Dry Land: Surprising Ways to Conserve Water in Our Current Drought

Image via Pixabay.com

It’s no secret that California is currently in a water crisis. With the state enacting an emergency drought plan and some cities establishing strict drought rules, people are looking to conserve as much water as possible. In an effort to find some more creative ways to use less water, we turned to some of our sustainability-minded authors for ideas. Read on to find out some ways to reduce your water use that go beyond spending a little less time in the shower.

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Have You Hugged Your Planet Today?


Image via Pixabay.com

On April 22, 1970, the inaugural Earth Day celebration helped galvanize the environmental movement in America and forged a new zeitgeist that put the health of the planet front and center for the next decade. Forty-five years later, Earth Day is celebrated by more than a billion people worldwide and has blossomed into a weeklong event. That’s a lot of love for our Pale Blue Dot! And while we’ve seen many successes since its first observance in 1970—including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the passage of The Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air and Water acts—we’ve also experienced significant setbacks to the health of our planet due to climate change, ocean acidification, deforestation, habitat loss, species extinction, and war.

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Earth Day Special: What Do You Believe?

This guest post by author Linda Weintraub, To Life!: Eco Art in Pursuit of a Sustainable Planet, considers personal beliefs around environmental issues and art for Earth Day.

A planet in peril has convinced many environmentalists to call for a complete overhaul of humanity’s current means for acquiring, using, and discarding resources. They share a widespread conviction that that the seeds of environmental reform are not tangible or technological; they are conceptual and subjective. While our material interactions with the planet originate in attitudes and assumptions, no authority exists to define and enforce the cultural values that generate sustainable actions.

Photo of vapor emissions from the Salmisaari coal burning power plant illuminated with a high power green laser animation.
HeHe: Nuage Vert

Nonetheless, environmental reform depends as much upon each individual’s subjective opinions as upon industry’s technologies and the government’s ordinances. Often we are not aware of our own attitudes and outlooks until someone asks for our opinion.

The concepts and choices in this personal survey (see link below) are designed to help you construct a blueprint of your individual environmental beliefs. It is hoped that this blueprint may encourage you to reflect upon your material interactions and consider integrating these insights into your creative art practices.

Thus, let us honor the Earth on Earth Day by reflecting upon its current state and the choices we might make on its behalf.

Download the Personal Environmental Survey, and find additional classroom exercises here.


Cover image of Linda Weintraub's To Life!: Eco-Art in Pursuit of a Sustainable Planet, ISBN 9780520273627

Linda Weintraub is author of To Life!: Eco Art in Pursuit of a Sustainable Planet, Art on the Edge and Over: Searching for Art’s Meaning in Contemporary SocietyIn the Making: Creative Options for Contemporary Art and Avant-Guardians: Textlets in Art and Ecology. She is a contributor to the Women Environmental Artists Directory (WEAD) magazine Issue 6 on ‘Dirty Water’, and her upcoming appearances include Evergreen College, Washington (April 22-23) and BBOX radio interview (April 29).



Proactive Strategies for Protecting Species

Beyond the obvious scholarship that goes into any UC Press book—research, writing, and editing—are challenges that even sophisticated readers and reviewers may remain happily unaware of. In this multi-part Behind the Scenes series, we throw light on the hurdles UC Press authors face in bringing their work to the public. From field work logistics in foreign countries, to the regulatory snags of evolving public policy, to the unique concerns that scholars of human subjects face, learn about the lengths to which authors go to present their scholarship to the public.

Fixing the ESA

The US Endangered Species Act protects over 2,000 species. Only 10 species have gone extinct after they were listed. On the other hand, only 25 species have been “de-listed” (meaning they’ve recovered enough to be considered safe from extinction).

Between those two statistics lie myriad perspectives on how well the ESA has performed since its ground-breaking inception over 40 years ago.

