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Archive for the 'Environmental Studies' Category

Friday, March 6th, 2015

Jeffrey Sachs Discusses Sustainable Development at Columbia University

In the University Lecture (see below) delivered at Columbia University, Jeffrey Sachs, author of The Age of Sustainable Development, discusses sustainable development as an emerging scholarly discipline and as an urgent policy imperative, and describes the evolving role of universities and other social institutions in addressing these complex challenges:

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Sustainable Development and the Future of the Planet — Jeffrey Sachs

Jeffrey Sachs, The Age of Sustainable Development

“Achieving sustainable development on our crowded, unequal, and degraded planet is the most important challenge facing our generation.”—Jeffrey Sachs

In the following excerpt from the introduction to The Age of Sustainable Development, Jeffrey Sachs outlines some of the core concepts of sustainable development and the role of governments and multinational corporations:

Thus we arrive at sustainable development. As an intellectual pursuit, sus­tainable development tries to make sense of the interactions of three complex systems: the world economy, the global society, and the Earth’s physical environ­ment. How does an economy of 7.2 billion people and $90 trillion gross world output change over time? What causes economic growth? Why does poverty per­sist? What happens when billions of people are suddenly interconnected through markets, technology, finance, and social networks? How does a global society of such inequality of income, wealth, and power function? Can the poor escape their fate? Can human trust and sympathy surmount the divisions of class and power? And what happens when the world economy is on a collision course with the physical environment? Is there a way to change course, a way to combine eco­nomic development with environmental sustainability?

Sustainable development is also a normative outlook on the world, meaning that it recommends a set of goals to which the world should aspire. The world’s nations will adopt Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) precisely to help guide the future course of economic and social development on the planet. In this normative (or ethical) sense, sustainable development calls for a world in which economic progress is widespread; extreme poverty is eliminated; social trust is encouraged through policies that strengthen the community; and the environment is protected from human-induced degrada­tion. Notice that sustainable development recommends a holistic framework, in which society aims for economic, social, and environmental goals. Sometimes the following shorthand is used: SDGs call for socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth.

To achieve the economic, social, and environmental objectives of the SDGs, a fourth objective must also be achieved: good governance. Governments must carry out many core functions to enable societies to prosper. Among these core functions of government are the provision of social services such as health care and education; the provision of infrastructure such as roads, ports, and power; the protection of individuals from crime and violence; the promotion of basic sci­ence and new technologies; and the implementation of regulations to protect the environment. Of course, this list is just a brief subset of what people around the world hope for from their governments. In fact, all too often they get the reverse: corruption, war, and an absence of public services.

(more…)

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

The Nation Interviews Jeffrey Sachs

Jeffrey Sachs, The Age of Sustainable Development

“I believe that a large majority of Americans know the score right now…. They know that we should move to renewables, but the Koch brothers have more power than all of them in the way that money moves our political system right now.”—Jeffrey Sachs

Below are excerpts from a recent interview with Jeffrey Sachs published in The Nation. In the interview, Sachs discusses many of the issues from his new book The Age of Sustainable Development, including the technical and and political challenges that must be addressed to ensure the success of capping carbon emissions and paving the way for sustainable development. He also focuses on the importance of the forthcoming summit in Paris of world leaders to negotiate a binding agreement to reduce global carbon emissions.

On the importance of China and the United States working together:

“It’s a real watershed in that the two big emitting countries said we’re going to sign an agreement next year in Paris. That’s very important. The substance of it is mixed. China, for example, said it will peak by 2030. It didn’t say peak at what level, and 2030 is, after all, sixteen years from now. That offer can and should be improved considerably. The US said that it will reduce emissions by around a quarter by 2025, also not a breakthrough. And the administration said that’s what can be done using EPA regulations, rather than trying to get something through this obstructionist Senate.

So is this sufficient? No. Is it an opening gambit? I hope so. If it’s the final story before Paris, it’s not good enough. But I don’t think it will be the final story.”

On the challenges for poorer, developing countries to be green:

“Poor countries need the incremental help to develop in a clean, green and resilient way. Those who can and should pay—because they’re so rich or because they’re emitting a lot of pollutants— should put up some of the resources that are absolutely vital for poor countries. Poor countries need to be able to manage both the ongoing changes of climate and to enable the mobilization of large-scale renewable energy. Climate finance, and the broader issue of development finance, is going to be on the table in Addis Ababa in July, and there are no shared concepts yet on this. It’s one of the most difficult and still unformed parts of the whole agenda.”

