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Nature and the Environment

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Solastalgia, Eco-anxiety and Ecological Grief (07/20)
In The Future Earth, Eric Holthaus describes having climate-related depression. Over the last two decades, we have become more attuned to the mental effects of worry about the environment. In 2003, Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the word 'solastalgia,' a variation on 'nostalgia' that draws on the connotations ...
Caddo Lake (09/20)
Caddo Lake and its surrounding wetlands cover approximately 26,000 acres on the Texas-Louisiana border. It's the only naturally-formed lake in Texas, and it's also significant for its large size and unique biodiversity. Known for natural beauty, including its trademark giant cypress trees and Spanish moss, Caddo Lake is a popular ...
Extraordinary Underground Vistas (09/20)

I am incredibly claustrophobic, so reading Robert Macfarlane's Underland didn't make me particularly inclined to follow in his footsteps. But some readers may be inspired by the places he describes so vividly and want to do a little underland exploring of their own. Many of them are so remote (or dangerous, or illegal) that they'd be ...

The Arctic Tern (09/20)
In Charlotte McConaghy's Migrations, Franny follows the migration of the Arctic tern (sterna paradisaea). McConaghy's novel is set in a fictional future in which the bird is on the brink of extinction. Currently, Arctic terns are not in danger to such a degree, as there are still more than one million of them around the world, but ...
New Hampshire's Mount Monadnock (03/20)
Looking at a photograph of Mount Monadnock, it might not appear all that imposing. But if you've seen it in person, you were probably impressed by its size. To capture a place on the page, one has to know it intimately, and it's obvious from Andrew Krivak's deep, poetic descriptions of this mountain and its surrounding environment in The ...
Colombia's Biodiversity (09/20)
Colombia is a nation with a supremely rich diversity of natural wonders. Its geography alone encompasses a dizzying array of ecosystems, such as coastal deserts, wetlands, dense tropical forests, verdant valleys and snowy mountain tops. But perhaps most impressive is the biological and botanical abundance of this South American country. ...
Mauna Loa, the World's Largest Active Volcano (07/20)
Mauna Loa comprises more than half the landmass of the Big Island, the largest in the chain of islands that make up the state of Hawaii. The world's largest active volcano, it stands at 13,678 feet above sea level but reaches an astonishing 30,000 feet from the seafloor. To put this into perspective, this makes Mauna Loa's total height ...
Bees and Honey Across the Ages (06/20)
In Christy Lefteri's novel, The Beekeeper of Aleppo, the protagonist is a Syrian refugee seeking asylum in England (See Syrian Refugees and The Human Cost of War in Post 9/11 Conflicts). The novel brings to life the heart-wrenching challenges refugees endure as they flee their home country for a better life (See The Dehumanization of ...
The Five Most Destructive Wildfires in Recorded California History (05/20)
In Fire in Paradise, authors Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano capture the devastation wrought by the Camp Fire that destroyed the community of Paradise in California on November 8, 2018. California's hot, dry and windy climate makes it particularly susceptible to wildfires. Climate change has exacerbated these conditions, raising ...
Are Chickens Smart? (04/20)
Barn 8 recounts the formulation and execution of a plan to rescue (or, depending on your viewpoint, steal) nearly one million hens from an egg farm. Interspersed with the plot are ruminations on the lives, personalities, evolution and intelligence of these animals that the author obviously regards highly. So, how smart are chickens?

