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The following are books suggested by educators and discussed at previous NOAA Planet Stewards Book Club meetings. Included are links to resources and guiding questions. All are welcome to join our discussions! For information about current Book Club selections, meeting dates, and how to attend, see our Upcoming Events page. Sign up to our email list and receive invitations to future events. Have questions? Contact: oceanserviceseducation@noaa.gov.

Book cover for Consumed

May 28, 2024


Time: 8:00 PM Eastern Time
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A call to action for consumers everywhere, Consumed asks us to look at how and why we buy what we buy, how it's created, who it benefits, and how we can solve the problems created by a wasteful system.

We live in a world of stuff. We dispose of most of it in as little as six months after we receive it. The byproducts of our quest to consume are creating an environmental crisis. Aja Barber wants to change this--and you can, too.

In Consumed, Barber calls for change within an industry that regularly overreaches with abandon, creating real imbalances in the environment and the lives of those who do the work—often in unsafe conditions for very low pay—and the billionaires who receive the most profit. A story told in two parts, Barber exposes the endemic injustices in our consumer industries and the uncomfortable history of the textile industry, one which brokered slavery, racism, and today’s wealth inequality. Once the layers are peeled back, Barber invites you to participate in unlearning, to understand the truth behind why we consume in the way that we do, to confront the uncomfortable feeling that we are never quite enough and why we fill that void with consumption rather than compassion. Barber challenges us to challenge the system and our role in it. The less you buy into the consumer culture, the more power you have. Consumed will teach you how to be a citizen and not a consumer.

  1. What does Aja Barber see as the connection between skin color and the fashion industry?

  2. What connection does she make with colonialism? In what ways do you agree or disagree with her?

  3. Can you offer a definition for colonialism that the author would agree with? Do you see it differently than she does, and if so, how?

  4. How did the book make you feel? Might there be a connection to how you feel and see yourself (skin color, majority, minority, economic status, gender, etc.)?

  5. Who does the fashion industry benefit? How? Is this system of hyper-consumption benefitting our world in any way?

  6. How has the system of hyper-consumption hurt our planet and humankind?

  7. What is the connection between climate change and consumerism?

  8. What suggestions are offered to make the fashion industry more fair, just, and sustainable?

  9. Are you in any way associated/connected with the fashion industry? If so, do you feel that the industry is making progress in the areas discussed in Aja Barber’s book - if at all?

  10. What is your connection to consumerism and how has it been a part of your life, your family’s, and/or your community’s life for good or ill?

  11. Has this book changed your perspective to consumerism in the fashion industry and/or other industries re: stuff (food, housing, furniture, automobiles, etc.)?

  12. Is it possible to have capitalism without consumerism?

  13. Is consumerism so deeply rooted in American life and culture that we don’t even recognize the extent that it plays at every level in our life, status, and values?

Video Interview with Aja Barber

The Story of Stuff Videos

Quotes on Consumerism

We live in an era of consumerism and it’s all about desire-based consumerism. It has nothing to do with things we actually need. -Aloe Blacc

We always want more. Whether it is better clothes, a bigger house, faster cars, or the latest gadgets; satisfaction in these days of consumerism is a difficult find. -Tulsi Tanti

The corruption of the American soul is consumerism. -Ben Nicholson

We live in a society that, for the most part, is morally and spiritually bankrupt. Our culture is a culture of consumerism. How sustainable is that? -Benjamin Bratt

Socialism may have failed as an economic theory, but global warming alarmism, with its dire warnings about the consequences of industry and consumerism, is equally a rebuke to capitalism. -Bret Stephens

What consumerism really is, at its worst, is getting people to buy things that don't actually improve their lives. -Jeff Bezos

Consumerism diverts us from thinking about women’s rights, it stops us from thinking about Iraq, it stops us from thinking about what’s going on in Africa – it stops us from thinking in general. -Pink

Ecological thought rejects consumerism at its peril. -Timothy Morton

My first rule of consumerism is never to buy anything you can’t make your children carry. -Bill Bryson

Since the 1970s, we have witnessed the forces of market fundamentalism strip education of its public values, critical content, and civic responsibilities as part of its broader goal of creating new subjects wedded to consumerism, risk-free relationships, and the destruction of the social state. -Henry Giroux

Pop culture is not about depth. It’s about marketing, supply and demand, and consumerism. -Trevor Dunn

I’ve long been interested in looking at the culture of consumerism and also was interested in this connection between the American dream and the house, and the house being kind of the ultimate expression of self and success. -Lauren Greenfield

Feckless as it was for Bush to ask Americans to go shopping after 9/11, we all too enthusiastically followed his lead, whether we were wealthy, working-class or in between. We spent a decade feasting on easy money, don’t-pay-as-you-go consumerism and a metastasizing celebrity culture. -Frank Rich

Consumerism is at once the engine of America and simultaneously one of the most revealing indicators of our collective shallowness. -Henry Rollins

Book cover for Fen, Bog & Swamp: A Short History Fen, Bog & Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis

May 14, 2024

Fen, Bog & Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis

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A lifelong acolyte of the natural world, Annie Proulx brings her witness and research to the subject of wetlands and the vitally important role they play in preserving the environment—by storing the carbon emissions that accelerate climate change. Fens, bogs, swamps, and marine estuaries are crucial to the earth’s survival, and in four illuminating parts, Proulx documents their systemic destruction in pursuit of profit.

In a vivid and revelatory journey through history, Proulx describes the fens of 16th-century England, Canada’s Hudson Bay lowlands, Russia’s Great Vasyugan Mire, and America’s Okeefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. She introduces the early explorers who launched the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, and writes of the diseases spawned in the wetlands—the Ague, malaria, Marsh Fever.

A sobering look at the degradation of wetlands over centuries and the serious ecological consequences, this is “an unforgettable and unflinching tour of past and present, fixed on a subject that could not be more important” (Bill McKibben).

  1. How are fens, bogs, and swamps similar? How are they different?

  2. What’s your experience with wetlands? What are they like in your region?

  3. The peat in wetlands is able to sequester (absorb and hold onto) large amounts of carbon, keeping it from the atmosphere. What other aspects of fens, bogs, and swamps does the author value?

  4. This book often focuses on public perception of wetlands, and how that has changed over time. From your perspective, what has the public appreciated about wetlands? What have been seen as drawbacks of wetlands?

  5. The book discusses how wetlands have been destroyed – for example, drained to create farmland or the peat harvested for fuel. Are there environmental concerns about wetlands near where you live?

  6. Share an interesting fact about fens, bogs, and swamps that you learned from this book.

  7. This book combines science, history, literature, and geography. What do you think about this? Do you make multidisciplinary connections in your teaching or in your life?

  8. Has your perspective on fens, bogs, and swamps changed after reading this book? If so, how?

Book cover for El Quaetzal Azul

16 de abril, y el 24 de abril, 2024

El Quetzal Azul

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¡Saludos a todos! ¡Los invitamos a un evento muy especial, gratis, abierto a todos, y en español! Júntense con nosotros para una conversación sobre la novela El Quetzal Azul – una historia inolvidable escrita para lectores de todas edades. El autor estará presente con nosotros por dos noches: el martes 16 de abril, y el miércoles 24 de abril, las dos noches a las 7:00 PM (hora del este). Escojan la fecha que más les convenga y estén listos para aprender más de una historia que jamás olvidarán. ¡Todos son bienvenidos a este evento virtual!

¿De que se trata El Quetzal Azul?

El equilibrio natural del mundo está en peligro. Los seres responsables del bienestar de nuestro planeta fueron obligados a seguir las órdenes egoístas de un poderoso líder, quien está dispuesto a destruirlo todo para restaurar lo que fue robado del ecosistema natural.

¡No se lo pierdan!

  1. El Quetzal Azul describe un mundo en el que las aves de la Tierra juegan un papel importante en el “equilibrio natural” de nuestro planeta. ¿Cómo se compara este mundo imaginario con la realidad que compartimos?De los miles de aves que se sabe que existen en la Tierra, ¿por qué se eligió al resplandeciente quetzal como protagonista principal de la historia?

  2. El Alfa hizo ajustes al clima en Guatemala sin preocuparse por sus efectos en las personas que vivían allí. ¿Hay humanos que se comportan de la misma manera? ¿Se te ocurre algún ejemplo?

  3. ¿Para lectores que normalmente no se involucran en la gestión ambiental, podría El Quetzal Azul inspirarlos a tomar medidas? ¿Qué acciones podrían inspirarse a tomar los lectores?

  4. Al final, Alma y Dioni deciden vivir vidas separadas. ¿Te sorprendió esto? ¿Por qué o por qué no?

  5. ¿Podrías utilizar este libro sobre aves con los estudiantes para enseñarles sobre el cambio climático? ¿Por qué o por qué no? ¿Si es así, cómo?

  6. Aunque el libro está destinado a lectores de todas las edades, hay temas más fuertes para los lectores mayores y escenas memorables para los más jóvenes. ¿Cómo discutiría la distinción entre realidad y ficción con lectores de diferentes grupos de edad?

  7. El libro permite a los lectores viajar a varios lugares del mundo, incluidos Guatemala, Canadá, Estados Unidos, México, India, Australia, Francia, Inglaterra, Siria y la Antártida. ¿Por qué crees que se eligieron estos lugares? ¿Elegirías otros? Si es así, ¿por qué?

Book cover forThe Only Woman in the Room

March 12, 2024

The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boys' Club

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In 2005, when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, asked why so few women achieve tenured positions in the hard sciences, Eileen Pollack set out to find the answer. In the 1970s, Pollack had excelled as one of Yale’s first two women to earn a Bachelor of Science in physics. And yet, isolated, lacking in confidence, and starved for encouragement, she abandoned her lifelong dream of becoming a theoretical physicist. Years later, she thought back on her experiences and wondered what had changed in the intervening decades, and what challenges remained. Based on six years of interviewing dozens of teachers and students and reviewing studies on gender bias, The Only Woman in the Room is an illuminating exploration of the cultural, social, psychological, and institutional barriers confronting women in the STEM disciplines. Pollack brings to light the struggles that women in the sciences are often hesitant to admit and provides hope that changing attitudes and behaviors can bring more women into fields in which they remain, to this day, seriously under-represented.

Part 1: Leaving Liberty

  1. Ms Pollack experienced overt discrimination throughout her elementary (in the 1960s) and high school years (early 1970s) from teachers and administrators, not allowing her to skip grades because she was a girl. Her parents did not push for her to skip grades  either. Has anyone else experienced this for themselves, their family, or as a teacher? Beyond gender stereotyping, how have/do school leaders limit access for students?

  2. Ms Pollack’s female classmates sent a clear message that excelling in school, especially in math and science, put Eileen Pollack firmly in the nerd category, and essentially forbade her dating any of the “cool” boys. Societal pressure notwithstanding, she did continue her science and mathematics studies. What forces allowed her to persist? In today’s hypersexualized environment, how can we encourage a broader view of what it means to be a girl to include girls who are interested in and good at math and science?

  3. Visits to the World’s Fair and science centers ignited Ms. Pollack’s interest in science. How can we bring that type of excitement to today’s students? What barriers stand in the way?

Part 2: Surviving Yale

  1. Although Ms Pollack had taken the most challenging math and science courses offered at her high school, she was unprepared for the college classes at Yale. Later in the book, she discusses bridge classes and summer courses that colleges now offer to better prepare students. How do classes like these help? What are barriers for students?

  2. Eileen Pollack did not receive encouragement or supportive assessments of her (excellent) skills. Men might not receive these directly either, but do get this encouragement subliminally from society and career norms. Men tend to have more confidence: a boy receiving a B may say, “I did great!” While a girl receiving a B may think,”I’m a failure; I’m bad at this.” How can (or even should) teachers and administrators support and encourage students to pursue their goals?

