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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.

 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?

Book cover for A Terrible Thing to Waste book

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?

Book cover for Supernavigators: Exploring the Wonders of How Animals Find Their Way

Supernavigators: Exploring the Wonders of How Animals Find Their Way by David Barrie

Animals plainly know where they’re going, but how they know has remained a stubborn mystery—until now. Supernavigators is a globe-trotting voyage of discovery alongside astounding animals of every stripe: dung beetles that steer by the Milky Way, box jellyfish that can see above the water (with a few of their twenty-four eyes), sea turtles that sense Earth’s magnetic field, and many more. David Barrie consults animal behaviorists and Nobel Prize–winning scientists to catch us up on the cutting edge of animal intelligence—revealing these wonders in a whole new light.

  1. Of all examples in the book, which animal migration stood out the most and why?
  2. Humans could not reliably tell their longitude until the late 1700’s. Lots of creatures seem to be able to do so with little difficulty. What do they know that we don’t?
  3. In what ways might humans be affecting animal migration? Which are new to you from this book?
  4. In what ways might climate change affect migration patterns?
  5. What steps should we take as individuals and as a society to minimize our impacts on animal navigation and migration patterns? Which of those are new to you from this book?
  6. In chapter 11, the author recounts the story of mountain guide Enos Mills, who became snow-blind at 3600 meters in the Rocky Mountains. Mills used his other senses to get himself to safety. Have you ever been lost? How did you find your way back? What’s your story?
  7. There is a tremendous amount we do not know about animal migration. What about that surprised you the most?
  8. At the end of the preface, the author talks about the inherent ethical difficulty in studies where animals were harmed in the pursuit of knowledge. He ends that passage stating “it would surely be wrong to hold scientists to a higher moral standard than the rest of us.” How do you feel about that?

Book cover for South Pole Station: A Novel by Ashley Shelby

South Pole Station: A Novel by Ashley Shelby

This touching and at times laugh-out-loud funny novel introduces us to Cooper Gosling, a painter who’s struggling in the aftermath of family tragedy. She grew up listening to her father tell stories about Antarctica’s greatest explorers, and now that she’s thirty and uncertain what to do with her life, she decides to set out on an adventure of her own. She signs up with an artist colony that piggy-backs on a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research team’s trip to South Pole, and proceeds to spend a dark and freezing year among not only fellow artists, but climate scientists.

Much to everyone’s chagrin, a climate change denier is in the mix, and as Cooper’s story unfolds, so does a rivalry between the believers and the non-believer. The novel is rife with fascinating and piercingly funny dialogue about the meaning of the scientific method, the importance of NSF funding, and how both art and science can lend insight into the workings of the universe.

Additional great resource reads:

South Pole Station takes a cool look at a hot topic.

Science, Art and Redemption in the Land of the Penguins

Transformation and Non-Adventure in Ashley Shelby’s South Pole Station

  1. What insights have you have gained about life in Antarctica from South Pole Station?
  2. On page 44 and 45 we are introduced to some possible “climate” issues that appear later in the book, what do you think about the flyer and cooper/Sal’s response?
  3. Many of the Polies take issue with calling Pavano a "climate skeptic" because, as Sal says, "All scientists are born skeptics. Pavano is not a practicing scientist." Do you agree with Sal? Why or why not?
  4. South Pole Station unfolds through various narrative perspectives — Cooper's, Pearl's, Tucker's, Bozer's, Pavano's, even emails, and official government documents. How does having these multiple vantage points shape your sense of the community? In what ways would the story be different if we only had Cooper’s perspective?
  5. One book review states “Shelby’s main narrative tension centers around the controversial arrival of scientist and climate change-denier Frank Pavano. Especially outraged is Sal Brennan, an astrophysicist studying the origins of the universe, who considers Frank’s presence at the South Pole as “a sign of end times,” pointing out that, due to Frank’s admission, “‘somewhere a real climate scientist did not get his grant approved.”’ What makes Pavano not a scientist? What caused Frank’s transformation from a young scientific prodigy, to a climate change-denying scientist relying on shaky science and even more questionable funding?
  6. Congressman Bayless gives a speech where he purports, "Dissent is the healthiest state of affairs in any democracy … democracy is under attack. That in a bastion of free thought, the covenant of free thought has been broken.…" Dr. Pavano has been the victim of a systematic and sustained pattern of harassment based solely on his research." Sal’s rebuttal is that "in the scientific community, there’s virtually unanimous consensus that the earth is warming … instead of fearing this new knowledge … accept it, and leave science to science." How would you respond to both of these statements?
  7. Climate change is the subject of much debate in our society; it’s a complicated issue. What did you take away from South Pole Station about the interplay of science, politics, religion, and economics in the climate change debate? Did the novel shift your perspective at all? How so?
  8. We aren’t privy to Pavano’s perspective until the end of the novel when we learn of his ascendance as a "climate change skeptic." In what ways did his backstory align with your expectations? What elements surprised you?

Book cover for the Yellow House

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

A book of great ambition, Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House tells a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home in a neglected area of one of America’s most mythologized cities. This is the story of a mother’s struggle against a house’s entropy, and that of a prodigal daughter who left home only to reckon with the pull that home exerts, even after the Yellow House was wiped off the map after Hurricane Katrina. The Yellow House expands the map of New Orleans to include the stories of its lesser known natives, guided deftly by one of its native daughters, to demonstrate how enduring drives of clan, pride, and familial love resist and defy erasure. Located in the gap between the “Big Easy” of tourist guides and the New Orleans in which Broom was raised, The Yellow House is a brilliant memoir of place, class, race, the seeping rot of inequality, and the internalized shame that often follows. It is a transformative, deeply moving story from an unparalleled new voice of startling clarity, authority, and power.

