Reading About the Earth
November 11, 2009 4:07 PM   Subscribe

Environment-themed suggestions for a Campus Read program?

One of my faculty committee's tasks this term is to propose a slate of 5-6 books with an environmental focus for a spring Campus Read program. Students would be enrolling (optionally) in a one-credit course, and there would be four or five discussions over two months (including a lecture from an outside speaker - ideally, the author). This'll be our first stab at a program like this, so there's no precedent or institutional baggage.

Here's what's topping our list at the moment:
-Omnivore's Dilemma: high profile and lots of potential interest, but (1) many students are likely to have already read it, and (2) there's no way we can afford Michael Pollan's speaking fee. It would be relatively easy to find another speaker to discuss similar issues though.

-Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: high-ish profile and less likely to have been read by scads of students, but apparently Barbara Kingsolver refuses to travel for speaking engagements.

-Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer - much lower profile, which may limit the draw, but on the other hand, there's a good chance we could get Novella Carpenter to come to campus.

These are all focused on food and agriculture, which isn't necessarily by design, and suggestions about water, climate change, deforestation, sustainable building, etc, are all very welcome. Anything, basically, that (1) is likely to draw the interest of 18-22 year-olds, (2) can spark 8-10 hours worth of interesting discussion, and (3) for which there's a reasonable chance a small-ish liberal arts college could bring the author to campus.
posted by brozek to Education (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, an environment-themed reading list IS NOT COMPLETE without some Edward Abbey. The Monkey Wrench Gang is classic; I personally love Desert Solitaire.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:24 PM on November 11, 2009

*obvs ed abbey will not be able to make an appearance in your class
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:24 PM on November 11, 2009


Jared Diamond examines the factors leading up to the fall of many societies. Across many societies, the ultimate catastrophe of mass starvation has an ecological component to it. Precious natural resources were squandered, or polluted past the point at which they could continue to provide for the population.

Another subtheme to Collapse is that many of the failed societies in their final years had a rigidly hierarchical society in which far too much of the wealth was siphoned off by the elite, who, as the primary decision makers, failed to realize how interconnected their fates were with the lower classes, and how acutely the pressures of food shortages and other deprivations were weighing on those outside of their caste.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 4:25 PM on November 11, 2009

-Janisse Ray, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood

-Jeremy Bendik-Keymer, The Ecological Life

-E. Marina Schauffler, Turning to Earth
posted by mareli at 5:22 PM on November 11, 2009

Al Gore has a new book out, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis. I have not read it yet so can't vouch for it directly. He's not one of the more practical speakers to acquire, obviously. It might be cool to read a book that is getting some press.

I found Oliver Morton's Eating the Sun: How Light Powers the Planet fascinating, it connects many different topics that fall under environmental science with ecology, climate change, and agriculture. The first third of the book deals with our biochemical understanding of photosynthesis, so you might lose less science-oriented students there. I find is writing style fantastic.
posted by nowoutside at 6:28 PM on November 11, 2009

I was also going to suggest Collapse. Another book that is quite seminal is Limits to Growth which is quite easy to read and introduces an interesting way of thinking about environmental issues.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 7:02 PM on November 11, 2009

If you're willing to take on a sustainability slant, NPR contributor Doug Fine's Farewell My Subaru. "Can a regular American kick his addiction to oil and live more locally while still dancing to thumping subwoofers and not looking like a refugee from a Rainbow Gathering?"

He's fast, funny, and his speaker's fee for educational institutions is extremely reasonable.

Disclaimer: I've chatted with him about setting up a speaking engagement; first opportunity and I'm booking.
posted by faineant at 7:24 PM on November 11, 2009

You might want to look into Derrick Jensen's work. He's provocative, challenging - darkly challenging, even - and tries to be readily available (his site makes a point of saying he's "now available to talk to your group by telephone or webcam"). Endgame might be a good first look; it links personal, political, social and environmental issues in ways that are pretty much guaranteed to spark lively conversation. I'd bet that most folks who've thought seriously about cutting-edge environmentalism would put Jensen near the top of the list of must-read authors.
posted by mediareport at 8:25 PM on November 11, 2009

Response by poster: Just a follow-up for the archives - the committee ended up choosing Farm City, largely because Novella Carpenter is willing (excited even) to come to campus. She'll be in town for the state book festival, and she's going to tack on an extra day for us.
posted by brozek at 6:02 AM on January 13, 2010

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