Sustainability Book Review: Poisoned Water

As a reoccurring feature on the Sustainability Roundtable blog, we will post reviews of books related to sustainability.  Interested in submitting your own review to the blog? Contact August at aolundsmith@gmail.com.

Review: Poisoned Water: How the Citizens of Flint, Michigan, Fought for Their Lives and Warned the Nation by Candy J. Cooper and Marc Aronson (May 2020; Bloomsbury Children’s Books).

Submitted by Mary Callahan, Queen Public Library

At a time when conversations about systemic racism are taking place across the country, Poisoned Water: How the Citizens of Flint, Michigan, Fought for Their Lives and Warned the Nation by Candy J. Cooper and Marc Aronson is a reminder that environmentalism cannot be extricated from the quest social justice.

The source of the water that gives this book its title was indisputably the polluted Flint River, but, as this book clearly describes, the environmental issues of the Flint water crisis were inextricably linked to issues of race and class.

‘The book has been labeled “for young readers” (ages 10-17) by its publisher, but its subject matter seems more suited to teens than younger readers. In fact, adults looking for a straightforward and engaging overview of the story will find it here. In clear prose, the authors document the events and decisions that led to the water crisis in Flint Michigan and the ways in which the city’s residents—many poor and people of color—struggled to have their concerns about the city’s polluted water supply addressed.

The decision to change Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River had its roots in the economic disaster created by massive layoffs at General Motors, the company that was responsible for the growth of Flint and the source of its nickname, the Vehicle City. In 2011, the city, in massive debt, was placed under the supervision of a series of governor-appointed emergency managers whose primary focus was saving money. The water crisis began as a cost-cutting plan. For the preceding 50 years, Flint’s drinking water was taken from Lake Huron and processed and piped in from Detroit. But as Detroit’s water rates increased, Flint officials decided to save money by creating a new pipeline that would deliver water directly from Lake Huron to the Flint, bypassing Detroit. During the two to three years the new pipeline was being built, Flint’s water would come from the Flint River.

The switch occurred in April 2014. In the ensuing year and a half, polluted river water, further tainted by the city’s improper chemical treatment and aging water pipes, poisoned thousands of Flint children with lead, resulted in an outbreak of Legionnaires disease, and caused countless other health ailments. But while Flint residents raised their concerns about the water almost immediately, the water supply was not switched back to Lake Huron for 18 months—until October 2015—and the effects on the city’s water system and its residents still linger.

Cooper, a journalist and Pulitzer Prize finalist, conducted extensive research into public records, news accounts, and emails. But the story is primarily focused on the experiences of city residents who tried to get city, state, and federal officials to address the problem. The indifference of the local officials is mind-boggling: although they were repeatedly presented with samples of off-color, foul-smelling water; with tests revealing high lead levels; and even with clear evidence that the water corroded metal parts at a GM factory, they refused to admit the water posed a danger to people. (Eventually GM arranged to get its water from Lake Huron, but the city would not do the same for the residential water supply.)

Poisoned Water is a testament to the power of grassroots activism. It recognizes, in particular, the leadership positions played by many people of color in Flint. These leaders, the authors note, were often overlooked in earlier reports on the Flint water crisis. As Curt Guyette, a journalist who covered the water crisis story for the ACLU notes, “A lot of people who were never before at the same table came together and worked together really effectively to bring this crisis to the attention of the world.” He added, “It was the residents who saved themselves. That’s the really inspiring aspect of this story… We can save ourselves.”

As much about government mismanagement as it is about water pollution, Poisoned Water draws a timely connection between the environmentalist and social justice movements. As co-author Marc Aronson said in an interview with Publishers Weekly, “As we think about preserving the Earth and our relationship with it, we shouldn’t separate concerns of environmentalism and ecology from the power structures in our world. Those who are most victimized are those with the least power.”

For further reading about how Flint is navigating the Covid-19 pandemic, check out this photo essay published by the New York Times.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How much did you know about the Flint water crisis before reading this book? Were you surprised by anything that you read?
  2. Why do you think officials were so slow in responding when Flint residents complained about the water from the Flint River?
  3. Do you think the Flint water crisis was an environmental crisis or a political one?
  4. Can you think of other environmental crises that were caused or complicated by political issues?

