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  July/August 1998 Features:
Our Only Ocean
A Place of Unrest
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Natural Resources

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Idaho's Wounds | Natural Healing | Ocean Songs

Short Takes: Ocean Songs

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 cybertonic collectors.

Order these titles from the Sierra Club Store by phone, (800) 935-1056, through our Web site,, or by writing 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105.

(C) 2000 Sierra Club. Reproduction of this article is not permitted without permission. Contact for more information.

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