Convincing, painful, and a long shot—but better than the alternative.

THE GREEN NEW DEAL AND BEYOND

ENDING THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY WHILE WE STILL CAN

A strictly science-based plan for effectively addressing the dire realities of climate change.

Geneticist and science writer Cox begins with bad news, although good news is rarely in evidence. Earth’s average temperature is now 2.2 degrees higher than in the pre–fossil fuel era. This may sound trivial, but it is anything but. A rise of another half degree will produce widespread human suffering, but we are on course for a catastrophic nearly 6 degree rise by 2100. Activists advocate the Green New Deal plan that cuts carbon emissions to zero through transition to an economy running on non-fossil energy. After expressing admiration, Cox adds that it won’t work. As he writes, the assumption that “renewable energy coming on line each year will be matched by an equivalent amount of coal-, oil-, or gas-fired capacity going off line” is wrong. So far, it’s mostly added to the total energy pool. It’s imperative that we stop using fossil fuels and ditch our obsessions with economic growth, new technology, and quick-fix (and ineffective), market-oriented approaches such as carbon taxes. Cox proposes to ban all mining and extraction, possibly after nationalizing the fossil fuel industries. More realistic than the average activist, he points out that clean sources can’t replace these in the foreseeable future, so the world will have to get along with less energy. Since the poor benefit under the Green New Deal, the burden will fall on the wealthy and upper middle classes, whose standard of living may drop to that of Denmark or Switzerland, nations that use half the energy of the U.S. Cox’s audience, deeply worried about global warming, may protest that his prescriptions seem unrealistic as well as political poison. Anticipating this, he delivers a blunt rebuttal: “Weaning ourselves off high levels of energy use now is good practice for a future in which a weaning is going to happen, like it or not.”

Convincing, painful, and a long shot—but better than the alternative.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-87286-806-9

Page Count: 200

Publisher: City Lights

Review Posted Online: April 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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Exemplary writing about the intersection of the animal and human worlds.

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VESPER FLIGHTS

Falconer and writer Macdonald follows on elegant memoir H Is for Hawk (2015) with a set of essays on nature.

“I choose to think that my subject is love,” writes the author at the beginning, “and most specifically love for the glittering world of non-human life around us.” Love sometimes turns to lamentation as she notes how much of the natural world has been destroyed in her lifetime. There are some particularly wonderful moments in this altogether memorable collection, as when Macdonald recounts retreating from a shy girlhood, teased and even bullied by her schoolmates, with the aid of binoculars and field guides that allowed her to escape into a different, better world: “This method of finding refuge from difficulty was an abiding feature of my childhood.” Later in that passage, she continues, “when I was a child I’d assumed animals were just like me. Later I thought I could escape myself by pretending I was an animal. Both were founded on the same mistake. For the deepest lesson animals have taught me is how easily and unconsciously we see other lives as mirrors of our own.” The author also recounts her treks looking for wild boars, the descendants of once-domesticated pigs that are now not quite like pigs at all, having reclaimed ancestral fierceness. Macdonald allows that while her encounters with such creatures are eminently real, she’s fully open to the possibilities of symbolic encounter as well. Anthropomorphism may be a sin among biologists, but as long as it doesn’t go to silly lengths, she’s not above decorating a nest box—and those decorations, she writes in a perceptive piece, are as class-inflected as anything else in class-conscious Britain. Perhaps the finest piece is also the most sobering, a reflection on the disappearance of spring, “increasingly a short flash of sudden warmth before summer, hardly a season at all.”

Exemplary writing about the intersection of the animal and human worlds.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2881-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: April 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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