Sustainability Book Review: The Uninhabitable Earth

As a reoccurring feature on the Sustainability Roundtable blog, we will post reviews of books related to sustainability.  Interested in submitting your own review to the blog? Contact August at aolundsmith@gmail.com.

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells

Book Review by Kacper Jarecki

It’s easy to take things for granted – and possibly the biggest thing we take for granted is planet Earth. This non-fiction book is a real eye-opener because it shows us that Earth as we know it, may not be around for much longer. During this time of the pandemic, we are already experiencing and adjusting to new realities of everyday life. However, according to David Wallace-Wells, this might just be a walk in the park compared with what’s to come.

This book does not pull any punches, David Wallace-Wells does not spare us one bit, starting with the title itself. In the first page he writes about the 5 mass extinctions that have already occurred on this planet. I didn’t know there were that many, I only knew about the dinosaurs! A few pages later on page 6, he writes, “whole regions of Africa and Australia and the United States, parts of South America north of Patagonia, and Asia, south of Siberia would be rendered uninhabitable by direct heat, desertification, and flooding” by the year 2100 if the global temperature rises by 4 degrees Celsius. That there may be 200 million climate refugees by 2050. That conflict and warfare between countries could double as countries strive to gain access to more and more limited resources.

David Wallace-Wells writes that instead of dominating Earth, we are actually arming it through pollution, and turning it into an “angry beast” or even “war machine.” David Wallace-Wells even debates whether it is moral to reproduce and have children in this climate where so many things can go wrong. He decides to have hope and he does have a child, named Rocca. Fortunately, we still have a small level of control over what happens. He writes on page 30, “Each of us imposes some suffering on our future selves every time we flip on a light switch, buy a plane ticket, or fail to vote.” He cites ways cities in the future will compete to be greener (since they will have no choice), like banning cars, and having local vertical farms so food won’t have far to travel.

Most of this book describes the multiple horrible ways that global warming will affect Earth including droughts, floods, fires, new deadly virus and bacteria strains, and much more. If you are a fiction writer, this book certainly provides different worst-case scenarios you may not have imagined. The scary part is that this may be real. However, if the author can still have hope and be optimistic after writing this, then we as readers should be hopeful too, and not just hopeful, but inspired to take an active part to save Earth, not just for ourselves, but for all the creatures who call Earth home.

Discussion Questions:

1.       Which facts in the book surprised you? For example, I didn’t know about the “Great Pacific garbage patch” twice the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean.

2.       Which of David Wallace-Wells’s scenarios scares you the most?

3.       What are some things you are doing now to help combat climate change?

4.       Is there anything more you can do?

5.       Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Earth? Do you think things will get better or worse, and why?

Sustainability Book Review: City Quitters

As a reoccurring feature on the Sustainability Roundtable blog, we will post reviews of books related to sustainability.  Interested in submitting your own review to the blog? Contact August at aolundsmith@gmail.com.

City Quitters Book — Karen Rosenkranz

City Quitters: An Exploration of Post-Urban Life

by Karen Rosenkranz

Reviewed by Kacper Jarecki

City Quitters is a high-quality book with glossy paper and beautiful photographs. As the title suggests, this book follows people who have “quit” city life to move to the countryside. It is a work of nonfiction. There are 22 personal stories of various people and what motivated them to change their lifestyle. What is also interesting is that there are small towns in 12 countries featured here, including America, Portugal, Japan, China, India, Brazil, and more.

I really enjoyed living vicariously reading stories of these different people: usually taking a chance to just leave it all behind and start anew. Some underlying themes that I saw were the affordability of living in the countryside. Having more time to engage in creative endeavors. The quietness. The ability to just go for a walk in the wilderness anytime. Reading this book and looking through the pictures was relaxing and felt like a breath of fresh air.