  3. Ms Pollack did not have much of a peer support group of other women physicists and felt her status threatened by other women in her classes. How can we as teachers promote connections between our students while recognizing that they are competing for status with each other?

Part 3: Return to New Haven

  1. Ms Pollack returns to her school and discovers a mix of hope and despair as she sees more young women interested in taking math and science courses, but fewer options for advanced courses at public schools. When schools are working to support struggling learners, how can they also support the needs of advanced students?

  2. Reminiscent of the “Impossible to be a woman” speech in the recent Barbie movie, Ms. Pollack says “That was the double bind that strangled me. If I did poorly, I would prove women never did finish their degrees in science or math; if I succeeded, I would be even more unpopular than before. Bad enough to be a girl who had gotten all As in high school; how much more of an oddball would I be if I earned all As as a physics major at Yale? The only way to escape this paradox was to do well on my exams and lab reports but remain quiet in class and present myself as a lovable if clumsy clown in the lab.” How many of our students are hiding their true selves in order to fit in?

  3. In other countries, women are equally represented at the PhD level; how does American culture dissuade women from presenting as smart and capable mathematicians and scientists? How can we change this?

  4. In your field, where do you see hope? What success stories can you share?

Book cover for Engage, Connect, and Protect

February 13, 2024

Engage, Connect, and Protect: Empowering Diverse Youth as Environmental Leaders

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While concern about the state of our land, air, and water continues to grow, there is widespread belief that environmental issues are primarily of interest to wealthy white communities. Engage, Connect, Protect explodes this myth, revealing the deep and abiding interest that African American, Latino, and Native American communities ― many of whom live in degraded and polluted parts of the country – have in our collective environment.

Part eye-opening critique of the cultural divide in environmentalism, part biography of a leading social entrepreneur, and part practical toolkit for engaging diverse youth, Engage, Connect, Protect covers:

  • Why communities of color are largely unrecognized in the environmental movement
  • Bridging the cultural divide and activating a new generation of environmental stewards
  • A resource guide for connecting mainstream America to organizations working with diverse youth within environmental projects, training, and employment.

Engage, Connect, Protect is a wake-up call for businesses, activists, educators, and policymakers to recognize the work of grassroots activists in diverse communities and create opportunities for engaging with diverse youth as the next generation of environmental stewards.

  1. Have you ever found yourself to be “the only one like you” in a room? What was the experience like? What could you do to support someone in that position?

  2. What prompted your love for being in nature? What do you do to connect others with nature?

  3. Have you heard of picture a scientist? What are your thoughts on picture an environmentalist?

  4. Have you applied for, and/or received a grant? What issues/complexities did you face in that process? Do you feel that the grant process (generally speaking) is an equitable experience?

  5. Carbon credits and their implications for Europe and Africa were just touched upon in the book. What were your thoughts about what was shared?

  6. In what ways have you found commonalities with individuals who may not share similar lived experiences as you - especially in the professional work place?

Book cover for Fragment

January 9, 2024


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When avalanching glaciers thrust a massive Antarctic ice sheet into the open ocean, the captain of an atomic submarine must risk his vessel to rescue the survivors of a smashed polar research station; in Washington the President’s top advisor scrambles to spin the disaster to suit his master’s political aims; and meanwhile two intrepid newsmen sail south into the storm-lashed Drake Passage to discover the truth.

Onboard the submarine, as the colossal ice sheet begins its drift toward South America and the world begins to take notice, scientists uncover a secret that will threaten the future of America’s military power and change the fate of humanity.

And beneath the human chaos, one brave Blue Whale fights for the survival of his species.

  1. Fragment contains elements of speculative fiction, like the idea of direct human–whale communication. It also presents scientific facts about physical oceanography for example. What did you think about this mixture of scientific facts and fiction? How might you talk to young readers about what is real and what is fiction in the book?

  2. The novel uses two main fictional elements to tell the story - the release of a super-iceberg from the Ross Sea, and the discovery of human-whale communication. Did either of these ideas seem plausible to you? What opportunities might these fictional elements create for conversations with other readers of this book about planet stewardship?

  3. The story involves many characters:

    • Ring, the blue whale
    • Science TV reporters Jay and Al
    • The Marcy’s captain, Blair Cockburn
    • Rescued Antarctic scientists Kate, Eric and Graham
    • The Lincoln’s crew and captain
    • Passengers and crew on the cruise ship, Rose Sayer
    • Reporter Nancy Pepper and her cameraman, Ben Irons
    • The President of the United States and his advisor

    Did you feel a connection with any of these characters? If so, which ones, and why?

  4. Fragment presents us with a major disaster related to rapid climate change. Do you think something like what is described in the novel could really happen?

  5. The story includes a number of people and organizations associated with the United States government, e.g.:

    • The President and his political advisor
    • A climate-change denying science advisor
    • Military personnel
    • NOAA

    What do you think of these portrayals in the novel? Do you think they agree with how American politicians and organizations are viewed by much of the world?

  6. How might one investigate how American politicians, our political system, and federal organizations are viewed by people in other parts of the world?

  7. In Fragment, the character Kate encounters considerable sexism from a variety of sources. What is the presence of sexism in today’s scientific culture? Were there instances of racism in the book? If so, what were they?

  8. Did the language used by characters in the book (for example, “Just an iceberg”) reflect how language affects our perspective of science? Can you think of examples you’ve encountered in the media or in conversations with others?

  9. Are you aware of scientific programs that study communication with wildlife, such as apes, elephants, ravens and crows, whales, and dolphins? What do you think people can learn from animals? If we could communicate with animals, how might it change our approach to nature or our perspective on animal rights?

  10. In Fragment, an ice sheet threatens several islands, but no one is willing to rescue the people in harm's way. What message does the author give in response to socioeconomic status and the effects of climate change on the poorer peoples of the world? How should the world help the citizens of island and low, coastal nations who are threatened by sea level rise? How is sea-level rise affecting places with which you have a connection?

Book cover for Escape Undersea

December 12, 2023

Escape Undersea

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Invited to the world’s only undersea research station, Ezzy, Luke, and their father head to the Florida Keys and dive into an unexpected adventure. While visiting their ex-military friends in the Aquarius Sea Station, Ezzy and Luke encounter a strange algae bloom at the surface, giant goliath groupers, and a mysterious fish that threatens the coral reefs and their own safety. It’s another wild ride filled with humor and action as Ezzy Skylar explores the depths of her courage while overcoming her insecurities. With new friends, she and Luke discover the wonders of the undersea world and what it is like to live underwater. But once again they unwittingly stumble into a plot that could have disastrous consequences for the local wildlife and must jump into action to save the day.

  1. Escape Undersea is full of science and interesting facts. What new information did you learn from the book? What information do you think your students would find most interesting? What topics would you and/or your students like to explore further?

  2. What questions do you have, or you think your students will have regarding living and/or working in the Aquarius undersea habitat?

  3. Genetic engineering plays a key role in the book. The genetically altered giant lionfish in the book is clearly fiction, but there are examples of how genetic engineering is actually being used to benefit the environment. In 2021 the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District and Oxitec released genetically engineered mosquitoes to control invasive Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the Keys. The project was successful and has been repeated every spring. What examples of genetic engineering are you familiar with?

  4. Another key concept in the book is the problem of waste water run-off, how it affects the ocean, and causes algal blooms. Do you know where your wastewater goes?

  5. Coral reefs play a big part in the book. Today, coral reef ecosystems are under multiple threats, including climate change, pollution, overfishing, invasive species, and development. How do each of these stressors impact coral reef ecosystems? In addition to Lionfish, can you think of other invasive species that are disrupting ecosystems (aquatic or terrestrial?)

  6. In the first part of the "Note from the Author" at the end of the book, there are 33 statements which ask the reader to identify if the statements are real or made-up. In the second part of this section Dr. Prager answers the questions and explains why each statement is real or made-up. How could you effectively use this section of the book with students?

  7. Escape Undersea is fiction based on science. After reading the book has your perspective of climate change or the ocean changed? Would you and/or your students want to live and work in an underwater research laboratory?

  8. Aquarius was owned by NOAA and operated by the University of North Carolina Wilmington until 2013. In 2013 Florida International University (FIU) took over the operational control of the Aquarius. In 2014 FIU assumed ownership and created the Medina Aquarius Program. You can learn more about the Medina Aquarius Program and see amazing video of the Aquarius here.

Book cover for There's Something in the Water

November 14, 2023

There's Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous and Black Communities

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Don’t have time to read the book? You can find a 1hr 11min documentary of the same name on Amazon Prime. In this documentary, Elliot Page returns to his home province in Canada to meet with Black and Indigenous women who are working to end environmental racism in Nova Scotia.

In “There’s Something In The Water”, Ingrid R. G. Waldron examines the legacy of environmental racism and its health impacts in Indigenous and Black communities in Canada, using Nova Scotia as a case study, and the grassroots resistance activities by Indigenous and Black communities against the pollution and poisoning of their communities.

Using settler colonialism as the overarching theory, Waldron unpacks how environmental racism operates as a mechanism of erasure enabled by the intersecting dynamics of white supremacy, power, state-sanctioned racial violence, neoliberalism, and racial capitalism in white settler societies. By and large, the environmental justice narrative in Nova Scotia fails to make race explicit, obscuring it within discussions on class, and this type of strategic inadvertence mutes the specificity of Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotian experiences with racism and environmental hazards in Nova Scotia. By redefining the parameters of critique around the environmental justice narrative and movement in Nova Scotia and Canada, Waldron opens a space for a more critical dialogue on how environmental racism manifests itself within this intersectional context.

  1. Waldron cites Sheren Razack who argues that individuals hold multiple identities simultaneously and that these produce hierarchies of privilege and disadvantage. These include race, gender, class, and other social identities. Is this reflected in how you see your identity? If so, how?

  2. Was there a specific example of the health impacts highlighted in the book or movie that caught your attention about the burden of pollution in African Nova Scotian and Indigenous communities?

  3. Waldron explains that environmental racism is a subset of the larger environmental justice movement that started in the United States. She referred to this as “old wine in a new bottle.” What does she mean by that reference? How is it different from mainstream environmental activism?

  4. “Space is never apolitical” but involves a web of relations that includes inequalities in housing, schools, zoning, and policy. These help to shape opportunities that determine access to high quality air, water, land, and food. Are you aware of instances in your community or region where “your postal code determines your health?”

  5. Studies conducted in Nova Scotia and Canada show that Indigenous communities are “more likely than other communities to be located near polluting industries.” Do you think that this would hold true in the United States? Can you cite examples of this?

  6. Boat Harbour is a quiet estuary near Pictou Landing First Nation, an Indigenous reserve, that was once a fertile hunting and fishing ground. The provincial government did not address contamination until significant and sustained protests occurred. Was the effort successful?

  7. A natural gas storage facility was scheduled to be built on the Shubenacadie River. This would require the development of a brine discharge system to be located near First Nation communities. Local resistance grew, arguing that the Sipekne’katik and Millbrook Nations had not been consulted. There were also concerns about treaty rights and water contamination from other sources. Conceived in 2014, the Alton Gas Project was cancelled and decommissioned at the end of 2022 citing economic challenges. How do you think the resistance by the local communities affected this result?

  8. Waldron pointed out many instances where opposition to environmental racism was being led primarily led by women. What are some of the financial, psychological, physical, and health implications of this work on women over many years?

  9. Waldron suggests using a multi-prong strategy for addressing environmental racism. This includes using an environmental justice lens to look at how race intersects with class, gender, and other social identities, better environmental policy, partnerships between white-led organizations and Indigenous and Black communities and alliances between Indigenous and Black communities. How can we help students to understand the important of good communication and the understanding of different perspectives in recognizing and addressing environmental racism?

