Eclectic Closet Litblog, Book Reviews & Knitting Designs

A litblog dedicated to book reviews/recommendations, as well as literary and publishing news. Now enhanced with knitting designs.

Help Build a Bikeshare – Support 15 Days for BikeShare

May7

Community Access Bikeshare ad

Do you live in Waterloo Region? Are you a supporter of cycling? Believe in Bikeshares? Community Access Bikeshare is holding a crowd-raising campaign to JUMPSTART their program. From May 1-15, show your support by tweeting, sharing and helping to raise awareness about the program. Volunteer, buy a membership or simply donate.

What is crowd-raising?

You’ve likely heard the word “crowdfunding”, where large amounts of people contribute small amounts of money to help move a project forward.

Crowd-raising describes a broader concept of how the community can contribute to an emerging project. Together, we are aiming to:

* Raise volunteer support
* Raise new bikeshare members
* Raise awareness about bikesharing
* Raise funds for the project!

Annual cost of owning a car: $10, 452. Cost of annual CAB membership: $40. Save money, save time, save the environment. Find out more here.

BOOK REVIEW: Path of Destruction by John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein

September30

In 2002, John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein wrote “Washing Away,” an award-winning series for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The authors exposed the unique vulnerability of New Orleans to hurricanes, exploring “an obvious but little-acknowledged fact: here was a city that, for the six months of every hurricane season, lived with a substantial risk of utter annihilation…much of the city was built on top of a swamp, below sea level and gradually sinking.”

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Louisiana coast. In Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms, McQuaid and Schleifstein revisit familiar territory, helping readers understand why this tragic event happened when there were so many warnings.

Path of Destruction outlines the factors that contributed to the tragedy in New Orleans. By 2005, many levees were still incomplete and those built had inadequate safety levels, with safety factors of 1.3 (bridges have a safety factor of 2). The Army Corps of Engineers were more interested in commerce than hurricane safety. When combined with sinking marshlands and unstable soil, these facts increased the likelihood that levees would be overtopped or broken by a Category 2 hurricane, turning much of New Orleans into a lake. Hurricanes sweeping in off the Gulf of Mexico no longer have extensive marshlands to diminish the storm’s strength for “the delta has collapsed like a soufflé.

McQuaid and Schleifstein also provide extensive evaluation of Katrina’s aftermath. Once the levees broke, 80% of New Orleans was under water and the delayed response by FEMA severely increased the misery caused by Katrina.

Despite the harrowing experiences of one year ago and the knowledge that what happened in New Orleans was “catastrophic structural failure” not an “act of God,” the US government is poised to repeat prior mistakes. The Corps is rebuilding levees to their former level of protection, leaving New Orleans as exposed as before Katrina. At one point, Corps contractors were caught “dredging up weak soil and incorporating it into a new levee.” Given the prediction of an increase in Katrina-like storms, the time to act and prevent future tragedies is now.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 031601642X
ISBN13: 9780316016421

Hardcover
Pages: 384
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: August 16, 2006

NOTE: I am working on a feature article for RiverWired.com (a new social networking site being launched in November) about the batch of books published on Hurricane Katrina this year. Further analysis of Path of Destruction will be included in that article, which I will post here once it is published.

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BOOK REVIEW: When the Rivers Run Dry by Fred Pearce

June12

“Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.” Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Fred Pearce has been writing and consulting on environmental issues for decades. A highly respected and internationally acclaimed science writer, his newest book, When the Rivers Run Dry: Journeys into the Heart of the World’s Water Crisis, addresses the issue that many scientists contend will be the cause of future world conflicts – the world is running out of water. Earth is awash with water; however, usable water is at a premium. The last sentence of Pearce’s introduction states: “Water, after all, is the ultimate renewable resource.” The question therefore becomes: How is it possible that we are using more water than can be renewed?

Pearce’s contention is that the Western water “footprint” on the rest of the world is a major problem. On average, the water used to feed and clothe most of us for a year takes between 1,500 and 2,000 tonnes, more than half the contents of an Olympic-sized swimming pool. As most of what we eat and wear is grown and manufactured in other countries, we are importing vast quantities of what economists refers to as “virtual water.” What we wear and eat influences the hydrology of producer regions, resulting in a yearly global trade estimated at a thousand cubic kilometers – twenty River Niles.

The small measures we take each day, using low flush toilets or turning off the water while we brush our teeth, while useful on a local scale, have little influence on the majority of water usage. In a system where 11,000 litres are needed to produce the patty used in a McDonald’s Quarter-Pounder, a global solution must be found.

Pearce suggests that the countries currently undertaking massive irrigation projects for food production must reconsider their water usage, weighing the environmental impact of transportation against water depletion. Instead of turning deserts into agricultural land to grow wheat, in some cases using three times as much water as the global norm, countries need to consider importing wheat and other food crops from countries with a lower water cost. New economic models must be developed to consider the true cost of producing food.

