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It truly is a travesty.  Best-seller lists, the air waves, oped pages, and blog posts have been filled with Steven Levitt's and Steven Dubner's shallow,truthiness-laden Superfreakonomics.   The continued attention feeds on itself, as ignoring the deceptions and  the mediocre interviews booked due to the authors' Super(freaky)star status has the problem of giving it credence due to non-truthful truthiness and misleading mediocrity on the critical issue of climate change science and other issues. There are, essentially, innumerable works more worthy of our attention and engagement, even if we constrain ourselves simply to books also published in 2009.

Thus, after the fold, ten books published this year that are more worthy of your time and money that the shallow distortions from theSuper Freaky Economists of Superfreakonomics.


Policy / Science Discussions

Stephen Schneider's Science as a Contact Sport is a work that the Super Freaky Economist should have read before writing his work.  Schneider's entire career, in essence, has been centered on the challenge of developing adequate models of the climate to enhance understanding of system dynamics and to enable better decision-making about future policy paths. Schneider owns up, directly, to mistakes through his career.  Those mistakes and his owning up to them, as he highlights, show the very essence of the scientific process with the willingness to put out hypotheses to be tested by others, ready to learn from mistakes and errors and gaps to then be able to do work that stands up to scrutiny. Schneider has suffered from more than his share of 'he changed his mind' and 'he used to say' soundbites from global warming deniers. In this book, he provides windows on the science and the battles that have gone on without and around that science for the past 30+ years.

Schneider lays out "five easy pieces" as to why we've seen no action to avert climate catastrophe: "ignorance, greed, denial, tribalism, and short-term thinking".  Each is quite simple, yet highly complex, and they combine to create serious obstacles to the necessary changes to enable a sustainable and prosperous future for humanity.

Perhaps my favorite single line is Schneider's description of what has changed through his career, that comes at the end of a paragraph outlining changes around the globe from wildfires increasing to the melting Arctic se ice

What has changed is not the basic science so much as the fact that nature is cooperating with theory.

Schneider is someone worth listening to and learning from.

James Hoggan's (and Richard Littlemore's) Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming should be, simply, required reading of every single journalism and marketing student, advertising executives and media editors.  Building on the work of DeSmogBlog, they lay out details of the concerted efforts to distort the public discussion and understanding of climate change in a deliberate effort to inhibit action to mitigate climate change. As David Suzuki put it

"Climate Cover-Up documents one of the most disgusting stories ever hidden about corporate disinformation. What you’ll discover in this book amounts to proof of an intergenerational crime."

Greg Craven's What's the worst that could happen? A rational response to the climate change debate is the one work here that could, legitimately, be said to be targeted at the 'rational' climate skeptic (e.g, someone who truly merits the title "skeptic" rather than those Climate Cover-Up discusses). Craven provides a structured way to consider Global Warming as a non-scientist in a way that could, quite literally, provide value throughout one's life (from buying a home to deciding what job to take to ...). In essence, Craven posits that we face four possibilities: Climate Change isn't occurring and we act as if it is or isn't; Climate change is occurring and we act as it is or isn't. Craven then walks through his path of thinking through the problem and why it is, in the end, the best bet to act as if Climate Change is occurring -- no matter what one thinks about the state of the science.

I have to give Greg a lot of credit. He is a high school science teacher and reading this book makes me hope that my children encounter teachers like him.

And, well, this is a book that would not exist without YouTube.

Keith Farnish's time's up is a challenging read. Not challenging due to his writing style, which is something to relish, but to where Keith seeks to take us. Farnish lays out a compelling case not just for the seriousness of our energy and climate challenge, but also that our entire Industrial Culture stands of the way of taking serious action to forestall utter climate catastrophe.  Keith is arguing not just that the current system will collapse, but that we should work to hasten that collapse, sooner rather than later, to reduce the extent and devastation of that fall.    Keith ties in science, philosophy, and a call for serious political activism.  While unlikely, due to what follows, Keith's first section on "the scale of the problem" should be on the reading list for every high school and college student globally, and of merit for reading by all. Keith starts at the 1/10th millionth of a meter, with micro-organisms, and provides a compelling integration of the challenges and interconnections moving up an order of magnitude each time through 100 meters and beyond.  This is a window on our problems that would be eye-opening for most. [Note: You can find Keith at Unsuitablog.)

Lester Brown's Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization should be, but sadly is not, on the desk top of every single politicians and business leader around the globe. While some might question the resources this would take, Lester lays out the seriousness of our challenge and provides a series of steps and tools that could help extricate us from the disaster we've created and are creating.  While most around the globe are speaking of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions from 1990 (or, sigh, 2005) levels by 2050, Plan B lays out a rational path for achieving those reductions by 2020. That is the sort of effort and sort of timeline that might enable us to avoid climate catastrophe.