Josh Donlan
Josh Donlan

Josh Donlan, editor of the just-published Proactive Strategies for Protecting Species, has corralled unlikely bedfellows—private landowners, conservationists, government agencies, NGOs, scientists, academics, and developers—into sharing divergent viewpoints on how best to improve the ESA—that it’s outdated is the one point on which they all agree. (The ESA hasn’t been updated in 25 years, and litigation robs resources earmarked for species conservation.) He also debuts a pragmatic new approach to best conserve species headed toward extinction … helping as they speed toward the falls, rather than triaging after they’ve plunged over.

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Skiing into Modernity

By Andrew Denning

This guest post is published in advance of the American Society for Environmental History conference in Washington, DC. UC Press authors share their research and stories that reflect on this year’s conference them, Turning Protest into Policy. Come back for new posts every weekday until March 19th.

Andrew Denning

When it comes to the sport—and business—of Alpine skiing, translating protest into policy has proven exceedingly difficult. From the earliest appearance of the sport, a cohort of skiers protested the deleterious effects of hundreds and thousands of skiers making their way down the mountainside. The sport presented a Faustian bargain: it connected skiers with nature, yet by virtue of its immense popularity, befouled the environment. Complaints about the alienation of the sport from nature only became more vociferous in the post-World War II era, when lift networks, landscape modifications, and mechanical snow production recast the sport as a consumable product for millions of middle-class tourists.

In the context of Alpine Europe, French communities proved particularly adept at catering to the needs of modern skiers, constructing purpose-built resorts such as Courchevel and Les Arcs to serve winter tourists. Traditionalist skiers, the directors of more established resorts in Switzerland and Austria, and environmental advocates alike lamented the alienation of the sport from nature, but the immense profitability of these French resorts muted such claims.

Protest only became policy when the market became saturated in the 1970s. As profits slowed, many began to question the refashioning of the French Alps to suit the needs of winter tourists. The French President, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing voiced these concerns in 1977 in a speech at the Alpine commune of Vallouise, stating, “If the human wasteland expands, the touristic attraction [of the mountains] will lessen considerably. The urbanite looks to the mountain for contact with untamed nature… Enough with technocratic visions for development in the mountains. Think of people, think of mankind.”

In the context of the more austere economic climate of the 1970s and growing questions about the impact of Alpine skiing on nature, the construction of new resorts has slowed from the industry’s halcyon days of France’s postwar trente glorieuses. Only after the economic incentives of unchecked development collapsed did environmental protest influence development policy.


Andrew Denning is a postdoctoral fellow in history at the University of British Columbia and the author of Skiing into Modernity. His work has been published at The Atlantic.


The Rise of Eco-Cities

By Julie Sze

This guest post is published in advance of the American Society for Environmental History conference in Washington, DC. UC Press authors share their research and stories that reflect on this year’s conference them, Turning Protest into Policy. Come back for new posts every weekday until March 19th.

My book, Fantasy Islands: Chinese Dreams and Ecological Fears in an Age of Climate Crisis, examines the eco-city phenomenon through a case study of four recent ecological developments in Shanghai. The book is focused on two main questions: what does the rise of eco-cities in both government policy and popular imagination mean; and what does the eco-city phenomenon mean in China, and in the United States. My initial interest was sparked by my family connection to Chongming Island, where Dongtan Eco-city was proposed, and which seemed an utterly improbable place to site a high-tech ecotopian city.

In attempting to understand why and how eco-city developments are flourishing, especially in China, I develop a concept of eco-desire. Elsewhere, I have written about the intellectual history of the eco-city.[1] These eco-desires are complex, and competing, in different national, regional and racial contexts, but the broadest reasoning behind eco-desire is to address anxiety in the face of global climate change.