On the role of oil companies:

“I think at the end of the day, the world is going to want to save itself. And this kind of traditional behavior, which after all has been the way the oil industry has worked for the hundred forty years or so of the sector, has to change. And it will change, but how fast? Tobacco use is coming down, but so gradually that there’s huge loss of life and suffering that continues decades after the dangers were discovered. With fossil fuels, it is so slow it’s threatening the planet in fundamental ways, and the whole point is we’ve got to dramatically speed up.”

(more…)

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Jeffrey Sachs Discusses “The Age of Sustainable Development” on “Morning Joe”

In the following video form Morning Joe, Jeffrey Sachs discusses a wide range of subjects, including his new book The Age of Sustainable Development, the threat of climate change, the dangers of over-population, the growing importance of infrastructure for our cities, what individuals can do regarding sustainability, and what the killing of Boris Nemtsov means for Russia:

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Book Giveaway! The Age of Sustainable Development, Jeffrey Sachs

This week our featured book is The Age of Sustainable Development, by Jeffrey D. Sachs; Foreword by Ban Ki-moon.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Age of Sustainable Development to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, March 6th at 1:00 pm.

The Age of Sustainable Development is my candidate for most important book in current circulation. Inspirational, encyclopedic in coverage, moving smoothly from discipline to discipline as though composed by multiple experts, Sachs explains why humanity must attain sustainability as its highest priority—and he outlines the best ways to do it.”—Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University

For more on the book, you can read an excerpt from the introduction:

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Smoke, Mirrors, and Hot Air: The Denial of Global Warming — James L. Powell

James Lawrence Powell, Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences

“As bad as the effects of smoking have been and will be, they pale beside the death and destruction that global warming is set to visit upon us. Will Big Oil one day find itself in the courtroom?”—James Lawrence Powell

The following is by James Lawrence Powell, author of Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth. Powell examines the persistence of the denial of global warming and the forces behind it:

Why, in spite of the undeniable scientific evidence, do so many mem­bers of the public and so many politicians fail to accept global warm­ing? Mainly for two reasons. First, for several decades, newspapers have bent over backward to present global warming as though it were the subject of a genuine debate—and not just the sensationalist press, but mainstream papers like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. When one of these papers runs an article on some new finding that supports global warming, the reporter feels compelled to add, “but some scientists disagree,” going on to quote one of the always available deniers. The reader is presented with “both sides” of an issue on which, as far as science is concerned, there is only one side. This has happened too many times to be put down to sloppy journalism. It must be the result of a policy decision made at the upper echelons of each newspaper’s decision makers.

As evidence, consider this example. In the first five months of 2010, the New York Times ran twelve prominent articles about global warm­ing. Judging from the headlines, ten were about the alleged contro­versy: “Climate Fears Turn to Doubts Among Britons” and “Skeptics Find Fault with UN Climate Panel,” for example. Only two articles were about the science of global warming, and one of them was writ­ten in such a way as to give the impression that scientists might have cooked the evidence. During 2010 the evidence for global warming was growing stronger, but from the paper whose masthead proclaims “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” readers got exactly the opposite im­pression. Television has done no better. The major network news re­ports spend less and less time on climate, leaving the field to Fox News, which has denied global warming at every opportunity.

The second reason that the public has been misled is that fossil fuel companies and conservative foundations have poured scores of mil­lions of dollars into propping up denial propaganda groups with such names as Competitive Enterprise Institute ($2,005,000), Frontiers of Freedom Institute ($1,002,000), and the Heartland Institute ($561,500). The figures are the amounts that ExxonMobil alone provided each or­ganization from 1996 through 2005. But these front groups and dozens more like them used the money to deceive the public and Congress about the true state of climate science. According to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists,

like the tobacco industry, ExxonMobil has:
Manufactured uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence.

• Adopted a strategy of information laundering by using seemingly independent front organizations to publicly further its desired message and thereby confuse the public.

Promoted scientific spokespeople who misrepresent peer-reviewed scientific findings or cherry-pick facts in their attempts to persuade the media and the public that there is still serious debate among scientists [about] global warming.

(more…)

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Mathilde Roussel’s drawings for The Philosopher’s Plant, by Michael Marder

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, for the feature’s final post, we would like to share a Pinterest board displaying Mathilde Roussel’s elegant drawings that accompany each chapter in The Philosopher’s Plant, along with a brief quote from the book explaining how each respective drawing refers to a philosopher that Marder discusses.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Follow Columbia University Press’s board Mathilde Roussel's drawings for The Philosopher's Plant, by Michael Marder on Pinterest.