  1. At the opening of the story, Sarah Broom describes the lot where the Yellow House once stood from fifteen thousand feet above. Have you ever brought up a Google Earth image of your house from above and zoomed out? What impact did seeing your home, your street, your state, your country have on your perspective?
  2. What are the truths we think we know about New Orleans compared to the story Broom tells?
  3. The author refers to Hurricane Katrina throughout as “the Water.” Why do you think she made this choice? What does that term communicate to you?
  4. What information does Broom give us about the fate of New Orleans’s population after the storm that was new to you?
  5. Broom’s family dispersed after Katrina and many did not return. What effect do you think this kind of scattering after climate crises has on regional culture?
  6. In many ways, this is a story of how America has failed African Americans. Was there anything that could have been done differently on the swath of land in New Orleans East that would have changed the outcome?
  7. Did this book bring to mind stories from your history tied to a special place, a home, land, or city?
  8. There were many powerful stories within the book. Was there one that stood out for you?
  9. Sarah says that “Big changes, the ones that reset the compass of a place, never appear so at the outset. Only time lets you see the accumulation of things.” Can you cite an example of this in the book or in your own life’s experience?
  10. What are your thoughts about the end of the book? Were you satisfied with the final actions of the land that the Yellow House sat on? Was justice served to the family that lost their Yellow House?

Book cover for  Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush

Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush

With every passing day, and every record-breaking hurricane, it grows clearer that climate change is neither imagined nor distant―and that rising seas are transforming the coastline of the United States in irrevocable ways. In Rising, Elizabeth Rush guides readers through some of the places where this change has been most dramatic, from the Gulf Coast to Miami, and from New York City to the Bay Area. For many of the plants, animals, and humans in these places, the options are stark: retreat or perish in place.

Weaving firsthand testimonials from those facing this choice―a Staten Islander who lost her father during Sandy, the remaining holdouts of a Native American community on a drowning Isle de Jean Charles, a neighborhood in Pensacola settled by escaped slaves hundreds of years ago―with profiles of wildlife biologists, activists, and other members of these vulnerable communities, Rising privileges the voices of those too often kept at the margins.

  1. Naming plays a role throughout Rising - "Theo's parents' old home, and Lora Ann's old home, and Albert's old home, and all the other residences that have been abandoned because rebuilding is tiresome and expensive." Why is it necessary to name these homes? Rush writes of learning the names of the dying trees and other plants in the marshlands of Rhode Island; the tupelo, the needlebush, and salt marsh cordgrass. How does naming the plants and birds around us support environmental justice?
  2. A primary conflicts in this book is the difference between insiders and outsiders; from people who know the language (and persimmons) of a place, and the people from elsewhere who often hold different priorities. How does the author, a reporter, navigate this "distance"? How do we, as readers and people who live in a place, navigate this "distance"?
  3. What is the value of a place? How do we measure it? Is its value in what we can take from it? In what it "gives" us? Is it possible for trees, animals, and humans not to be competing entities?
  4. "We" often think of the landscape as inert, as simply there. Then something like Hurricane Sandy happens, and suddenly the disappearance of wetlands and their storm-surge absorbing properties gets people's attention. Are we yet ready to listen to the landscape? As people stay home during this pandemic, we've seen nature quickly respond to the lack of human activity on our planet. Will this change our idea of how to live normally?
  5. We encounter outside voices throughout the book in "On Gratitude," "On Reckoning," etc. What purpose do they serve? What difference in tone and content do you notice from one to the next?
  6. Climate change is having a measurable affect on sea level rise along the coast of the United States. It is important however to consider is how much of our country is not coastline. How much of this conversation - and voting decisions - is not addressed simply because it's a problem of elsewhere? When Rush writes of glaciers calving in Greenland and Antarctica, does the information fail to make a meaningful change in our lives because its so far away? Her book is subtitled: Dispatches from the New American Shore; does that focus get our attention?
  7. Rush writes of her second grade science fair project on Florida's flat topography - which failed to impress. "My project didn't win a prize; it wasn't even given honorable mention. Back then topography probably seemed boring, especially when set next to dioramas of rainforests and exploding miniature volcanoes." Even at a young age, we are taught to favor "sexy" landscapes; the idea that volcanoes are more interesting and worthy of study than marshlands prevails. What opportunities do we have to teach young people to think differently?
  8. How is the idea of environmental racism build throughout the book? What happens when the disparities in power play out in the location of sewer plants and toxic waste dumping in poor communities - often communities of color - who have no power to fight against it. This brings to mind the ongoing water issues in Flint, MI. "And so what I once thought of as an inquiry into vulnerable landscapes - and the plants and animals that call those places home - has also become an inquiry into vulnerable human communities."
  9. Rush concludes Rising with an Afterword titled with the names of recent hurricanes. Other sections of the book are voiced by people she's interviewed; what do you think of Rush giving the final voice to something that's not human? She does not end the book with concrete actions for the reader to undertake, no calls to action. What, then does Rush want from readers as we close Rising?
  10. How can we have a conversation about a dystopian nightmare in the middle of a dystopian nightmare? Our current situation can be "a bit much" for us - as adults - to deal with, but it can be especially difficult for kids. Now that they've experienced their day to day lives upended so quickly and profoundly by nature "turning against us", how might it influence their views of climate change? Does it make it seem more possible? More real? How does our inability as a collective society to listen to science and scientists during the kind of crisis where we most need to, change how we view the response to a problem that is even harder to see than a microbe?

Book cover for The Big Melt by Ned Tillman (Young Adult Fiction)

The Big Melt by Ned Tillman (Young Adult Fiction)

Sleepy Valley is a town probably similar in many ways to the one where you live. Things are fine on the surface but no one is thinking about the future. Are you ready for what is about to happen to you and to towns all across the country and around the world?

Marley and Brianne, the main characters in our story, were not. Nor were their parents, their neighbors, or anyone in town. When they woke up on the day after their high school graduation they found their lives turned upside down as a series of climate catastrophes descended on their town. They struggle to find their voices and their purpose for living while attempting to save their family and friends, their town, and civilization as we know it.

The Big Melt engages, informs, and challenges readers of all ages to consider a variety of perspectives on what is rapidly becoming the challenge of the century: Now that our climate is changing, what do we do? This work of contemporary fiction, with a touch of fantasy and hope, will inspire you to care a little more about what might occur in your town in the not-too-distant future.

Read an interview with the author

  1. How would you summarize the story? What would you highlight as its main/key components?
  2. Who was your favorite character and why?
  3. Do you see any similarities to the challenges being faced in sleepy valley to where you live? - particularly ecological and/or political.
  4. Do you think today’s YA (young adult) readers can relate to this story? In what ways and why?
  5. Do you see a disconnect between adults and young learners on how they respond to rapid climate change? How is this represented in the book? How do you think we could break the disconnect in our society?
  6. What do you see as key climate facts in the book? Are they represented well? Did they teach? How?
  7. Would you recommend this book to others? Why, Why not?

