Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks – Nine Books that Shaped My Career

Many of us will celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, a joyous time to be grateful and spend with our loved ones. Aside from a supportive family, best friends, great health and so on – I wanted to take time to thank those who have written books that have changed my career. I wrote part of this post over the summer just before moving to California for graduate school.

The process of moving to California has forced me to confront my belongings over a long period of time. First I had to determine what I needed over the summer and then prioritize what was going to California, reorganize and pack. I had budget and a finite amount of things that the movers could take. The heaviest and bulky items were sent, some of the valuable things were shipped as well. Then I had to sort through what was left, I would ask myself ‘is the item worth keeping in storage until it too can make the long journey to California?’ Many things were donated and the final twelve small boxes remained.

You might ask, “What were these boxes filled with?” I had a few boxes of clothes, but the majority of the boxes were filled with papers from graduate school and books. Books have been my biggest weakness during the entire move. What to do with the books? I already left boxes of books in the trunk of my car, desensitizing myself to their charm in preparation to donate them to Bookthing. I face down another 9 of my favorites right now and think about their influence on me personally, academically and career wise. Behind each cover, an anthology of knowledge and inspiration. The 9 books that notably shaped my career as an environmentalist and I could go on.

So in an effort to part with these popular titles, I will write briefly about each one in hopes to simplify the separation process. In no particular order…

Cradle to Cradle
William McDonough & Michael Braungart
Recommended by my friend Christopher Rampton during my internship at Skanska USA Building Inc. My copy still contains six large green post-it notes and countless dog-eared pages. An amazing read, the concepts within and the durabook idea really lit the CFL above my head and caused me to read numerous other books on this list. I also referenced this title in my undergraduate thesis, the main catalyst for my entire career post construction.

The Ecology of Commerce, A Declaration of Sustainability
Paul Hawken
I am not sure if this title came next on the sustainability book reading binge or the next title by Ray Anderson. Written in 1993, do I NEED to say more?! Hawken continued to strike the fires within confirming that sustainability is not a new concept. Flipping through its pages, I long to revisit the wisdom contained inside and I realize, again, how difficult it will be to part with such treasures.

Mid-Course Correction, Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: The Interface Model
Ray Anderson
A fellow graduate from the Georgia Institute of Technology, my hero and role model, Ray Anderson and he initially inspired me with this title. So thrilled, I remember reading this book in one weekend in 2005. As an introduction to my undergraduate thesis, I included the poem on page 174 entitled Tomorrow’s Child, still marked, dutifully, with a post-it strip. I fumble through the heavy recycled pages and find a quote from Thoreau, “What use is a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” Sigh, these were the Pre-Gore days.

The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, Practical Advice from The Union of Concerned Scientists
Michael Brower, Ph.D. & Warren Leon, Ph.D.
Contained within, four post-it notes and a receipt from Starbucks dating February 5th, 2006 during my grande iced mocha phase! Memories! This title really spoke to me, being the first to really spell out that people as consumers vote everyday with their dollar. We have the ability to change our habits and inspire others to become more environmentally conscious. The book is hard to put down, even to write this response. There are so many amazing tidbits of knowledge, although, compiled in 1999, I am sure it is a tad outdated.

Earth in the Balance, Ecology and the Human Spirit
Al Gore
Environment! Eco-nomics and Externalities! Oh my! I read Gore’s book within a year after viewing An Inconvenient Truth. Written in 1992, yes, nearly 20 years ago, Gore laid out a comprehensive analysis of the immense importance of striking the right balance between economy, government, resources and humanity. As Time Magazine states “His book itself is an act of leadership.” I give many thanks to Gore for putting the environmental crisis at people’s dinner tables.

Silent Spring
Rachel Carson
A classic, as I hold this book, I pause and take a breath. The cover says itself “The classic that launched the environmental movement.” I read the majority of this book on a flight from Atlanta to Toronto, with Paris as the final destination. My boarding pass was still tucked into the pages, flight DL4950 departing August 31st, 2007. My heart winces at chapter 8’s title “And no birds sing” which is related to Keats’ “The sedge is wither’d from the lake, and no birds sign.” I lament from the immense sorrow DDT imposed, with losses innumerable. The book almost looks untouched as I am always careful to never bend the spine.

Frozen Earth, The Once and Future Story of Ice Ages
Doug Macdougall
I read this shortly after moving to Baltimore for my graduate program. I was so intrigued by anthropogenic induced glacial changes; I decided to write a research paper for my Hydrology class examining the topic.

Field Notes from A Catastrophe
Elizabeth Kolbert
In her thrilling title, Kolbert covers various case studies impacted from climate change. On the back cover, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. reveals “In this riveting view of the apocalypse already upon us, Kolbert mesmerizes with her poetic cadence.” My hardcopy, adorned with pristine dust jacket, prompted me to learn about climate change’s impact on the Comma butterfly, Shishmaref’s erosion, and flooding in the Nile river delta.

Crimes against Nature, How George W. Bush & His Corporate Pals are Plundering the Country & Hijacking our Democracy
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

A rather humorous read. I presented a brief paper to my Environmental Real Estate class about the air pollution in Port Arthur, TX due to the refineries. My Professor quickly interrupted me by stating anyone can write a book, I was speechless. I later found that he was a Bush-appointed official for the EPA and not everyone that teaches in an environmental science graduate program is in fact a liberal.

Exploring each book has left me a bit saddened and broken hearted. Writing this commentary has only strengthened my bond with these priceless texts as I remember not only their contents but also what I was doing at that time in my life, where I was going and what I longed for in my academic pursuit. Their writers, their contribution to society has exposed and inspired so many. I am undeniably grateful for their efforts as the road is long, risks are great and persistence, knowing a day’s work is never done.

Needless to say, I never donated the books. I simply shipped them to Davis media mail. Happy Thanksgiving!