My first book, Noxious New York, focused on environmental justice activism in New York City, and is connected to the conference theme of “Turning Protest into Policy.” Rather than a US centered narrative of eco-Davids fighting corporate Goliaths, the narrative here is fundamentally different. That difference is not in and of itself surprising given the Chinese Communist Party’s power and much more extensive suppression of protest movements- environmental or otherwise. But in many ways, the stories in Shanghai and New York City are deeply interwoven. They are linked through the focus on place, power, globalization, privatization, and the emergent urban discourse of sustainability. The question that remains, after the bells and whistles of techno-utopian fantasies: is what does sustainability mean, how and for whom?

[1] https://criticalsustainabilities.sites.ucsc.edu/eco-city-branding/


Julie Sze is Associate Professor of American Studies and founding director of the Environmental Justice Project for the John Muir Institute for the Environment at UC Davis.


Turning Protest into Policy in the Indus Basin

By David Gilmartin

This guest post is published in advance of the American Society for Environmental History conference in Washington, DC. UC Press authors share their research and stories that reflect on this year’s conference them, Turning Protest into Policy. Come back for new posts every weekday until March 19th.

David Gilmartin

The history of the Indus river basin in the last 150 years provides one of the modern world’s great stories of regional environmental transformation. This arid region, now split between India and Pakistan, was transformed under British colonial rule into the largest integrated irrigation system in the world. Some have called the result a “hydraulic society,” tying livelihoods and control over nature to a massive, state-controlled engineering bureaucracy delivering water to tens of thousands of canal outlets. Yet the story of irrigator resistance and accommodation to the operation of this huge system suggests a more complex story relating to how protest and policy have shaped the Indus basin’s modern history.

Resistance and protest—and the policy shifts that have followed in their wake—have played an important role in shaping the evolution of this system. Irrigator protests were most successful when they played on the fissures within the state’s own legitimizing ideologies to press their demands. Widespread protests against intrusive colonial water regulations seriously shook the system in 1907, and sporadic local protests continued long after. Policy responses to these protests reflected longstanding internal debates within the state itself, marked by appeals to the state’s own, often contradictory, legitimizing principles. The British had mobilized engineering science and expertise to justify new forms of control over both nature and over the irrigators, but they had also long claimed to protect “custom” as a key legitimizer of their position as an overarching colonial state. Playing on these contradictions, protesters were able to deploy the language of “custom,” and the claims to natural “rights” that this language carried, to effectively force the state toward policies that would protect its legitimizing claims.

If questions of “environmental values and governance” in their contemporary usages only occasionally entered such debates, the story of the Indus basin should not let us forget that the relationship between structures of policy and protest—defined by contradictory appeals to nature as a touchstone for legitimacy—were mobilized by protesters and the state alike in a long, intertwined history.


David Gilmartin is Distinguished Professor of History at North Carolina State University, and author of the forthcoming Blood and Water (June 2015, UC Press).

Afectados in Central America

By Susanna Rankin Bohme

This guest post is published in advance of the American Society for Environmental History conference in Washington, DC. UC Press authors share their research and stories that reflect on this year’s conference them, Turning Protest into Policy. Come back for new posts every weekday until March 19th.

Susanna Rankin Bohme
Susanna Rankin Bohme

The notion of transforming protest into policy commonly conjures up scenarios of activism and political change at the local or national level. However, when considering responses to the uneven health and environmental impacts of transnational corporations, the location and object of protests and policy can be geographically and politically complex. This is certainly true in the transnational history of the pesticide chemical DBCP I tell in Toxic Injustice.

Since 1977, tens of thousands of former banana workers in Central America have linked their DBCP exposure to sterility, cancer, and other maladies. Known as afectados for the illnesses they suffer, they also share what they have called their “other painful experience”: dismissal of lawsuit after lawsuit brought in the United States against the corporations that produced and used DBCP (Shell, Dow, Dole, Chiquita, and others).