One story here featured someone who moved from New York City to Aresus, a small town in Italy with only 6 people! I can’t imagine doing that, but it certainly was fun reading about it. This same person was a graffiti artist, and there is even a picture of him doing graffiti on a cactus, drawing a smiley face on it with spray paint. I guess you can take a person out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the person, lol. I was even surprised to learn of another person moving to Hudson, NY, a small artistic community, about 2 hours away from where I live (and where I want to visit now). She left the city because it was just too expensive for her. She talked about being able to follow her dream and open up her own restaurant with her partner. She mentioned how affordable it was and how people in the community went out of their way to help her. If you saw the pictures, the design of her restaurant is very unique. She really had a very particular vision and I’m happy for her to be able to bring it to life, whereas in New York City, she would probably have gone deep in debt and spent countless hours, just to find a small place to rent. This is just a small sample of the stories. There are many more including someone who built her own home in the trees, a couple who decided to raise their kids to be closer to nature, someone (a skateboarder) who wanted to grow his own food…

After the end of every chapter is a web page link or resource so that you can learn more about the person featured, and possibly even get in touch with them. I love books because they can take you anywhere, and it is so inspiring to read about people taking a chance to turn their fantasy to reality. This book is not meant to be read in one sitting. Whenever you need a break from that big city life, you can just read a story at random, and feel a little better. The one thing I will say, is that most of these people in these pages seem to be artists or designers who can work remotely. Although I don’t exactly see myself in their shoes, I do enjoy reading about them.

 

Discussion questions:

  •         Out of the 22 stories in the book, which one did you relate to the most, and why?
  •         What are the benefits of living in a small town? What are the drawbacks?
  •         If you had a choice of a small town, what kind of town would you like? For example, would you like to live close to the beach, the forest, the desert, the mountains, an island?
  •         If you could try living in any country besides your own, which one would it be? Why?
  •         Many of the people in the book strive to be self-sufficient. Do you ever see yourself growing your own food? Making repairs to your own house? Would you be willing to learn?
  •         Cities usually have jobs, and if you want to leave the city, an entrepreneurial spirit is helpful to be able to get by. If you could create your own business, what would it be?
  •         Many people in this book talk about having more time after moving to the countryside. If you had more time, what would you do? What kind of hobbies or projects would you pursue?

Sustainability Book Review: The Big Thaw

As a reoccurring feature on the Sustainability Roundtable blog, we will post reviews of books related to sustainability.  Interested in submitting your own review to the blog? Contact August at aolundsmith@gmail.com.

Image result for the big thaw

The Big Thaw: Ancient Carbon, Modern Science, And A Race To Save The World

By Eric Scigliano, Chris Linder, et al.

Review by C. Daetwyler

Like so many of the best reads, I came across The Big Thaw while browsing in search of something else entirely, but it was a fortunate find indeed. A book on geoscience research in Siberia might not be the first thing to grab your attention, but it is well worth checking out.

This book introduces cutting-edge research on climate change in the Arctic, focusing on the work of the Polaris Project of the Woods Hole Research Center. It deals with big issues – carbon sequestration, the loss of permafrost, biome change, and how it could affect the future of the planet. But it is, ultimately, a hopeful story, about the people working diligently to understand the environment and learn about and adapt for the future. And the story goes farther afield, to look at the impact of change in other parts of the world.

The Big Thaw, for all its science, is really a collection of very personal stories. We are introduced to the lives of individual scientists, from senior scholars to young students; learning about what brought them to Siberia, and the importance and the adventure of their work.

Additionally, this is a beautiful book. Chris Linder’s photography takes us on an adventure through the Siberian wilderness, from forest to marsh to ice-filled cave, from grand panoramas to intimate shots of single flowers. But even more, what caught my attention are the portraits of scientists at work, of the daily lives of the scientists and students exploring the world and their hands-on experiences getting literally down and dirty with climate change.

This book can be an important part of any collection. It’s a gorgeous and engaging book, and a great introduction to a not always well understood aspect of climate science. It’s also an important chance to see the diversity at work in the field, as people from all walks of life work together to understand this fragile environment, and hope for the future.

