Life in the Green Lane | Collection Development: Sustainable Living

Time will tell if, after devastating hurricanes and wildfires in recent years, people will make the connection between increasingly violent, more frequent weather events and global warming. Will citizens’ sense of crisis be deep enough to jolt them into action? Possibly, says Anthony Leiserowitz, director of Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication. A proponent of “climate literacy,” Leiserowitz believes people need and want more information about climate change, and while that information alone is probably insufficient to engage the public, he argues that “it is often a necessary precursor of effective action.” These are ideas that librarians should find redemptive.

Then there is the issue of sustainability, which contains various levels of engagement, such as “living green,” with its emphasis on practical, ecologically targeted solutions. Utilitarians urge lifestyle choices: becoming vegetarian, ditching the car, forgoing airline travel, reducing waste, tending a garden, or having fewer children. Doomsayers recommend reading about our destructive habits as a spur to corrective action. There are those who insist that only collective, top-down approaches will work with a problem so intractable; others urge individual action. Some maintain that the path toward sustainability is a long, slow iterative process, while still others talk of nothing less than a new world order. As well, people are weary of the “reduce this, use less of that” mind-set and yearn for something along the lines of the ­beliefs of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, or Wendell Berry.

it is easy being GREEN

The selections that follow are loosely representative of ­sustainability’s broad swath. They include a mix of old and new titles: academic and popular, technical and general, philosophical and hands-on, written in various styles, and presented in multiple formats. Deselection decisions in a subject so wide confound overarching rules, but, in addition to the guidelines in CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries, two points ought, perhaps, to be stressed: works of historical or literary value in environmental writing merit special care, and works with large statistical or technological content more than five years old should be viewed with suspicion. Within the “green-lite” genre—i.e., works emphasizing ecolifestyles—collections should be weeded with a cold eye as circulation figures indicate and as newer offerings come along.

Starred [redstar] titles are considered to be essential for most collections.

Robert Eagan is a Librarian at Windsor Public Library, Ont. He has reviewed for LJ since 2004 and was a 2016 Reviewer of the Year. He enjoys gardening for birds and pollinators


Allen, Laura. Greywater, Green Landscape: How To Install Simple Water-Saving Irrigation Systems in Your Yard. Storey. 2017. 200p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781612128399. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781612128405.

Gray water advocate Allen shows how gently used household water can be diverted from sewers and septic tanks to the garden. Organized in two parts—first covering planning and design, then installation—the book is generously illustrated, and its instructions easy to follow. Allen’s emphasis: keep systems simple.

AtKisson, Alan. Sustainability Is for Everyone. 2d ed. AtKisson, Inc. 2017. 60p. illus. notes. ISBN 9780991102204. pap. $5.95.

In few, wonderfully quirky pages, doodles included, a sustainability pioneer (Believing Cassandra) advises readers on how to think and talk about it.

Brown, Azby. Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green from Traditional Japan. Tuttle. 2013. 224p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9784805312544. pap. $19.95.

In a work of astonishing imagination and intelligence, Brown, a professor of design based in Japan, looks back to the Edo era (Tokyo, 1603–1868) and sees parallels between the ecological collapse then and environmental malaise now. The challenge: “to link our sophisticated technical systems to the kind of mentality that those prescient forbears displayed.”

Burdick, Joseph & Philip Schmidt. Install Your Own Solar Panels: Designing and Installing a Photovoltaic System To Power Your Home. Storey. 2017. 200p. illus. index. ISBN 9781612128252. pap. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9781612128269.

This book has the strong visuals characteristic of Storey’s DIY publications, i.e., large color photographs, numerous tables and checklists, and text boxes crammed with helpful advice.(LJ 7/17)

redstarCampbell, Stu. Let It Rot! The Gardener’s Guide to Composting. 3d ed. Storey. 1998. 160p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781580170239. pap. $12.95; ebk. ISBN 9781603422031.

Nothing fancy here, but since 1975 this has been where gardeners have looked for advice on keeping useful organic stuff out of the trash.

redstarCarson, Rachel. Silent Spring. Houghton Harcourt. 2002. 400p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780618253050. $25; pap. ISBN 9780618249060. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780547527628.

A commenter on one of the Guardian’s “best green books” lists nailed it: “start by reading Silent Spring…everything else falls into line.” This edition is particularly valuable because of its fore- and ­after- pieces by Linda Lear and Edward O. Wilson, respectively.