A...
The Mighty Zambezi River (04/20)
One of the longest rivers in the world, the Zambezi is fed by many tributaries and flows more than 1,500 miles from the Democratic Republic of the Congo through Angola, Namibia and Botswana, then carves its way through Zambia and Zimbabwe and southeast through Mozambique, ultimately spilling into the Indian Ocean. In some places it's ...
Climate Change and Migration in the U.S. (04/20)
In John Lanchester's The Wall, protagonist Joseph Kavanagh is conscripted into military service to defend the titular wall against a breach by the 'Others.' The Others are not an invading army, however, but individuals displaced from their homes by some unnamed climate disaster. In the real world, as the effects of climate change become ...
Chimpanzee Sanctuaries (03/20)
In Mama's Last Hug, Frans de Waal details the observation of chimpanzees in places like Burgers' Zoo in the Netherlands. Chimps there enjoy a relatively peaceful existence with large enclosures mimicking their natural habitat. In the United States, a number of organizations are working to establish a similar quality of life for chimps ...
Baobab: The Tree of Life (03/20)
A prominent symbol in Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree, the mighty baobab tree sparks the imagination because of its unusual shape and longevity. Traditional Shona myth explains that the tree showed too much pride and was always whining and calling other creatures bad names, so the creator turned it upside-down as punishment, hence it ...
Forest Fire Survival (03/20)
The River sets college students Jack and Wynn in a race against a forest fire as they canoe down the Maskwa River to the Hudson Bay with little chance of rescue. In recent years there has been an uptick in the number, severity and duration of forest fires, likely due to climate change (See Escalating Wildfires in the Western U.S.), so it ...
Climate Change Podcasts (03/20)
Part of the plot of Jenny Offill's Weather involves the protagonist, Lizzie, answering questions posed by listeners to her former academic mentor's disaster-preparedness podcast, Hell and High Water. As issues surrounding climate change increasingly propel public conversation, real-world counterparts to this fictional podcast abound. Here...
Climate Change and Water Scarcity (02/20)
Alternating between two storylines set in the recent past and the very near future, Maja Lunde's The End of the Ocean is a chilling reminder of how alarmingly fast the effects of climate change can snowball out of control. In one storyline, set in 2017, Signe recounts the troubling signs already evident in her native Norway: The glaciers ...
Escalating Wildfires in the Western U.S. (01/20)
On June 5, 2013, lightning struck dead spruce trees 15 miles south of Pam Houston's ranch, sparking what would become known as West Fork Complex – one of the largest wildfires in Colorado history. West Fork Complex eventually consumed over 100,000 acres in Colorado and became one in a long and growing list of recent wildfires that ...
The Great Dismal Swamp Maroons (12/19)
A central storyline in Ta-Nehisi Coates' novel The Water Dancer focuses on slaves attempting to flee the South to the free states of the North. Many runaways had to endure long journeys on foot and unimaginable dangers along the way, including the high-risk possibility of being re-captured and returned to their owners to be severely ...
The Seine (12/19)
In her fifth book, The Seine: The River that Made Paris, New York Times foreign correspondent Elaine Sciolino explores the history of one of the world's most famous rivers and its impact on the capital of France.

The 777-kilometer-long (483 mi) river runs from its source near Dijon in northeastern France, through Paris, toward its ...
Exmoor: Now and Then (08/19)
Exmoor, England is the setting for Hazel Prior's debut novel, Ellie and the Harpmaker. Designated a national park in 1954, the 267-square-mile area is divided 70/30 between Somerset and Devon counties in the southwestern corner of the country and is home to about 10,600 people. The area's landscape is incredibly varied; its rugged ...
The Bureau of Land Management: Shifting Duties (07/19)
In Shadowlands, Anthony McCann's non-fiction account of the 2016 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge takeover, one of the occupiers' chief targets is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is responsible for the land on which the refuge sits.

The Bureau of Land Management, a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior, oversees ...
The Kodiak Bear (07/19)
In Tip of the Iceberg, author Mark Adams sets out to follow in the footsteps of Edward Harriman's 1899 expedition to Alaska. Harriman's expedition is remembered for the important scientific findings gathered by the more than 30 scientists, artists and writers who accompanied him, but for Harriman himself, the focus was primarily on ...
Cotopaxi - Ecuadorian Volcano (04/19)
Among other things, Crosley is a travel writer, and one of the most enjoyable essays in her new collection Look Alive Out There recounts her near-disastrous attempt to summit Cotopaxi, a volcano in Ecuador, more or less on a whim.