Book cover for Plastic Ocean by Captain Charles Moore

Plastic Ocean by Captain Charles Moore

This book takes the reader through Captain Moore’s initial voyage to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, his subsequent research expeditions, and his fierce work to engage the world in recognizing and taking action on the plastic invasiveness crisis in our oceans. The research expeditions presented in the book are part of a world-wide effort prompting a massive global reassessment of plastic's pervasive presence in the Gyre, raising profound questions regarding the implications of this new remote ‘habitat'. His hard-won credibility and dogged, game-changing efforts to get the world to pay attention to a looming ocean crisis have earned him world-wide respect, igniting participation in The Plastic Pollution Conversation.

  1. Under what scenario (political, social and economic systems) could recycling become the solution to plastic pollution?
  2. Can modern design and production innovations make zero waste more than aspirational?
  3. When and how can personal solutions to plastic pollution i.e. lowering one’s plastic footprint, translate into a true global solution to plastic pollution?
  4. Will crises forever be the driver of fundamental economic, political and social change? If so, what will be the crisis with plastic pollution that forces radical change?
  5. While reading Plastic Ocean, recall one or two details that were new and/or interesting to you.
  6. Is there an organization, conference, or event involving plastic pollution that you're involved with or that interests you?
  7. For those of you who are Planet Stewards educators working or planning a stewardship project - does your project involve plastic pollution? If so, how? How will the students be involved?

Book cover for the Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan

The Great Lakes—Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Superior—hold 20 percent of the world’s supply of surface fresh water. They provide sustenance, work, and recreation for tens of millions of Americans. But they are under threat as never before, and their problems are spreading across the continent. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is prize-winning reporter Dan Egan’s compulsively readable portrait of an ecological catastrophe happening right before our eyes, blending the epic story of the lakes with an examination of the perils they face and the ways we can restore and preserve them for generations to come.

  1. Who has visited any of the five Great Lakes before? What was your experience?
  2. What surprised you about how humans have deliberately altered the Great Lakes?
  3. Who are the villains of the Great Lakes story? The heroes?
  4. Should water be shared beyond the Great Lakes basin?
  5. How did the introduction of salmon positively affect the Great Lakes? Do you agree that introducing salmon is overall positive?
  6. Should invasive species be allowed to continue reproducing? Or should we intervene?
  7. Is global invasive species introduction our new normal?
  8. Did anything surprise you as you were reading the book?
  9. What should we be doing to protect the Great Lakes and other bodies of water?

Book cover for  Ocean Outbreak: Confronting the Rising Tide of Marine Disease by Drew Harvell

Ocean Outbreak: Confronting the Rising Tide of Marine Disease by Drew Harvell

There is a growing crisis in our oceans as rates of infectious disease outbreaks are on the rise. Marine epidemics have the potential to cause a mass die-off of wildlife from the bottom to the top of the food chain, impacting the health of ocean ecosystems as well as lives on land. Fueled by sewage dumping, unregulated aquaculture, and drifting plastic in warming seas, ocean outbreaks are sentinels of impending global environmental disaster.

Ocean Outbreak follows renowned scientist Drew Harvell and her colleagues as they investigate how four iconic marine animals—corals, abalone, salmon, and starfish—have been devastated by disease. Based on over twenty years of research, this firsthand account of the sometimes creeping, sometimes exploding impact of disease on our ocean’s biodiversity ends with a hopeful message. Through policy changes and the implementation of innovative solutions from nature, we can reduce major outbreaks, save some ocean ecosystems, and protect our fragile environment.

Prior to discussing Ocean Outbreak you might enjoy watching Dr. Harvell discuss another of her books A Sea of Glass, on Cornell University’s Chats in the Stacks Book Talk

  1. Disease outbreaks in the ocean differ from outbreaks on land. Drew discusses the “perfect storm” of outbreak conditions: new pathogens introduced via aquaculture and human sewage, salt water providing a hospital environment for pathogens, pathogens discharged by shipping vessels, effects of pollution and climate change and the warming of surface waters due to climate change. Are you aware of all of these conditions?
  2. There has been a lot of media attention to the problem of corals being stressed by warming oceans and disease. As Drew points out, people don’t realize infectious diseases that take hold of corals may cause their subsequent death. Are you aware of the other ocean pathogens affecting our food supply, economy, livelihood, and health?
  3. Were you surprised that it took so long to solve the mystery of what was causing the withering foot syndrome of Abalone?
  4. Given the information on salmon disease, what changes should be made to reduce future disease outbreaks in fisheries or aquaculture in general? What are aquaculture best practices and does the US adhere to the highest standards?
  5. Drew discusses the problem of funding for research studies and elaborates on how the “Save Our Stars” project at a middle school in Arkansas helped fund field surveys for work on the starfish epidemic. Has your class participated in activities like this?
  6. What are important new research themes to address how the ocean’s natural pathogen fighting services work?
  7. Do you think plastics convey disease to organisms other than coral?
  8. Which of the four disease outbreaks discussed in the book did you find the most interesting and useful?

Book cover for  Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Silent Spring

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was first published in three serialized excerpts in the New Yorker in June of 1962. The book appeared in September of that year and the outcry that followed its publication forced the banning of DDT and spurred revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water. Carson’s passionate concern for the future of our planet reverberated powerfully throughout the world, and her eloquent book was instrumental in launching the environmental movement. It is without question one of the landmark books of the twentieth century.