Climate Change and American Policy. McFarland. 2016. 340p. ed. by John R. Burch Jr. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781476665276. pap. $39.95.

Its chronological organization and succinct analyses make this a solid reference source. Best suited for academic or larger public collections.

redstarDrawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming. Penguin. 2017. 256p. ed. by Paul Hawken. illus. index. ISBN 9780143130444. pap. $22; ebk. ISBN 9781524704650.

A team of climate and environmental experts, led by Hawken (The Ecology of Commerce), provide a detailed road map—what needs to be done and in what order—to reach “drawdown”: the point where greenhouse gases peak and then decline. Their rankings of solutions might surprise. (LJ 11/1/16)

Edwards, Brian. Rough Guide to Sustainability: A Design Primer. 4th ed. RIBA. 2014. 336p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781859465073. pap. $53.95.

A “Rough Guide” for architects and design students, not travelers. Yet non­specialists with an interest in sustainability as it relates to the built environment will also find it interesting.

redstarHeinberg, Richard & David Fridley. Our Renewable Future: Laying the Path for One Hundred Percent Clean Energy. Island Pr. 2016. 248p. illus. notes. ISBN 9781610917797. pap. $25.

In this balanced analysis, the authors (Fellows, Post Carbon Inst.) claim that a transition to renewable energy is doable, but they are realistic about the obstacles on the path.

Hemenway, Toby. Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. 2d ed. Chelsea Green. 2009. 328p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781603580298. pap. $29.95.

Big, scary, and complicated are words that have been used to describe permaculture. Hemenway takes the fear out of building backyard ecosystems by keeping her discussion garden-focused. Libraries looking for more advanced treatments might consider Zach Loeks’s The Permaculture Market Garden or Jessi Bloom and Dave Boehnlein’s Practical Permaculture. (LJ 2/1/14)

Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. S. & S. 2015. 576p. notes. index. ISBN 9781451697391. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781451697407.

The subtitle tells it all. Readers may concur with Klein that changing lightbulbs won’t do; to wit: “[w]hat the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.”

Ludwig, Ma’ikwe. Together Resilient: Building Community in the Age of Climate Disruption. Fellowship for Intentional Community. 2017. 188p. illus. notes. ISBN 9780971826472. pap. $17.95.

Ludwig argues that community—i.e., the “intentional” type, in which a group of people live together to pursue a common ideal or vision—might be our best hope for a truly sustainable future, one not just with a reduced carbon footprint but that’s happier, too.

Mason, Pamela & Tim Lang. Sustainable Diets: How Ecological Nutrition Can Transform Consumption and the Food System. Taylor & Francis. 2017. 368p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780415744706. $149; pap. ISBN 9780415744720. $57.95; ebk. ISBN 9781315802930.

The authors consider public health, the environment, social issues, food quality, economics, and governance. Though it is best suited to academic audiences, the book addresses such a crucial issue that larger public libraries should also look to ­purchase.

redstarPlamondon, Chantal & Jay Sinha. Life Without Plastic: The Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Avoiding Plastic To Keep Your Family and the Planet Healthy. Page Street. 2017. 192p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781624144257. pap. $21.99; ebk. ISBN 9781624144264.

The latest news about microplastics being found in drinking water worldwide makes this book hugely relevant. The authors begin with a survey of plastics and their associated health risks and then go on to suggest the best alternatives.

redstarPope Francis. Encyclical on Climate Change & Inequality: On Care for Our Common Home. Melville House. 2015. 192p. notes. ISBN 9781612195285. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781612195292.

How we talk about climate change matters, and the pope excels by framing the subject as a moral issue. (LJ 10/15/15)

Speck, Jeff. Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. Farrar. 2013. 320p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780865477728. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781429945967.

“Transport” is central to sustainability, and making cities more conducive to walking would be beneficial in many ways. So argues urban planner Speck; his flashes of outrage—e.g., “traffic studies are bullshit”—enliven this paean to ­pedestrians.

Stiles, David & Jeanie Stiles. Building Small: Sustainable Designs for Tiny Houses & Backyard Buildings. Popular Woodworking. 2017. 208p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781440345463. pap. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781440345487.

The small house movement may provide an answer to chronic housing shortages—in addition to making good environmental sense. This nicely illustrated book includes plans and offers strategies for making big use of small footprints.

