About

Twitter

Facebook

CUP Web site

RSS Feed

New Books

Author Interviews

Author Events

Keep track of new CUP book releases:
e-newsletters

For media inquiries, please contact our
publicity department

CUP Authors Blogs and Sites

American Society of Magazine Editors

Roy Harris / Pulitzer's Gold

Natalie Berkowitz / Winealicious

Leonard Cassuto

Mike Chasar / Poetry and Popular Culture

Erica Chenoweth / "Rational Insurgent"

Juan Cole

Jenny Davidson / "Light Reading"

Faisal Devji

William Duggan

James Fleming / Atmosphere: Air, Weather, and Climate History Blog

David Harvey

Paul Harvey / "Religion in American History"

Bruce Hoffman

Alexander Huang

David K. Hurst / The New Ecology of Leadership

Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh

Geoffrey Kabat / "Hyping Health Risks"

Grzegorz W. Kolodko / "Truth, Errors, and Lies"

Jerelle Kraus

Julia Kristeva

Michael LaSala / Gay and Lesbian Well-Being (Psychology Today)

David Leibow / The College Shrink

Marc Lynch / "Abu Aardvark"

S. J. Marshall

Michael Mauboussin

Noelle McAfee

The Measure of America

Philip Napoli / Audience Evolution

Paul Offit

Frederick Douglass Opie / Food as a Lens

Jeffrey Perry

Mari Ruti / The Juicy Bits

Marian Ronan

Michael Sledge

Jacqueline Stevens / States without Nations

Ted Striphas / The Late Age of Print

Charles Strozier / 9/11 after Ten Years

Hervé This

Alan Wallace

James Igoe Walsh / Back Channels

Xiaoming Wang

Santiago Zabala

Press Blogs

AAUP

University of Akron

University of Alberta

American Management Association

Baylor University

Beacon Broadside

University of California

Cambridge University Press

University of Chicago

Cork University

Duke University

University of Florida

Fordham University Press

Georgetown University

University of Georgia

Harvard University

Harvard Educational Publishing Group

University of Hawaii

Hyperbole Books

University of Illinois

Island Press

Indiana University

Johns Hopkins University

University of Kentucky

Louisiana State University

McGill-Queens University Press

Mercer University

University of Michigan

University of Minnesota

Minnesota Historical Society

University of Mississippi

University of Missouri

MIT

University of Nebraska

University Press of New England

University of North Carolina

University Press of North Georgia

NYU / From the Square

University of Oklahoma

Oregon State University

University of Ottawa

Oxford University

Penn State University

University of Pennsylvania

Princeton University

Stanford University

University of Sydney

University of Syracuse

Temple University

University of Texas

Texas A&M University

University of Toronto

University of Virginia

Wilfrid Laurier University

Yale University

Archive for the 'Science' Category

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Why Do We Overeat at Thanksgiving?

Neurogastronomy

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, we are examining one of the darker traditions of the holiday: overeating. Sure, the food is delicious and plentiful, but we should know better. Are there scientific factors that can explain why we stuff ourselves every Thanksgiving?

The following is an excerpt from Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters, by Gordon Shepherd. In this excerpt, Shepherd begins by taking a close look at fast food and then moves on to some of the neurological reasons for why we overeat at Thanksgiving and other times of the year.

Monday, November 21st, 2016

They Said It Couldn’t Be Done! How to Cook Your Thanksgiving Turkey in the Dishwasher

Turkey

“Use the dishwasher! For the next holiday meal, I recommend that you prepare two turkeys. Cook one in the dishwasher, in a plastic bag, for several cycles of your machine.”—Herve This

With Thanksgiving just a couple of days away, we thought we provide some more practical (or somewhat practical) advice on cooking a turkey from none other than Hervé This, author of several books that explore the coming together of food and science to develop new ways of thinking about cooking, flavor, taste, and how we eat.

In an interview with Nature, This suggested the dishwasher as a possible cooking method:

Q: Another professional technique is to cook food for long periods at low temperatures in a vacuum-sealed bag. How might a home chef emulate this ‘sous-vide’ method?