In response to illness and legal exclusion, since 1997 afectados in Costa Rica and Nicaragua developed protest movements that articulated a strong critique of US-based transnational corporations but took national governments as primary targets. Their policy goals and effects differed. Costa Rican afectados focused on obtaining compensation directly from the government they held partially responsible for their injuries. In Nicaragua, afectados instead passed legislation at the national level that facilitated lawsuits against fruit and chemical corporations, a move that converted the state from target to ally in a transnational struggle, as courts began returning multi-million dollar judgments against defendants.

What were the impacts of policies afectados achieved? In Costa Rica, activists won compensation for over 14,000 people, but amounts were low and corporations escaped unscathed. In Nicaragua, a powerful victory was followed by fierce opposition from transnational corporations, which have refused to heed Nicaraguan verdicts. In both cases, afectados’ partial successes as well as their failures can help point the way forward for other movements working to transform protest into policy to hold corporations accountable.


Susanna Rankin Bohme is Lecturer in History and Literature at Harvard University.


Author Spotlight: Anthony Barnosky (author of Dodging Extinction)


Anthony D. Barnosky is a professor in the Department of Integrative Biology, a curator at the Museum of Paleontology, and a research paleoecologist at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley. He has spent three decades conducting research related to past planetary changes, and what they mean for forecasting the changes Planet Earth faces in the next few decades.

The author of books, numerous scientific publications, op-eds, and blog posts, Barnosky speaks regularly about climate change, extinction, and environmental tipping points in a variety of public and academic venues.


For a scientist who’s considered an expert in the dynamics of mass extinctions, Anthony Barnosky is a surprisingly upbeat guy. He brings that same attitude to his newest book, Dodging Extinction: Power, Food, Money, and the Future of Life on Earth, which eschews doom-and-gloom soapboxing for can-do approaches to pulling us back from the brink of a Sixth Mass Extinction.

Given the scope of the book’s subtitle, it’s not surprising that UC Press calls Dodging Extinction “nothing less than a guidebook for saving the planet.” First, what IS a mass extinction?

Barnosky explains:

Mass extinction means that at least three out of every four species you are familiar with die out. Forever. Extinction of that magnitude has happened only five times in the past 540 million years, most recently 66 million years ago, when the last big dinosaurs were killed by an asteroid strike.

Calibrating current extinction from previous epochs is vital, says Barnosky, especially as we confront the current state of biodiversity: in the last 40 years we have killed a staggering half of all wildlife on earth—and more than 20,000 species are “at risk.” The accelerated rates of extinctions, says Barnosky, far exceed those in the fossil record, “before people got into the act.” From climate change to food production, human behaviors are triggering vast, incalculable losses, but it’s a negative feedback loop that can be rejiggered to halt declines without great sacrifice to creature comforts, and it’s a story he wants everyone to know.

Lay readers will be happy to know that Barnosky writes in an engaging style, summarizing terms “you might have learned (and forgotten) in high-school biology” so that non-specialists understand what’s at stake. He takes readers into the trenches—both past and present—to share the story of where we’ve been and where we’re going. Through his book, invited lectures around the world, and most recently in the Smithsonian Channel documentary Mass Extinction: Life on the Brink (which also features UC Berkeley’s Walter Alvarez), Barnosky explains that the “tipping point” comes down to one question: “How do we provide for the needs of people while still providing for the needs of other species?”

We’ve completely plowed, paved, or otherwise transformed 50 percent of Earth’s lands, taking all those places out of play for the species that used to live there.

As Barnosky lays out the sobering facts about past epochs, the recent (human-inflected) past, and our current conundrum, he says continuing on our trajectory, regardless of what we now know, is equivalent to “being a train operator and seeing a school bus stalled on the tracks way off in the distance, knowing you can stop in time if you pull the brake lever hard now, but deciding what the heck, let’s not bother.”