Cotopaxi, part of the Andes mountain chain, is the second-highest mountain in Ecuador (at 19,347 feet), ...
Understanding and Countering Science Denial (04/19)
According to Robert P. Crease, science denial is a personal rejection of only those specific scientific findings that conflict with an individual's political, economic or personal/religious beliefs. The Workshop and the World by Robert P. Crease looks at science denial throughout history and offers a synthesis that outlines: 1) the ...
Glaciers and Landscape (02/19)
In Grist Mill Road, readers are treated to a mini lesson in how glaciers can shape landscape. Chatter marks, cobbles, and glacial erratics are all terms we come across in the story. What are they and how does a glacier alter the landscape over the ages?

When a large and heavy object moves very very slowly it has the potential to ...
Weathering Some of the Biggest Recorded Storms Ever (02/19)
In the afterword of Winter Sisters, Robin Oliveira notes that she based the blizzard in the novel on one of the real-life deadliest blizzards in North American history, which took place in 1888. According to the Life Science website, 'More than 400 people in the Northeast died during the Great Blizzard, the worst death toll in United ...
Australia's National Parks (01/19)
In Force of Nature, a group of women on a work retreat become lost in Australia's Giralang Ranges. While the Giralangs are fictional, Australia is home to thousands of national parks and conservation reserves. According to the National Parks website; "these areas protect a huge variety of environments – from deserts to ...
Drought-resistant Crops (10/18)
In the story 'The Auroras,' in Daniel Alarcon's collection The King is Always Above the People, one of the characters is a woman who is studying drought-resistant crops.

Jill Farrant, one of the many scientists working in the field, points out that research has become even more urgent as climate change and an increase in population ...
A Snapshot of the Adirondacks (10/18)
Alison McGhee tells her story in Never Coming Back against the backdrop of the wildly varied ecosystems of New York State's Adirondack Region, located in the most northern part of the state close to the borders of Canada and Vermont.

The Adirondacks cover an area of more than six million acres - a roughly circular area about 160 miles ...
Climatology: Did You Know? (08/18)
In The Water Will Come, journalist Jeff Goodell shares climatology concepts and active research. Here are some notable concepts introduced in the book:

  • The Keeling Curve, a famous graph named after scientist Charles David Keeling, measures the increase in carbon dioxide concentration in the air since 1958; it is considered the ...

Volcanic Activity on the Canary Islands (02/18)
Floods both real (due to global warming) and figurative (tides of refugees washing ashore in the Mediterranean and elsewhere) dominate the imagery of Margaret Drabble's novel, The Dark Flood Rises. One of the most memorable discussions involves speculation about volcanic activity on the Canary Islands (where much of the novel's ...
Breathtaking Butterflies (02/18)
Night of Fire frequently references butterflies, often ethereal, almost infinite in variation, and miraculous in their metamorphosis: '...the butterfly's resurrection was different: the winged angel risen from a worm...It showed that anything could become anything.' It's as though Thubron wants to remind us time and again that we can ...
The Big Dry - Rivers and Drought in Australia (01/18)
The Big Dry was a nine-year drought experienced in Southeastern Australia from 2003 to 2012. The region suffered the most severe dry period in recorded history and assumptions made by early pioneering colonists – that there would always be wet periods in these lands – began to be questioned. The alternative, that there might be ...
Keeping Wolves as Pets in the United States (01/18)
In Helen Benedict's novel Wolf Season, a character illegally keeps pet wolves behind a fence on her upstate New York property. At first her neighbors don't believe she actually has wolves – they think it's just a rumor passed around by children – but when they realize the wolves are real they become alarmed and look for legal ...
Ambulocetus, The Walking Whale (07/17)
Zubaida Haque, the main character in Tahmima Anam's The Bones of Grace, is a marine paleontologist with a particular interest in Ambulocetus, an amphibious (able to live on land and water) cetacean (carnivorous, finned, aquatic marine mammal) that lived over 40 million years ago. Fossils of Ambulocetus are believed to show how whales...
CITES and the Dragonfish (05/17)
The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, And the World's Most Coveted Fish, by Emily Voigt, explores the wild dragon fish or Asian arowana, which is protected under CITES (pronounced sigh-tees), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. CITES is among the largest ...
Jellyfish (05/17)
In Deborah Levy's Hot Milk the main character, Sofia, spends time on the beach in Spain and is stung by jellyfish. The jellyfish, eerily beautiful yet often painful to humans, is one of a few creatures benefitting from global warming. Its numbers, which remained stable for a period, are now rising in many areas of the world.