Herve This: Use the dishwasher! For the next holiday meal, I recommend that you prepare two turkeys. Cook one in the dishwasher, in a plastic bag, for several cycles of your machine. In this way, you can get low temperatures. Butterfly the other turkey and cook it on the grill, creating the maximum expanse of delicious crispy skin. Then serve the moist, flavourful meat from the dishwasher turkey with the grilled skin. A good accompaniment would be foie gras, also cooked in the dishwasher at low temperature.

Now for those not comfortable with Maytag cuisine, here is an excerpt from Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Cooking, also by Hervé This, on the science of roasting a turkey:

Since it is juicy, tender meat that we want, it is clear why there is no question of opening the oven while the meat is roasting. The water vapor that is released in a limited quantity could escape and then be replaced by the vaporization of a certain quantity of the juices. Opening the oven dries out the turkey. Neither, however, should one humidify the oven before putting the turkey in. In the presence of too much water, the surface water cannot evaporate, and the skin will not get crispy.

Having thus resolved the problem of the surface, the serious problem of tenderness within remains. We cannot disappoint our guests, who fear the pro­verbial dryness of the turkey.

Since tenderness results necessarily from the deterioration of the connec­tive tissue, let us consider this tissue. It principally contains three kinds of pro­teins: collagen, already discussed many times, reticulin, and elastin. Neither reticulin or elastin are notably altered by the heat of the oven, but the triple helixes of the collagen molecules can be broken up and form gelatin, which is soft when it is in water, as we all know.

Calculating the cooking time requires some skill, because the denaturation of the collagen and the coagulation of the muscle proteins (actin and myosin, mainly) take place at different temperatures and different speeds in the different parts of the turkey. It is necessary to know that the temperature of 70° (158°F) is essential for transforming the collagen into gelatin and tenderizing the mus­cles. But the longer the turkey remains at a high temperature, the more water it loses and the more its proteins risk coagulating. The optimal cooking time, consequently, is the minimum time it takes to attain the temperature of 70°C (158°F) at the center of the turkey.

(more…)

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles on Why We Can’t Ignore Science — An Excerpt from “The Madhouse Effect”

We conclude our week-long feature on The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics and Driving Us Crazy, by Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles, by excerpting the first chapter “Science: How It Works.” As Mann, through his words, and Toles, through his cartoons, articulate, we live in an era of misinformation in which the value of scientific evidence cannot be ignored. To do so risks environmental destruction. As the authors write:

“So we should have our fullest respect for the scientific framework behind the proposition that the burning of fossil fuels and other activities are changing Earth’s climate. The evidence is overwhelming, and is has only increased in strength and consistency over time—the hallmark of a compelling scientific framework … Well, we ignored the science, and we avoided the sensible choices that were before us. And now we are already paying the price. Time is no longer on our side. Let’s use time we have more wisely.”

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

Tom Toles’s Drawings from “The Madhouse Effect”

While climate change is hardly a laughing matter, the drawings from the Pulitzer-winning cartoonist, Tom Toles, brilliantly uses satire and humor to shed a new light on the efforts of denialists to refute scientific evidence. The following are some of his work feature in the book he co-authored with Michael Mann, The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy:

Tom Toles, Madhouse Effect

Tom Toles, Madhouse Effect

Tom Toles, Madhouse Effect

Tom Toles, Madhouse Effect

Tom Toles, Madhouse Effect

Tom Toles, Madhouse Effect

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

Video: Michael Mann Discusses “The Madhouse Effect”

In the following video, Michael Mann discusses The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, which includes illustrations from Tom Toles, the editorial cartoonist for The Washington Post. Mann explains how Toles’s cartoons uses humor, irony, and satire to expose the hypocrisies of climate change deniers. While Mann criticizes the pseudoscience of those who deny climate change as well as the way they have politicized the issue, he also argues that with new agreements and awareness, we are beginning to turn a corner.

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

Michael Mann and Tom Toles Name 9 Prominent Climate Change Deniers

The Madhouse Effect

“Yet we have a Republican presidential nominee who has repeatedly called climate change a ‘hoax.’ ‘Perhaps there’s a minor effect,’ Donald Trump told The Washington Post’s editorial board, ‘but I’m not a big believer in man-made climate change.’ So it goes in the madhouse of the climate debate. Even as the evidence has become unmistakable, and even though the alarm has been sounded several times, public policy has been paralyzed—sometimes from ignorance, sometimes from uncertainty, but often from a campaign of deliberate misinformation.”—Michael Mann and Tom Toles

Michael Mann and Tom Toles’s The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy examines and seeks to refute those who manipulate scientific data and the media to deny the truth about climate change.