  10. This book is peppered with references to many studies that demonstrate the important role that research has to bring facts to the forefront of any environmental conflict. Waldron suggests that we also need to consider community members as experts in their own lives and include them as participants in the co-creation and dissemination of knowledge. Do you think that researchers typically include local community knowledge in their studies? Why or why not?

Book cover for All We Can Save book

October 10, 2023

Diary of a Young Naturalist

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From sixteen-year-old Dara McAnulty, comes a memoir about loving the natural world and fighting to save it.

Diary of a Young Naturalist chronicles the turning of a year in Dara’s Northern Ireland home patch. Beginning in spring—when “the sparrows dig the moss from the guttering and the air is as puffed out as the robin’s chest”—these diary entries about his connection to wildlife and the way he sees the world are vivid, evocative, and moving.

As well as Dara’s intense connection to the natural world, Diary of a Young Naturalist captures his perspective as a teenager juggling exams, friendships, and a life of campaigning. We see his close-knit family, the disruptions of moving and changing schools, and the complexities of living with autism. “In writing this book,” writes Dara, “I have experienced challenges but also felt incredible joy, wonder, curiosity and excitement. In sharing this journey my hope is that people of all generations will not only understand autism a little more but also appreciate a child’s eye view on our delicate and changing biosphere.”

  1. What is citizen science? Do you have experience as a citizen scientist? Is this a skill we can teach children in formal and informal settings?

  2. Citizen science is one of three main themes throughout the book. What other themes do you see, and how do they all connect?

  3. In the book, Dara talks about the Gray Seal Protection Act. Are you familiar with the Endangered Species Act? Are there any local species whose numbers you are noticing a decline in?

  4. Does there have to be a conflict between nature and agriculture? Do you see this in your community? Do you have suggestions on how to blend the two philosophies on land management?

  5. Domestic cats are interesting, are they a cause for concern in maintaining ecological diversity in areas where urban and natural areas interface?

  6. Dara uses poetic language throughout the biography, “bruised blackberry sky,” how did this enhance his story?

  7. Throughout the story, Dara uses sight, sound and smell to enhance his dialog. How do you use these senses when you are outside?

  8. Intertwined throughout the story Dara talks about autism, education and his family. Did this enhance the story or distract from it? How can educators use nature to work with a diverse group of students?

Book cover for All We Can Save book

September 12, 2023

Don't Look Up (Available on Netflix)

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Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), an astronomy grad student, and her professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) make an astounding discovery of a comet orbiting within the solar system. The problem - it's on a direct collision course with Earth. The other problem? No one really seems to care. Turns out warning mankind about a planet-killer the size of Mount Everest is an inconvenient fact to navigate. With the help of Dr. Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), Kate and Randall embark on a media tour that takes them from the office of an indifferent President Orlean (Meryl Streep) and her sycophantic son and Chief of Staff, Jason (Jonah Hill), to the airwaves of The Daily Rip, an upbeat morning show hosted by Brie (Cate Blanchett) and Jack (Tyler Perry). With only six months until the comet makes impact, managing the 24-hour news cycle and gaining the attention of the social media obsessed public before it's too late proves shockingly comical - what will it take to get the world to just look up?

  1. The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted the following after watching Don't Look Up: “Finally saw the @Netflix film Don’t Look Up, a fictional tale of a Nation distracted by pop-culture and divided on whether to heed dire warnings of scientists. Everything I know about news-cycles, talk shows, social media, & politics tells me the film was instead a documentary.” In what ways might he be right?

  2. How did you feel about the movie?

  3. Since we don't currently know of any asteroids on approach to Earth, upon which critical scientific questions of our age, if any, does this movie reflect, and in what ways does it do so? Are there ways it does not reflect the problems we face?

  4. When Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) is bundled onto a train to New York to meet the press, Dr. Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan) advises him to keep it simple and tell stories. Is he right? Why or why not?

  5. In the same scene, Dr. Oglethorpe continues by saying "...and no math." As the train doors slide shut, Dr. Mindy responds, "but it's all math." Who is right and why?

  6. In the movie, Dr. Mindy is a regular guest on a news program but the show’s presenters are always trying to “keep it light.” Dr. Mindy never succeeds in getting his message across. How do you see the state of science journalism today? Are journalists able to effectively get complex topics across to an audience of non-scientists? Are you able to - with your students/audiences? How?

  7. One of the themes of the movie is that the people are distracted by petty politics, the love affairs of pop stars among other factors. They’re too distracted to hear the message that the scientists are trying to convey until it is too late. Do you find your students are more distracted today? Can they handle complex topics as well as they did in the past? If you are concerned, how do you deal with the distraction?

  8. In the movie, a few mislead the many for short-term political power and profit. Ultimately scientists fail to counter misinformation and the Earth is destroyed. How do you deal with misinformation and how well do you succeed? What works for you?

  9. As the comet gets closer and more people are able to see it with their own eyes, they are able to verify its existence and the threat that it presents. As the effects of climate change become more obvious and visible, do you see more people willing to accept the science? Do you see enough people willing to accept the science?

  10. If you watched enough of the end credits to see the strange twist at the end, the President (Meryl Streep) and BASH CEO Peter Irsherwell (Mark Rylance) journey to a planet circling another star where the President is immediately eaten by a Bronteroc. If the Earth becomes unable to sustain humanity, is there another place we can go? Is there a “planet B?”

Book cover for All We Can Save book

May 9, 2023 7:00 pm ET

All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis Edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson

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All We Can Save is an anthology of writings by 60 women at the forefront of the climate movement who are harnessing truth, courage, and solutions to lead humanity forward.

There is a renaissance blooming in the climate movement: leadership that is more characteristically feminine and more faithfully feminist, rooted in compassion, connection, creativity, and collaboration. While it’s clear that women and girls are vital voices and agents of change for this planet, they are too often missing from the proverbial “table.” More than a problem of bias, it’s a dynamic that sets us up for failure. To change everything, we need everyone.

  1. This anthology shares lots of women’s voices – what are some benefits of having many different authors in a book about the climate crisis?

  2. The writings in this book are in eight sections (root, advocate, reframe, reshape, persist, feel, nourish, and rise). How did the sequence of sections shape your experience as a reader?

  3. This anthology combines nonfiction stories and essays with poetry and visual art. How do you think the poetry and art adds to the book? Do you have a favorite poem?

  4. Are there any quotes from the stories or poems that resonated with you?

  5. Did you see yourself and your point of view in any of the writings in All We Can Save? If so, which essay, story, or poem really resonated?

  6. Has anything in this book seeded new ideas or plans for how you teach about climate change and solutions?

  7. The stories include emotions related to the climate crisis. How do you think we can process emotions related to climate change while also teaching the science and taking action on solutions?

  8. Are there any stories, essays, poems that you plan to share with students? How would you recommend educators use this book?

  9. Did the book help you move towards hope and away from despair? If so, how?

  10. Is there a climate solution in the book that inspired you?

Book cover for Climate Champions book

April 11, 2023 7:00 pm ET

Climate Champions by Rachel Sarah

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They are climate scientists, journalists, professors, academics, researchers, and policy makers from around the world who draft policies with real-life solutions, run science labs to find new solutions to old problems, and lead organizations at the forefront of change. These women do not shy away from showing how racial and social injustices lie at the root of so many climate-related issues.

Their stories are accessible and energetic, with spotlights on the triumphs and struggles of women who are working to protect the planet.

As young readers learn how these champions are rising up around the world, they will learn how to be part of the solution.

The book is broken down into three sections: Challenge the System, Hold Fast to Science, and Take a Stand for Justice. Why do you think these titles are significant?

  1. In the introduction the author references “hope”. With todays’ rapidly changing climate what does hope look like for you and your community?

  2. As you we move through the book there are many comments made by the women that are profound.  What do you think about this statement: “Lives absorbed with seeking solutions,” What does this mean to you? How do you see solutions progressing globally to mitigate the climate crisis?

  3. In the first vignette, Molly references her participation in the Democratic National Convention in 2008. What is your experience with the relationship between politics and climate science?

  4. What do you think about the quote on page 5: “The average person struggling to get by doesn’t have the luxury of being able to worry about things happening thousands of miles away.  That’s why we must solve climate change for everyone.”

  5. One of Amy Westervelt’s initial awareness to a changing climate were the devastating fires that plague Northern California every year.  What significant environmental events do you remember that piqued your interest in climate change and that may have motivated you to become more active in climate awareness?

  6. How do we as a society use recent weather events to motivate people in their awareness about a rapidly changing climate?

  7. How do we as educators or influential humans capitalize on life changing moments?  Is there a way to increase the availability for individuals to have life changing moments?

  8. Did any of the trailblazers at the end of the segments speak to anyone? If so, who? and why?

  9. Have you heard of the 2020 Global Climate Risk Index which presents the countries most impacted by climate change today? Do you think its conclusions would sway Americans to take a stronger stand on climate change?

  10. Katharine Hayhoe wonders: How do scientists bridge the gap between scientific knowledge and the understanding of the general public? Is there a distinction between climate change and ecological issues in general? What do you think?

  11. Do celebrity activists i.e. Sir David Attenborough, Leonardo DiCaprio, Greta Thunberg, Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep, Prince Harry, etc., help, harm, or have no impact on raising climate awareness or developing mitigation strategies?

  12. This is a list of the 100 most influential people on climate ( Apolitical 100 Most Influential People in Climate | 2022 ). The top three individuals on this list are women, have you heard of them? Why or why not? Is the world totally ethnocentric? How do we communicate better between countries?

  13. How can data and information from the past (paleoclimate) help scientists in the future? What does it mean to the planet that the permafrost is melting? Is this relevant to the general public? should it be relevant?

  14. On page 121 of the book Debra talks about indigenous stories and uses John Muir as an example as a human who did not recognize the work of the indigenous peoples in Yosemite and how they “landscaped” ecosystems. Do federal land policies come into conflict with traditional native sustainable land practices?

  15. Tessa Khan questions, what do you think of the expression “Fossil Fuel Racism?” Can this expression be turned into a positive? How do citizens with the power to bring about change fight the dogma of economic superiority? (Page 155)

  16. The women in this book are motivating with their passion and drive for climate awareness, equity, and change. How can we take this and move forward? How can we engage our communities, our schools, our local governments?

 High Tide Book Cover

March 14, 2023 7:00 pm ET

The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch

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One moonlit night, thirteen-year-old Miles O'Malley sneaks out of his house and goes exploring on the tidal flats of Puget Sound. When he discovers a rare giant squid, he instantly becomes a local phenomenon shadowed by people curious as to whether this speed-reading, Rachel Carson obsessed teenager is just an observant boy or an unlikely prophet. But Miles is really just a kid on the verge of growing up, infatuated with the girl next door, worried that his bickering parents will divorce, and fearful that everything, even the bay he loves, is shifting away from him. As the sea continues to offer up discoveries from its mysterious depths, Miles struggles to deal with the difficulties that attend the equally mysterious process of growing up.

  1. Miles, the main character and narrator in The Highest Tide, says: "most people realize the sea covers two thirds of the planet, but few take the time to understand even a gallon of it... Then they'll have a hard time not thinking about the beginnings of life itself and of an earth without pavement, plastic or Man" (pages 1 and 2).

    According to NOAA, coastal counties of the U.S. are home to over 128 million people, or almost 40 percent of the nation's total population, yet the coast accounts for less than 10 percent of the nation's land mass – making population density in these areas over five times greater in coastal shoreline counties than the U.S. average. This means that issues affecting the coasts affect a large proportion of Americans.

    How is America affected by: mangroves, salt marshes, sea grass meadows and coral reefs? What are some of the ecological issues facing coastal communities? How could we teach the 60% of the American population not living in coastal counties about the importance of these aquatic ecosystems?