Jellyfish...
Fascinating Facts About Orchids (05/17)
Each of the main characters in The Seed Collectors inherits a seed pod from a rare orchid, and these play a key role in the story.

People have been fascinated with orchids since the time of the Victorians, devoting much energy and resources to raising the myriad variety of these admired beauties. Between 1838 and 1910, orchid hunters ...
Zoos of the Future (04/17)
Bill Broun's debut novel, Night of the Animals, features the London Zoo - but in the future. What will zoos look like in the years to come? Animals roaming free while visitors lurk underground for a glimpse of them? Fewer elephants and more amphibians? No zoos at all?

According to various sources, including The Guardian and The ...
The Exotic Animal Trade (02/17)
One of the side plots of Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo involves a town outsider illegally dealing in dangerous exotic reptiles. He rents an inexpensive apartment and hires one of the local residents to stay there during the day in order to receive packages, often marked as 'perishable.' The boxes are stored either in a highly air-...
Flash Floods (11/16)
Flash flooding is a constant concern in The Never-Open Desert Diner.

A flash flood is a sudden release of water that inundates an area, and is differentiated from a normal flood by its duration; by definition, a flash flood lasts less than six hours. Although they can occur under a wide variety of circumstances they're especially ...
Nuclear Waste in Yucca Mountain (10/16)
In Gold Fame Citrus, the Yucca mountain, which is located in the deserts of Nevada, an hour northwest of Las Vegas, has officially become a nuclear waste depository: 'The white bullet trains come in and out thrice daily, soundless, only a slight pressing and unpressing of the air. One day the repository will be filled and it will be ...
Hoverflies as Expert Masqueraders (09/16)
In his memoir, The Fly Trap, Fredrik Sjöberg writes: 'hoverflies are meek and mild creatures, easy to collect, and ... appear in many guises. Sometimes they don't even look like flies. Some of them look like hornets, others like honeybees, parasitic ichneumon wasps, gadflies, or fragile, thin-as-thread mosquitoes so tiny that ...
A Medicine Walk (05/16)
Many cultures have a tradition of using a solitary walk to help individuals achieve their inner goals, whether it be deepening their spirituality, finding insights to problems, or helping determine a path in life. Some Native American tribes in particular, encourage adolescents to go on a 'medicine walk' to obtain inner peace and ...
Quicksand (04/16)
Though there is no literal quicksand in Steve Toltz's novel, his main character, Aldo Benjamin, is consistently trapped in a metaphorical quicksand. He struggles through many varieties of bad luck, but that classic epitome of bad luck - getting stuck in quicksand - might not spell the certain death that some think.

According to ...
The Goshawk (03/16)
In T. H. White's The Sword in the Stone (the first book in The Once and Future King series), young Arthur is transformed by his tutor, the wizard Merlyn, into a small falcon known as the merlin. In the short chapter focusing on Arthur's adventures among the raptors, he is both terrified and fascinated by the half-mad Colonel Cully, a ...
Search and Rescue Dogs (02/16)
If you've ever had a dog, you know that they are constantly using their noses to find things—crumbs on the floor, a buried bone, a chew toy kicked under the sofa, a piece of pizza under a bush in the park. Search And Rescue dogs are trained to use this natural ability to locate missing people and then to notify their handler when ...
The Skylark (01/16)
Images of birds abound in Kate Atkinson's new novel, A God in Ruins - surprising, perhaps, even the author herself: 'Just don't ask me why there are so many geese. I have absolutely no idea,' she writes in her afterword. Most indelible, though, is the image of the skylark, which Atkinson includes near the book's opening, as a young Teddy ...
Coal Mining: Basic Overview (01/16)
According to the World Coal Association, the global annual haul for hard coal is over 6000 million tons, with the top five producers being China, the United States, India, Australia and South Africa.

Coal mining is usually broken up into two categories: Surface (also known as opencast) and underground. The latter currently accounts for...
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