When the Rivers Run Dry is an unflinching look at current water situation in more than 30 countries. Just three countries – India, China and Pakistan – account for the usage of more than half the world’s total use of underground water, one-sixth of the world’s usable water. Some of the world’s largest aquifers are under desert sands; however, these aquifers cannot be replaced by rain and in some cases the water being drawn from deep within the earth is thousands of years old. This water is a bank account we are draining dry, dooming the aquifers to extinction: “When a river runs dry, it is very visible. But underground water is invisible…and few in the corridors of power talk…about a slow-burning disaster that will one day affect hundreds of millions of people.” When the water in the world’s aquifers fails, food shortages will follow, undermining the world’s ability to feed itself.

Pearce puts forward that “water flows uphill to money.” If we hope to weather a global climate certain to become more extreme with shifting patterns of precipitation, the world’s governments must stop focusing on the money and instead look at the best interests of the world’s rivers, wetlands and aquifers. Attention must be paid to deteriorating municipal water systems and investments made to fix the potable water leaking into the ground; in some cities, as much as 40% of a city’s potable water disappears this way. New attention must be paid to traditional methods of living in harmony with the world’s rivers rather than attempting to tame the rivers through dams and man-made irrigation channels. Desalination of water from the oceans, for agricultural use is still an incredibly cost-prohibitive undertaking.

As David Suzuki states in the foreword: “This…is an urgent warning and a call for action that we must not ignore.” Pearce has delivered a difficult message that should be required reading for all concerned citizens.

Fred Pearce is an environmental and development consultant at New Scientist. Writing about environmental and water issues for more than twenty years, his next book, With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change, is scheduled for release in February 2007.

See the review at ReadySteayBook – When the Rivers Run Dry.

BOOK REVIEW: It’s the Crude, Dude: war, big oil, and the fight for the planet

May24

This review has been submitted to Alternatives Journal but I do not know when/if it will be included in their publication.

The Iraq Invasion as Smokescreen: Fight for Democracy or Oil?
It’s the Crude, Dude: war, big oil, and the fight for the planet, Linda McQuaig, Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2004, revised and updated 2005.

“…the Middle East, with 2/3 of the world’s oil and lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies.” Dick Cheney, November 1999

Linda McQuaig, a journalist well-known for taking pokes at the big myths, now focuses on the largest. In It’s the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil, and the Fight for the Planet, McQuaig aims squarely at the debate no one is having – Why was information on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction falsified and why did the United States want to invade Iraq? During the 18 months since the falsification came to light, no commission or committee has been convened to investigate. It’s the Crude, Dude is an attempt to bring into perspective the US’s actions in Iraq by positioning them within the historical perspective of their behaviour in the Middle East, and their quest to control the world’s oil resources.

McQuaig posits that the Iraq invasion was already planned to serve the interests of Big Oil when Cheney was still CEO of Haliburton. Once George W. Bush took office, two key policies to benefit the oil industry were immediately implemented: withdrawal from the Kyoto Accord and the beginning of the invasion of Iraq. Bush and Cheney have continually put the interests of Big Oil before those of democracy, global law and the American citizen. The “war on terror” has provided the smokescreen of “national security”, creating the illusion that there are no competing interests at work within Bush’s administration.

The oil shortage has already begun, mostly unacknowledged by officials, and, thanks to NAFTA, Canada gave up its right to reduce oil exports to the US, unless we reduce our own consumption by the same amount. McQuaig believes this wake-up call needs to be heeded and the reliance on oil reduced if Canada hopes to weather the coming war between China (second in oil consumption) and the US over oil.

At a time when the world’s focus should be finding renewable energy sources and environmental conservation, the current US administration is rolling back environmental protections and promoting reliance on oil.

McQuaig doesn’t put forward anything Canadians don’t already know or suspect. It’s the Crude, Dude provides a starting point for the discussions that must happen, framing the research and statistics in a clear, concise manner understandable by the average concerned citizen.

BOOK REVIEW: The Weather Makers: How we are changing the climate and what it means for life on earth by Tim Flannery

February1


“Earth’s thermostat is a complex and delicate mechanism, at the heart of which lies carbon dioxide….”

Tim Flannery poses the question, “Is climate change a terrible threat or a beat-up?” A compelling premise for his new work, The Weather Makers: How we are changing the climate and what it means for life on earth.

Climate change has become a “hot button” issue in most western countries and the challenges to clear-headed debate are addressed near the beginning of this work: “…climate change is difficult to evaluate dispassionately because it entails deep political and industrial implications, and because it arises from the core processes of our civilization’s success.”

The central character of climate change is CO2–carbon dioxide. Everything we do on earth results in the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Humans now are weather makers by their very existence and growth as a species. Flannery authoritatively explains the interconnectedness of everything on the earth, likening it to the interconnectedness of the organs in a body. In such a system, pollutants cannot be forgotten for they continually work on the whole, degrading its health.

Flannery has combined his years of research and observation with the work of leading scientists. The result is an eloquent work that is readable yet not “dumbed down.” The message is clear and compelling: what our species has done to the earth cannot be easily shunted to the side and forgotten. As he states, “the most important thing to realize is that we can all make a difference and help combat climate change at almost no cost to our lifestyle. And in this, climate change is very different from other environmental issues such as biodiversity loss or the ozone hole.”

The Weather Makers is an important work for anyone interested in the future of our planet and should be required reading for today’s political leaders.

See the review as it appears at Armchair Interviews – The Weather Makers

posted under environment | 2 Comments »

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