My bookshelf: Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, by German chemist Michael Braungart and U.S. architect William McDonough

Cradle to Cradle examines industry, consumerism, product life cycles, and supply chains from a design perspective. Our current production model uses a “cradle to grave” process, creating things from resources and designing them to serve their function and then be tossed out. However, as we are well aware, trash really doesn’t go “away” and we’re consuming our natural resources at an unprecedented rate without adequately replenishing them. The cradle to cradle production process tries to eliminate harmful waste, and overall negative environmental impacts, by taking into account what will happen to the product after it’s done being used. And beyond that, thinking about how that product can be most effectively remade into other products or used to provide nutrients to different supply chains.

I highly recommend this book as an engaging and easy to read introduction to environmental issues caused by mass consumerism. The authors propose that we find solutions to environmental problems not by figuring out how we can be less bad or do less harm, but by how we can do good and improve the environment through our industry activities. What they propose is tough, which is one of the things I like about this book. They are challenging designers and producers to design, create, produce, and dispose better; the solutions might be difficult and might cause friction against traditional methods, but that is not a reason to give up.

Additionally, the authors use processes and design elements from nature on a functional level and theorize how we can apply them to our own activities. This is relevant to us because we’re the only species whose activities of overuse or over production have massive ecological ramifications. So, how can we shift our processes such that our industries provide nutrients and benefit our environment similar to how plant and animal species do.

A unique feature: One of the most interesting aspects of the book is that it’s the perfect camping or backpacking read. The book isn’t made of wood pulp paper, but rather a polymer that makes it waterproof.  Seriously, I did the test when I bought it and ran it under the kitchen sink!

Under the kitchen sink!

Where to buy:, of course. But you can always check out your local used bookstore for a copy – that’s where I acquired mine!

My Bookshelf: Silent Spring

The book: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

I’ve mentioned this book in another post, but it very much deserves its own spot on the series My Bookshelf. This book is an essential read for anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the ecological and health impacts of toxic chemicals.

This is my old, heavily used copy, printed in 1964.

Written in 1962, Carson was the first person to identify clearly the connection between our own health and our environment’s health. Silent Spring focuses on DDT primarily, but this pesticide is a vehicle for her broader message: the entire contamination of our world caused by an intense drive to control and manipulate nature to suit our immediate needs and accelerate economic growth.

Carson’s writing is unique, because she communicates scientific evidence and data through powerful stories that describe concrete experiences and occurrences in our natural world. Her writing is not fiction, but is intensely descriptive and captivating.

Silent Spring opens with a tale about a town in which the people fall ill, and all the plants and animals around them slowly wither and disappear, leaving a silent wasteland.

No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the birth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it to themselves.

The following few chapters give a detailed description of the chemistry and toxicity of several different pesticides including arsenic, DDT, Chlordane, Aldrin, and phosphates.

The next two chapters focus on pesticide contamination in water and soil. This is a primer for the subsequent several chapters, which describe the aerial spraying of pesticides in the United States, and the impacts of pesticides on birds, insects, plants, and humans. Carson cites specific instances of spraying and describes the aftermath that scientists found – dead house pets, birds falling in convulsions from the sky, dead salmon washing up on riverbanks, and lasting impacts on reproductive health in wildlife populations.

By acquiescing in an act that can cause such suffering to a living creature, who among us is not diminished as a human being?

The ending chapters turn their attention to the human health risks of exposure to pesticides, primarily in terms of rising cancer rates. Carson highlights the connections between exposure to toxic chemicals and the development of breast cancer and leukemia.

The final chapter of this book focuses on alternatives to toxic chemicals for pest management. Additionally, Carson argues for a fundamental reworking of our relationship with insects and nature, to foster appreciation and understanding of biological systems and to work in harmony with ecological processes, rather than continually fighting against them for man’s dominion over nature.

The trouble is that we are seldom aware of the protection afforded by natural enemies until it fails. Most of us walk unseeing through the world, unaware alike of its beauties, its wonders, and the strange and sometimes terrible intensity of the lives that are being lived about us.

I will be honest; this book can be a tough and sometimes heartbreaking read. Carson does not sugarcoat the travesties of toxic chemicals. However, I still think this is an incredibly important book.

You can find this book on Amazon, with a range of buying options:

I would also recommend checking any local used booksellers for copies!

My Bookshelf: Environment and Society (A Critical Introduction)

The book: Environment and Society: A Critical Introduction by Paul Robbins, John Hintz, and Sarah A. Moore

Published in 2010, this first edition textbook is still a fantastic resource years later. There is a 2014 second edition out there, but I haven’t read that one yet. I picked up this book on a whim at Half Price Books. I highly recommend it as a primer for environmental issues couched in social, political, and economic terms. The authors cover a wide range of topics and do a superb job of explaining the various influences on complex ecological problems.

The book is divided into two main parts. First, they examine common environmental theories and perspectives, such as market-based resource management and population theory. They also discuss environmental ethics (animal rights and industrial agriculture), risk culture in terms of environmental disaster, political economy (capitalism’s role in exploitation of nature), and the social construction of nature. These concepts are all important to understanding global climate challenges.

The second part covers a few major ecological issues including carbon dioxide, trees, wolves, tuna, bottled water, and French fries. These all tie into the theories discussed in the previous section. I’ll use the French fry chapter as an example since without reading the book it might seem a bit out of place or unrelated. The authors use the commodity of French fries to examine issues like industrial agriculture (potato monocrops), risk perception concerning fats and health, globalization and fast food, and the ethics over biotechnology and engineered crops.

If you’re on a budget I would recommend the first edition since you can find pretty cheap copies out there. I would highly suggest checking your local used bookstores to see if any of them have copies – buy used and shop local!

First edition on Amazon (prices range from about $1 to $80 for new hardbacks)

Second edition on Amazon (prices range from $18 to $35)