  2. Every day Miles observes sea life - i.e., giant squid (page 8), organ-vomiting sea cucumber (page 56), horny phosphorescent worms (page 59), scarred and battered Ragfish (pages 59-61), giant sunflower star (page 75), moon jellies (page 131), etc.

    Are humans missing something exciting if we don't pay attention to the natural world? Why are these observations important? Why is citizen science so important?

  3. Miles references Rachel Carson. Is this author typical of a current day teenager? Phelps tells Miles that he's in love “with a spinster who's been dead for decades" (page 31). Phelps also tells Miles, "You're a freak... Why don't you use all your homo-reading to study something of value to us"... "like the G-spot?" (page 30). How and why does the author introduce male puberty into the story?

  4. In the book many strange events occur in the Sound during the summer: winds, weather, flooding, could these be attributed to rapid climate change? Miles says, "People lost interest once the explanations rolled in. Some even got angry, as if scientists were determined to squeeze the magic out of everything" (page 243). Given people's desire to fixate on mystical explanations for environmental events rather than the rational ones, how likely does it seem that people will take responsibility for actions that have an environmental impact? In the novel, how does the media, feed this type of irrational response?

Book cover for Saving Us book

February 21, 2023 7:00 pm ET

Saving Us: A Climate Scientists Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World by Katharine Hayhoe

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Called “one of the nation's most effective communicators on climate change” by The New York Times, Katharine Hayhoe knows how to navigate all sides of the conversation on our changing planet. A Canadian climate scientist living in Texas, she negotiates distrust of data, indifference to imminent threats, and resistance to proposed solutions with ease. Over the past fifteen years Hayhoe has found that the most important thing we can do to address climate change is talk about it — and she wants to teach you how.

In Saving Us, Hayhoe argues that when it comes to changing hearts and minds, facts are only one part of the equation. We need to find shared values in order to connect our unique identities to collective action. This is not another doomsday narrative about a planet on fire. It is a multilayered look at science, faith, and human psychology, from an icon in her field — recently named chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy.

Drawing on interdisciplinary research and personal stories, Hayhoe shows that small conversations can have astonishing results. Saving Us leaves us with the tools to open a dialogue with your loved ones about how we all can play a role in pushing forward for change.

  1. Dr. Hayhoe tells us what is best when talking about climate change in this book and from her years of experience communicating on the topic. What recommendation in the book was most helpful or surprising to you?

  2. Before a Rotarian event Dr. Hayhoe recalls reading their four-way test for any issue worthy of their time and attention:

    • Is it truthful?
    • Is it fair to all concerned?
    • Does it build goodwill and better friendships?
    • Is it beneficial for all concerned?

    What did she do as a result? How does this illustrate her advice as to how best to address climate change with others?

  3. Why have so many Christians been dismissive of climate change according to Dr. Hayhoe? How does she recommend that someone of faith should communicate climate change to another or others of faith?

  4. What does Dr. Hayhoe have to say about government regulation on the topic of climate change? What about addressing climate change and the environment? Do you agree?

  5. Dr. Hayhoe uses the term “zombie arguments” regarding scientific-sounding views that attempt to discredit scientific facts. What are some zombie arguments that she speaks of and which arguments if any have you commonly heard from a naysayer or naysayers?

  6. Ronald Reagan coined the saying, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.” How does this relate to climate change communication and what does Dr. Hayhoe recommend instead?

  7. Dr. Hayhoe frequently refers to the survey, “Global Warming’s Six Americas” from Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communication. What six categories does the survey identify? Do you find these six categories all-encompassing and satisfactory? What category do you identify with? How has the survey changed over time?

  8. What role does fear play when we’re communicating the impacts and projections of climate change? When is fear good? When is it bad? What does the author say about eliciting guilt?

  9. Dr. Hayhoe frequently uses terms that are important for us to understand regarding climate communication. A few are listed below. What do they mean?

    • Knowledge deficit gap
    • Cognitive misers
    • Solution Aversion
    • Psychological distancing
    • Motivational reasoning
    • Tragedy of the Commons
    • Threat multiplier
    • Climate potluck
  10. What does Dan Kahan’s Science Intelligence Scale tell us about motivational reasoning? Who is most susceptible to utilizing it?

  11. Climate change solutions are important to include, especially when talking about the impacts of climate change. Solutions give hope. What are some solutions that Dr. Hayhoe discusses?

  12. One educator elicits questions about climate change from her students, then addresses these questions in her teaching on the subject. Do you see this as effective? What approach have you used in or out of the classroom with positive results?

  13. Outside of your work (if you’re tasked with addressing climate change), have you spoken about climate change with another or others? Who? Where did those you spoke to fall in terms of categories identified in the “Global Warming Six Americas” survey? What tactic did you employ? How did it go? Where you successful and if so, how so?

  14. Do you agree with Dr. Hayhoe that a “Dismissive” person isn’t worth your time to speak to about climate change, especially since they represent only seven percent of Americans? What has been your experience?

  15. As a result of reading this book, what one piece of advice will you carry out when communicating climate change? ‌

Book cover for The Intersectional Environmentalist book

January 10, 2023 7:00 pm ET

The Intersectional Environmentalist by Leah Thomas

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The Intersectional Environmentalist examines the inextricable link between environmentalism, racism, and privilege, and promotes awareness of the fundamental truth that we cannot save the planet without uplifting the voices of its people — especially those most often unheard. Written by Leah Thomas, a prominent voice in the field and the activist who coined the term "Intersectional Environmentalism," this book is simultaneously a call to action, a guide to instigating change for all, and a pledge to work towards the empowerment of all people and the betterment of the planet.

Thomas shows how not only are Black, Indigenous and people of color unequally and unfairly impacted by environmental injustices, but she argues that the fight for the planet lies in tandem to the fight for civil rights; and in fact, that one cannot exist without the other. An essential read, this book addresses the most pressing issues that the people and our planet face, examines and dismantles privilege, and looks to the future as the voice of a movement that will define a generation.

  1. Was there anything in the book that surprised you?

  2. Does your local school system discuss the topic of environmental justice in its classes?

  3. How can you create a “space” in your school, organization, workplace or community for voices that have been marginalized?

  4. How can racial progress and equality also aid environmental justice in the U.S.?

  5. Why have the nations in the Global North chosen low-income cities in the Global South for their waste disposal? Does the potential for some economic benefit through the resale of waste outweigh the environmental and health hazards to these communities?

  6. What resources could you use to learn more about another cultural community before asking someone from that community questions about a particular topic? Why is this important?

  7. In past movements, race and gender have been excluded from the issue at hand – i.e. climate change. What can we do in the future to ensure this doesn’t happen?

Book cover for Inconspicuous consumption book

December 13, 2022 7:00 pm ET

Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have by Tatiana Schlossberg

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This urgent call to action will empower you to stand up to climate change and environmental pollution by making simple but impactful everyday choices.

With urgency and wit, Tatiana Schlossberg explains that far from being only a distant problem of the natural world created by the fossil fuel industry, climate change is all around us, all the time, lurking everywhere in our convenience-driven society, all without our realizing it.

By examining the unseen and unconscious environmental impacts in four areas-the Internet and technology, food, fashion, and fuel - Schlossberg helps readers better understand why climate change is such a complicated issue, and how it connects all of us: How streaming a movie on Netflix in New York burns coal in Virginia; how eating a hamburger in California might contribute to pollution in the Gulf of Mexico; how buying an inexpensive cashmere sweater in Chicago expands the Mongolian desert; how destroying forests from North Carolina is necessary to generate electricity in England.

Cataloging the complexities and frustrations of our carbon-intensive society with a dry sense of humor, Schlossberg makes the climate crisis and its solutions interesting and relevant to everyone who cares, even a little, about the planet. She empowers readers to think about their stuff and the environment in a new way, helping them make more informed choices when it comes to the future of our world.

Most importantly, this is a book about the power we have as voters and consumers to make sure that the fight against climate change includes all of us and all of our stuff, not just industry groups and politicians. If we have any hope of solving the problem, we all have to do it together.

  1. How did the book title get your attention? Did the author’s presentation of the complicated and depressing topic of climate change help make the book readable? How so?

  2. Did you learn anything new from the first section of the book about technology and the internet’s impact on the environment? If so, what? Did you end up using a kill-a-watt meter in your own house (or a friends’?) to find vampire culprits, or set up power strips with off switches on some appliances? Why or why not? What changes might you be able to make in your use of technology?

  3. Did you learn anything new from the second section of the book about food? If so, what? What changes might you want to make in your own food choices?

  4. In the third section of the book, about clothing - the author drilled down in her discussion of jeans/cotton and cashmere. Was this an effective writing strategy? Did these very specific examples of inconspicuous consumption change your thinking? What changes might you be able to make in your clothing choices?

  5. Section four of the book - about fossil fuels, was left for last because, as the author states, it’s kind of boring. However, she makes this topic quite readable and brings up more immediate aspects such as coal ash, and deforestation from burning wood. What changes might you be able to make in your fossil fuel “usage”?

  6. An underlying theme throughout the book is the disproportionate effects these issues (climate change itself and related pollution, growing convenience and comfort for richer people/nations) have on the marginalized, on less developed countries, and how much of it is seated in racial injustices. What new understandings did you discover?

  7. An ever-improving and convenient world for those of us with privilege comes at a cost. How do we assess that cost and pay our fair share? Demanding transparency from companies so that we can better understand environmental and societal costs? Are we willing to pay higher prices on goods and services so they can be made more eco-friendly and just?

  8. As Schlossberg says, our daily activities are “much more connected to each other, to global climate change, and to each one of us than we think….I don't think we should feel individually guilty necessarily for our consumption, but we should feel collectively responsible for fixing the systems and building a better world.” What next steps can/should we take – individually, and collectively?

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November 15, 2022 7:00 pm ET

A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind by Harriet A. Washington

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Middle-class African American households with incomes between $50,000 and $60,000 live in neighborhoods that are more polluted than those of very poor white households with incomes below $10,000.

When swallowed, a lead-paint chip no larger than a fingernail can send a toddler into a coma — one-tenth of that amount will lower his IQ.

Nearly two of every five African American homes in Baltimore are plagued by lead-based paint. Almost all of the 37,500 Baltimore children who suffered lead poisoning between 2003 and 2015 were African American.

From injuries caused by lead poisoning to the devastating effects of atmospheric pollution, infectious disease, and industrial waste, Americans of color are harmed by environmental hazards in staggeringly disproportionate numbers. This systemic onslaught of toxic exposure and institutional negligence causes irreparable physical harm to millions of people across the country-cutting lives tragically short and needlessly burdening our health care system. But these deadly environments create another insidious and often overlooked consequence: robbing communities of color, and America as a whole, of intellectual power.

In A Terrible Thing to Waste, award-winning science writer Harriet A. Washington argues that IQ is a biased and flawed metric, but that it is useful for tracking cognitive damage. She takes apart the spurious notion of intelligence as an inherited trait, using copious data that instead point to a different cause of the reported African American-white IQ gap: environmental racism — a confluence of racism and other institutional factors that relegate marginalized communities to living and working near sites of toxic waste, pollution, and insufficient sanitation services. She investigates heavy metals, neurotoxins, deficient prenatal care, bad nutrition, and even pathogens as chief agents influencing intelligence to explain why communities of color are disproportionately affected — and what can be done to remedy this devastating problem.

Join us even if you have not been able to read the book! In A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and its Assault on the American Mind, Harriet A. Washington discusses many instances of the long-ranging impacts of environmental racism on black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities. Her extensively researched book documents communities suffering with the effects from chemicals causing severe health complications and a lowering of IQ which can serve as “a predictor of success in school, social settings, work achievements, and lifetime earnings.” She investigates heavy metals, neurotoxins, deficient prenatal care, bad nutrition and pathogens as agents influencing intelligence to explain why communities of color are disproportionately affected. Washington ends with suggestions on actions that can taken individually and collectively to remedy these problems. Harriet Washington is the Shearing Fellow at the University of Nevada’s Black Mountain Institute, a research fellow in medical ethics at Harvard Medical School and a senior research scholar at the National Center for Bioethics at Tuskegee University.