Personal stories with larger implications

Novella Carpenter's Farm City: The education of an urban farmer lays bare her experiences building a full-fledged farm environment via, in essence, squatting on a neighboring lot for an extensive garden. From the colorful description of her neighbors and neighborhood, to discussions of collecting manure which make you almost want to clean off your shoes, to the powerful sections about slaughtering various animals (rabbits, fowl, pigs), Carpenter will draw you into her life and make you wonder whether 'urban farming' is a path for you to take.  Truth be told, urban farming is one of the silver BBs to help solve numerous challenges (from water runoff, to urban heat islands, and so on.  Carpenter provides a window, of both wondrous (sharing the joy of that warm tomato with neighbors) and problematic (filth in the home), on the tribulations and triumphs of an aspiring farmer.

Colin Bean's No Impact Man looks at the challenge of transforming a life (actually, three lives) in the center of New York from take-out heavy and full-trash bag life-style to one having 'no impact' on the planet.  The core question for the whole experience: "Can you have a good life without wasting so much?"


James Glave's Almost Green is a look at the reality of 'trying to go green' and the obstacles that stand between an individual home owner's  desires to do a green extension and the realities that the infrastructure doesn't exist, for most of us, to do this easy.   Having done a small renovation, with its green triumphs and failures, I saw much of myself in parts of the discussion. Often a hilarious read, Glave provides a window on social, informational, building code, and other challenges that stand between 'the average' person and doing better by the environment.

To add to your 'beach' reading, there are two works of Fiction for consideration

Eric Lotke, 2044: The Problem isn't Big Brother, It's Big Brother, INC, looks to the challenges of bringing tangible solutions to fruition in the face of (serious) competing corporate financial (and power, as if that is different) interests.  This dystopian novel takes us through an engineer's discovery of a free way to desalinate water in (serioulsy) water constrained future. His willingness to sacrifice everything in an altruistic desire to improve humanity's condition slams face first into a logical, albeit terrifying, projection of current corporate powers and policies.  The result is, well, not necessarily predictable.

AsEli put it in his review,

The world Eric Lotke has created in 2044 is a progressive’s nightmare.  Almost every exasperating trend we see today has been extrapolated to its logical extreme ...

the world of 2044 is not as nakedly dystopian as that of 1984.  The corporations rule through manipulation rather than overt oppression – as long as everyone stays in their lane and does what they’re supposed to, they can be perfectly happy.  Where 1984 was a bleak prison camp with guards and cameras and barbed wire, 2044 is a well-manicured lawn with an invisible fence.

S Terrell French, in Operation Redwood, provides a window on the fight to protect some of the magnificent forests on the planet: the spectacular Redwood forests in California.  French's novel is an engaging story of four children and the fight to save one grove from clear-cutting. A quick and amusing read which, based on the four sixth-graders who reported on it to me, has the potential to open eyes of young people about individual action and the use of media action to help turn the tide on devastation of our environment. At times, for this reader at least, the writer made me close my eyes and think.

a game his fifth-grade teacher had taught the class: He tried to imagine how the land might have looked five hundred years earlier ... It was harder than it seemed at first.

The telephone poles and buildings and fence and cows were the easiest to erase. But it was almost impossible to imagine away the highway.  The road, with cars and trucks and buses racing along it at seventy miles per hour, seemed like something permanent, an eternal passageway ...

Even the trees and plants might have changed. That was the trickiest part, his teacher had said. San Francisco, for example, was covered with eucalyptus trees. But those trees came from Australia! They wouldn't have been there five hundred years ago.

Five hundred years wasn't so long. But everything had changed ...

Remember, of course, that a redwood's age can be measured in thousands of years.

FYI: This is not necessarily a 'top ten of 2009 list', but a varied list of books that each have greater value for advancing our national discussion than distortions and deceptions from the Super Freaks of Economics profession.  The list of published 2009 books that are more worthy of your attention would not go on for pages, but 100s of pages. All of the above, however, each have their values for providing a window on the challenges we face and paths to seize the opportunities from those challenges.

Originally posted to A Siegel on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 12:12 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Many thanks (4+ / 0-)

    I needed just such a list.  I picked up Al Gore's new book yesterday, but these are going to come home with me from the library tonight.  

  •  Thanks, right to the "to read" list. (5+ / 0-)

    When Levitt was on Jon Stewart a month or so ago, Jon apologized to the audience at the end of the interview.

    stay together / learn the flowers / go light - Gary Snyder

    by Mother Mags on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 12:19:35 PM PST

  •  That Is A Very Interesting List (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, sandblaster, A Siegel

    and all new to me, so bookmarked. As an aside for 10+ years I've been following these blogs (were not called that at the time) that focus on design, HTML, user interface development. They kind of serve as an "echo chamber." If they start to talk about something, you just watch it spread out and become "popular."

