On Monday we celebrated Earth Day. As amazed and grateful as I am to our planet, I could not help but feel both guilty and even a bit hopeless on Monday. The day marks the fight for environmentalism that begun almost 50 years ago, and seeing how much worse we are now than in the seventies is certainly discouraging.
However most things seem impossible when we compare our individual actions against the global picture. No matter how hard it is, we must believe that using a reusable water bottle, not smoking, reducing our consumption of read meat and other seemingly unimportant actions actually matter and make a difference. Our individual habits are not enough to stop climate change, but they are necessary to put pressure on the big corporatives and governments who are really, for lack or a better word, fucking everything up.
When I feel powerless against these monsters of consumerism and the thoughtlessness of still a huge part of the population, I go to books. This post is about books that I consider important in our day and age, some are about environmental fighters that were both awesome writers and actually put their money where their mouth was, some are more about our understanding of nature and the environment.
Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
Edward Abbey spent his life as an activist for the environment, denouncing the toll that Western culture had on the natural world and protecting the American National Parks as a ranger. In this book, he tells his story as park ranger in Utah. Apart telling of his encounters with wild animals, rocks and the inifite skies while living in a small bus, he also reflects on the links between cultural progress and environmental deterioration, the relationships between humankind and animals and other similar topics. Abbey is deeply critical and strongly opinionated, most of the times holding an “all or nothing” perspective on preservation-related topics. It’s hard to keep up with him, but this book is eye-opening, combining harsh truths with beautifully fresh descriptions of nature.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Of course Thoreau. Among his many works I chose Walden because it’s for me the most optimistic. Here Thoreau dwells, along many essays, on different topics, from the economy to the creatures of the forest. Just like Abbey, Thoreau is deeply critical of both government and society, but he is also marvelously lucid when depicting Walden, the forest where he went when he “wanted to live deliberately”.
Wilderness Essays by John Muir
Muir is also a big name for naturalism. I loved this book because the deep love he felt for the mountains and their creatures oozes from every page. Muir’s writing is more technical though, constantly dwelling on describing rock formations and vegetation, but that is part of the fun.
Man in the Landscape by Paul Shepard
This book is very important to understand how our perception of nature has actually changed it, mostly for the worst. This is a theory book, I guess a light version of what is said here could be A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. This book offers a historical account of how humans have regarded nature through the centuries.
One’s Man Wilderness by Sam Keith
In 1968, Richard Proenneke set out to build a wooden cabin and live from the elements in Twin Lakes, Alaska. In this book, Sam Keith revisits his journal from the time and includes different accounts of what Proenneke did and what motivated him to do it. This book is a mix between Into the Wild and Walden, a proof that it’s still possible to find our links to the wilderness and live without doing so much harm to other species.
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolber
This one won the Pulitzer Prize and I am still in process of reading it. It’s super interesting and massively worrying. Here, the author explains the five massive extinctions that have taken place in our planet, and sets the ground to argue that we are about to live the sixth, which could only be compared to the one that killed dinosaurs thousands of years ago. This book could sound discouraging, but sometimes we need a good shake to motivate us.
Have you read any of these? These books have and are still helping me to educate myself on environmental and preservation issues, topics I’m honestly quite new at.
In other news, I’m still reading, and very much enjoying, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Some things can’t be rushed, specially books that are almost 1000 pages long.