by Kelsi Kruger
One of the greatest resources we have for perpetuating environmental awareness is through the written word. For example, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is largely considered the catalyst that started the environmental movement in the 1960’s. However, since that time, many authors and works have emerged that are also highly relevant when dealing with environmental issues. This list is not all-encompassing, and is merely the opinion of one person. Indeed, I strongly encourage you to check out other books by these authors, and especially those works recommended to you by friends and colleagues. Even if you’re unsure about it, what do you have to lose by giving it a few hours of your time?
Teaching environmental literature (and literature not normally considered “environmental” in an environmental context) is necessary if we have any hope of cultivating a well-informed, sustainable society. However, we should not wait until the college level to begin exposing ourselves to these ideas. For example, most advertising is aimed at children and teenagers. If they were at least partially aware of the hidden consequences of the purchases they make, is it unfair to believe they would make more sustainable choices? Allowing them to experience a wide variety of environmental literature would also encourage them to seek out those topics which peak their interest and inspire them to take action.
Where to find books
The major downside of books is that they require resources in their production and transportation; let’s face it, books come from trees, are heavy, and take up space in your home. Lucky for us we’ve already figured out a solution to this problem: Take a walk or ride a bike to your local library and get connected to a vast network of shared books right in your own community. Try checking out the McMinnville Library, in easy walking distance from campus. Many libraries are part of larger networks, which share books with each other. The Nicholson Library on Linfield’s campus is one example. The best part is these books will be continually reused, so new copies of older books do not need to be produced. However, if you absolutely must have a hard copy of your own to make notes in or give to a loved one, consider buying a used book. Like buying any used item, the resources to produce it have already been expended. Personally, I love used books that are worn and faded and have notes from previous owners in the margins. It’s a tangible show of the connection you share with others who have been affected by the same ideas. Most secondhand stores have a wide selection of used books, like Goodwill and St. Vincent De Paul, but don’t forget conventional bookstores that may have a used book section, such as Third Street Books in McMinnville or Powell’s Books in Portland. Also, talk with your friends, classmates, colleagues, and family members; they may have a copy they don’t want anymore or are willing to share.
Five Influential Books
A Sand County Almanac – Aldo Leopold
A classic written by a revolutionary mind, with something for everyone. It begins with nature writing at its best, outlining a year of observations, leading into a discovery of the importance of ecology, and ending with a discussion about the ethics of environmental use and conservation. Pay special attention to the sections Thinking Like a Mountain and The Land Ethic, they’re often referenced in other works.
The Monkey Wrench Gang- Edward Abbey
An entertaining work of fiction about non-violent resistance undertaken by a group of people who see environmental wrongs being done, and choose to take action to correct them. It is worth reading for the questions regarding the alleged rights of humans to abuse the environment, and for a change in pace from non-fiction pieces. Also recommended and by this author: Desert Solitaire: A Season in Wilderness
The Omnivore’s Dilemma – Michael Pollan
If you like food, this is a must. Pollan poses questions about food production you never thought to ask, and answers questions you never thought there was an answer to. For better or for worse (but mostly for the better), you’ll never look at food the same way again. There is also a Young Readers Edition for younger audiences. Also recommended and by this author: The Botany of Desire, In Defense of Food
Stolen Harvest – Vandana Shiva
A startling look at the state of the environment outside the United States, and the practices big businesses will employ and conceal in order to protect their profit margin. Highly recommended if you’re also interested in food production. Also recommended and by this author: Soil Not Oil
Brave New World– Aldous Huxley
While not overtly concerning the environment, this dystopian novel deals with the rights of individuals and groups in regards to resource use, distribution, and consumption, as well as the social implications of a homogenization of culture. Though arguably much exaggerated, it serves as a cautionary tale against accepting whatever you are told to be true.
Not intrigued by these books or looking for something different? Check out these authors:
Henry David Thoreau
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Still not interested?
Want something a little bit shorter, with a few more pictures, either for yourself or a child? Pick up Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, it’s as good a place to start as any!