 

Book Discussion Questions:

  1. The book talks extensively about the impact of climate change not just in the Arctic, but around the world. What changes have you seen in your community?
  2. There are profiles of a number of individual scientists and students in the book. Did any strike you as particularly interesting? Who spoke to your own experiences? 
  3. If you had an opportunity to go to Siberia to work with the scientists, would you do it? Why or why not?
  4. What photos stood out for you? Do you feel like looking at photos gave you a better sense of connection with the story?
  5. What can you do as a “library scientist” to combat climate change?

Sustainability Book Review: No One is Too Small to Make a Difference

As a new, reoccurring feature on the Sustainability Roundtable blog, we will be posting reviews of books related to sustainability. Enjoy our first review, written by Kacper Jarecki, below! Interested in submitting your own review to the blog? Contact August at aolundsmith@gmail.com.

No One is Too Small to Make a Difference

Image result for no one is too small to make a difference

By Greta Thunberg

Review by Kacper Jarecki

I like to pet-sit since I enjoy making new animal friends. Over the holidays I was pet-sitting 2 cats in someone’s home. It was here that I saw Greta Thunberg’s book for the first time. The book is small – 106 pages, so it’s easy to pick up and start reading.

Greta’s personal story is very inspiring. She was born in 2003 and from a young age took a stand based on her belief of what is right. She has Asperger Syndrome. Now she is famous world-wide, even getting a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. She started getting attention in 2018, refusing to go to school at 15 years old to instead strike in front of Parliament in Sweden, her home country, holding up a sign to protest a lack of action on climate change. Since then, she’s given speeches world-wide – in the UK, Poland, Germany, France, USA, and more.

Greta’s speeches are collected here. Her style is very conversational and hard-hitting, for example, making a metaphor for global warming that “our house is on fire” (p.17) and “I want you to panic” (p.22). She also includes pertinent facts, many of which I didn’t even realize, such as that scientists estimate that 200 species go extinct every day (p.7). Greta is definitely capable of giving memorable quotes and keeping the reader’s attention engaged.

Besides being a primer on climate change, Greta also discusses overcoming hardships, such as her parents’ refusal to support her, to having Aspergers, to getting bullied on Facebook, not to mention the dire future she may inherit from the catastrophic effects of climate change. She writes “hope is something you have to earn” (p.38). Reading this book is a great motivation to go out and stand up for what you believe in.

Greta’s book is a great addition to any library. The book at full price is only $10, so any library with budget limitations can still easily obtain a copy. It appeals to a large audience from older kids to adults, and I can tell you from personal experience that cats will enjoy sleeping on the book while you are reading it.

 

Book Discussion Questions:

  1.       Greta writes “Asperger is not a disease, it’s a gift” (p.28). What makes you unique and how do you use your gift to make the world a better place?
  2.       “What do we want the future living conditions for all species to be like?” (p.54). Describe what a perfect future would look like from your perspective.
  3.       One of Greta’s speeches is titled, “Can You Hear Me?” (p. 55). If you could say one thing to everyone in the world, what would you say?
  4.       Greta expressed anger at the previous generation for not doing enough to combat climate change and leaving a mess for future generations. When you were in your teens, what did you rebel against? Would the teen version of you approve of your current self?
  5.       Which speech of Greta’s is your favorite? Do you have any favorite quotes?

Interview with Rebekkah Smith Aldrich

From the ALA Editions Blog 3/23/2018

Ensuring libraries’ future through sustainable thinking: an interview with Rebekkah Smith Aldrich

As Rachel Carson famously said in Silent Spring, “Nothing in nature

ALA Editions (2018)

exists alone.” Libraries do not exist alone. Library leaders do not exist alone. We are all connected to the wider world around us. As libraries we need to be embedded, in an authentic and meaningful way, into the lives of those we serve. That means understanding the status of the building blocks of life, that means awareness of the wider world around us. The library is how we translate our desire to be of service to our fellow citizens. We cannot be relevant if we do not understand what people are currently dealing with or facing in the future.
— Rebekkah Smith Aldrich

Library Journal Interview with Madeleine Charney

SustainRT is in the news, in this interview  with Madeleine Charney from Library Journal!

Championing the Library’s Role in Sustainability.
(Movers and Shakers 2017) Library Journal blog.  November 16, 2017  Madeleine Charney interviewed by Karen Phillips.