Tallamy, Douglas. Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens. Timber. 2009. 360p. photos. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780881929928. pap. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9781604691467.

Tallamy (entomology, Univ. of Delaware) urges gardeners to look beyond the decorative value of their plantings and aid local biodiversity by choosing native plants that will attract native wildlife.

redstarThoreau, Henry David. Walden. Beacon. 2017. 344p. notes. ISBN 9780807098134. pap. $10.95; ebk. ISBN 9780807098141.

Commemorating the bicentennial of Thoreau’s birth (July 12, 2017), this handsome edition would be a perfect addition to any library.

Tools for Grassroots Activists: Best Practices for Success in the Environmental Movement. Patagonia. 2016. 288p. ed. by Nora Gallagher & Lisa Myers. photos. index. ISBN 9781938340444. pap. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781938340451.

Since 1994, Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company, has hosted a biennial conference devoted to training activists to be more effective. This title distills the wisdom and advice from those gatherings, with essays, case studies, and slick design.

redstarWeisman, Alan. Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? Little, Brown. 2013. 528p. photos. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9780316097758. $28; pap. ISBN 9780316097741. $18; ebk. ISBN 9780316236508.

In The World Without Us, Weisman pondered how “green” an unpeopled planet would be. Here, he explores hard reality: a world with too many of us. He concludes that family planning—other than emissions-free energy, for example—is “the one technology that in fact could make a dent in our collective impact…the one that lets us curb the number of consumers.” (LJ 9/1/13)

Why Women Will Save the Planet: A Collection of Articles for Friends of the Earth. Zed. 2015. 213p. ed. by Jenny Hawley. notes. ISBN 9781783605804. $95; pap. ISBN 9781783605798. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781783605828.

Could women’s empowerment transform the chances of achieving sustainability? The answer, in the affirmative, is supported here in several short, accessible pieces by prominent ecofeminists such as Wanjira Mathai and Vandana Shiva.

Graphic novels

Squarzoni, Philippe. Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science. ComicArts: Abrams. 2014. 480p. tr. from French by Ivanka Hahnenberger. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781419712555. pap. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781613126646.

Squarzoni, a French graphic novelist who specializes in nonfiction, masterfully blends science, memoir, and illustration as he dramatizes his own struggle to under­stand climate disruption, its causes, and mitigation.


redstarBeing the Change: A New Kind of Climate Documentary. 60 min. New Society. 2017. DVD ISBN 9780865718593. $14.99.

A fascinating exploration of the life and ideas of Peter Kalmus, atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Based on his book of the same title, this chronicle demonstrates how Kalmus, with “head, hands, and heart,” shows that individual action is as important as collective and proves that one can live happily on 1/10 the fossil fuels used by the average American.

Sustainable. 92 min. Hourglass Films. 2017. DVD UPC 888608666930. $9.99; public performance $299.

Beneath the dull title, a gem. The focus of this award-winning documentary is a vegetable farmer in Illinois doing, in his own small way, what big industrial agriculture can’t—making a tidy living growing good food and without harm to the ecosystem.


Earth Now. NASA, Jet Propulsion Lab. Free. iOS & Android.

A nifty, interactive 3-D model of Earth provides a real-time view of our planet from way, way up. Users will learn about our “vital signs” (air temperature, CO2 levels, ozone, sea level variations, etc.) and be able to monitor storms and other big Earth events.

Ecosia. Ecosia GmbH. Free. Web, iOS, & Android.

Do a search; plant a tree! This Berlin-based site uses at least 80 percent of its profits from search-ad revenue for tree planting projects worldwide. That is around $100,000 per month for its good works, or more than 15 million trees ­planted. n


The Story of Stuff Project;

A witty exploration of our destructive predilection for crap. The brainchild of environmental activist Annie Leonard, the entire endeavor—book, films, site—is laudable.

Water Footprint Calculator;

A 2017 “Webby” award nominee, this site calculates not only the water used at the tap but also the water it takes to produce the food we eat, the energy we use, and the products we buy.

The World Counts;

This widget with its spinning meters—indicating all manner of humanity’s supersized ecological footprint—concentrates the green mind wonderfully.

Yale Climate Connections;

Complex climate science is presented in multimedia formats that non­scientific audiences will find intelligible and ­engaging.

This article was published in Library Journal's February 1, 2018 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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