You can read the complete original serialization from the New Yorker Magazine here:

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

  1. Was “A Silent Spring” different from what you expected? In what way?
  2. Looking back over the 57 years since this book was written, of the things Rachel Carson got right, what surprised you most?
  3. Looking back, what did she leave out that she might have known about in 1962 when she was writing?
  4. What did she get wrong?
  5. Rachel Carson has been vilified and held responsible for the deaths of millions from malaria in Africa, which they say could have been prevented by the use of DDT. Do they have a point? Here is one example from the American Enterprise Institute: https://www.aei.org/research-products/report/the-rise-fall-rise-and-imminent-fall-of-ddt/ And here is a counter-argument from the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/22/us/rachel-carson-ddt-malaria-retro-report.html
  6. DDT was banned in the US in 1972 under Richard Nixon and the EPA's first Administrator, William Rucklehaus, though we continued to manufacture the product for export through 1983. In much of the United States, birds like the Bald Eagle and the Osprey have come back from near-extinction levels, which were caused by DDT. DDT and other chemicals are still in use, today in some parts of the world. Today it is still manufactured by India and China. Did we win the war, just a battle, or none of the above? How do you think we have progressed in general?
  7. Step back from the content and look at the tools and techniques Rachel Carson used to communicate science. 57 years later we still feel the impact of her work. What makes her book so effective? How might you use these techniques to teach or write about a different environmental problem, like climate change?
  8. The population of the world was 3.1 billion people in 1962 when this book came out. It is 7.6 billion, today. How do we feed everyone without the kinds of chemicals that Carson describes in her book?
  9. Rachel Carson spends a great deal of time discussing chemicals that were permitted to be sold and later were found to be carcinogenic or toxic to humans. Many more, such as DDT were still on the market at the time the book was written and were suspected of causing harm. Are these incidents largely behind us or is this still an issue, today?
  10. Carson extolls the virtues of biological controls, such as introducing predators or disease to an environment to control a species. 57 years later, how do these techniques seem to you? Are they safe or at least safer than insecticides?
  11. IF YOU HAVE TIME: Choose one chemical or other issue that Rachel Carson brought up in her work. Do a quick internet search and find out what’s happened in the 57 years since the book was written. Bring your notes to our Book Club and let’s talk about it.

Tales from and Uncertain World: What Other Assorted Disasters Can Teach Us About Climate Change by Lisa Gardiner

So far, humanity hasn’t done very well in addressing the ongoing climate catastrophe. Veteran science educator L. S. Gardiner believes we can learn to do better by understanding how we’ve dealt with other types of environmental risks in the past and why we are dragging our feet in addressing this most urgent emergency. Weaving scientific facts and research together with humor and emotion, Gardiner explores human responses to erosion, earthquakes, fires, invasive species, marine degradation, volcanic eruptions, and floods in order to illuminate why we find it so challenging to deal with climate change. Insight emerges from unexpected places - a mermaid exhibit, a Magic 8 Ball, and midcentury cartoons about a future that never came to be.

Instead of focusing on the economics and geopolitics of the debate over climate change, this book brings large-scale disaster to a human scale, emphasizing the role of the individual. We humans do have the capacity to deal with disasters. When we face threatening changes, we don’t just stand there pretending it isn’t so, we do something. But because we’re human, our responses aren’t always the right ones the first time—yet we can learn to do better. This book is essential reading for all who want to know how we can draw on our strengths to survive the climate catastrophe and forge a new relationship with nature.

  1. What did this book make you wonder about?
  2. (About coping and resilience) The bulk of the stories in chapters 2-7 are examples of how individuals cope with environmental change. What types of environmental change happen in your region and how have you coped with those? How is coping with small-scale change like coping with a large-scale change? How are they different?
  3. (About uncertainty in science) How people interpret and understand information that has some uncertainty is a recurring theme in this book. In chapter 8, the author tests her own ability to make decisions based on uncertain information by relying on a Magic 8 Ball’s wishy-washy answers for guidance. How do you deal with uncertain information in order to make decisions in your own life? How do your students think about uncertainty in science? How do you teach about scientific uncertainty?
  4. (About the natural and human-built world) Through the book’s examples of disasters, the choices that people make and the emotions they are feeling are often related to the way they see nature and their role in it. What stories and characters resonated with you? How would your students define nature? Would their definitions include the human-built world?
  5. (Envisioning the future) Chapter 9 explores past visions of the future and wonders about how we see the future today. Is it possible to look at the future with optimism when there are problems like climate change? Or does the future look like a dystopia? How do you teach about environmental problems that have long-term impacts without depressing students about the future?

Energy: A Human History by Richard Rhodes

In Energy: A Human History. Author Richard Rhodes reveals the fascinating history behind energy transitions over time—wood to coal to oil to electricity and beyond.

Through a cast of characters, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes explains how wood gave way to coal and coal made room for oil, as we now turn to natural gas, nuclear power, and renewable energy. Rhodes looks back on five centuries of progress, through such influential figures as Queen Elizabeth I, King James I, Benjamin Franklin, Herman Melville, John D. Rockefeller, and Henry Ford.

In Energy, Rhodes highlights the successes and failures that led to each breakthrough in energy production; from animal and waterpower to the steam engine, from internal-combustion to the electric motor. He addresses how we learned from such challenges, mastered their transitions, and capitalized on their opportunities. Rhodes also looks at the current energy landscape, with a focus on how wind energy is competing for dominance with cast supplies of coal and natural gas. He also addresses the specter of global warming, and a population hurtling towards ten billion by 2100.

  1. What parallels can you draw between the energy situation Londoners in the 1600's faced (having used up all the trees for fuel, the Londoners were switching to coal), and the world today? Think in terms of energy use, as well as the dangers and health risks presented by burning fuels.
  2. Why is London, according to Rhodes, like many modern cities, so much cleaner today than it was years ago? And if we are able to burn fuels so much more cleanly, why are we having a global problem?
  3. Think of how many ways that the hundreds of years of the coal industry effected the entire society in England and beyond. This book details how the coal industry led to the creation of the first railroads, the first steam engines, and so much more. Is it possible to create a situation where a technology -- such as renewable energy -- could have the same effect today: causing us to create an entirely new infrastructure to support a new kind of fuel based on a different technology? If we do this for another form of energy, what might the new society look like?
  4. The author describes a succession of technologies: from wood to coal to oil. The adoption of each new fuel source led to resistance from whoever owned the prior one. How did new fuel advocates break that cycle in the past, and how can we break that cycle now?
  5. According to the quotation below, author Paul Ehrlich was a false prophet when he predicted a “population bomb.” Is Rhodes correct or is Ehrlich's “population bomb” coming? What makes you think so?
  6. “...Like most false prophets, Ehrlich’s answer to his failed predictions of catastrophe has been to move the date of the end of the world a few more decades along the calendar. By now, he’s reached the 2050s. The end is still not in sight, but Ehrlich, eighty-six years old in 2018, is still certain it’s coming.” (pp. 312-313 of the Kindle Edition ).
  7. Rhodes makes a good case for nuclear power as an option for clean energy. What do you think?
  8. Rhodes ends the book on a hopeful note: “Far from threatening civilization, science, technology, and the prosperity they create will sustain us as well in the centuries to come. They are the only institutions human beings have yet devised that consistently learn from their mistakes.” (p. 344 of the Kindle Edition). What do you think? Does science, technology and the prosperity they create sustain us or threaten us?
  9. What ideas from this book stick with you? What might you do with your class related to this topic?

