Thursday, February 25, 2016

Catching Up

It has been quite some time (since June 2015) that I posted anything to this blog. I was for most of that time on sabbatical, drafting a book on Indian Buddhism.  Consequently, my writing efforts were directed away from reviewing books and toward writing one.  Since coming back from the sabbatical, I have not recovered my habit of reviewing the books I read; however, my hope is to recover that habit.  To catch up, though, I merely plan to record here a number of the books that I read over that last few months.  After all, this blog is primarily a means to record for myself the books I have read. Perhaps one day, I'll return to the most important ones and provide reviews.

Powell, James Lawrence, <i>The Inquisition of Climate Science</i>, N.Y.: Columbia University Press, 2001.  This work is a brief (192 page) book describing the concerted efforts by climate change deniers to sew doubt about the fact and effects of our changing climate.  It also recounts many of the highest profile attacks on climate scientists by deniers.

Stern, Nicholas, <i>The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review</i>, Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006.  This work is a major landmark (if not the major landmark) in the literature related to the economics of climate change.  It has been criticized for employing an inordinately low discount rate, but this mainly reflects a moral judgement regarding the importance of the well-being of future generations.

Nordhaus, William, <i>The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World</i>. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2013.  The importance of this work is perhaps second only to <i>The Stern Review</i> with regard to the economics of climate change.  William Nordhaus (not be confused with his son Ted Nordhaus) is an eminent environmental economist.  His analysis of the economic consequences of climate change and climate change mitigation strategies differs somewhat from Nicholas Stern's analysis.  Nordhaus applies a higher discount rate making which has the consequence of estimating a higher relative cost for mitigating climate change and he is more sanguine regarding future generations' abilities to adapt to climate change.  Nonetheless, he strongly advocates a carbon tax and stresses the importance of acting quickly and decisively to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

Jamieson, Dale, <i>Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed -- and What It Means for Our Future</i>, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2014.  This work, by a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado.  Jamieson provides and account of how governments have failed to address climate change in a time frame adequate to preserve the kind of planet that existed prior to the industrial revolution.  He acknowledges that we live in the Anthropocene Era, viz., a geological era in which the actions of human beings are having a determining effect on the natural history of the planet.  He also provides chapters on the ethics of responding to climate change.

Medvedev, Zhores A., <i>The Rise and Fall of T.D. Lysenko</i>, I. Michael Lerner, trans., N.Y.: Columbia University Press, 1969.  This is an account of the period from 1929-1961 during which the influence of T.D. Lysenko distorted Soviet genetics and agricultural sciences.  The account is written by a Soviet scientist who had first hand experience with the internal struggles to maintain the integrity of Soviet science.

Joravsky, David, <i>The Lysenko Affair</i>, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970.  Joravsky is an American historian, emeritus professor at Northwestern University specializing in Soviet studies.  This work is recognized as among the very best accounts of the Soviet science under the influence of T.D. Lysenko.

Wood, Mary Christina, <i>Nature's Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age</i>, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, 2014.  I consider this book the best of the year.  It describes the decline of environmental regulations established by the promising environmental laws of the 1970s.  According to Wood, environmental regulatory agencies have become captured by the industries that they were designed to regulate.  Consequently, their primary role now is to approve exceptions to environmental restrictions -- essentially blessing the very damages they were designed to protect us from.  Wood argues that our best response to this is to employ trust law to require Congress and the executive branch to protect the public's interest in a livable environment.  Basic to this approach is the idea that the natural world is like a trust, with government serving as its trustee on behalf of current and future generations.

Speth, James Gustave and Peer M. Haas, <i>Global Environmental Governance</i>, Washington D.C.: Island Press, 2006.  This work provides a brief history of the international efforts to reach an agreement on how to protect the climate from anthropogenic changes.

Kolbert, Elizabeth, <i>Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change</i>, N.Y.: Bloomsbury, 2006.  This work is among the most important of several books that were published around this time on the contemporary and pending damages that climate change presents.  Ten years on, it is depressing to see how little has been accomplished to address the problems that Kolbert describes.

McKibben, Bill, <i>Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet</i>, N.Y.: N.Y.: Henry Holt and Co., 2010.  Bill McKibben may be remembered as the most important voice warning Americans about the damage that we are doing to the climate.  His work <i>Eaarth</i> asserts that our actions have already ensured that our planet will become qualitatively different from the one which has been our home.  Thus, he slightly alters the spelling of the planet's name.  His description of unavoidable changes are clear and illuminating, fully justifying his rather radical observation.  McKibben suggests ways in which we might alter our lifestyles in a way that will allow us to live "lightly, carefully, and gracefully" such that we can live reasonably well despite the terrible consequences of our past actions.

Brechin, Gray, <i>Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin</i>, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.  This work is a history of the city of San Francisco and the social, political, and particularly the environmental consequences of its development.  The story begins with the devastation produced by mining gold and clear cutting California's forests and concludes with the establishment of the academic institutions that developed nuclear weapons.  It provides an unflinching critique of the consequences of the unrestrained economic exploitation of people an nature for private gain.

Shelley, Mary, <i>The Last Man</i>, London: Henry Colburn, 1826.  This little-known novel by the author of <i>Frankenstein</i> describes in three volumes the extinction of humanity as a result of a virulent plague.  The story come to us from 1818 when visitors to a "gloomy cavern of the Cumaean Sibyl," where they find written prophecies, often of events now just past.  Among the prophesies is an account of the last man to perish in the world-wide plague.  Though set in the last decade, the world Shelley describes is little different from her own time.  It is without electricity or internal combustion engines and the struggle between monarchists and republicans is only now becoming resolved in favor of republicanism.  The first volume works primarily to introduce and develop the novel's characters.  Its story mostly concerns interpersonal relations and political ambitions.  The plague makes no appearance.  Indeed, appart from passing mention, it only appears one third of the way through the second volume.  From there the novel describes the epidemic decimation of England.  The third volume recounts the surviving remnants of the country trekking to Switzerland where they hope to find refuge from the plague.  Ultimately three survivors continue on to Rome.  The novel ends with the last man determining to sail a bark along the oceans' shores in search of another survivor.  "Thus around the shores of deserted earth, while the sun is high, and the moon waxes or wanes, angels, the spirits of the dead, and the ever-open eyeof the Supreme, will behold the tiny bark, freighted with Verney--the LAST MAN."  If the Victorians were obsessed with death, Shelley's <i>The Last Man</i> is an extreme expression of this obsession.  Not only does every character die, but the entire human race is extinguished.  The early volume is graced with the romantic prose of the time and peppered with reflections on life, love, and death, but once the plague appears, there is hardly a page in the novel which is not a meditation on mortality.