A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

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Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) was a philosopher. Though an accomplished scientist and expert in wildlife management, his greatest contribution to the environmentalism movement has been philosophical or moral in nature. He is widely considered one of the most influential environmentalists of all time, right up there with Rachel Carson, whom he predates. His great reputation and influence belies the fact that it rests primarily on one book, the slim, artful A Sand County Almanac.

First published posthumously in 1949 by his son, Luna (the name of an environmentalist’s child if there ever was one), the book was little noticed by the public at large until the environmental movement of the ’60s and ’70s took off (partly as a result of the work of Carson, Leopold’s intellectual heir). There are now over two million copies of the work in print, and its influence is still felt in the American conservation movement and in the vital school of environmental thought known as Deep Ecology. A Sand County Almanac is considered one of the seminal texts of environmentalism….

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The Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity

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We’ve been living in the 21st century for several years now. Yet, due to a few political mishaps and society’s own inertia, the 21st century so far has looked an awful lot like the 20th. And nothing is so reflective of this as our treatment of the natural world. Impervious to science, logic or good taste, humanity has continued on with its destructive, shameful exploitation of the environment, our standard practices not so much resembling “development” as they do organized pillage. Such outrages though, have been carefully enumerated in other places, and I will not revisit them here. My concern is not with the past — full of injustices and blunders, to be sure — but with the future, with what will come next….

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John J. Audubon, Iconic Painter of Birds

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Sometimes, the most extraordinary and singular lives prove to be the most typical. Through a sheer depth and diversity of experience, a person who appears well outside the norm can serve to embody it. If this were ever true of anyone, it was true of John James Audubon.

In the life and work of this failed businessman — turned bird painter — turned environmental icon, one can discern a piece of the fundamental American character. The energy, resourcefulness and enterprising nature of early Americans are bound up in Audubon.

As his biographer, Richard Rhodes, wrote, “No life was at once more unique and more representative of that expansive era when a national character emerged than Audubon’s. Celebrate him for his wonderful birds; but recognize him as well as a characteristic American of the first generation.” And as America made Audubon, so too did Audubon make himself….

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Book Review: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

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What is the true nature of Nature? Is it a harmonious, interconnected system, operating according to the principles of co-dependence and benevolence? Or is it red in tooth and claw — an unfeeling, unthinking force, in which the individual is overwhelmed and subsumed to serve a larger purpose, one mysterious and obscure? This is what Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is all about: an exploration into the nature of Nature, an attempt to discover the true character of the natural world around us. Appropriately, it is neither a rapturous celebration of Nature, nor a grim survey of its various cruelties. Rather, like Nature itself, it is something in between — and something quite beautiful…

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The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth

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For far too long, critics of environmentalism have resorted to a now-familiar false dichotomy pitting humankind against Nature. Human beings are a species apart, they say, detached from the ecosphere but still able (indeed, morally obligated) to reap its benefits. This fallacy is backed up by a related either/or argument, in which any environmental regulation is equated with obstructing the progress and well being of the human race. According to this philosophy, the protection of the proverbial spotted owl threatens the welfare of humanity.

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The World Without Us

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When I read a book about the environment, I usually come away depressed. Sure, there are some uplifting books out there, but most environmental books concern coming or current catastrophes. Global warming, extinction, horrific pollution — these are common topics, and they make for dismal reading. Though Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us addresses all of these familiar issues and more, upon completing it, I felt the strangest sense of hope. It was one of the most interesting and oddly affecting non-fiction books I have ever read.

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Ansel Adams at 100

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Photographer and naturalist Ansel Adams (1902-1984) is surely one of the most accomplished and ubiquitous artists in American history, his career a rare intersection between extraordinary popular success and widespread critical acclaim. Though now decades old, his striking black-and-white photographs still maintain a large cultural presence through museums, books, magazines, calendars, coffee mugs, posters, and clothing. Almost every American has had some contact with Adams’ work, if only in passing.

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Silent Spring

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First published in 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is undoubtedly one of the founding texts of the modern environmental movement. Indeed, as Al Gore noted in his introduction to a 1994 edition, “without this book, the environmental movement might have been long delayed or never have developed at all.” I suppose it is a credit to the book’s influence and power that many of its ideas have become widely accepted by the great majority of the public (surely by visitors to this site) and appear so obvious that it seems incredible someone had to write a book to prove them.

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Jordan Jones, Contributing Writer

January 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Environmental Canon, Jordan Jones

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I am 23 years old and full of that empathetic enthusiasm so common to youth. Originally from Des Moines, I attended the University of Iowa from 2004 to 2008, graduating last spring with degrees in English and History. After graduation, I joined AmeriCorps and got a job at the Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity affiliate, building houses for those in need. Sometimes I work in the Habitat ReStore, a shop that sells discount building materials and furniture. I love my job and I learn new things literally every day.

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