Please Don't Paint Our Planet Pink by Gregg Kleiner

This is a story about climate change for kids... and their adults. What might happen if we could SEEcarbon dioxide in the atmosphere? What if CO2 were, say, pink? In this engaging, funny, and highly timely book, a young boy whose parents named him Wilbur "in honor of that pig in Charlotte's Web" discovers the power of the human imagination and how he can tap that power to see a shade of pink he has never imagined – a pink so astonishing it just might save the Planet. With help from his geeky "dorkasaurus" Dad and a pair of bright green goggles, young Will learns all about carbon and caring, carpooling and climate change, and how learning to see "this particular pink" will help all of us keep our Planet cool.

  1. Many students have a hard time understanding that gases are present all around them in the atmosphere. The goggles with no lenses are an interesting way for Wilbur to “see” carbon dioxide. How might this strategy be used for other purposes?
  2. On page 18, the author talks about activities that students love (like campfires) but contribute small amounts of carbon dioxide. In the grand scheme of things, some of these might not be big contributors in the United States. However, the use of fossil fuels and vegetation for cooking and heating is used in other countries because of the lack of other types of energy. “Some three billion people around the world cook their food and heat their homes with open or barely contained fires, and while the smoke dissipates quickly, its accumulated costs are steep.” https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/proof/2017/07/guatemala-cook-stoves/
  3. How can we help students understand that living conditions (and energy sources and use) are vastly different in other countries?
  4. The author provides an explanation of how trees “suck” carbon dioxide out of the air and put it into wood and leaves. Photosynthesis is a tough concept. Does this analogy help you? Would it help your students?
  5. The carbon cycle is an unspoken concept of the book. What activities have you tried in class or other learning situations that help to explain the cyclic nature of carbon?
  6. The author briefly discusses the carbon costs of eating beef on page 19. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has many reports about the impact of activities like beef production. “Agricultural intensification has had major detrimental impacts on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems of the world. Conversion of natural vegetation to agriculture is a major source of CO2, not only due to losses of plant biomass but also, increased decomposition of soil organic matter caused by disturbance and energy costs of various agricultural practices such as fertilization and irrigation. CO2 emissions from the agricultural sector represent 21-25 percent of total CO2 emissions, due to fossil fuels used on farms, shifting patterns of cultivation and chiefly, deforestation. Appropriate management practices could increase carbon sinks and energy efficiency improvements and production of energy from crops and residues would result in a further mitigation potential, or a cumulative carbon storage95.” Organically-managed soils have a high potential to counter soil degradation as they are more resilient both to water stress and to nutrient loss….Due to the resulting high moisture retention capacity the amount of water needed for irrigation can be reduced substantially.” http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/y4137e/y4137e02b.htm
  7. Are community, school and home gardens prevalent in your area? Are agricultural practices or gardening part of your school curriculum?
  8. The book offers several things that we can do to reduce the amount of “pink” in the atmosphere. It might be helpful to start with the knowledge of our ecological footprint. EPA calculator at https://www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator/
  9. How do you think you stack up in terms of energy use? Are you planning ways to reduce your carbon footprint?
  10. What are some ways we can get students to think “pink”?

Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O Wilson by Edward O Wilson

In this book Pulitzer Prize winning author and world-renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson states that to stave off the mass extinction of species, including our own, we must move swiftly to preserve the biodiversity of our planet. Half-Earth argues that the situation facing us is too large to be solved piecemeal and proposes a solution commensurate with the magnitude of the problem: dedicate fully half the surface of the Earth to nature. Identifying actual regions of the planet that can still be reclaimed―such as the California redwood forest, the Amazon River basin, and grasslands of the Serengeti, among others.

  1. By preserving half of the planet, we would theoretically protect 80% of the world’s species from extinction, according to the species-area curve. If protection efforts, however, focus on the most biodiverse areas (think tropical forests and coral reefs), we could potentially protect more than 80% of species without going beyond the half-Earth goal. In contrast, if we only protect 10% of the Earth, we are set to lose around half of the planet’s species over time. (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/radical-conservation/2016/jun/15/could-we-set-aside-half-the-earth-for-nature) Which of these scenarios do you think are most likely in the future?
  2. Wilson’s idea is not without its critics. “In an essay for Aeon, Robert Fletcher and Bram Büscher, both social scientists with Wageningen University in the Netherlands, dub Wilson’s idea “truly bizarre.” “For all his zeal, (misplaced) righteousness and passion, his vision is disturbing and dangerous,” they write. “It would entail forcibly herding a drastically reduced human population into increasingly crowded urban areas to be managed in oppressively technocratic ways… Conservation has a long and ugly history of forcibly moving indigenous and local people out of areas to make way for protected areas.” However, recent research has found that contrary to popular belief, protected areas may actually improve the conditions of local communities (at least in countries like Uganda, Thailand and Costa Rica) instead of impoverishing them.” (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/radical-conservation/2016/jun/15/could-we-set-aside-half-the-earth-for-nature) Recent examples of the spread of eco or green tourism come to mind in other countries as well. Do you think that the scenarios of past injustices to indigenous and local people will be repeated now? Think about your community/region. How would creating larger nature reserves in your area benefit or harm the people living there?
  3. “75% of our agricultural land area is currently devoted to growing crops for livestock consumption. The amount of land required for agriculture today could be drastically curtailed – but only if people eat significantly less meat and livestock products, a trend that is currently going in the opposite direction globally.” (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/radical-conservation/2016/jun/15/could-we-set-aside-half-the-earth-for-nature) Are we ready to become a vegetarian nation? Do you see this food choice becoming more common?
  4. “At least 2/3 of the species on Earth remain unknown and unnamed and of the ½ known, fewer than one in a thousand have been subject to intensive biological research.” (p. 104) Does this number surprise you? How can we encourage the “naturalist” viewpoint in students and not just see ecosystems and food webs?
  5. Wilson discussed the Anthropocene philosophy as focused on ecosystems and not on species, that there is no more wilderness and that Earth is already a used planet. The result is a focus on what can nature do for humans and their economy. Compare that to the view of experienced naturalists and conservation biologists who are focused on species known and unknown and that biodiversity is under threat. Do you agree with his assessment of these 2 viewpoints?
  6. The bizarre relationships that Wilson describes in chapter 12 are fascinating; Vampire hunters, Zombie Masters, Swindlers, Slave makers and Giant Killers. He also discussed the existence of an independent layer of life in the deep ocean in chapter 13 that could survive any apocalypse. These are certainly great examples of phenomena that educators can use to their advantage. How might you use the stories of the book in your classroom?
  7. Some believe that human activity has raised the extinction rate to a thousand times its pre-human level and the only solution is to increase the area of natural reserves. Wilson has suggested the best places in the biosphere to set aside. Do you agree with his selections? Are there some areas that you would add?
  8. Wilson believes that digital technology may make it possible to complete a census of biodiversity and to determine that status of each species. He also believes that we need to connect the human future to the rest of life and adopt a moral precept “Do no further harm to the biosphere.” How can we as educators help students and our communities to develop a deep love of nature? How can we connect our digital students to nature?

