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in the Age of Extinction

By Michelle Nijhuis

Image courtesy of WW Norton and Company.

Beloved beasts is a book that is as much about the people involved in conservation over the past century and a half as it is about the species they have helped save. Around this time, the conservation and environment movements forged their way through twists and turns of history, sweeping away genuine thought leaders as well as their share of problematic figures. In her book, Michelle Nijhuis is our guide to this story, bringing us to the present day when we find ourselves in the midst of an extinction crisis that has only continued to grow. Along the way, we find that we have as much to learn about ourselves as we do about the species we are trying to save.

4. The Puma years: a memory

By Laura Coleman

Image courtesy of Laura Coleman.

The Bolivian Amazon: the framework of The Puma years maybe attractive enough to pick up the book. But it is the personal story of the author that makes him a page turner. As the title suggests, Laura Coleman develops a multi-year relationship with a cougar named Wayra at an animal shelter in the forest. In her efforts to help Wayra and the other animals at the center, Coleman seems to learn as much about herself as he does about the animals in her care and the people she meets.

5. Accounting for real costs for food: balancing the scales

Edited by Lauren Baker, Paula Daniels and Barbara Gemmill-Herren

Image courtesy of Routledge.

The global system that provides humans with our sustenance is responsible for some of the most significant impacts on our environment, from the conversion of large rainforests for agriculture to the effects on water, land and air of ranching. industrial. More and more evidence shows the weight of our choices, but how much do they cost?

In a series of case studies from around the world, Real cost accounting for food adds depth, contours and nuance to these consequences. Contributors discuss water systems in the Andes, cotton production in Egypt, and the importance of healthy soil in California, while others examine the social implications of the foods we select.

6. Abundance: nature in recovery

By Karen Lloyd

Image courtesy of Routledge.

As the title suggests, Karen Lloyd’s collection of essays, Abundance: nature in recovery, takes on a hopeful tone. Lloyd searches for examples of investments in restoring natural ecosystems and removing species from near extinction to recovery around the world. At the same time, Lloyd’s writings do not trivialize the challenges faced by many ecosystems. Indeed, some of the book’s most empowering passages turn out to be meditations on what we humans choose to save and what we choose to let go.

7. Death of a whale: the challenge of anti-whaling activists and the rights of indigenous peoples

By Paul Watson

Image courtesy of GroundSwell Books.

How does perhaps the world’s best-known anti-whaling activist reconcile his life’s calling with the cultural traditions of an Indigenous nation? At Paul Watson Death of a whale, we see both the internal struggle and the external struggle to save an animal he loves. Captain Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, follows a campaign to stop the Makah people of the Pacific Northwest from hunting gray whales.

Struggling with themes ranging from relativism to the sanctity of life, Watson attempts to steer his storytelling into the waters of both an adventure story and a parable about life that encourages us to question beliefs for a long time.

8. L’Arbornaut: a life exploring the eighth continent in the trees above us

By Meg Lowman

Image courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The canopy of trees above the forest floor is home to a dizzying variety of life. For decades, scientist Meg Lowman has observed these ecosystems up close, climbing to reach this “eighth continent” or soaring high above. In The Arbornaut, it divulges some of the secrets of this ethereal land, and few readers will be able to resist leaving some of Lowman’s contagious exuberance for the treetops rubbing off on them.

9. Slaughter 2031

By Nick Thomas

Image courtesy of Nick Thomas.

In the only fictional entry on Mongabay’s 2021 list, Slaughter 2031 imagine a dystopian future in which climate activists a decade from now will see the adoption of violence as a way to end the crisis. It is a frightening prospect, which could provoke the question: how could we all unite to avoid such a fate?

10. Wild souls: freedom and fulfillment in the non-human world

By Emma Marris

Image courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

What does it mean to be wild? Emma Marris explores this question and more in her report, packed with information about Wild souls. The book measures how much we humans have changed the world and the life it supports. He also asks what important role we must play in saving this life. Attributed to a philosophical bent, the end result tends towards pragmatism rather than purism and acceptance of a world modified by human hands rather than insistence on a pristine world devoid of that touch.

Banner image: A mountain lion in the Santa Susanna Mountains in California. Image from US National Park Service via Wikimedia Commons (Public domain).

John canon is a writer with Mongabay. Find him on Twitter: @johnccannon

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