To celebrate the Year of the Ocean, or just get on more familiar terms with what
Matthew Arnold called "the unplumbed, salt, estranging sea," here are some books
that roam from benthic darkness to tropic archipelagos:
Song for the Blue Ocean: Encounters Along the World's Coasts and Beneath the
Seas by Carl Safina (Henry Holt, $29.95) journeys through three ocean realms,
with exuberant descriptions of such species as bluefin tuna off the Atlantic Coast, salmon
in the Pacific, and their very distant relations around the Philippines and the Pacific
islands. Sailing with local fishers and talking to conservationists, Safina also collects
material for a staggering account of overfishing, immensely wasteful by-catch, and
cyanide-poisoning of fish.
Muckraking and science combine with call-me-Ishmael adventure
narrative in pursuit of epic environmental abuse, where fisheries are swallowed into that
maelstrom of destruction euphemistically known as the global economy: bluefin depleted for
sushi in Japan; Asian coasts scraped bare to satisfy a North American appetite for
crustaceans; coral reefs blasted to bits to rout out delicacies for gourmets in Hong Kong.
Bleak as it sounds, however, Safina finds hope in recent tougher laws governing catches,
self-regulation by fishing associations, and conservation and restoration efforts.
Faces of Fishing: People, Food and the Sea at the Beginning of the Twenty-First
Century by Bradford Matsen (Monterey Bay Aquarium Press, $19.95) provides a
good brief overview of the condition of the oceans and the people who depend on them,
enhancing the presentation with dozens of color photos from around the world. Incriminated
here, as in Song for the Blue Ocean, is the industrial raid on the oceans, most striking
when it threatens local subsistence food supplies by destroying fisheries. In addition to
the global view in Faces of Fishing, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Press offers eight other
titles that focus on individual ocean creatures and habitats, including Sharks and Rays,
Gray Whales, Kelp Forests, and Seals and Sea Lions.
Big Sur to Big Basin: California's Dramatic Central Coast with
photographs by Larry Ulrich and text by Pamela Verduin Cain (Chronicle Books, $29.95)
exhibits a rugged, beautiful, and diverse coast in outstanding shots by one of today's
best landscape photographers. The text is more concerned with Clint Eastwood sightings and
restaurants than natural history or environmental issues, but nevertheless is helpful for
tourist navigation-which is clearly its intent.
An Outer Banks Reader
by David Stick (University of North Carolina
Press, $29.95, hardcover; $16.95, paper) takes us to the biologically rich, wave- and
wind-shaped stretch of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. Sixty-four brief
essays by locals and visitors-from Florentine explorers to Rachel Carson, John Dos Passos,
and Carl Sandburg-span more than 400 years, from today's environmentalists back to the
Natives described in 1584 as a "very handsome and goodly people, and in their
behavior as mannerly and civil as any of Europe." If there's a unifying theme in this
delightful potpourri, it's the wild weather blowing through it, like a powerful nor'easter
at Kitty Hawk that Orville Wright says took "two or three wagonloads of sand"
and "piled it up eight inches deep on the flying machine."Bob Schildgen
Mythbuster: Gullible Warming
Imitation can be the insincerest form of flattery. Just ask the National Academy of
Sciences. In April the organization publicly distanced itself from a report that tries to
discredit international efforts to tackle global warming. The document was printed in a
format and typeface mimicking the academy's journal and was accompanied by a letter from
the academy's former president, Frederick Seitz, now chair of the conservative Marshall
Institute. The NAS governing council quickly issued a terse statement that the report
"does not reflect the conclusion of expert reports of the academy."
Labeled "a review of research literature of global warming" by its author,
the document claims that there is "no convincing scientific evidence" global
warming is occurring or will occur. It was written by Arthur Robinson of the Oregon
Institute of Science and Medicine, and never subjected to peer review.
This isn't the first time that Robinson's group, based in the rural hamlet of Cave
Junction, Oregon, has garnered national publicity. Last December Robinson and his son
Zachary penned an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal stating that "no other single
technological factor is more important to the increase in the quality, length, and
quantity of human life than the continued, expanded, and unrationed use of the earth's
hydrocarbons, of which we have proven reserves to last more than 1,000 years. Global
warming is a myth."
According to Howard Ris, executive director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the
report relies on assertions that have been "dismissed over and over again" by
mainstream scientists. In December 1995 the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change stated that there is a "discernible human influence on the global
climate." According to a recent study published in the journal Nature, the years
1990, 1995, and 1997 were the warmest in the Northern Hemisphere since 1400, additional
evidence that global warming is more than make-believe.Reed McManus
New from Sierra Club Books
The Timeless Energy of the Sun
by Madanjeet Singh
Sierra Club Books, $35
A solar cooker is but one of the solar devices exhibited in this global exploration of
heliotechnology, enhanced by photos of everything from neolithic sun talismans to modern
Order these titles from the Sierra Club Store by phone, (800)
935-1056, through our Web site, www.sierraclub.org/books,
or by writing 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105.