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Robin Wall Kimmerer, “a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation,” uses the indigenous cultures’ sacred plant, sweetgrass, as a poetic metaphor to explain the origins of plant, animal, and human life on Mother Earth. Dr. Kimmerer presents this book as a gift of braided stories “meant to heal our relationship with the world” by weaving together the three strands of “indigenous ways of knowing, scientific knowledge, and the story of an Anishinabekwe scientist trying to bring them together in service to what matters most.” She explains the necessity for humankind to be rejoined with its relationships to nature, and to understand the implications of the Earth’s gifts and our responsibility to return these gifts.

  1. Dr. Kimmerer recounts the philosophical dilemmas upon entering her scientific studies; personal experiences with nature and her indigenous teachings during her formative years, and the reconnection with her heritage through the last nine fluent Potawatomi speakers. Her definition of indigenous includes “living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both physical and spiritual, depended on it.” She also talks about “a nation of immigrants” who might embrace the Skywoman story as instructions for the future; to become native and make a home. What can we, as immigrants, do to become more “indigenous?”
  2. In the story ‘Maple Sugar Moon’, Nanabozho finds that people have grown lazy due to the bounty of the first Maple trees. Nanabozho removes this culture of plenty by diluting the sap and teaching the people to honor and respect the gift of the Maple tree. Can you draw any parallels from this story and our consumer-driven economy?
  3. Scientists are investigating how trees “communicate” and are finding evidence that they use mycorrhizae deep underground or pheromones in the air to defend against insect invaders or to fruit en masse. Indigenous tribes have long believed that trees can “talk” to each other. Does the concept of trees having a community relationship and the scientific explanations of their possible means of communications change how you view our relationship with forests? If so, how?
  4. Kimmerer “discusses a gift economy which has, at its root, reciprocity.” Western thinking treats private land as a “bundle of rights”. A gift economy has a bundle of responsibilities. How has this difference affected historical land use? What can we offer earth in return?
  5. “Ceremony is a vehicle for belonging – to a family, to a people, and to the land.” How have ceremonies affected you? Were any ceremonies more meaningful than others?
  6. The author describes the objectivity and rigor of science as something that separates the observer from the observed. How can we help students learn the “names” but also hear the “songs”? How can we do science with “awe and humility”?
  7. Kimmerer introduces the Thanksgiving Address used by the indigenous people to give thanks to the land. She states, “...it is the credo for a culture of gratitude.” How does the Thanksgiving Address support the concept of “our mutual allegiance as human delegates to the democracy of the species”? What does that mean to you?
  8. The Three Sisters garden is a traditional method to grow corn, squash and beans together providing mutual support for growth. Can you think of other examples of such win-win situations? How can we teach people to “remember that what’s good for the land is also good for the people”?
  9. The significance of braiding plaits of sweetgrass into three strands is symbolic of the philosophy and spirituality of the indigenous people. Sweetgrass is a sacred, healing plant to the Potawatomi people and is braided “… as if it were our mother’s hair, to show our loving care for her. A sweetgrass braid is burned to create a ceremonial smudge that washes the recipient in kindness and compassion to heal the body and the spirit.” Ceremony focuses attention so that it becomes intention. How can we use ceremonies to hold communities more accountable to the natural world?
  10. What can educators do to promote good manners to the natural world, the tenets of an Honorable Harvest?
  11. Native elders look at the people who have come to our shores and say,” The problem with these new people is that they don’t have both feet on the shore. One is still on the boat.” How has this immigrant attitude determined our treatment of the natural resources?
  12. “Recent research has shown that the smell of humus exerts a physical effect on humans.” Soil studies are readily available to most schools. Does your school incorporate this in your curriculum?
  13. Kimmerer draws parallels between the indigenous people’s stories of the Windigo monster and the greedy nature of mankind today that allows for the destruction of nature’s structures, habitats, and balance in the name of progress and profit. This selfish behavior is our Windigo. The need for the healing of the land and the ecological restoration of the gifts that Mother Earth has given us is passionately presented in the ‘The Sacred and the Superfund’ chapter. What would we need to change in our society to stop overconsumption?
  14. “Each of us comes from people who were once indigenous.” How can a deep awareness of the gifts of the earth, practice of gratitude and restoration rebuild the connections that all humans once had with the Earth?
  15. Adapted from: https://longwoodgardens.org/sites/default/files/wysiwyg/Discussion_And_Question_Guide_Braiding_Sweetgrass.pdf

Adapted from: https://longwoodgardens.org/sites/default/files/wysiwyg/Discussion_And_Question_Guide_Braiding_Sweetgrass.pdf

The Teacher Friendly Guide to Climate Change by Don Duggan-Haas, Ingrid Zabel, and Robert Ross (free download from the site)

The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change by Ingrid Zabel, Don Duggan-Haas and Robert Ross is a comprehensive tool for educators that “focuses on the scientific aspects of climate change: how climate works and why scientists think it’s changing, and the science and engineering behind the steps that would mitigate climate change and enable humans to adapt to climate changes that do occur.” Although the focus is on high school educators, teachers of all ages can find scientifically accurate information and links to highly regarded resources