    I am not sure why, but Freakonomics was a book talked about in a lot of detail when it first came out (a close second to the Tipping Point). I found it interesting, although I now know many of the stats and conclusions were "iffy" at best.

    I don't know if there is some "soul searching" on their part, but this book has been ripped apart on their sites.

    "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

    by webranding on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 12:20:56 PM PST

  •  Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist's (5+ / 0-)

    Manifesto, by Stewart Brand, biologist, ecologist, thinker.

    It's sensible.  It's inspiring. This book wants to be read--pronto.

    Brand opens with a horrific rundown of where climate change is going.  Then he turns to potential solutions to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

    Here's a quote:

    Humanity currently runs on about 16 terawatts of power, most of it from the burning of fossil fuels.  It's like leaving 160 billion 100-watt lightbulbs on all the time.  That's what is loading the atmosphere with lethal quantities of carbon dioxide. [Saul] Griffith calculates that in order to keep the atmospheric concentration of CO2 at no more than 450 ppm, humanity has to do something unimaginably difficult.
     

    Griffith then enumerates the ways to get those terawatts from non-CO2 sources and at what rate we would have to build those generators.

    Add it up, and when you're done, you've got an area the size of America--"Call it Renewistan," says Griffith--covered with stuff dedicated to generating humanity's energy.  That's not counting transmission lines, energy storage, materials,and support infrastructure, plus the costs of shutting down all the coal plants, oil refineries, etc.  I asked Saul Griffith if he thinks we can really do it.  "Technically," he said, "it is possible.  Industrially, humanity has the collective capacity.  But politically I don't see how."  Then he added, "But we have to try.  Why else bother to be human and be in this game?"

    And with that, Brand is off, helping us find ways to be in the game.

    Amory Lovins: "Coal can fill the real gaps in our fuel economy....." IPCC: Anthropogenic greenhouse gases will cause extinction of up to 70% of species by 2050.

    by Plan9 on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 12:36:22 PM PST

  •  have you seen this "100 mile" show (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, A Siegel

    about a town trying to live only off things within a 100 mile radius of their town?  Fantastic premise, albeit a bit lacking in entertainment value.

    I agree 100%.  The glitzy rhetoric and economics theory backflips gets all the press, while the actual concrete, really hard-hitting stuff slips by the wayside.

    Very helpful to get these reading lists from time to time...

    •  Watch it .......... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, Jeffrey Feldman

      sometimes while blogging. (If my better 95+% is napping in front of the TV, Green is (surprise, surprise) the channel that I zap to.)

      The most valuable point, perhaps, is just how hard this is to do -- a 100 mile diet is certainly no an easy thing logistically or culturally for most people in the "developed" world. (Certainly not a true 100 mile diet, including spices / coffee / etc  in those limitations.)

    •  ah... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel

      I wanted to create this store in Brooklyn. I was willing to go to 250 miles (the radius for locavore movement I believe) but the idea was to create a store that only sold goods 100% local manufactured and made of 70-100% local materials (I'll give a little at first, if people need dyes from elsewhere or some small elements we don't manufacture here anyomore). I think there's probably quite a bit to start with (tables made from old PA barns, woolen goods and so on). Obviously there are things you can't sell (nothing made of cotton eg, since it doesn't grow here). But I think there's enough craft movement around this area that we could do it. I called it "Footprint" of course and I have a whole visualization/branding concept based on that. There can be a "Little Footprint" for kids and a "Pawprint" for pet goods. I'd like to see this store also do some outreach--we could show movies, have lectures (one of my neighbors wrote Bottlemania)...though books aren't local maybe there are POD versions we could print locally?

      The idea would be also to create the market/build up the market for this, so we could encourage the return of some local manufacturing. Very medieval, but I think what we need right now.

      When I first came up with the concept 2 years ago people looked at me like I was nuts. Now I think someone probably already has the b-plan. Of course this stalled on funding/lack of small business loans. And I'm probably the wrong person to execute...but still a good idea for a community like this one.

      One cool idea--you could franchise and every franchise would be different.

  •  Hi, A Siegel (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ahianne, A Siegel, RosyFinch

    I've read "Climate Cover-up", and it really is a shocking story.  I highly recommend it.

    I have a copy of "What's the worst that could happen?", Al Gore's "Our Choice", and am about to receive "Plan B 4.0".

    Of the books you list that I don't have or have on order, I think the most interesting to me is "Science as a Contact Sport".  I'll have to see about ordering it.

    Recently read David Archer's "The Long Thaw", which goes past 2100 in predicting effects of our CO2 spike.  One datum that interested me very much is that a molecule of CO2 will be responsible for trapping a lot more heat energy than we ever got as usable energy by burning the carbon it came from.