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Affective Habitus, Seeds: Michael Marder on “The Sense of Seeds”

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, the final day of the feature, we are happy to share video of a lecture in which Marder “approaches the spatial and temporal meaning of seeds as the vehicles for preserving and augmenting life.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Affective Habitus, Seeds: Michael Marder on “The Sense of Seeds” from History of Emotions on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Michael Marder talks to BOMB Magazine

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from an interview BOMB Magazine conducted with Michael Marder and artist Heidi Norton. We were only able to excerpt sections from Marder’s responses here, but be sure to head over to the BOMB Magazine website to read the interview in its entirety!

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Monica Westin: I’d like to ask more about plants as a formal problem in each of your work. Michael, is there a way in which using an alternative hybrid form of writing about plants and philosophy is a deliberate choice to rethink plants as subjects, as living beings? Could there exist, whether or not you’re doing it here, a sort of “new writing” that can speak about plants better than those that we have? (I’m thinking about Irigaray’s famous work on women’s writing.) And Heidi, in describing that moment when you knew that plants were going to be central materials for you, you listed their formal properties: their adaptability, their strength, their simplicity. Can you say more about how they have posed formal issues to in your practice?

Michael Marder: Indeed, plant-thinking had to free itself from a purely theoretical approach to plants in order to explore the intersecting trajectories of living, growing beings, both human and vegetal. Some of these changes happened as I was working on The Philosopher’s Plant, where I re-narrate the history of Western philosophy through plants. In that book, each of the twelve thinkers I discuss, from Greek antiquity to the twenty-first century, is represented by a tree, flower, cereal, and so on, which was in one way or another featured in her or his thought. Each chapter begins with a biographical anecdote that puts plants on the center-stage and continues in a more theoretical key, explaining the key concepts and notions of that philosopher through vegetal processes, images, and metaphors. The idea is that plants play a much more important role in the formation of our thinking, “personality,” and life story than we realize. (more…)

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Nietzsche’s Jungle

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. In The Philosopher’s Plant, Marder takes a close look at how different forms of plant life played important roles in the work of philosophers throughout history. Today, we are happy to present a blog post crossposted from Marder’s LARB Channel adapted from Marder’s chapter on Nietzsche in The Philosopher’s Plant.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Nietzsche’s Jungle
Michael Marder

Rumor has it that Friedrich Nietzsche’s mental breakdown, from which he never recovered, began on January 3, 1889, when in broad daylight he embraced a horse that was being whipped on a street in Turin, Italy. It is, of course, tempting to see in this “mad” gesture a kind of cross-species identification of a beleaguered philosopher with an abused animal. We will never know with any degree of certainty what Nietzsche felt or thought at that precise moment. But we might surmise from his writings the common foundation of life, shared by humans, animals, and even plants. The name of this foundation is the will to power.

For Nietzsche, an attempt to understand life in all its manifestations could not afford to exclude either animals or plants from the general formula that only philosophy, rather than biology, could get at. Human, animal, and vegetal vitalities had to be viewed as variations on the same theme, namely a striving for existence. That is why roughly one year prior to his collapse in Turin, Nietzsche jotted down a question in his notebook: “For what do the trees in a jungle fight each other? For ‘happiness’?” And immediately responded: “—For power!—”[1]. Plato and his followers deduced the fact of vegetal desire from the wilting of plants that were deprived of water and therefore experienced something like thirst. Nietzsche goes further than that. His implicit conclusion is that, beneath a physical craving in all kinds of living creatures, we find a metaphysical longing for power. Or, to put it differently, for being. (more…)

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Plant Lessons, by Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, we are happy to present an article by Michael Marder and Luce Irigaray, in which they discuss the need for an “environmental pedagogy” and explain some of the lessons that plant life can teach us. The post can also be found on Michael Marder’s Los Angeles Review of Books Channel

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Plant Lessons
Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder

One crucial measure of human maturity is the way we treat our environment. A careless and destructive approach toward the world, which is usually conceived as a kind of playground for the enactment of our phantasies, is irresponsible and childish. It shows no respect for other forms of life, a lack of concern with the future, and the inability to think and to grow beyond the demands of sheer physical survival.