  1. The preface indicates that the evidence is not presented as a debate topic but as evidence that climate change is happening now built upon decades of the work of thousands of scientists. There has been a lot of discussion in science education literature about whether (or not) to use debate in the science classroom. What are your thoughts about this?
  2. A great set of starting questions to consider is found on page 1 of Chapter 1 based on local and personal factors. Are there additional factors that you would add to this list in your teaching situation?
  3. In Chapter 1, the authors suggest that educators should be careful not to “tread into political advocacy” and to communicate to students that climate change is politically but not scientifically controversial. What strategies have you used to accomplish this?
  4. Cognitive research provides information about why some people have a hard time accepting the scientific evidence for climate change. Ultimately, we tend to discount data to maintain our conceptions and to maintain our world view. How would you respond to people that do not accept scientific data?
  5. In chapter 2 (p. 17-22) the authors identified 5 big ideas and 2 questions about climate change that can serve as a course framework and are important aspects of earth system science. Would this framework fit into your present courses?
  6. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 provide overviews of climate science and climate change through history. The authors indicate that understanding ancient climate change may help students to see that climate can change and “put the kinds of changes we see today into a historical perspective.” Does your curriculum provide time to delve into proxy date or past climate change?
  7. Understanding time scales is important in understanding earth system science. What strategies have you found to be successful with your students?
  8. A term that is relatively new (for the discussion leader at least) is critical zone science and the book shares a website (p. 90) of resources. In areas with little access to natural areas, focusing on critical zone science may provide opportunities for student investigations into geologic processes and time scales. What is your experience with this aspect of earth science?
  9. Chapter 5 and 6 focuses on recent and regional climate change. One analogy that might relate to students (at least the boys) is found on p. 110 comparing the climate system to a fancy sports car. Can you think of another analogy that might help students see the parts and complexity of climate?
  10. Chapter 7 provides a comprehensive look at climate change mitigation strategies and geoengineering was covered in Chapter 8. There are uncertainties with geoengineering proposals in terms of effectiveness and impacts. Would you favor using geoengineering? If so, under what circumstances? If not, what mitigation strategies would you favor?
  11. Chapter 9 discusses adaptation strategies that may need to be employed as our civilization comes to terms with carbon dioxide that will remain in the Earth system for hundreds or thousands of years. Pages 196-197 include a comprehensive list of strategies that might be employed but might also be worthy topics of student investigations. The authors also include a suggestion for classroom discussion around global environmental justice. Have you included these topics in your climate science units? Is this something you would consider using in the future?
  12. Chapters 12 and 13 address obstacles to addressing climate change and general rules for approaching controversial topics. There are many factors that influence how we think and most people believe things that are false despite information to the contrary. Dire messaging and warnings “may not lead to the responses we might expect.” What are your thoughts about approaching climate change as an “opportunity?”

The Archipelago of Hope: Wisdom and Resilience from the Edge of Climate Change by Gleb Raygorodetsky

“The Indigenous communities and their traditional territories are the islands of biocultural diversity in the ever-rising sea of development and urbanization. The Archipelago of Hope takes readers on a journey to explore the inextricable links between Indigenous cultures and their lands, and how they form the foundation for climate change resilience around the world.

Indigenous peoples have a millennia-long track record of maintaining intimate relationships with the natural world, which has nourished their communities and sustained their cultures. This is the track record that they have maintained despite formidable odds, including multiple “izations”—colonization, Christianization, sedentarization, and globalization.

What makes Indigenous communities indispensible in the search for climate change solutions is that their ancestral territories are the “living laboratories,” where the traditional practices and understanding of nature meet modern technology and scientific insights, generating new knowledge critical for developing relevant climate change responses.” Excerpt from https://orionmagazine.org/2017/11/eight-questions-author-gleb-raygorodetsky-archipelago-hope/

Here's an article by Gleb Raygorodetsky about how Indigenous peoples are disproportionally burdened by climate change and why their traditional knowledge is essential to securing the health of our planet https://www.guernicamag.com/the-archipelago-of-hope/

  1. Do you think that traditional knowledge is gaining recognition in national and regional discussions about solutions to climate change? Have your local communities engaged local Native communities?
  2. In the prologue, Marcos Terena states that Indigenous communities are islands of biological and cultural diversity, our archipelago of hope to remember how to care for Earth. Can you suggest examples of curricula that can be woven into classroom lessons about the contributions of Indigenous knowledge?
  3. There were many instances in the book of decision-making that ignores the presence and knowledge of Indigenous peoples. With 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity in traditional territories, how can we increase the voice of Indigenous populations?
  4. Residential schools have been used for many decades in many countries including our own. What are the long-term consequences of these school for the Indigenous people and for the countries that instituted them?
  5. Many northern Indigenous people are dealing with the need for fossil fuels by an energy-hungry world economy. Do you think that this will change in the future?
  6. The book describes many instances of Indigenous knowledge being used to tackle pressing climate change impacts on Native land and customs such as fishing, farming, logging and medicines. How might these strategies be implemented on a larger scale?
  7. Swidden agriculture or shifting cultivation is viewed by governments as backward and harmful. In the U.S. monoculture with its accompanying dependence on intense cultivation is most popular. Do you see the move toward organic farming and the increase in organic products changing this view?
  8. “To understand how Indigenous communities stay resilient in the face of challenges, including climate change, it is essential to go beyond dissecting specific how-to lessons and attempt to explore the fundamental principles of how these communities maintain their relationships with the living world around them.” How can we be a good ally and move those around us to have a healthier relationship with the land?

Junk Raft: An Ocean Voyage and Rising Tide of Activities to Fight Plastic Pollution

In Junk Raft: An Ocean Voyage and a Rising Tide of Activities to Fight Plastic Pollution, Marcus Eriksen tells the story of how he, his wife Anna Cummins, and hundreds of volunteers began studying the world’s oceans and found a “plastic smog of microscopic debris that permeates our oceans globally, defying simple clean-up efforts. What’s more, these microplastics and their toxic chemistry have seeped into the food chain, threatening marine life and humans alike.

"Far from being a gloomy treatise on an environmental catastrophe, Junk Raft tells the exciting story of Eriksen and his team’s fight to solve the problem of plastic pollution."

  1. What do you think is the take-away message from this book?

  2. Eriksen discusses gyres and the myth of a giant floating garbage patch and ”smog” of micro-plastics. What do you think can be done as a next step in terms of the science of studying plastics in the world’s oceans? How do ocean gyres affect your local community?

  3. What are some solutions and innovations to address micro-plastics in the oceans problem? What advice can we give our colleagues who want to make a difference?