  1. NPR's Sarah McCammon spoke with author Harriet A. Washington about the incidences of environmental racism. (https://www.npr.org/2019/07/27/745925045/book-a-terrible-thing-to-waste) She asked “Why are people of color are disproportionately affected by this?” Washington responded “For the same reasons they're disproportionately affected by many things. It's various racist policies that have persisted for decades - and in some cases centuries - have herded them into areas where they are exposed to toxins. Segregation is a factor in many urban areas. Do you see this in your community?

  2. Washington pointed out that environmental poisoning inflicts a loss of intelligence and behavioral problems but that alarms have not been raised to these issues. Were you aware of the pervasiveness of these problems and the relationship between intelligence and pollution?

  3. Have you experienced or seen examples of environmental pollution affecting your education environment?

  4. Washington uses the loss of IQ as one of the consequences of environmental pollution. She indicates that IQ tests can measure a loss of cognition but it is an imperfect instrument. Although IQ can be used as a relative test of intellectual ability, it has also been used to justify a biased, intentional ranking of world peoples. Do you agree with the use of IQ as a data point for studying the impacts of environmental pollution? Are there other measures we might consider?

  5. Washington indicates that the IQ gap caused by environmental pollution, nutritional deficiencies, alcohol, drugs and pathogens can be closed with proper action. She does not agree that IQ is innate and permanent and that we have failed communities of color by not addressing these factors. What actions can educators use to help counteract the causes and impacts of environmental pollution?

  6. There are 60,000 chemicals approved for the workplace, but testing is not usually done prior to use. Poverty and especially, race, are drivers in environmental exposure. Chemicals are far more likely to find their way into African-American, Hispanic and Native American communities which affect all aspects of their lives, including water, land and schools. Flint’s water supply with contamination by lead and Native American communities contaminated by uranium and coal mines are just 2 examples highlighted in the book. These pollutants affect all members of the community but can impact children and infants even more. Even small doses can trigger lifelong disabilities by hampering proper development of the brain. Was there an instance of pollution highlighted in the book that especially spoke to you?

  7. The book highlights many examples of government, industry and political leaders who have evaded responsibility for environmental pollution. Additional examples come to light every year. One recent example is the radioactive contamination of an elementary school in the Midwest. What can be done to support healthy environments for our children?

  8. Washington suggests many steps that individuals can take to fight for a less toxic environment. This includes uplifting the grassroots environmental justice organizing of black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities. She also provides a helpful glossary and long list of “Known Chemical Brain Drainers” in addition to supporting a positive connection to the natural environment in childhood to optimize mental and physical health. Many Planet Stewards projects have developed school gardens, study areas and natural areas for native plants and animals. Are there opportunities for your students to enjoy natural, healthy surroundings outside?

  9. Climate change will increase the incidence and spread of pathogens and disease. Vectors will expand their territories and disseminate infectious diseases to communities that are not wealthy enough to deal with the factors that increase exposure and spread of disease. Why is an understanding of the health effects of climate change critical for everyone? What resources have you used about the health impacts of climate change?

  10. Washington outlined steps that can be taken by individuals and communities to fight for a less toxic environment. These include:

    • Enroll in Pre-K
    • Fight toxins in schools
    • Poison-proof your home (air quality, vermin control, vacuuming, cleaning supplies)
    • Poison-proof your water (HDPE, filters)
    • Provide poison-free food (home canning, iodized salt, avoid processed food)
    • Avoid heavy metals (batteries, lead, pesticides)

    What steps have you taken to develop healthy environments for your family?

Book cover for Escape Greenland book

October 11, 2022 7:00 pm ET

Escape Greenland by Ellen Prager

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Two young travelers, 13-year-old Ezzy Skylar and her younger brother Luke, find wonder and terror on the spectacular Kangia Icefjord. No sooner do they arrive with their dad in Ilulissat on Greenland’s western coast than they are embroiled in eco-themed bad behavior. Ezzy and Luke find themselves shot at, left in a locked room, forced to make their way through a deadly iceberg field (once on foot and later by boat), and, most thrilling of all, kayaking wildly through the glacier’s interior down a meltwater tunnel. At last, however, they uncover an unethical plan to stimulate the local trade in tourists eager to see melting glaciers. Encounters with fetching sled dog puppies, impressive humpback whales, and enormous mosquitoes add lighter notes to these misadventures, and frequent references to climate change and its effects supply a unifying theme.

  1. Is anyone from Greenland, or has anyone visited Greenland?
  2. Escape Greenland is a middle-grade fiction book. Although it is fiction, it contains a wealth of science knowledge. How would you use this book with students? How might you adapt it for younger or older students?
  3. Escape Greenland is full of science and interesting facts. What new information did you learn from the book? What information do you think your students would find most interesting? What topics would you and/or your students like to explore further?
  4. Geothermal energy plays a key role in the book. How is geothermal energy used in Greenland, and where and how is it used in the United States?
  5. The Skylar family is trying to reduce their carbon footprint: Dr. Skylar’s eating less red meat, Ezzy is eating more vegetables, and Luke is eating “sustainable species.” Have you, your family, or your students made similar changes? What other activities have you taken to reduce your carbon footprint?
  6. Greenland dogs are an important part of Greenland Inuit History and culture. The Greenland dog is a large breed of husky-type dog that loves to run and is used as a sled dog. As Malik said, “These are working dogs, not pets.” Do you think it would be a good idea to have the dogs pull sleds that have been modified with all-terrain wheels during the summer months? What affect might the melting of the permafrost have on this idea?
  7. Ezzy and Luke learn how climate change is affecting ice melt: less food for polar bears, harder to find seals which Katya’s culture depends on for food, and losing sled dogs because the dogs fall through the thin ice. What other examples of climate change did you find in the book?
  8. In the first part of “Note from the Author” at the end of the book are 23 statements asking the reader if the statements are real or make-believe. In the second part of this section Dr. Prager answers the questions and explains why the statement is real or make believe. How would you use this section of the book?
  9. Escape Greenland is fiction based on science. After reading the book has your perspective of climate change or Greenland changed?

Image for My Octopus Teacher

September 13, 2022 7:00 pm ET

My Octopus Teacher - Available at Netflix

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Craig Foster, suffering from a loss of purpose, begins a daily diving regimen in the freezing kelp forests at the tip of Africa in order to re-energize himself. What he discovers below the water’s surface is a totally alien motivation in the form of an unusually curious octopus. This beautiful record of an animal’s entire life — something seldom achieved in the wild, let alone underwater — was shot over a full year and explores the habits and personality of a strange, undulating creature that most of us have only ever eaten.

Beyond intelligent, dextrous and resilient, the cephalopod shares her secret world with Foster as they develop a touching bond. The underwater encounters are literally breathtaking as Foster holds his breath while interacting with the octopus. An immersive portrait of human–animal understanding, brimming with danger, drama and devastating emotion, My Octopus Teacher grabs you with all eight arms and changes its camouflage — showing you colors and textures you’ve never seen before.

  1. Why do you think the film is called My Octopus Teacher? What did the Octopus teacher teach you? Do you think any of what you or Craig Foster learned was intentional on the part of the Octopus?
  2. The film begins with these words: “A lot of people say an octopus is like an alien. But the strange thing is as you get closer to them you realize that you are very similar in a lot of ways.” Do you see octopuses as aliens or similar or a bit of both? In what ways?
  3. Craig Foster continues the film by saying “You are stepping into this completely different world. Such an incredible feeling and you feel you are on the brink of something extraordinary, but you realize there is a line that can’t be crossed.” What is that line? Do you agree that there is a line that can’t be crossed? Why or why not?
  4. Craig Foster had a crisis in his life and felt he needed to reconnect with nature in general and False Bay, where he had grown up, in particular. Has nature ever helped you heal?
  5. This film is about a man getting to know an environment in great depth. What, if any, similar experience have you had?
  6. What is the deepest connection you have formed with a member of another species? How about with a wild animal?
  7. Do you see signs of intelligence in the octopus? What are they?
  8. The octopus is injured by a shark and loses an arm while Foster watches and films. Should Foster have scared the shark away? What would you have done?
  9. This film won an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2021. Do you feel the prize was justified? Why or why not? What about the film do you think made the Academy award the prize?
  10. Towards the end of the film, Foster states, “gentleness, that’s the thing that thousands of hours in nature can teach a child.” Do you agree? If so, how might that idea influence your teaching?
  11. And now an unanswerable question just for fun: Given that 2/3rds of an octopus’s cognition occurs outside of their body, what happens cognitively when they lose and then re-grow an arm?

Book cover for Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World

Monday, May 16, 2022

Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky.

Wars have been fought over it, revolutions have been spurred by it, national diets have been based on it, economies have depended on it, and the settlement of North America was driven by it. Cod, it turns out, is the reason Europeans set sail across the Atlantic, and it is the only reason they could. What did the Vikings eat in icy Greenland and on the five expeditions to America recorded in the Icelandic sagas? Cod -- frozen and dried in the frosty air, then broken into pieces and eaten like hardtack. What was the staple of the medieval diet? Cod again, sold salted by the Basques, an enigmatic people with a mysterious, unlimited supply of cod.

Cod is a charming tour of history with all its economic forces laid bare and a fish story embellished with great gastronomic detail. It is also a tragic tale of environmental failure, of depleted fishing stocks where once the cod's numbers were legendary. In this deceptively whimsical biography of a fish, Mark Kurlansky brings a thousand years of human civilization into captivating focus.

  1. Two themes permeating throughout this book relate to cod’s impact on humans and history. What is your reaction to what cod has done for humans and what new innovations has cod made possible in the world?
  2. There are many instances in which this book could integrate ocean topics into different areas of a school’s curriculum. For instance, how the Basques and Vikings depended on cod, a nutritious food supply that would not spoil on their long ocean voyages. What other historical events could be enhanced by illustrating the importance of cod?
  3. Newfoundland’s Sentinel Fishery monitors cod stocks around Newfoundland. Currently the fishermen are reporting an abundance of both small and large fish - an encouraging sign that stocks are rebuilding. Maine lobstermen and the Maine Department of Marine Resources share management of the local resource. Are you aware of other fishery monitoring programs in the United States? If so, what are they?
  4. Fish farming has many pros and cons. Although fish farming is said to be a sustainable fishery, the genetic consequences and potential nutrient changes of fish farming are still unknown. Does sustainable fish farming mean sustained fish nutrition for humans? What do you think?
  5. During the Planet Stewards February Book Club when we discussed Our Changing Menu: Climate Change and the Foods We Love and Need we talked about where a lot of our fruit and vegetables come from. Where does the fish in your local market come from and how is it caught? Where is it processed? Two good sites to reference are:
  6. Overfishing is a global problem. This book was published in 1997 and at that time the author stated, “According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization commercial fish stocks are 60% fully exploited, overexploited or depleted.” Were any of the examples provided by the author new to you? In your opinion, is overfishing still a global problem? What evidence are you basing your opinion on? If you see a problem what do you think you can do to help alleviate it?
  7. In the Florida Keys, many fishing and dive charter boat captains unofficially monitor illegal fishing and report observed instances to the Coast Guard and FWC (Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission). Are you familiar with non-governmental agencies or private groups that monitor illegal fishing in US waters?
  8. Has this book encouraged you to make any changes in your lifestyle such as diet, shopping awareness, renewed interest in political and/or historical events?