Historically, there has been little change in the direction of a more adult behavior toward the environment. Among other living beings, plants have been particularly mistreated as a result of this attitude because they have been thought of as infinitely malleable matter, on which human form could be stamped or imposed, generally to the detriment of their own biological life. Indeed, Aristotle, who was the first to come up with the notion matter in the West, derived it from the common Greek word for “wood.” Like plants, matter was supposed to be a passive receptacle for the form that was, in many cases, alien to vegetal life. Although Aristotle was still attentive to living forms, after him, a tree converted into a table or a bed became the preferred example of formed matter, while the self-formation of the tree itself, amenable to patient cultivation and care, was dismissed.

When it comes to respect for the environment we are still children, or even infants. More than that, we are terrible, unruly children because, for the most part, we are not open to being educated on the subject. Only punishments, in the shape of natural disasters attributable to global warming, have had some effect on human behavior, awakening in us a consciousness of the negative consequences that accompany immature environmental conduct. Still, a genuine change of attitudes is unlikely as a result of threats and punishments alone. What is sorely needed is an environmental pedagogy—not one formulated by our fellow humans, but one imparted by parts of the world we inhabit. (more…)

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Herbarium Philosophicum, by Michael Marder

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. In his prologue, Marder explains his goals in writing The Philosopher’s Plant, and briefly looks at the important role plants have played in the history of philosophical thought.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

America’s Surging Rivers — A Post by Daniel McCool

Daniel McCool, River RepublicThe following is a post by Daniel McCool, author of River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America’s Rivers:

The movement to restore America’s rivers has seen tremendous progress in the last two years. The restoration of the Elwha River is nearing completion. Two dams, Elwha and Glines Canyon, were successfully removed by the summer of 2014, and salmon are already repopulating the river. The restoration of the Elwha required more than two decades of unyielding effort by restoration “instigators” (people I profile in River Republic), and their persistence finally paid off. The Elwha will undoubtedly become a model for other large restoration projects.

Another big victory occurred when a massive hole was blasted through Condit Dam on the White Salmon River; the dramatic blast and subsequent reservoir draining can be seen in a video produced for National Geographic:

(more…)

Friday, August 29th, 2014

H. H. Shugart on Comprehending the Earth

Foundations of the Earth, H. H. Shugart

“Are we creating the intellectual environment for creative, synthetic, and revolutionary researchers that can push us across the old boundaries into new paradigms? … Sadly, the politicization and the businessification of science may be taking the intellectual and creative environment in the opposite direction.”—H. H. Shugart

Fittingly enough, we conclude our week-long focus on H. H. Shugart’s Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job with an excerpt from the book’s conclusion “Comprehending the Earth”:

We live in a time of great need to understand our planet. We have the challenge of comprehending Earth as we simultaneously change the Earth. Are we creating the intellectual environment for creative, synthetic, and revolutionary researchers that can push us across the old boundaries into new paradigms? It is a not a question of letting scientists do what scientists do. It is a question for us all. Sadly, the politicization and the businessification of science may be taking the intellectual and creative environment in the opposite direction.

The tools at our disposal for the challenges in Earth-system science would be the envy of the environmental researchers who have come before us. We have satellite systems capable of remarkable measure­ments, along with a repository of innovative new systems on the shelf. Products of several of these are shown as illustrations in this text. However, the satellite constellation of the U.S. space agency, NASA, is falling into a state of disrepair. Some of this lost capability is being replaced by the orbiting instruments developed by other nations or by international and even commercial consortia. But overall, there is a loss of capability at this critical time. The conversion from satellite data provided free to researchers of any nation by NASA to a more nationally oriented, pay-as-you-go system may have a negative effect on creative, small-budget exploratory research.

(more…)

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Can We Change the Weather? H. H. Shugart on the Peril and Promise of Geoengineering

H. H. Shugart, Foundations of the Earth

One of the issues H. H. Shugart explores in Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job is whether and to what extent should humankind should see itself as “masters of nature”.

In the chapter, “Making Weather and Influencing Climate,” Shugart looks at geoengineering, one of the ultimate examples of humans trying to master nature. He examines both the possible benefits, such as remedying global warming, and the possible dangers. Here is the conclusion to that chapter:

It is no surprise that the power to control the weather is a principal dimension of divine omnipotence. Does the sensitivity of simulations of the Earth’s climate to inadvertent human changes in the atmosphere and the planet’s surface imply that geoengineering could be effective to manifest planetary-scale changes? In other words, if we can change the climate by accident, just think what we could do if we really put our minds to it. The stakes to control the weather have always been high.

Certainly, control of weather has both tactical and strategic war-fighting implications. Choosing to fight battles under favorable condi­tions has been an aspect of warfare since time immemorial. Predict­ing these conditions is intrinsic to modern warfare. Modifying the environment to favor one military opponent over another has been deployed in the past but is currently under international injunction through treaties.