    ...it is unfortunate that the opposition to the Democrats in this country now consists entirely of crazy people. - NNadir

    by RunawayRose on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 01:11:49 PM PST

  •  Humanity (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose

    was a great idea.

    Have faith in geologic time.

    "One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity nothing beats teamwork." - Mark Twain

    by greendem on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 01:15:13 PM PST

  •  Has anyone read this month's Scientific American? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, RosyFinch

    Just asking all in general- a most serious month with the main thrust being that we can become fossil-independent within the next 21 years.

    But what do they know?

  •  Thank you (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel

    I will put your diary addy up at Bookflurries: Bookchat on Wed.

    Join us at Bookflurries: Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 03:43:09 PM PST

  •  Tim Flannery: Now or Never (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel, BruceMcF

    Nifty little book, very recent, summarizes the climate science and its implications clearly and forcefully.   Communicates viscerally the human and ecological  consequences of failing to restore the atmosphere to a sustainable concentration of CO2 equivalent, sketches the technical and policy changes needed to avoid runaway overheating.
    Responses by Bill McKibben, Peter Singer and others, rejoinder by Flannery, who chairs the Copenhagen Climate Council.

    "Flannery (The Weather Makers) makes a valuable contribution to global warming literature with this slim and eloquent brief that challenges readers to dispense with the dangerous notion that 'the earth was made for us' — a convenient extrapolation of social Darwinism that the author argues is used to justify reckless treatment of the environment and smacks of embarrassing impracticality and myopia. He states that humans were made to shepherd the Earth through environmental crises and contribute to the efficiency of its massive metabolism; humans are the brains of this complex system and must make bold choices to either save the corpus totum or destroy it. A re-evaluation of human purpose on Earth is required, Flannery maintains, with a true understanding of sustainability removed from trendy 'green' marketing connotations. Flannery's compelling arguments and accessible language will move the passive bystander, persuade the skeptic and rouse the activist." -- Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

    Available from Powell's books

    There's no such thing as a free market!

    by Albanius on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 09:42:44 PM PST

    •  Flannery explains how to store carbon (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel, BruceMcF

      ... as charcoal by pyrolysis of agricultural wastes, which would otherwise release CO2 by decay.  He estimates that some 5% of the CO2 above the sustainable level, billions of tons annually, can be stored as charcoal.

      Charcoal added to soil can improve soil quality by providing microhabitat and moisture retention due to high surface to volume ratio.

      Along with reforestation, charcoal can be one of the most practical ways to sequester carbon.

      There's no such thing as a free market!

      by Albanius on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 09:56:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Bio/Agro-Char (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Albanius

        should be one of the items on the top of our lists.

        PS: And, thank you. Wasn't on my radar scope and I like Flannery's work.

        •  You're still 9 books ahead of me, here's 2 more (0+ / 0-)

          Gus Speth: Bridge at the end of the world

          In this book Gus Speth, author of Red Sky at Morning and a widely respected environmentalist, begins with the observation that the environmental community has grown in strength and sophistication, but the environment has continued to decline, to the point that we are now at the edge of catastrophe.

          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 todays destructive world economy before it is too late. The book is about how to do that. -- publisher's comments

          Van Jones - The Green Collar Economy

          As the headlines make clear, total climate chaos looms over us. The bottom line: we cannot continue with business as usual. We cannot drill and burn our way out of these dual dilemmas.

          Instead, Van Jones illustrates how we can invent and invest our way out of the pollution-based grey economy and into the healthy new green economy. Built by a broad coalition deeply rooted in the lives and struggles of ordinary people, this path has the practical benefit of both cutting energy prices and generating enough work to pull the U.S. economy out of its present death spiral. -- publisher's comments

          There's no such thing as a free market!

          by Albanius on Sat Nov 14, 2009 at 01:14:49 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Van's book (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Albanius

            is 2008, no? And, yes, I have (value) it.

            Speth's one you're adding to my list. (FYI -- there were easily another 100 or so books on the shelf that I didn't include in this list -- honestly, some more "important", but I thought it important to provide a mix across policy, individual action/perspective, and some fiction. (Though, looking at the list, I'm surprised at how 'tech' and 'business' lite it is for me. Sigh, the next "ten"?)

  •  novel with wings (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel

    Border Songs by Jim Lynch

    A novel set along the Canadian/US border, with lyric descriptions of habitat and birdlife!

    The plot makes it a good-humored fairy tale.  Homeland Security comes to the valley and shakes things up, then fades away and people are better off because they have less fear and more love.

    "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." [Ray Bradbury]

    by RosyFinch on Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 11:14:15 PM PST

  •  Greg Craven's book... (0+ / 0-)

    I'm a fan. Glad to see it getting some exposure.

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