In a recent piece for The Washington Post, Mann and Toles name 9 prominent deniers “clouding the climate change debate.” In addition to naming the figures, Toles and Mann also provide a quote from each that encapsulates their view on climate change:

1. Donald Trump, politician and businessman: “Perhaps there’s a minor effect but I’m not a big believer in man-made climate change.”

2. S. Fred Singer, founder of think tank, the Science and Environmental Policy Project: “Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. On the contrary, it makes crops and forests grow faster.”

3. Steve Milloy, lawyer and commentator for Fox News: “We don’t agree . . . that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases are having either detectable or predictable effects on climate.”

4. Marc Morano, former communications director for James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.): “[Climate scientists] deserve to be publicly flogged.”

5. Joe Barton, Republican congressman from Texas and a former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee: “The science is not settled, and the science is actually going the other way. . . . We may in fact be going into a cooling period.”

6. Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska: ““Climate science is to this century what eugenics was to the last century.”

7. Rupert Murdoch, founder and head of News Corporation: ““Climate change has been going on as long as the planet is here. There will always be a little bit of it. We can’t stop it.”

8. David and Charles Koch, head of Koch Industries, ““Climate does fluctuate. It goes from hot to cold. We have ice ages.” — David Koch

9. Bjorn Lomborg, author and adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School: “On average, global warming is not going to harm the developing world.”

Monday, October 17th, 2016

Book Giveaway! “The Madhouse Effect,” by Michael Mann and Tom Toles

This week we are very excited to be featuring The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, by Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles.

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 Madhouse Effect 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, October 21 at 1:00 pm.

The book has already won praise from everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio to Naomi Oreskes. Bill McKibben writes:

Michael Mann is one of the planet’s great climate scientists, and Tom Toles may be the great climate communicator–together they are a Category 5 storm of information and indignation, wreaking humorous havoc on those who would deny the greatest challenge humans have ever faced.

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Eric Kandel on Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko

In the following excerpt from his new book Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures, Eric Kandel examines the power of Rothko’s painting and his transformation from a figurative to an abstract painter. In describing Rothko’s abstract paintings for the Rothko Chapel, Kandel writes:

The sensation is both ambiguous and remarkable, and it affords us an opportunity to create new meaning. Moreover, the harmony among the beautifully displayed paintings in the chapel—a harmony that characterizes Rothko’s late work—is striking. None of Rothko’s figurative paintings are remotely capable of evoking as emotionally rich and varied, as spiritual, a response as these reductionist dark canvases.

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

This is Your Brain on Jackson Pollock — Eric Kandel on Art

“We understand how visual information is processed and things like this. And we understand where pleasure centers are, and how they interact with that. We know where memory centers are. But the details of perception of art, we’re just beginning to explore.”—Eric Kandel

Earlier this month, Eric Kandel, appeared on Science Friday to talk about his new book, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures. In the interview, Kandel describes what we can learn about the brain by looking at the work of Abstract Expressionists. These twentieth-century painters boiled visual art down to a few fundamental components—line, color, form, light, and texture. Our neural circuitry is hardwired to prefer images we can identify, which makes abstract forms more difficult to process. At the same time, abstract forms leave the door open to interpretation, stimulating the higher-level areas of the brain responsible for creativity and imagination.

Here is a short excerpt from the interview in which Kandel describes some of the pleasures of viewing the work of J. M. W. Turner. You can listen to the entire interview below:

IRA FLATOW: And it seems like in your book, you point to how the artists themselves evolved from one form of art to the other.

ERIC KANDEL: Amazing.

IRA FLATOW: Give me your favorite example.

ERIC KANDEL: Take Turner. I show two wonderful images of Turner. Now, this we’re talking about the 1800s, early painting around 1815, 1820. He shows one of his most favorite themes, a ship fighting the force of nature at sea. It’s rocking and rolling–

IRA FLATOW: It’s a real ship. It looks like a ship, a classic ship.