Book cover for The Soul of an Octopus

Monday, April 11, 2022

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Monntgomery

In pursuit of the wild, solitary, predatory octopus, popular naturalist Sy Montgomery has practiced true immersion journalism. From New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, she has befriended octopuses with strikingly different personalities—gentle Athena, assertive Octavia, curious Kali, and joyful Karma. Each creature shows her cleverness in myriad ways: escaping enclosures like an orangutan; jetting water to bounce balls; and endlessly tricking companions with multiple “sleights of hand” to get food.

Scientists have only recently accepted the intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees but now are watching octopuses solve problems and are trying to decipher the meaning of the animal’s color-changing techniques. With her “joyful passion for these intelligent and fascinating creatures” (Library Journal Editors’ Spring Pick), Montgomery chronicles the growing appreciation of this mollusk as she tells a unique love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about the meeting of two very different minds.

  1. Which of the octopuses profiled in the book most resonated with you? Why?
  2. In this book, aquarium staff and sometimes visitors are a part of the story - including informal educators, experts, and volunteers. What did you think about this portrayal of an informal learning environment? Does it resonate with an experience may have had?
  3. What similarities between octopuses and humans does the author see? Do you agree?
  4. Does the book make the case that octopuses have consciousness? How has your understanding of consciousness changed after reading this book?
  5. In many places, octopuses are eaten as food. Do you see any issues regarding eating octopuses?
  6. This book introduces science concepts through place-based stories. What do you think of this way of reaching learners? Is it a method that you use in teaching?
  7. How could you incorporate this book, or a portion of it, into your educational program? What would you like learners to know about octopuses? What aspects of the story do you think your students/learners would appreciate most?
  8. Octopuses are very different from other mollusks, such as clams and snails. How does the author use this octopus “otherness” to show how human characters in the story feel that they don’t fit in or belong? How do the human characters find common ground
  9. What are the challenges involved in collecting wild octopuses from the oceans and studying them or displaying them in an aquarium?
  10. How does this book tie in to problems such as climate change and marine pollution while keeping the focus on octopuses? Was this effective?
  11. Has your perspective on octopuses changed after reading this book? If so, how?

Book cover for Girl Warriors book

Monday, March 7, 2022

Girl Warriors: How 25 Young Activists Are Saving the World by Rachel Sarah

They organize, they network, they give speeches. They travel, they pick up trash, they volunteer, they establish organizations. They raise their voices, and they emphasize the role of climate justice in dismantling other systems of oppression. Most of all, these young people fight for their right to a future and the necessity of a healthy planet to that future. From a Brazilian girl whose concern for the ocean’s health began with her love of surfing to a young Harlemite of Dominican descent whose cerebral palsy doesn’t stop her from doing the work, whether it’s leading a county committee or going to medical school, these stories enlighten and inspire. Each activist is introduced with a color photograph, birth date, Instagram handle, pronouns, and something she loves. The four-page text of each profile offers descriptions of the activist in action and quotes by and about her, with her activist origin story woven in. These young people are both remarkable in their hard work and dedication and also ordinary in the sense that they simply decided this issue was too important not to focus on—a winning combination that invites readers to get involved. The anecdotes draw readers in, the facts encourage commitment, and the global diversity drives home the point that this is everyone’s responsibility and an urgent social justice issue.

  1. Which of the young activists particularly motivated you, and why?
  2. How could you incorporate this book into your educational program?
  3. Can social media be an avenue for positive change, and how do we capitalize on the positive?
  4. How important is local activism?
  5. How can we better inform youth about global and local opportunities for activism for a greener planet?
  6. Many of the girl warriors in this book started national groups; how can we get girls involved first within their own communities: think globally and act locally!
  7. One of the themes of GIRL WARRIORS is climate justice, meaning that certain groups of individuals, such as people of color and those in low income communities, are disproportionately impacted by climate change. In other words, climate change is more than an environmental issue; it's a justice issue. How can we acknowledge who is responsible for climate change? Who is suffering the consequences? Who has the power to change the system?
  8. Is there a way to incorporate multiple content areas into specific vignettes? For example:
    • Ayisha: Pakistan, 8th most polluter nation
    • Melati & Isabel: Indonesia, worst for producing plastic pollution
    • Lallan: Monarchs and 5th generation reproduction
  9. Is there a way to incorporate elders with youth in climate challenges and awareness?
  10. How can society make renewable energy sources economical to all countries?
  11. Besides anthropogenic pollution, what about the loss of Earth resources, water, air, fire, wildlife, food security…? Are these issues in your communities?
  12. The media has coined the distress experiences by today's youth eco-anxiety. How are today’s youth dealing with it? How can we address this challenge?
  13. How can we connect youth and young adults to all the organizations working to improve our world help and them to feel empowered to be the change they wish to see in the world?

Book cover for Our changing menu book

Monday, February 7, 2022

Our changing menu: Climate Change and the Foods We Love and Need by Michael Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle Eiseman.

Our Changing Menu unpacks the increasingly complex relationships between food and climate change. Whether you're a chef, baker, distiller, restaurateur, or someone who simply enjoys a good pizza or drink, it's time to come to terms with how climate change is affecting our diverse and interwoven food system.

The authors offer an eye-opening journey through a complete menu of before-dinner drinks and salads; main courses and sides; and coffee and dessert. Along the way they examine the escalating changes occurring to the flavors of spices and teas, the yields of wheat, the vitamins in rice, and the price of vanilla. Their story is rounded out with a primer on the global food system, the causes and impacts of climate change, and what we can all do. Our Changing Menu is a celebration of food and a call to action―encouraging readers to join with others from the common ground of food to help tackle the greatest challenge of our time.

  1. Mike Hoffmann says, “Melting glaciers are bad enough, but the loss of coffee is downright terrifying!” Bringing the abstract to the relevant can be a way to make people care. Which of the food stories resonated for you?
  2. The first section of the book deals with the global food supply, how we get food on our tables. We’ve recently experienced shortages and delays, from Covid-19 affecting workers, to the ship that got stuck in the Panama Canal causing a huge bottleneck. How may climate change impact the movement of foods from land and sea to the menu?
  3. For some, reading the “Our Changing Climate” section at the beginning of the book, may be depressing and a roadblock to continue reading. While it may not be new information for some, reading it in a short 11-page synopsis can be grueling. However, this is hugely important information for every part of the rest of the book. Following this, the tone throughout the rest of the book is one of well-researched science and hope. Does the fact that there are no villains in this book make it an easier message to swallow? Or make us all equally culpable?
  4. The structure of the book as a menu allowed one to choose different parts of the meal to read at different times. Then, within each section, the same format is used: what it is, who cares, what is changing, and what is being done. Is that structure helpful?
  5. Throughout the book are interviews and vignettes with people who contribute to the world’s food supply. The authors were careful to include a variety of voices from farmers, to researchers, to business owners, and chefs, nearby and from around the world. How do these stories put a human face on food and climate change?
  6. Although the authors are of “a certain age,” the illustrator, Lindsay Potoff, is a college student who said that working on this book allowed her to feel that she was taking action against one of the biggest threats her generation faces. How can you help young people you work with feel a sense of agency and hope in the face of so much worry?
  7. When we think about climate change, we can try to reverse it, mitigate it, or adapt to it. Let’s look at one of the foods and connect the dots like coffee! This is a short list pulled from pages 160-161.


    - Planting shade trees amongst coffee plants to buffer temperature extremes
    - Increase habitat for pest-eating birds


    - Choosing pest and heat-tolerant varieties
    - Relocating to cooler locations
    - Switching to a different crop


    - Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
    - Use bean waste to heat and dry beans
    - Energy-efficient coffee mills
    - “Greener” stores for coffee shops (Starbucks)

Looking at these ideas of what is being done to save coffee, where do you see opportunities? Emerging technologies? GMOs? Are there actions you - as a consumer, educator, scientist - can take?
  1. How has this book influenced what’s on your (literal or metaphorical) plate? What we can do?
    • Become climate change literate and help others learn
    • Start talking about climate change
    • Adopt a more plant-based diet
    • Reduce food waste
    • Consider your entire carbon footprint
    • Appreciate and support the people who supply the menu
    • Be an activist and help create the change we need now

Book cover for Sustainable book

Monday, January 10, 2022

Sustainable by Matt Wechsler and Annie Speicher

A vital investigation of the economic and environmental instability of America’s food system, from the agricultural issues we face — soil loss, water depletion, climate change, pesticide use — to the community of leaders who are determined to fix it. Sustainable is a film about the land, the people who work it and what must be done to sustain it for future generations.

The narrative of the film focuses on Marty Travis, a seventh-generation farmer in central Illinois who watched his land and community fall victim to the pressures of big agribusiness. Determined to create a proud legacy for his son, Marty transforms his profitless wasteland and pioneers the sustainable food movement in Chicago.

Sustainable travels the country seeking leadership and wisdom from some of the most forward thinking farmers like Bill Niman, Klaas Martens and John Kempf – heroes who challenge the ethical decisions behind industrial agriculture. It is a story of hope and transformation, about passion for the land and a promise that it can be restored to once again sustain us.

  1. Agriculture is the #2 cause of climate change – does this surprise you? Why or why not?
  2. What does local mean? How does the expectation of access to any food in any season contribute to climate change?
  3. How important are chefs and bakers roles in altering the demand for certain foods and the consequential impacts on their contributions to climate change?
  4. We focus a lot on the fossil fuel industry and agriculture – what are the "layers" between those industries and the consumers?
  5. Where should we be focusing our efforts to reconnect people with the food they eat, how it’s grown, harvested, prepared? Is this a K-12 curriculum issue? Or does the responsibility lie elsewhere?

Book cover for The Omnivore's Dilemma

Monday, December 13, 2021

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

What should we have for dinner? Ten years ago, Michael Pollan confronted us with this seemingly simple question and, with The Omnivore’s Dilemma, his brilliant and eye-opening exploration of our food choices, demonstrated that how we answer it today may determine not only our health but our survival as a species. In the years since, Pollan’s revolutionary examination has changed the way Americans think about food. Bringing wide attention to the little-known but vitally important dimensions of food and agriculture in America, Pollan launched a national conversation about what we eat and the profound consequences that even the simplest everyday food choices have on both ourselves and the natural world. Ten years later, The Omnivore’s Dilemma continues to transform the way Americans think about the politics, perils, and pleasures of eating.

Introduction from The Omnivore’s Dilemma Readers Guide:

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan guides the reader through an extensive tour of food production in America, tracing a series of food chains from the seed to the table. In the first part, he takes us to a massive farm in Iowa, where the formerly diverse yield of hay, apples, hogs, and cherries has given way to a vast monocultural enterprise, in which, thanks to government subsidies, corn is king. Weaving history, science, and sociology, Pollan shows how America has bent its priorities in the service of this single crop, converting it into ethanol, the now-ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup, and even disposable diapers. Pollan next transports us to a small, ecologically balanced farm in Virginia, where the chickens and cattle roam more freely, and animals and humans alike reap the benefits of a natural food chain based on grass. Finally, Pollan resolves to prepare a meal that he has hunted and gathered by himself. As he stalks a feral pig, dives for abalone, and wonders whether that mushroom he has picked just might kill him, we rediscover food not merely as a physical source of life but as a medium for communion with nature and one another.