If to intensify storms, blizzards, hurricanes, and hail is the ultimate weapon, then to moderate these same calamities is the ultimate magna­nimity. Breaking or causing droughts could control the fates of regions and cultures. Simply being able to produce rain at critical times during the growth and maturation process of crop plants could determine eco­nomic success or failure of agriculture at a myriad of scales. Issues asso­ciated with the geoengineering of the Earth have parallels with these issues. One problem is to know when and how geoengineering might favor one people or one nation over another. This was a persistent con­cern with respect to the USSR’s climate modification plans. The melt­ing of the Arctic Sea was one of the preferred Soviet schemes. The possibility of this event worsening climate elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere was a worrisome consequence of this action. Ironically, at the time of writing there is a decline in Arctic Sea ice attributed to a general warming of the Arctic.

(more…)

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

H. H Shugart, author of Foundations of the Earth, takes the “Page 99 Test”

Foundations of the Earth, H. H. ShugartEarlier this summer, H. H. Shugart, author of Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job took the Page 99 Test. Taken from a Ford Maddox Ford quote, the Page 99 Test asks authors to explain how page 99 of their book reveals larger themes and ideas that shape the entire work.

Here is an excerpt from Shugart’s response:

Page 99 of Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and The Book of Job is the penultimate page of Chapter 4, “Freeing the Onager: Feral and Introduced Animals.” Foundations of the Earth poses global environmental problems in the context of a set of biblical questions, the Whirlwind Speech, found in Job: 38-40. The Joban questions initiate chapter discussions on such topics as, “Where did the solar system come from? How were animals domesticated? How do changes in the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere imply global warming? How do climate and its change alter the world’s vegetation and vice versa?” Foundations of the Earth intends to demonstrate the intrinsic connectedness of the Earth’s systems, their dynamic change and their interactions with humans using these divine questions as a framework to provide additional connectedness. The book emphasizes environmental synthesis at large scales—regional to global scales in space; century to millennia to even longer scales in time. The mutual interactions among different Earth systems provide a unity to the text, so does the framework provided by the extraordinary questions from Job.

(more…)

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Interview with H. H. Shugart, author of Foundations of the Earth

“Science is not likely to produce an ethical basis for proper conduct in cases in which strangers in distant locations are damaged by an individual’s actions involving spending resources, extirpating species, or polluting air and ocean. Help in these matters hopefully can and will come from wise religious thinkers.”—H. H. Shugart

Foundations of the Earth, H. H. ShugartThe following is an interview with H. H. Shugart, author of Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job:

Question: Science and religion are often seen as antagonistic and while you are not interested in “reconciling” the two, you have brought them together in Foundations of the Earth. How can science learn from the Book of Job, and religion more generally, in its approach to understanding some of the issues you consider in your book?

H. H.Shugart: Perhaps it’s best to answer from the specific case to the more general. The Whirlwind Questions in Job 38 to 41 begin with God’s challenge, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.’” Many of following questions, asked by God to a man, are remarkably current—How did the cosmos form? Where did the oceans come from? What happens to the light that falls upon the Earth? What controls the boundary between ocean and land? What are the consequences of the changes we made to the land through domesticated animals (and eventually machines)? … Today, these whirlwind questions are compelled by scientific observations that we are changing our planet through our actions. It is rewarding to think that some of the questions that I see as immediately important as a scientist have such deep antiquity. They reach back two and one-half millennia to the Babylonian captivity of the people of Judea and likely even deeper in time.

Religion, particularly ethics, occupies a domain that extends from knowledge of how the planet functions to the essential human issue, “If our actions are altering Earth with potential risk to the survival of our species, how can we stop ourselves?” Science is not likely to produce an ethical basis for proper conduct in cases in which strangers in distant locations are damaged by an individual’s actions involving spending resources, extirpating species, or polluting air and ocean. Help in these matters hopefully can and will come from wise religious thinkers.

Q: How can a religious understanding of the “foundations of the earth,” and the environment be deepened by the scientific approach?