ERIC KANDEL: And you see the elements. You see the rain coming down. You see the moon. You see absolutely everything. He comes back to the same theme 50 years later. And it’s very abstract. You don’t see the details very clearly at all, but the effect on me is even stronger.

IRA FLATOW: Because you’re filling in those spots with your life experience.

ERIC KANDEL: And that’s so satisfying. Getting your own mind involved is a very satisfying activity. The more you become engrossed in something, the more you can use your own thought processes. For most people, the more enjoyable it becomes.

IRA FLATOW: Can you, as a scientist, see the mind doing that, understand how it fills in, brings life experiences?

ERIC KANDEL: Not really. Our understanding of brain science has progressed tremendously in the last 100 years. Even in my academic lifetime, 50, 60 years. But we’re at the beginning of understanding this enormously complicated problem. We understand how visual information is processed and things like this. And we understand where pleasure centers are, and how they interact with that. We know where memory centers are. But the details of perception of art, we’re just beginning to explore.

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Eric Kandel on “What Is Art For?”

In the following talk, “What Is Art For,” Eric Kandel discusses some of the ideas central to his new book, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures

Monday, September 26th, 2016

Book Giveaway! “Reductionism in Art and Brain Science,” by Eric Kandel

This week our featured book is Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures, by Eric R. Kandel.

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 Reductionism in Art and Brain Science 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, September 30th at 1:00 pm.

Joseph LeDoux, author of Anxious: Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety, writes, “Eric R. Kandel seamlessly moves between the intricacies of science and art, weaving their histories into a common narrative that illuminates both fields and shows they have more in common than is often assumed. It is a fun and informative read that anyone with a curious mind can enjoy and learn from.”

For more on the book, you can read the book’s introduction:

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

What Mountain Gorillas Can Teach Us About Gendered Behaviors

Not So Different

“Beginning in the 1990s, something unexpected happened. Some younger males stopped leaving their groups and the basic harem social structure fundamentally shifted for about one-fourth of the park’s mountain gorilla population. Instead of groups with one, or occasionally two adult males, scientists began observing very large groups including several adult males and females living together in relative harmony.” — Nathan H. Lents

This week, our featured book is Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals, by Nathan H. Lents. Today, we have crossposted an excerpt from an article that Lents and Stacy Rosenbaum originally posted on The Human Evolution Blog.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Not So Different!

What Mountain Gorillas Can Teach Us About Gendered Behaviors
By Nathan H. Lents and Stacy Rosenbaum

Huge swathes of central Africa’s rainforests remain unexplored by western science, but the forests of Virunga National Park have been the object of intense scientific scrutiny since George Schaller and Dian Fossey began their pioneering work there in the 1950s. Since 1967, the population of mountain gorillas in Virunga have been the subject of continuous scientific monitoring, numerous documentaries, and the Oscar-nominated biopic, Gorillas in the Mist.

Much of what we know about the ecology and social behavior of gorillas stems from the constant observation of the Virunga mountain gorillas. Many common primate behaviors were first discovered in this population, including male contest competition – when males fight for access to females over whom they maintain exclusive mating rights; sexually selected infanticide – when males kill other males’ infants in order to bring females into heat and redirect their maternal attention on future children; and scramble feeding competition – reliance on food sources that are not monopolizable, which minimizes the utility of female dominance hierarchies.

Gorillas display substantial sexual dimorphism. Specifically, the males are more than twice as large as the females and powerfully built. This underscores their evolutionary legacy of male contest competition and polygyny. Indeed, gorillas were long thought to exist almost exclusively in harems, small multi-female groups led by one powerful silverback. Eating mostly leafy greens and seasonal fruit, the herculean strength and sharp canine teeth of silverbacks are used only for fighting each other. Typically, young males leave their birth group upon reaching adulthood and go through a solitary period before attempting to take over a harem or start a group of their own. Most are not successful. (more…)

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals

Not So Different

“Once you strip away the cultural and psychological aspects of our emotions and behaviors and examine them through the cold hard lens of Darwinian fitness, you see that our “advanced cognitive powers” are really a smoke screen clouding very simple behavioral programs that we share with our fellow primates.” — Nathan H. Lents.