  1. Omnivore’s Dilemma is about the food chains that sustain us today. These link us to the fertility of the earth and the energy of the sun. How are these important science connections made for students in your classroom?
  2. Pollan shows a number of instances in which government policies have apparently worsened the crisis in our food culture. What do you think should be the proper role of government in deciding how we grow, process, and eat our food?
  3. Of the 10 billion bushels of corn harvested each year (in 2006) we eat very little. Yet we consume a ton of it in other ways. Were you aware of the abundant uses of corn before reading this book? Has this book changed your perspective?
  4. Researchers have found that people presented with large portions will eat up to 30 percent more than they would otherwise. It is not surprising that Americans are given options with larger portions that would be found in other parts of the world. Do you think that this reveals anything about our culture and broader shared values?
  5. Has Pollan’s discussion about the system of organic food changed how you think about this option at the grocery store?
  6. Growing, chilling, washing, packaging and transporting a box of salad to a plate on the East Coast takes more than 4,600 calories of fossil fuel energy. How can we encourage the consumption of more locally grown food?
  7. Participating in a local food economy requires more effort than shopping at the local supermarket. Do people in your community participate in local food chains?
  8. As a nation of immigrants, America has had a wide array of cuisines added to the options at our table. Do you agree with Pollan that this makes us easy marks for food fads and diets? Are there upsides to having this diversity?
  9. As omnivores, humans are equipped to eat a wide-ranging diet. We do not have the tension that early hunter-gatherers had about whether something is safe to eat but we do have the dilemma of deciding what to eat. What rules have you adopted to make the decision-making easier?
  10. In the final chapter of the book, Pollan indicates that there have been many changes since the book was first published in 2006. There are more farmers markets, farm-to-school programs and gardens in general. And perhaps we are on the road to a national food policy. Do you agree that the food system has become a voting issue?

Book cover for Under a White Sky

Monday, November 15, 2021

Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert

That man should have dominion “over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” is a prophecy that has hardened into fact. So pervasive are human impacts on the planet that it’s said we live in a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene.

In Under a White Sky, Elizabeth Kolbert takes a hard look at the new world we are creating. Along the way, she meets biologists who are trying to preserve the world’s rarest fish, which lives in a single tiny pool in the middle of the Mojave; engineers who are turning carbon emissions to stone in Iceland; Australian researchers who are trying to develop a “super coral” that can survive on a hotter globe; and physicists who are contemplating shooting tiny diamonds into the stratosphere to cool the earth.

One way to look at human civilization, says Kolbert, is as a ten-thousand-year exercise in defying nature. In The Sixth Extinction, she explored the ways in which our capacity for destruction has reshaped the natural world. Now she examines how the very sorts of interventions that have imperiled our planet are increasingly seen as the only hope for its salvation. By turns inspiring, terrifying, and darkly comic, Under a White Sky is an utterly original examination of the challenges we face

cliffs of Yosemite on a clear day

The iconic cliffs of Yosemite on a clear day (left) and under a white sky from wildfire smoke in the Summer of 2021 (right). Elizabeth Kolbert's book asks if the entire world will someday look like the photo on the right. Photos by Jacob Tanenbaum

  1. Elizabeth Kolbert is a well-known science writer. Her work has won numerous awards including a Pulitzer for her book, The Sixth Extinction. What about her writing style is effective? Is there something you feel is not effective? What can we, as science communicators, learn from her?
  2. Elizabeth Kolbert uses vivid stories to convey the effects of climate change. This summer (2021), much of the country experienced what some have termed, “artificial disasters” of one sort or another. Do you have an “artificial disaster” story from your region?
  3. Kolbert cites a variety of statistics throughout the book. For example, on page 198, she states that Greenland shed enough meltwater to cover a pool the size of California to a depth of four feet. Was there a statistic in her book that affected you? Why?
  4. On page 152, Kolbert reports that physicist Dr. Klaus Lackner believes that carbon dioxide should be regarded in much the same way that we look at sewage, “We don’t expect people to stop producing waste.” Given that the first government report on the climate crisis was given to Lyndon Johnson in 1965 and we are farther from solving the issue today than we were 56 years ago, is Dr. Lackner right? Is the large-scale production of CO2 unstoppable?
  5. In Chapter 3 of the section called “Into the Wild,” Kolbert buys a small CRISPR genetic editing kit for $209 and creates a novel organism in her kitchen. Do you think these tools should be readily available to the general public? What are some ethical and/or practical considerations of using such tools? Do you agree with scientists who use similar tools to deal with invasive species and other human-caused problems, who claim that their use is justified if it serves to “benefit a system that is in trauma,” as biologist Dr. Mark Tizard claims on page 119?
  6. In the first sections of the book, Elizabeth Kolbert discusses large-scale environmental engineering projects such as the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and modifications to the Mississippi River. These projects were designed to improve an environment but ended up causing great harm. Does your area have any large-scale projects designed to control an environment, which have damaged that environment more than helped? Are there any projects which have worked as intended without causing harm?
  7. Harvard physics professor Dr. David Keith says this about human interventions designed to change the environment: “To people who say most of our technological fixes go wrong, I say, ‘Okay, did agriculture go wrong?” (p. 179) Does his comparison make sense to you? If so, why? If not, why not? Can humans re-engineer environments without deeply damaging them? Based on what Kolbert discusses about geoengineering, do you think humans have the capacity to safely use geoengineering to solve enough of the climate crisis to keep us from disaster?
  8. Towards the end of the book, Kolbert visits several scientists who are preparing for large scale geoengineering projects because they believe the use of such tools is inevitable. On page 200, Andy Parker of the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative says “We live in a world where deliberately dimming the ... sun might be less risky than not doing it.” What evidence says he is right or wrong? Is the use of these tools inevitable? How do you feel about that?
  9. How might you use this material in your classroom? How would you approach using the material in the book to teach?

Book cover for How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates

Monday, October 18, 2021

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates

Bill Gates has spent a decade investigating the causes and effects of climate change. With the help of experts in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, political science, and finance, he has focused on what must be done in order to stop the planet's slide toward certain environmental disaster. In this book, he not only explains why we need to work toward net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases, but also details what we need to do to achieve this profoundly important goal.

He gives us a clear-eyed description of the challenges we face. Drawing on his understanding of innovation and what it takes to get new ideas into the market, he describes the areas in which technology is already helping to reduce emissions, where and how the current technology can be made to function more effectively, where breakthrough technologies are needed, and who is working on these essential innovations. Finally, he lays out a concrete, practical plan for achieving the goal of zero emissions-suggesting not only policies that governments should adopt, but what we as individuals can do to keep our government, our employers, and ourselves accountable in this crucial enterprise.

As Bill Gates makes clear, achieving zero emissions will not be simple or easy to do, but if we follow the plan he sets out here, it is a goal firmly within our reach.

  1. Near the beginning of the book, Gates suggests that two crucial components for avoiding a climate disaster are already present. What are they, and do you agree? What does Gates feel is still needed?
  2. In the chapter entitled, “This Will be Hard,” Gates observes that existing environmental laws in the U.S. are “outdated” with respect to climate change. Do you agree? What else will present a challenge in terms of the US system of government?
  3. What 5 questions does Gates suggest asking oneself in every climate conversation? What 5 simplified categories does Gates create to classify how greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are created?
  4. What are Green Premiums? What potential solutions to Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions should we be deploying now? Where should we focus our research and development (R&D) spending?
  5. A recurrent theme in the book is sounded loudly in the passages on manufacturing: the role of fossil fuels is pervasive, and reversing this is technically and economically daunting. What are Gates’ recommendations for addressing this?
  6. What do you feel about nuclear energy options? What energy innovations in this area are being explored?
  7. What renewable energies hold the “curse of intermittency”, and how might more reliable energy be generated to compensate?
  8. How does Gates feel about geoengineering solutions? What are they, and should we use them, research their impact….? What do you feel about them?
  9. What does the book say about the role of government in advancing renewable energy innovations? Does the book support the belief that markets are better at solutions than politicians and policy implementers?
  10. What surprised you about the book? What chapter or topic most intrigued you? Would you recommend this book to others?
  11. Additional Questions:
  12. The US has pledged to be at zero emissions in 2050. Some efforts may make big cuts in CO2 emissions by 2030 but be counterproductive for our path to net-zero emissions for 2050? What does the author feel about this? What do you feel?
  13. What is the goal of Conference of the Parties 26 in Glasgow, Scotland, and how is it expected to lessen the impacts of global warming if its goals are achieved by member states?
  14. “Plugging In” (using electricity) accounts for 27% of our GHG emissions. How might ‘Plugging in’ account for eliminating even a larger percentage?
  15. What current energy technology is the cheapest available overall and what percentage of the world’s energy is currently generated by it?
  16. What about our energy grid does Gates propose? What are your thoughts about opportunities and or conflicts to achieve this?
  17. A recurrent theme in the book is sounded loudly in the passages on manufacturing: the role of fossil fuels is pervasive, and reversing this is technically and economically daunting. What are Gates’ recommendations for addressing this?
  18. What is meant by the cost of externalities? Might there be ways of leveling the playing field as to their costs?
  19. What are the two methods for capturing carbon that are mentioned in the book, and how do they differ? Which method is used in Iceland, and how feasible is its development in your opinion?
  20. What are Gates’ recommendations for a climate change plan? What would you be sure to add to it? To delete?

Book cover for Hoot

Monday, September 13, 2021

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

In this 2003 Newberry award winning book we’re introduced to Roy, and his first acquaintance in Florida, Dana Matherson, a well-known bully. Then again, if Dana hadn't been sinking his thumbs into Roy's temples and mashing his face against the school-bus window, Roy might never have spotted the running boy. And the running boy is intriguing: he was running away from the school bus, carried no books, and here's the odd part - wore no shoes. Sensing a mystery, Roy sets himself on the boy's trail. The chase introduces him to potty-trained alligators, a fake-fart champion, some burrowing owls, a renegade eco-avenger, and several extremely poisonous snakes with unnaturally sparkling tails. Roy has most definitely arrived in Carl Hiaasen's Florida, where the creatures are wild and the people are wilder!

  1. Hoot is a YA book, what age students would you read this with, and could you adapt it for an older audience, how old and how?
  2. What is the conflict in the story Hoot? How do different characters relate to this conflict?
  3. What was the difference between Roy and Mullet Fingers and their desire for action to save the owls? Which was more effective? Can you relate this to an ecological issue in your home town?
  4. Hoot takes place in Florida, if you were a teacher in Florida what ecological concerns might you bring into a discussion that local readers could relate to, what about other states?
  5. What are positive ways to bring about ecological awareness in a local community, especially when there are competing interests of large increases in economic development?
  6. What is an environmental impact statement? Is it used in all construction projects?
  7. What incidents in the story engage the reader to the plight of the owls? How does the author engage the reader?
  8. In the book there are two instances of vandalism that Mullet Fingers uses as a tactic. Is the vandalism justified? Is vandalism a tactic that should be used in ecological conflicts, if so when is it justified or not?
  9. Roy’s mom says "Honey, sometimes you're going to be faced with situations where the line isn't clear between what's right and what's wrong. Your heart will tell you to do one thing, and your brain will tell you to do something different. In the end, all that's left is to look at both sides and go with your best judgment." How would you approach this sentiment with a young reader?

Book cover for The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s are One

The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s are One by Sylvia Earle

A Silent Spring for our era, this eloquent, urgent, fascinating book reveals how just 50 years of swift and dangerous oceanic change threatens the very existence of life on Earth. Legendary marine scientist Sylvia Earle portrays a planet teetering on the brink of irreversible environmental crisis.

In recent decades we’ve learned more about the ocean than in all previous human history combined. But, even as our knowledge has exploded, so too has our power to upset the delicate balance of this complex organism.

Fortunately, there is reason for hope, but what we do—or fail to do—in the next ten years may well resonate for the next ten thousand. The ultimate goal, Earle argues passionately and persuasively, is to find responsible, renewable strategies that safeguard the natural systems that sustain us. The first step is to understand and act upon the wise message of this accessible, insightful, and compelling book.

