In this new series, we’re passing along must-read recommendations on key topics from BOOK CITY ★ Roanoke residents. To kick it off, longstanding civic leader Rupert Cutler offers five books on environmental stewardship.
About Rupert: Rupert’s seemingly inexhaustible civic energy has fueled the opening of Explore Park and the beginnings of both the greenway trail program and Blue Ridge Land Conservancy, our regional land trust. He’s served on Roanoke City Council, the Western Virginia Water Authority board, and the Roanoke Arts Commission. He’s a past president of the Kiwanis Club of Roanoke; he helped create a history park in Botetourt County; and he frequently writes columns for The Roanoke Times on environmental issues. He and his wife Brenda McDaniel live in downtown Roanoke.
Rupert Cutler is passionate about our community and the world around it. “Reading these books,” Rupert says, “would constitute an excellent introduction to the timely and important topic of environmental stewardship.” He’s even thrown in a bonus for us; here we get six.
1. The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humbolt’s New World by Andrea Wulf (Vintage Books edition 2016).
After a lifetime working as a professional environmentalist and keeping an eye peeled for the perfect introduction to the topic of the relationship of humans to nature, I’ve found it in this new biography of Alexander Von Humbolt. Born in Prussia in 1769 and a world traveler, Humbolt wrote books that revolutionized the way we see the natural world. Wulf says he invented the concept of the web of life, the view of nature as we know it today, a global force that does not exist for the use of humankind alone. She devotes chapters to Humbolt’s influence on Thomas Jefferson, Simon Bolivar, Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, George Perkins Marsh, and John Muir.
2. A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There by Aldo Leopold (Oxford University Press 1949, reprinted in many editions).
This book is the “bible” of wildlife biologists. It begins, “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.” Its best-known section, “Thinking Like a Mountain,” explains the role of the predator. Leopold recalls, as a young man, shooting a mother wolf: “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes.” He explains that the mountain would fear the loss of the wolf because it could lead to too many deer, over-browsing, soil loss, sedimentation of rivers, and destruction of the mountain’s ecological health. Victoria Bond, as Roanoke Symphony Orchestra conductor, composed a piece called “Thinking Like a Mountain.” I was the narrator at its premier performance in the civic center in 1994.
3. Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson (Norton, 2016).
Retired Harvard University biology professor E. O. Wilson is the leading author of science-based books on the man-caused threats to our biosphere. The Prologue of this book begins. “What is man? Storyteller, mythmaker, and destroyer of the living world.” He believes that, to stave off the mass extinction of species, including our own, we must move swiftly to preserve the biodiversity of our planet by dedicating fully half the surface of the Earth to nature. Not a doomsayer, he identifies actual spots where Earth’s biodiversity can be reclaimed. The clock is ticking; the matter is urgent.
4. The Promise of Wilderness: American Environmental Politics Since 1964 by James Morton Turner (University of Washington Press, 2012).
With Humbolt’s, Leopold’s, and Wilson’s ecological conservation views under one’s intellectual belt, the reader curious regarding specific applications of their holistic philosophy should move to books that provide examples of environmental conservation policy in action. Roanoke native James Morton Turner’s award-winning book covers this very ground. Now a professor at Wellesley College, “Jay” Turner’s doctoral dissertation evolved into this outstanding book. The democratic process of grassroots political action to effect environmental protection progress–adding roadless areas to the National Wilderness Preservation System–is described in detail.
5. Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau’s Woods by Richard B. Primack (University of Chicago Press, 2014).
No list of top environmental books today should be without one on climate change. Boston University biology professor Richard Primack discovered that Henry David Thoreau made flowering-time observations during the mid-1800s that could be used as baseline data to see how plants have changed their flowering dates over time. In Walden Warming he notes, “In 2012, blueberry bushes began to flower on April 1, six weeks earlier than in Thoreau’s time.” He found that plants, bees, and butterflies are responding strongly and in a similar way to a variable and changing climate but that migratory birds are much less responsive, meaning that “the next generation of young naturalists will find the forests and fields to be only filled with the ghosts of birds.” He concludes, “Climate change is happening now, and it is time to take action.”
If I could list a sixth book, it would go like this:
6. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005).
Richard Louv hit a nerve with this book that found a large audience with parents and teachers concerned with how today’s kids are so plugged into the internet and electronic devices. He provides insight on what this is doing to our children and good advice about how to restore the ago-old relationship between people and the rest of the planet. He prescribes new paths for reconnecting children with nature. Louv observes that nature is a potent therapy for depression, obesity, and Attention Deficit Disorder and that environment-based education improves standardized test scores and grade point averages and develops skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making. Movingly, he says that the times he spent with his children in nature are among his most meaningful memories. I have the same memories, and many others do as well, I’m sure.
BCR: Thanks, Rupe. Those early experiences can start a lifetime habit. And you’re right: this is an important and timely topic, and that last title is one with specific steps that we can take to shape the next generation of stewards. I’d hate to omit it!
Have five books to share on a topic you’re passionate about? Contact us below. ★