This week, our featured book is Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals, by Nathan H. Lents. Today, we are happy to present the books introduction, in which Lents lays out his project and explains what he hopes to achieve.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Not So Different!

Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals
By Nathan H. Lents

Both the title and the cover photo of this book are something of a head fake. You’re probably thinking that the book is all about animal behavior. But it’s not, except that it is. Let me explain.

The questions that drove me to write this book are: Why do we humans act the way that we act? Why do we build the societies the way that we do? Are we evolved to behave this way? (more…)

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

Emotions, Drives, and the Brain

Not So Different

“In this book, I discuss experiments that have revealed features of animal behavior that are strikingly similar to human behavior. These similarities, as far as I can tell, can only be explained by acknowledging that human and animal brains run some of the same behavioral programs.” — Nathan H. Lents.

This week, our featured book is Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals, by Nathan H. Lents. Today, we are happy to present the books introduction, in which Lents lays out his project and explains what he hopes to achieve.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Not So Different!

Monday, July 25th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals

Not So Different

Not So Different lucidly and entertainingly reminds us just how much of us there is in other mammals and vertebrates—and how much of them there is in us. You may never think of yourself in quite the same way again.” — Ian Tattersall, American Museum of Natural History

This week, our featured book is Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals, by Nathan H. Lents. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Not So Different. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, July 29th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

The Sierra Club as Book Publisher — An Excerpt from The Man Who Built the Sierra Club

The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower, Robert Wyss

“Brower was now the darling of publishing, the upstart who had proven that the commercial publishers were wrong. He had created a new genre, an expensive, sprawling book that openly touted an environmental message.”—Robert Wyss, The Man Who Built the Sierra Club

In the late 1950s David Brower wanted to produce a book of Ansel Adams photographs celebrating nature. It would be a big, slick, oversized book of very high quality. But commercial book publishers scoffed at the proposed book, saying it was too expensive and it would never sell. Brower convinced the Sierra Club to assume the risks and thus was born the first in a series of what were called Exhibit Format books. Brower edited or oversaw virtually all of the books, which were wildly successful and changed both the club, and publishing.

Today we excerpt from The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A life of David Brower, the story behind one of the early books published by Eliot Porter.

In 1950 Eliot Porter’s wife suggested that Porter do a book on Henry David Thoreau. “Your pictures remind me so much of him,” she told Porter. “They show his Walden as it is.” No one was more qualified than Porter, who ten years earlier had given up a career in medicine and research at Harvard to take photographs of nature.

What catapulted Porter’s reputation, bringing Brower and the Sierra Club books along for the ride, was the color Porter could achieve. His chemistry background enabled him in his own darkroom to experiment with Eastman Kodak Company’s new Kodachrome film at a time when other photographers shunned it. Porter spent years experimenting, but the result was clear, crisp color transparencies that dazzled. They pushed Porter to the forefront of photography as the popularity of color surged and that of black and white waned.

It took Porter ten years to finish the Thoreau book, and the expense of printing it scared publishers until it got to Brower. The beauty of the proposed book overwhelmed Brower, and he told Porter in a letter in February 1961 that he would be willing to begin a life of crime to pay for its publication. He knew he would need lots of cash to undertake the book and he finally convinced a local businessman, Kenneth Bechtel to provide $50,000 in loans and grants to subsidize the book. Bechtel was an interesting choice. His family owned an engineering and construction company based in San Francisco that was best known for building oil refineries, power plants, and facilities. In later years Brower would rail against such projects.

The next challenge was to find a printer capable of reproducing Porter’s superb color photographs. It took months before Barnes Press of New York passed muster on the samples it showed to Brower and Porter. Barnes needed to produce ten thousand copies of Porter’s seventy-two color prints and to get the four colors to balance and register on the presses. The firm used a sixteen-plate form, with four rows of four, each of a different photographic image. The yellows, reds, blues, and blacks had to be matched perfectly in trial runs, with paper spewing off the presses. These experimental runs took an inordinate amount of time and often forced another trial. Brower recalled one evening when he stayed to supervise, while Porter and the owner of the press, Hugh Barnes, went to dinner around seven. Barnes returned at nine. Brower stayed until eleven and returned to his hotel. Porter, who had slept after dinner, returned at one and stayed until dawn. This kind of pattern was not unusual at Barnes, and Brower’s journal for years in the 1960s was filled with entries of his returning to the printing company at odd hours of the day or night.

