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The Green Life: Book Review Wednesday: Apocalyptic Futures

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July 13, 2011

Book Review Wednesday: Apocalyptic Futures

Book Roundup Wednesday Every Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. Today we're recommending books that predict the environmental future, or books whose titles contain colons.

The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future (By Laurence C. Smith, $27, Dutton, 2010): UCLA geography professor Laurence C. Smith convincingly models what he thinks the world will look like in forty years — if humans do nothing to change their ecological footprint. Population, resource depletion, globalization, and climate change will be our defining factors — and perhaps our demise. As the arctic melts and a new frontier opens and becomes fertile, people will choose how they will treat the plethora of new materials and earth opening up to them. Will history repeat itself?  Smith leaves readers on a surprisingly hopeful note.

Beyond Romantic Ecocriticism: Toward Urbanatural Roosting (Ashton Nichols, $85, Pallgrave MacMillan, 2011): Both critically and artfully, Nichols explores how our conceptions of nature have derived from Enlightenment-era ideas (humans and nature are separate) and Romantic poetry (humans and nature are connected). Relying heavily on poetic examples, Nichols also envisions an “urbanatural” future in which we see ourselves as part of the earth, but without a sense of atavism or regression, and how our environments will shift accordingly.

How It Ends: From You to The Universe (By Chris Impey, $27, Norton, 2010): University of Arizona professor Chris Impey takes an astronomer's well-substantiated view on how the apocalypse will look, and how we might get there. Because the events he discusses are so distant, Impey’s tone is celebratory. It’s clear that he loves the subject matter and is in total awe of the universe around him — a sense many of us have lost.

World On The Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse (By Lester Brown, $16, Norton, 2011): Lester Brown, a renowned political analyst and environmentalist, explains how macro- political structures have created the crises we are now facing, from water to carbon to population and more. And while the book’s tone is somewhat somber — these are serious and potentially irreversible issues — Brown posits policy solutions that, with a little commitment, could truly make a difference.

Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy is Undermining the Environmental Revolution (By Heather Rogers, $26, Scribner, 2010): A condemnation of greenwashing of epic proportions, Heather Rogers's new book uses examples from industrial organic to biodiesel to “eco”-certification of buildings to explain how the things we’re promised are green often aren’t. Environmentalism does not always align with capitalism, she reminds us. And if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

 --Mimi Dwyer

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