  1. The first section of the book The Vision: Limitless Ocean Bounty, Infinite Resiliency discussed how fish and other ocean wildlife have been viewed as commodities rather than as critical components of a system. Also discussed was how treating the ocean as “the ultimate dumpster” is causing damage to sea life and marine ecosystems. What was your reaction to this section of the book, particularly the concept of maximum sustainable yield?
  2. No matter how far inland we live, a single kind of blue-green algae in the ocean (Prochlorococcus) produces the oxygen in one of every five breaths we take. The book is full of similar facts, illustrating the oceans’ critical importance to human survival and making it’s protection a very personal matter. What fact/facts illustrating the oceans’ critical importance to human survival were new to you?
  3. In the second section of the book Sylvia talks about everything we’re doing to the ocean from over-fishing to mining, drilling, dredging and human caused changes to ocean chemistry. What new insights did you gain from this section?
  4. On page 145 there is a picture of a platform that extracts oil and gas from the sea. To see what it looks like below the platform and to learn more about Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary go to https://flowergarden.noaa.gov/about/hi389platform.html
  5. Chapter seven, “Changing Climate, Changing Chemistry” brings the topic of climate change to the forefront. Do you think present climate change policies are focusing solely on the atmosphere and neglecting the ocean, or have policies changed?
  6. In the final section of the text Sylvia tells us why all of this should matter to us; “We will not survive if the oceans don’t survive” and she explains why. How has this section impacted your life?
  7. The Law of The Sea “provides a comprehensive global legal framework that governs human activities on and in the world’s oceans.” Although the United States complies with the provisions of the 1982 Convention, it is the only major maritime power that has not ratified the treaty. The following NOAA sites provide an overview of Law of the Sea.

    In your opinion should the United States ratify the treaty? Why or why not?

  8. Sylvia reviewed the pros and cons of ocean farming and attempted to answer the question, “Is sustainable fishing possible?” What is your response - buying farmed fish or fish that has been sustainably harvested? How can you tell whether or not the fish has been sustainably harvested? In addition to using Seafood WATCH look at the Environmental Defense Fund Seafood Selector.
  9. Can we help make Sylvia’s “One Wish to Change the World” come true? Watch her talk at the 2009 TED Conference. What is one thing we can each strive to do to protect the ocean?

Website links on pages 316-318 in The World is Blue were reviewed prior to the NOAA Planet Stewards Book Club meeting. Amended website URLs are noted below

A Tale of 2 Planets by John Freeman

A Tale of 2 Planets by John Freeman

In A Tale of Two Planets John Freeman draws together a group of writers from around the world to help us see how the environmental crisis is hitting some of the most vulnerable communities where they live.

In the past five years he has compiled two anthologies that deal with income inequality as it is experienced. In the course of this work, one major theme came up repeatedly: Climate change is making already dire inequalities much worse, devastating further the already devastated. But the problems of climate change are not restricted to those from the less developed world.

Galvanized by his conversations with writers and activists around the world, Freeman engaged with some of today’s most eloquent storytellers, many of whom hail from the places under the most acute stress–from the capital of Burundi to Bangkok, Thailand. The response has been extraordinary. Margaret Atwood conjures a dystopian future in a remarkable poem. Lauren Groff whisks us to Florida; Edwidge Danticat to Haiti; Tahmima Anam to Bangladesh; Yasmine El Rashidi to Egypt, while Eka Kurniawan brings us to Indonesia, Chinelo Okparanta to Nigeria, and Anuradha Roy to the Himalayas in the wake of floods, dam building, and drought. This is a literary all-points bulletin of fiction, essays, poems, and reportage about the most important crisis of our times.

  1. Freeman has gathered a daisy-chain of essays, stories and poems by thirty-five writers from the middle of the Pacific to the Roof of the World and every hot, cold, wet, and dry spot in between. How does this breadth of geography help capture the vastness of the issues of climate change? Where do you see connections to your locale? To your heritage?
  2. In his introduction, Freeman writes, “We are swimming in facts, but a fact does not fully obtain the depth of a fact, the power of a fact, until it becomes part of a story.” How do these stories make climate change much more than a scientific concept? Which had the most power for you and why? What stories might you use to educate others?
  3. Most of us never have to think about the unpleasantness of the “flying toilets” in the Nairobi slums or the literal “shitstorm” caused by Beirut’s Eden Bay developers. The “collective anus” of the well-off is linked to culverts that route our waste into faraway lakes, rivers, neighborhoods, cities, nations and cultures. The problem of waste disposal recurs throughout this collection; how do our hidden disposal systems - whether flushing toilets or pre-dawn garbage trucks - contribute to our ability to ignore our own impacts on the planet? What can we, with our “one-click shopping” mentality, do to become more zero-waste?
  4. Some rivers and lakes have become so poisoned by industry, agriculture, and everyday life that they have all but ceased to sustain life and may never sustain it again. The countries first to drown in rising oceans have done the least to deserve their fate. The poor are not only most impacted, but are also blamed for the tragedy. Where do you see social injustice and climate change intersect? How can you use the idea of social justice and fairness to motivate change?
  5. Just as rapid changes to an ecosystem can traumatize the landscape and its inhabitants, rapid changes to a cultural ecosystem can traumatize the people it sustains. How do we balance the destruction of ancient systems with the need for new buildings and growth? How can we get people with disparate values to come together, and serve the greater good?
  6. Anuradha Roy writes about how government officials in India twist climate change to their own ends. Other tales relate top-down corporate manipulation and government malfeasance; yet since these affect us all, can we not rise up together, united against these universal villains, to protest the pillaging of our ecosystems and cultural systems for the sake of a few? Is there a glimmer of hope here?
  7. Were there particular phrases or stories, essays, or poems that stood out to you?
  8. “What if we believed, stupidly or hopefully, that every living life mattered equally?”

Book cover for The Sea Around Us

The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson

Published in 1951, The Sea Around Us is one of the most remarkably successful books ever written about the natural world. Rachel Carson's rare ability to combine scientific insight with moving, poetic prose catapulted her book to first place on The New York Times best-seller list, where it enjoyed wide attention for thirty-one consecutive weeks. It remained on the list for more than a year and a half and ultimately sold well over a million copies, has been translated into 28 languages, inspired an Academy Award-winning documentary, and won both the 1952 National Book Award and the John Burroughs Medal.

This classic work remains as fresh today as when it first appeared. Carson's writing teems with stunning, memorable images--the newly formed Earth cooling beneath an endlessly overcast sky; the centuries of nonstop rain that created the oceans; giant squids battling sperm whales hundreds of fathoms below the surface; and incredibly powerful tides moving 100 billion tons of water daily in the Bay of Fundy. Quite simply, she captures the mystery and allure of the ocean with a compelling blend of imagination and expertise.

  1. Did reading this book have an impact on how you see the ocean?
  2. Do you think this book still has relevance today? What impact, if any, did the “Afterward” by Jeffrey Levinton have on you?
  3. The first chapter, “Gray Beginnings” gives a scientific history of the origin of the earth’s Ocean. Did you find new ideas or concepts in this chapter?
  4. The Sea Around Us was written before the modern environmental movement had really taken hold. Carson emphasized the interconnectedness of the different parts of the sea and of all life. In Chapter 3, she writes, "The surface waters move with the tides, stir to the breath of the winds, and rise and fall to the endless, hurrying forms of the waves.” Carson emphasizes the importance of protecting each part of the environment as it is composed of a delicate interplay of forces. Did you find other examples illustrating the interconnectedness of all life in her book?
  5. Chapter 10 “Wind, Sun, and the Spinning of the Earth,” fit in perfectly with my fifth grade Social Studies Curriculum. In this chapter Carson describes the Gulf Stream and the work of Ben Franklin. Is there a particular chapter in the book that fits into your school curriculum?
  6. In chapter 12, “The Global Thermostat,” Carson raises the warning flag of global climate change. She mentions many scenarios of changes to the world’s climate. Which of these were new to you? (For example, cod in Greenland and other new fish species arrivals there in 1930 – haddock, cusk, and ling - as well as Iceland’s strange warmth-loving southern fish like basking shark, sunfish, swordfish and horse mackerel.)
  7. The Special Edition of this classic book features a new chapter written by Jeffrey Levinton which incorporates the most recent thinking - in 1991 - on continental drift, coral reefs, the spread of the ocean floor, the deterioration of the oceans, mass extinction of sea life, and many other topics. What was your reaction to this chapter?
  8. In a book discussion group in the UK readers were encouraged to make a one minute video of any aspect of the ocean while reading a favorite passage from the book. The clips were then shared online with the group. We can’t do this, but each of us could share and describe a particular aspect of the ocean that has special significance to us.

Plastic Free: The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz and Joanna Atherfold Finn

Plastic Free: The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz and Joanna Atherfold Finn

When Plastic Free July founder Rebecca Prince-Ruiz made a commitment to try to avoid single-use plastic a decade ago, the decision started at her bin. In the first half of 2020, a year of unexpected change, the humble bin has been in the limelight again, though for very different reasons. Aussies, their laconic sense of humour coming to the fore during the pandemic, used their weekly bin outing as an opportunity to dress up in outlandish costumes, the theory being that our bins were going out more than we were.

Plastic Free: The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters is, at its heart, a book about how ordinary people can make extraordinary changes. It tells the story of Plastic Free July, a social phenomenon involving over 250 million people in 177 countries. Most importantly, it shows how a determined community can be a formidable force.

  1. This book is about how ordinary people can make extraordinary changes. What did you learn about Plastic Free July, how it began, and its reach today?
  2. The book opens with a simple question from the author, ‘I’m going plastic free next July. Who wants to join me?” Have you or will you answer the call? If so, what was or do you expect to be the hardest part of this for you?
  3. For those who have participated, do you have any takeaways or “aha” moments to share?
  4. What have been solutions/alternatives to one-use plastics that you’ve seen or adopted as part of your life? In your community? In our society? Where are we falling short? Where might we find success?
  5. As mentioned in the book, is the problem of plastics growing or shrinking? Why?
  6. According to a NYTimes Op Ed from 12/9/2021 entitled The Great Recycling Con , The greatest trick corporations ever played was making us think we could recycle their products. Do you agree or disagree?

Additional points for discussion:

Book cover for Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller

After the climate wars, a floating city is constructed in the Arctic Circle, a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering, complete with geothermal heating and sustainable energy. The city’s denizens have become accustomed to a roughshod new way of living, however, the city is starting to fray along the edges—crime and corruption have set in, the contradictions of incredible wealth alongside direst poverty are spawning unrest, and a new disease called “the breaks” is ravaging the population.

When a strange new visitor arrives—a woman riding an orca, with a polar bear at her side—the city is entranced. The “orcamancer,” as she’s known, very subtly brings together four people—each living on the periphery—to stage unprecedented acts of resistance. By banding together to save their city before it crumbles under the weight of its own decay, they will learn shocking truths about themselves.

Blackfish City is a remarkably urgent—and ultimately very hopeful—novel about political corruption, organized crime, technology run amok, the consequences of climate change, gender identity, and the unifying power of human connection.

  1. What role does science fiction and/or realistic fiction have in building awareness of real-world issues?
  2. How does the book address the connection between people, animals, land and resources?
  3. There are references in the book about how resources are used – such as methane to fuel lights, geothermal heat – what message is the author sharing about resource usage?
  4. Is there a significance of the orca and/or polar bear in the book? Why not any other species of animal?
  5. The book addresses the concept of social constructs, such as socioeconomic status, nationality, gender, and how fear is often used to create and maintain these constructs to the benefit of a select few. How are social constructs being used to address – or avoid addressing – climate change?
  6. There are several sections in the book that share how the news/media report out on the same situation by focusing on different aspects, molding the story to fit different narratives – how is that (or is it not) being addressed in our current society?
  7. Which character, if any, did you find most relatable to either yourself – or someone else? What characteristics made them relatable?
  8. There were many topics addressed in the book, in addition to climate change – the unchecked spread of disease, economic inequality, gender identity – how intricately woven are all these topics? Can one be addressed without addressing the rest in our current society?
  9. What take away messages or impressions did this book leave you with?

2017-2020 Bookclub Archive