HHS: The Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki or “Rashi” (France 1040-1105) distinguished what a biblical text “says” from what it “means” in his Talmudic commentaries. Rashi was a remarkable scholar and his medieval biblical insights transcend history to be read, considered and studied today. His exemplary search for meaning and the consequently deeper appreciation of religious texts is central in many religious studies. I hope that Foundations of the Earth can provide a more profound appreciation of just how powerful the questions from the whirlwind really are from a scientific viewpoint. These questions are not merely clever riddles or tricky puzzles. They challenge us to appreciate Earth from multiple scales ranging from the greatness of the Oceans to the details of migrations of tiny birds. The whirlwind questions identify complete knowledge of Earth systems as the provenance of the Divine. One can pursue these questions but never completely understand them at their fullest depth. Such pursuit of always deepening questions also is the procedural manifesto of the scientific approach.

Q: How do both the “Whirlwind Speech” and recent environmental thinking move us away from seeing humans as masters of nature and more toward understanding humans as in nature?

HHS: The Whirlwind questions and recent thinking about the environment share the view that we lack and need better knowledge of the Earth and its systems. The wisdom to use this knowledge to understand our role in nature is a common thread in both.

From the environmental point-of-view, our modern stewardship of the Earth would seem a substantial disaster. Species are being lost at alarming rates. Local-scale environmental problems involving pollution, erosion and ecosystem misuse are legion. Global systems, such as the oceans and the atmosphere, due to our profligate use of the planet’s resources, are displaying measurable change with potentially dark consequences. If we are the masters who manage the Earth, we aren’t doing a bang-up job of it.

In the Whirlwind Speech, God’s questions are edgy with comments to Job of, “ … —surely you know!”; “Declare, if you know all this,”; “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, …” etc. It is pointed out that it rains in the desert were there are no people to benefit from the water. Through the text, animals laugh at people, ignore them, or conduct their lives independent of people’s actions. The Behemoth, a gigantic semiaquatic creature, is the “first of the great acts of God” and created before man. The Leviathan is a great fire-spitting sea-dragon that thoroughly intimidates humankind. In toto, the interrogation from the whirlwind substantially deflates the notion that the world was created for the mastery of humans.

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Monday, August 25th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job

Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job

“In this engaging and illuminating primer on environmental science, world ecosystems scholar Shugart… demonstrates that science knows a lot about the questions God asked Job, questions pertaining to the birth of the universe, the taming of wild beasts, the course of the stars and heavenly bodies… and more.” — Library Journal

This week our featured book is Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job, by H. H. Shugart

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, August 29 at 1:00 pm.

H. H. Shugart, W. W. Corcoran Chair in Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, calls attention to the rich resonance between the Earth’s natural history and the workings of religious feeling, the wisdom of biblical scripture, and the arguments of Bible ethicists. Shugart offers a universal framework for recognizing and confronting the global challenges humans now face: the relationship between human technology and large-scale environmental degradation, the effect of invasive species on the integrity of ecosystems, the role of humans in generating wide biotic extinctions, and the future of our oceans and tides.

Read the introduction to Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job:

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Bangladesh, New York, and Florida after the Great Collapse of 2093

We conclude our week-long feature on The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway with three maps from 2393 that illustrate the ravages of climate change on Bangladesh, New York, and Florida. The commentary comes from a twenty-fourth century historian looking back at how twenty-first century leaders failed to react to the growing threats to the environment:

The Collapse of Western Civlization
Bangladesh Among North Americans, Bangladesh—one of the poorest nations of the world—served as an ideological battleground. Self-described “Climate Hawks” used it to levy moral demands for greenhouse gas reductions so that it would not suf­fer inundation, while so-called “Climate Realists” insisted that only economic growth powered by cheap fossil fuels would make Bangladeshis wealthy enough to save themselves. In reality, “unfettered economic growth” made a handful of Bangladeshis wealthy enough to flee. The poor were left to the floods.

The Collapse of Western Civilization, New York City
New York City in the twenty-fourth century Once the financial capital of the world, New York began in the early twenty-first century to attempt to defend its elabo­rate and expensive infrastructure against the sea. But that infrastructure had been designed and built with an expectation of constant seas and was not easily adapted to continuous, rapid rise. Like the Netherlands, New York City gradually lost its struggle. Ultimately, it proved less expensive to retreat to higher ground, abandoning centuries’ worth of capital investments.

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Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Naomi Oreskes on Why We Should Trust Scientists

In the following TED Talk, Naomi Oreskes, coauthor (with Erik M. Conway) of The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, discusses why we should trust scientists.

From the TED description:

Many of the world’s biggest problems require asking questions of scientists — but why should we believe what they say? Historian of science Naomi Oreskes thinks deeply about our relationship to belief and draws out three problems with common attitudes toward scientific inquiry — and gives her own reasoning for why we ought to trust science.