Finally, on a day in August 1962, Brower, Porter, Barnes, and others gathered around press number 3 and watched the first 2,500 sheets roar off the presses. The men examined them at a table, using lenses carefully.

They were excellent, recalled Brower, but they were not perfect.

Hugh Barnes agreed. “How about it, Dave, shall we throw out the first 2,500 sheets, and will you go fifty-fifty with me on the cost of the paper?”

How much would that cost? Barnes said $200 for each of them. For Brower, that was equal to the amount of dues the club got in a year from twenty-five members, but he agreed.

Barnes returned a few minutes later. “You did the right thing,” he said. “Now they (the Barnes workers) really know that this is a fussy job.”

Even though this book would be sold at an incredibly expensive $25 (the equivalent of nearly $200 fifty years later), the first five thousand books of In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World quickly sold out, as did the next nine reprints. Critics praised the book. “Only a bold photographer could try to capture Thoreau’s vision again and again. But Mr. Porter succeeds triumphantly,” declared the Christian Science Monitor.

In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World, Eliot Porter

(more…)

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

An Interview with Robert Wyss, author of “The Man Who Built the Sierra Club”

The Man Who Built the Sierra Club, Robert Wyss

“[David] Brower was a true bellwether, a man ahead of his time.”—Robert Wyss

The following is an interview with Robert Wyss, author of The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower:

Question: What was the status of the environmental movement when David Brower began as the head of the Sierra Club in 1953?

Robert Wyss: Weak. It was called the conservation movement and there was a plethora of volunteer organizations from (women’s) garden clubs to professional science organizations to a very few broad based groups like Audubon. But only a handful employed even a single full-time employee. Brower was the first at the Sierra Club. Washington D.C. was also far smaller in those days so it was possible for either prominent volunteers of these organizations (or their paid directors) to meet and have personal relationships with people who headed the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. But they had very little clout in Congress. In contrast, a little known agency such as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for decades made massive changes in America’s landscape by erecting these massive dams. Dams created jobs and both voters and Congress appreciated those federal dam builders.

Q: How did Brower’s approach to environmental conservation differ from others?

RW: Brower was absolutely fearless. While his colleagues refused to directly challenge the Bureau of Reclamation, Brower took them on and soon he was also criticizing the Forest Service and even those who should have been his friends running the national parks. The incident that first began to build Brower’s national reputation occurred during the fight to oppose the construction of two dams in Dinosaur National Monument. Reclamation officials had made a very basic math mistake in their calculations to justify the dams but it dealt with an arcane issue few understood. Engineers told Brower that while the mistake was obvious, it would be foolhardy to confront Reclamation. No one would believe the dam builders made such a mistake. Brower ignored the advice, he publicly confronted the Bureau in a Congressional hearing, and ultimately Reclamation engineers backed down. Such reckless, plucky daring can be found throughout Brower’s career.

Q: How did he change the Sierra Club from the mission set by John Muir?

RW: John Muir founded the club in 1892 to encourage his friends in the greater San Francisco area to hike and camp in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Muir was a pretty radical conservationist for his era, but after he died in 1914 the club became politically conservative. It was a California-based hiking and social club that preferred to work through gentlemanly channels to protect natural resources. That was changing after World War II when a new, younger board of directors hired Brower. Brower expanded the club’s focus nationally and it became increasingly confrontational. Older members were immediately uncomfortable with this approach and as Brower (over the years) became more radical he began to lose the support that would contribute to his firing in 1969. But in many respects Brower was only following in the footsteps of Muir. They both strongly believed in protecting natural resources over anything else.

(more…)

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

Developers Don’t Get It: Climate Change Means We Need to Retreat from the Coast

Retreat from a Rising Sea

“It is time for a profound new outlook—where we construct smaller, less expensive and perhaps mobile structures and do not replace buildings destroyed and damaged in storms. It is time we prepare to retreat from the rising sea.”—Orrin H Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C Pilkey

Earlier this year in an incisive and impassioned op-ed published in The Guardian, Orrin H Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis and Keith C Pilkey, authors of Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change, pointed out the continued folly of developing in coastal areas. 13.1 million people along the U.S. east coast will be at risk of flooding at the end of the century. While such statistics suggest the need to retreat from coastal areas, development continues.