That might sound like a fatalistic analogy but Barnosky, a self-described realist and optimist, is confident about our ability to change things:

We know how to save species when we put our minds to it. That’s one thing that is very hopeful going into the future… We know the underlying drivers of what’s causing all these extinctions, and we know ways to fix that, too. We have to also think about that very big picture as well as the specific ways to save certain species and ecosystems …

Grandson of a coal miner, son of a butcher, and himself a coal geologist-turned paleontologist, Barnosky says wryly, “fossil fuels have been very good to me.” He doesn’t demonize industries, policy-makers, or our current un-checked proclivities, but he is clear-eyed about where we need to go: “We are at a crossroads.”

The good news, Barnosky declares, is that we have the technology to address our problems. Change is possible in such diverse but interrelated arenas as power (energy), food (agricultural land use, yield efficiency), and money (the economics of habitat destruction, and integrating the full valuation of all ecosystem services into the global economy).

One of Barnosky’s many strengths is offering cogent solutions to seemingly intractable issues such as, say, how to feed 10 billion people without further harming biodiversity. The short answer is:

1. Improve the efficiencies of the yields in places we already have under cultivation—in environmentally sustainable ways.

Improve yields where they are below capacity.
Improve yields where they are below capacity.

2. Convert all of the croplands that are now used to grow feed for cattle, pigs, etc. and put those into production for growing crops that people would eat directly. (“We would increase the number of calories available to the world by 50% to 70%. That’s enough to feed a couple more billion people.”)

3. Stop wasting food. (Barnosky calls this “incredibly obvious,” noting that in developed countries, “we waste about 30% of what we grow.”)

Wary of the hard science and statistics behind these accessible sound bites? No need. Barnosky’s deep erudition is tempered by both humor and a journalistic writing style that includes lively drive-by introductions to such diverse topics as the “Cretaceous Barbeque” the Goldilocks Principle, and “de-extincting” passenger pigeons. (Is re-creating the latter equivalent to what “Dr. Frankenstein attempted to do with the leftover parts of dead people?”)

After you’ve absorbed Barnosky’s data and arguments, what’s next?

Awareness is the first step. As Barnosky reminds students, when he was their age, 300 million across the world were connected via land-lines, now more than 3.5 billion humans (over half the human population) are connected via the internet, smart phones, and social media. Because the first step is communicating these issues, connected Millennials are especially well situated to tackle the first of Barnosky’s Top 10:

Top 10 Ways You Can Help Avoid the Sixth Mass Extinction

  1. Spread the word that the extinction crisis is real.
  2. Reduce your carbon footprint.
  3. Buy products from companies committed to using sustainably produced palm oil in their products.
  4. Eat fish only from healthy fisheries.
  5. Eat less meat.
  6. Never, ever buy anything made from ivory—or from any other product derived from threatened species.
  7. Enjoy nature.
  8. Become a citizen scientist.
  9. Vote for and support leaders who recognize the importance of switching from a fossil-fuel energy system to a carbon-neutral one, who see the necessity of growing crops more efficiently, whose economic agenda includes valuing nature, and who promote women’s rights to education and healthcare.
  10. Don’t give up.

Simple, right?

As one of his chapter titles states: It’s Not Too Late (Yet).

Follow Anthony D. Barnosky on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tonybarnosky



Sara Shostak Talks Environmental Health with Human Capital

Sara Shostak’s book, Exposed Science: Genes, the Environment, and the Politics of Population Health, recently received two huge honors from the American Sociological Association: the Eliot Freidson Outstanding Publication Award from the Medical Sociology Section and the Robert K. Merton Book Award from the section on Science, Knowledge, and Technology (SKAT). In this interview with Human Capital, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s blog, Shostak talks about what the awards mean for her, both personally and professionally. She also elaborates on the subject of her book, gene-environment interaction, and its ascendance within the field of environmental health science. The book’s central argument, Shostak explains, is that “scientists’ perceptions of and responses to the structural vulnerabilities of the field of environmental health science have both intended and unintended consequences for what we know about the somatic vulnerabilities of our bodies to environmental exposures.” 

Read the full interview at Human Capital.