Madeleine Charney

History of SustainRT

Would you like to know more about the history of SustainRT?  Here are some useful sources of information:

[Website]
SustainRT History URL: http://www.ala.org/rt/sustainrt/sustainrt-history

Abstract: The ALA Sustainability Round Table (SustainRT) morphed out of ALA’s Social Responsibilities Round Table’s Task Force on the Environment (TFOE) during “Libraries for Sustainability,” a four-part series of free webinars offered in 2012. New leaders emerged from our virtual “grass roots” to form an interim steering committee. The next step was gathering 100 signatures for the petition to create SustainRT. More than 100 were gathered. At Midwinter 2013, SRRT leadership gave us their blessing as such, and approval of the Round Table at ALA Council was swift.

[Webinar]
Libraries for Sustainability: a Four Part Webinar Series.  Facilitators: Madeleine Charney, Bonnie J. Smith, Beth Filar-Williams.   URL: https://greeningyourlibrary.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/libraries-for-sustainability-a-four-part-webinar-series/

Abstract

“A Call to Action” – Part 1 of Webinar Series “Libraries for Sustainability” February 28, 2012.

“Exploring Sustainability Practices in Libraries” – Part 2 of Webinar Series “Libraries for Sustainability” April 24, 2012.

“Engagement in Professional Library Organizations” – Part 3 of Webinar Series “Libraries for Sustainability” June 12, 2012.

“Exploring More Sustainability Practices in Libraries” – Part 4 of Webinar Series “Libraries for Sustainability” August 28, 2012.

[Journal Article]
Williams, Beth Filar, Madeleine Charney, and Bonnie Smith. “Growing our vision together: forming a sustainability community within the American Library Association.” Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy 11, no. 2 (2015). URL: http://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1044&context=librarian_pubs

Abstract: In 2014, after two years of focused research and promotion, the American Library Association (ALA) approved a new group, the Sustainability Round Table (SustainRT). This article describes how library advocates built SustainRT over the years and gained momentum with a pivotal webinar series. Clear signs of SustainRT’s early success are a testimony to the critical need for a sustainability-related Community of Practice (CoP). The article shows how the steps taken to achieve this national group’s standing can serve as a model for fostering dialogue and collaboration (often through virtual means) that allows for wide participation.

[Poster]
Charney, Madeleine and Smith, Bonnie and Filar Williams, Beth (2016) Growing our Vision Together: A Sustainability Community within the American Library Association. Poster presented at: IFLA WLIC 2016 – Columbus, OH – Connections. Collaboration. Community in Session 101 – Poster Sessions.  URL: http://library.ifla.org/1539/

Abstract: This poster reports on the formation of the American Library Association (ALA) Sustainability Round Table (SustainRT) in 2013, the result of an urgent call to action for a unified effort to address the new millennium’s environmental, economic and social sustainability challenges within the library profession in the United States and Canada. This poster identifies the technologies, processes, roles and other factors that led to the founding of SustainRT, as well as providing a vision for the future based on its participatory and inclusive structure.

[Documents]

  • SustainRT Annual Report 2016-2017
  • ALA Resolution on the Importance of Sustainable Libraries (2015)
  • ALA Task force on Sustainability (2015).
    The formation of the ALA Task Force on Sustainability is a direct outgrowth of the 2015 resolution introduced by SustainRT and co-chaired by SustainRT’s Immediate Past Coordinator, Rene Tanner and Chair of the Governance Committee, Rebekkah Smith Aldrich.  The Task Force is charged to develop a white paper that describes areas of focus and recommendations for the ALA Executive Board to increase the adoption and implementation of
    sustainable practices by the Association, the profession, libraries and the
    communities they serve. Timeline: Interim report to the ALA Executive Board, 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting, Denver; Final report to the ALA Executive Board, 2018 ALA Annual Conference, New Orleans

American Libraries Blog Series on Sustainability in Libraries

Beginning in April 2017, “American Libraries” magazine has been publishing an excellent series of online articles on the theme Sustainability in Libraries.