Particularly vulnerable is the Florida coast where multibillion-dollar construction projects are underway. The Pilkeys cite several cities heading down the wrong path, including Miami:

In Miami, a city perilously perched atop a very porous limestone, two multibillion-dollar construction projects are under way, despite the fact that parts of the city routinely flood during high tides and that widespread flooding by the rising sea in a few decades is a virtual certainty. No sea walls, levees or dikes can stop the rising waters from flowing through the underlying spongy limestone and into the city. Miami is ultimately doomed.

Ft. Myers is also adding new hotels and restaurants to its coast using seawalls in the hopes of protecting them from flooding. The authors provide some succinct and much-needed advice on why that’s a bad idea:

If you need to build a seawall to protect your construction project, you should not be building at that site. Remember – seawalls destroy beaches.

(more…)

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

Is New York City Prepared for Climate Change? — An Excerpt from Retreat from a Rising Sea

Retreat from a Rising Sea

“New York’s poststorm actions show at this point, the city is best situated to respond to the challenges it faces from climate change and sea-level rise (while also revealing that we are in only the earliest stages of the response).” — From Retreat from a Rising Sea

In the following excerpt from Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change, Orrin H. Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C. Pilkey examine the state to which New York City is ready to handle climate change. As they write (see above), New York City is perhaps the best-prepared of all U.S. cities for future threats to coastal areas. While the authors praise former Mayor Bloomberg for the City’s preparedness and response to Hurricane Sandy, there is still much work to be done in terms of planning and the recognition that the New York City might need to “retreat” from the coast.

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

Orrin Pilkey on the Costs of Ignoring the Rising Sea

Retreat from a Rising Sea

“We can prepare now and respond to the sea-level rise in a planned fashion, or we can act later in response to natural catastrophes (storms). Responding to the rising sea now will be painful, but ignoring the rising sea will produce catastrophic pain.” — Orrin Pilkey

Now that summer is officially here, many of us will undoubtedly be heading to the beach. However, as Orrin Pilkey points out in a recent op-ed in the Fayetteville Observer, many of our coastal areas are in serious danger. Ignoring these problems and continuing to develop these areas, Pilkey warns, will have serious and long-lasting consequences.

Pilkey is most recently the coauthor with Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C. Pilkey of Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change, which examines a variety of coastal areas in danger. In his article for the Fayetteville Observer, “Why N.C. can’t ignore the rising sea,” he focuses on North Carolina’s failure to take any action at all:

In spite of these alarming suggestions, North Carolina has taken virtually no action or done any planning for response to the future sea-level rise. It’s fair to say, viewing the action of the Coastal Resources Commission and other environmental agencies, that the state’s coastal management program has crashed.

The science panel of the CRC was ordered to produce a report on the sea-level rise expected only for the next 30 years. Frank Gorham, CRC chairman, has written that the science panel itself chose that 30-year number, but that is incorrect. The 30-year time limit was a political decision forced upon the science panel to avoid comment on the post 30-year time frame when sea-level rise is expected to accelerate.

The short 30-year time span is out of sync with all other government entities concerned with sea-level rise in the U.S. and globally. By comparison, the UN’s climate change panel (IPCC) looks out 100 years, Holland plans out 200 years and has designed its storm gates for a 10,000-year storm (a bit of a stretch), and Germany looks out 500 years.

In the United States, North Carolina stands alone in doing basically nothing of consequence in sea-level rise planning and even discourages state employees from mentioning global climate change. New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia are planning, as well as taking baby steps, in an effort to start responding to sea-level rise. These states recognize the huge implications of the rising sea on developed shorelines.

Instead, the response of North Carolina has been to hold the shoreline in place at great cost and even encourage further development. The recent projected sea-level rise virtually dooms much of North Carolina’s beachfront development by this century’s end, especially the Outer Banks.

In even more danger from the rising sea is the northeastern corner of the state behind the Outer Banks. Here, the slope of the land is so gentle that a one-foot sea-level rise could push the water inland four miles or more.

(more…)