  4. What are your thoughts and concerns of micro-plastics moving up the food chain?

  5. There is a big discussion of plant-based plastic in the book. In your opinion, are plant-based plastics good or bad for our environment?

  6. Eriksen states that “chemistry, product, process and system are the four intervention points where the utility of plastics needs to be reinvented.’ What are you thoughts on this?

  7. B Corp are corporations with a mission statement that “social or environmental justice is of equal standing with the profit margin.” Eriksen lists a few B Corporations do you know of others?

  8. What is your reaction to his letter to the "Member Corporations of the American Chemical Council?"

  9. Earth Day is but 5-weeks away – how might we use the plastic we collect from our oceans, rivers, streams and land to help educate our community?

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

In this NOAA Planet Stewards Book Club meeting we'll be discussing Ship Breaker, a 2010 young adult Cli-fi novel by Paolo Bacigalupi set in a post-apocalyptic future. Human civilization is in decline for ecological reasons. The polar ice caps have melted and New Orleans is underwater. In America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota - and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it’s worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life.

  1. How do humans define wealth, could this cause a conflict with ecological awareness and activism?

  2. How much is your world worth?

  3. Dystopian literature is frequently portrayed as a stark and depressing genre that occasionally offers some form of hope. How does Ship Breaker fit into that description, and in what ways (if any) does it break the mold?

  4. How does social class play out in Ship Breaker and are there similar disparities in today’s society? Please elaborate on what this means for equitable societies.

  5. The Patrick Ness review and the Paolo Bacigalupi interview offer up different viewpoints on the purpose of dystopian literature. Ness argues that dystopian lit is popular with YA readers because it represents their lives and the challenges they face. Bacigalupi comments on its ability to give readers an opportunity to think about some of the issues our society faces. Does Ship Breakersucceed at either?

  6. What will our world look like when we run out of nonrenewable resources in a post global climate change age? How do we engage YA in this discussion without the readers feeling defeated?

  7. How does this book address green issues? Are some of these issues already occurring today?

    • Recycling

    • Drastic change in the environment

    • Corporate consumption of resources

    • Harvesting body parts

    • Genetic engineering

    • A few key themes included in the story: sea level rise, extreme weather, climate change, segregation of the elite, recycling…How do these concepts play out today as we enter a changing planet ecosystem?

  8. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where climate change has completely altered the processes of civilization. Discuss the importance of the setting to the events of the story.

  9. For additional thought and discussion:


A Hole in the Wind cover

A Hole in the Wind: A Climate Scientist's Bicycle Journey Across the United States by David Goodrich

About the Book: In 2011, David Goodrich rides his bike from the coast of Delaware to the coast of Oregon through gas-drilling Pennsylvania, tornado-prone Missouri, drought-ridden Kansas, and wildfire-choked Montana - to tell the story that our planet is in peril. As he pedals from town to town and from state to state, he connects the dots for us on climate change, sharing what he experiences from this ride and a few prior and subsequent treks. He also combines personal reflections with sobering facts, figures, and his own eyewitness account of climate change impacts and other’s perspectives from across much of our nation.

About the Author: Out of college David Goodrich worked briefly on a Gulf Coast drilling rig but then settled down to a scientific career, working for the U.N. Global Climate Observing System in Geneva, Switzerland and at NOAA in Silver Spring, Maryland. There, he served for many years as director of NOAA's Climate Observations and Monitoring Program and from 1998 to 1999 as the head of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Despite his late introduction to cycling, David not only rode the 26 miles round-trip from his home to his work at NOAA for many years, but he set out on a 4,200 mile Trans-america bike trek. On this ride he combined his avocation as a cyclist with his vocation as a scientist to examine climate change.

  1. You mention various authors/books, historical events, and prior travels by bike that inspired your Trans-america journey. Can you tell us about them and any other inspiration for the ride?
  2. How did the Trans-america journey and the book come about? When did you compile reflections of your journey to share the crisis of climate impacts, our lack of will of will to address it, and possible avenues for leadership with both the people you met on the rode and the larger reading public?
  3. In the preface, you mention a Thoreau quote: “Be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you….” What did you learn about yourself and your ultimate objective to learn about climate change in the US and share the climate change story on your journey? Did anything surprise you? And what would you tell others about pursuing such a quest?
  4. Your work as a NOAA scientist at sea; Director of the UN Global Climate Observing System in Geneva; head of the US Global Change Research Program; and head of NOAA’s Climate Observations and Monitoring Program gave you a front row seat to our nation’s efforts to bring scientific know how and verification about our changing climate to everyday people. In light of our failure thus far to address this big audacious challenge, where do you draw hope and avoid despair.
  5. You mention that you can’t talk about climate change without talking about energy, but you also imply that economics must be part of the discussion (i.e., conversation of farmers in Kansas; later chapter on solutions). Can you talk a little about this and what you believe is imperative to attain progress and significantly address viable solutions. What progress if any do you see at the federal, state, local, corporate, or non-profit levels?
  6. Impacts due to fossil fuel extraction and climate change are threaded throughout each chapter of the book and the geography you experience from sea level rise and coastal erosion to hydro fracking with its “mailbox money”, fires, pine bark beetle kill, hurricanes, flooding, and other weather-related extremes. What impact awakened your senses to the severity of the impacts we face to the greatest degree on your ride. What impact due to a changing climate do you feel will awaken our nation – in whole or part – due to economics, loss, quantity of people impacted, treasures we take for granted, or otherwise?
  7. You met many people along your various bike treks, some who reminded you that discussing climate change issues and impacts can be an uphill battle, even when the evidence is right before one’s eyes. Of the people you met, who will stick with you the most and why? What if anything did they teach you or did you teach them?
  8. As a nation, we’ve discussed the scientific consensus of climate change, its human-made cause, and its many impacts both now and in the future. Recently on Black Friday, the Fourth Climate Assessment Report was released – which you at one time led in 1998-99. What parallels exist between the content of your book and the report’s, and which style of communication can awaken the average US citizen to the reality of the problem?
  9. Is there one reflection/fact/action that you would choose to impress upon us from your Trans-america trek and the issue of climate change more than other reflections/facts/actions? Is there a critical message you want to leave with us?
  10. What have you done since your ride and what do you still hope to do on your bike and/or about climate change?

2017-2019 Bookclub Archive