Take a look at the thought provoking articles that have been published so far in this series: https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/tag/sustainability-in-libraries/

 

 

Re-Localizing the Academic Library: Comments on an essay by Rebekkah Smith Aldrich

Rebekkah Smith Aldrich’s recent essay,  “Local Supports Local Sustainability,” (Library Journal, July 11, 2016 http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2016/07/lj-in-print/local-supports-local-sustainability/ ) offers an idea that I believe is essential not only for the future of libraries, but more generally for a systemic transition to sustainable, resilient communities.  Aldrich writes,

“As we strategize about our unique value position for the future, nothing is more unique than our “local.” Each town, campus, and school that has a library has a culture and physical environment of its own that needs to be nurtured, preserved, and celebrated.”

It strikes me, though, that library re-localization is not going to happen without a fight. In academic libraries, at least, the responsibility for “local” is almost entirely confined to Special Collections, and discussion about the Future of Libraries is dominated by a kind of technological futurism that is distinctly anti-local.

Academic librarians, accustomed to thinking of libraries mainly as repositories of global scholarship and research, have been slow to grasp the importance of re-localization.  The hot trends are all towards better access to conventionally published academic books and journals,  e.g. bundled journal subscriptions, approval plans, eBook collections, patron-driven purchasing, and digitization. As H. Thomas Hickerson sums it up,  “Most of our collections funding is devoted to licensing electronic publications, and most of those publications are academic journals.  And most of what we buy is being bought by everyone.”  

This de-valuing of unique local knowledge stems from an academic culture that generally treats scholars and scholarship as placeless. But in his classic “Becoming Native to this Place,” Wes Jackson argues that this placelessness does a disservice to students.

To a large extent, this book is a challenge to the universities to stop and think what they are doing with the young men and women they are supposed to be preparing for the future. The universities now offer only one serious major; upward mobility. Little attention is paid to educating the young to return home, or to go some other place, and dig in. There is no such thing as a “homecoming” major.

The problem, of course, is not that globalized, online information is bad (In Orion Magazines “Thirty-Year Plan” at least one author mentions global access to information as essential for sustainability).  The problem is that a steady diet of  globalized information without  local and hyper-local information is dangerously incomplete. The Internet is great at spreading globalized information, but Robert Michael Pyle calls the current moment in history a “Dark Age of place-centered knowledge,” and Bill McKibben describes the local information gap in “The Age of Missing Information,” where he addresses the question:  In a globalized world, how do we learn about the places where we actually live?  

The LibQual+ Survey used by many academic libraries measures three dimensions: Affect of Service, Information Control and Library as Place. However, in the survey, questions about “place” are limited to physical facilities, lighting, cleanliness and such. It seems to me that the LibQual+  understanding of place is far too reductive. What if Academic Librarians stopped thinking of libraries as  information access points in glorified study halls and started from a premise that  the academic library is integral to the place-based identity of the whole campus?  What would it take for academic libraries to truly foster resilient community within the constantly shifting flow of scholars and students?  In any case, I believe that if we academic librarians understood the true relation between library and place, we would be using an evaluation metric that incuded local information as part of the equation.

Aldrich leaves us with this challenge:

Libraries need to be part of the localism movement in bigger and more obvious ways.

Yes we do.  Let’s get to work.

REFERENCES

Hickerson, H. Thomas. “Rebalancing the Investment in Collections.” Research Library Issues: A Bimonthly Report from ARL, CNI, and SPARC, no. 277 (December 2011): 1–8. http://publications.arl.org/rli277/

Jackson, Wes. Becoming Native to this Place. University Press of Kentucky, 1993, p.3.

Lyons, Charles. “The library: A distinct local voice?.” First Monday 12, no. 3 (2007).

McKibben, Bill. The age of missing information.  Random House, 1992.

Pyle, Robert Michael. “No child left inside: nature study as a radical act” in Place-based education in the global age.   Gruenewald, David A. and Smith, Gegory A. eds. New York, Londaon: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, p.155-172.  

Thirty Year Plan: An Orion Reader.  Orion Magazine. 2012.

Submitted by Amy Brunvard

Amy Brunvand