Here are five greenreads to cheers to at midnight tonight. (And if you're kicking off 2013 on an environmental journalism bender, dive into the rest of our 2012 picks and book reviews, too.)
“State of the Species” by Charles C. Mann (Orion Magazine)
The revered and late biologist Lynn Margulis once told Mann that the fate of every successful species is to wipe itself out. But could that Homo sapien knack for innovation make us the exception to the rule? Comparing us to the lowly louse and fire ant, Mann wonders if we’re all that special after all. He playfully traces our evolution back to when we started to act, well, human, filling our lives with art, clothing, and creative thinking. But after recounting some of humanity's more impressive feats since, Mann reminds us that past success does not guarantee future returns.
“The Climate Fixers” by Michael Specter (The New Yorker)
So will our creative thinking save us? The jury's still out, but space mirrors, algal blooms, and other huge (and often absurd) schemes to geo-engineer the Earth could start looking pretty good as we come to suffer the consequences of that previous large-scale planet alteration of ours -- you know, the one resulting from excessively burning fossil fuels? And if we fail to curb greenhouse gas emissions in time (and we do seem to be heading that way...), ambitious feats of technology might be our only resort. “The last thing I would ever want,” says geophysicist Hugh Hunt, “is for the project I have been working on to be implemented."
"The Case Against Kids" by Elizabeth Kolbert (The New Yorker)
To procreate or not to procreate, that is the question -- and a darn good one Kolbert explores in her review of books that offer wildly different takes on the ethics of going forth and multiplying.
“How Dangerous Is Your Couch?” by Dashka Slater (New York Times Magazine)
Reading about couches (and chemicals with names like chlorinated Tris and polybrominated diphenyl ethers) sounds dull, but this profile of chemist/feminist/mountaineer Arlene Blum is anything but. Slater gets into the nitty-gritty of how industry and lax government oversight have kept harmful and/or mysterious (as well as unnecessary...) flame-retardants in our homes, and she keeps readers’ scrolling with tales of Himalayan adventure and fibs about burned babies. For more on the controversy surrounding your couch, check out this investigative series on flame retardants by the Chicago Tribune.
“Colors” by Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrod (Radiolab)
This piece is not entirely a greenread -- or a read for that matter -- but the way the radio show conveys with sound what various species can see in the spectrum of light before them is amazing -- and hilarious. Hint: The mantis shrimp’s rainbow is way cooler (and warmer and richer, and louder?) than ours.
Image: Ingrid Truemper