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Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Bangor University has a few libraries, and I’m normally based in the Main Arts Library, where the arts, humanities and social sciences books are kept. As a result, the focus of my blog posts and the enquiries I’ve helped with have tended to cluster in these subject areas; but my post in User Support (Bangor’s equivalent of Subject Librarians) is supposed to cover all the subjects (excepting Health and Law which have their own specialist subject librarians).

As a result, I decided recently to work an afternoon a week in the University’s Deiniol Library, where the science and psychology books are kept, for two reasons: 1. To offer user support to the students based mainly at that library, and 2. To get to know the science library resources better.

I did my first Friday Deiniol session just over a week ago, and enjoyed a quick browse around the shelves, getting an overview of the collections. So, finally, here is a blog post focusing on a library resource from the Deiniol Library.

Dancing at the Dead Sea: Journey to the Heart of the Environmental Crisis is a sobering, informative book by Alanna Mitchell, written in a very readable style. The book is a series of essays focusing on different places in the world the author visited to see the impact of environmental change (see also Mark Lynas’s High Tide for a similar approach), comparing the current oblivion of many people in the world to the “sixth extinction” of species with the disbelief Darwin encountered when he first presented the theory of evolution to a Vistorian public accustomed to a Christian belief system about creation.

I learnt a lot from the book, being new to the term the “sixth extinction” for starters, and being horrified to realise a little more about the extent of the crisis the planet is facing. Madagascar, I discovered from Dancing at the Dead Sea, is home to many of the most unique species in the world, but is losing forest at an alarming rate and therefore many of the animals and plants which lived in these habitats are also waning and vanishing. Lemurs (which live in Madagascar) are apparantly seriously endangered, as are one in three primate species, and the really worrying thing here is that this book was written in 2005, so the situation is potentially even worse today.

Alanna Mitchell also travelled to Suriname, a country in the Amazonian rainforest, which I had only vaguely heard of, which she describes as “the mirror opposite of Madagascar” (Mitchell, 2005, p.173) where, due to efforts to preserve the rainforest, 90% of the forest still remains, some protected by the Central Suriname Nature Reserve which was created in 1998. In addition to finding her account of the situation in Suriname interesting, I was intruiged to read about the Bush Negro people, who are descendents of African slaves brought to Suriname by the Dutch. I have been reading a bit about slavery recently, and it was incredibly sad to read a little about the Suriname slaves, as apparantly the Dutch were extremely cruel slave owners; with the book comparing some figures: apparantly around 330,ooo African slaves were brought to Suriname, a similar number to those taken to the United States, “By the time of emancipation, the United States had 1 million slaves. Dutch Guiana had only 25,000 left…” (Mitchell, 2005,¬† p196).

Another chapter in the book describes the situation in the Arctic, which I have read a little about in other sources (including Mark Lynas). The Arctic is on the forefront of climate change, and entire ways of life are changing, both for the humans and animals who live in the Arctic, as the snow and ice recedes. It’s an incredible loss in so many ways, and unsurprising that the polar bear, fast losing its snowy habitat, has become one of the emblems of climate change, and one of the ways people who know about these things use simple but powerful symbols to try and reach the rest of humanity and make them aware of the seriousness and severity of climate change.

I have no answers, I am only amazed by my own ignorance, and hope to read, learn and do more. I recommend this book as an interesting and worrying read, and hope to get hold of the author’s newer book: Seasick, about the crisis facing the oceans and marine life (unfortunately we do not currently have this one in the library).

Dancing at the Dead Sea is kept at the Deiniol Library (Bangor University), shelved at GF75.M58 2005, and can be borrowed as soon as I’ve returned it to the library.

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Today’s library resources find is an interesting article in a journal called Environmental Science and Technology. I discovered the journal whilst hunting in the American Chemical Society e-journals database for articles I could use as references, as I am teaching a session to chemistry students next week about Refworks (an online tool which lets you save book and article references).

The article, Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States, by Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Mathews was published in April 2008, and is currently¬† the journal’s most read article. They compare the greenhouse gas emissions released by transporting food with greenhouse gas emissions released by food production, and conclude that producing red meat and dairy releases far more emissions than is produced by transporting food.

Therefore, they conclude that although eating locally is still a good environmental choice, the most effective way of reducing the climate impacts caused by your eating habits is to reduce the amount of red meat and dairy that you consume (I am a vegetarian, so that’s a good start, but I do like a bit of cheese…). I personally think that both dietary changes and eating locally are important, for various reasons, not just greenhouse gas emissions. Buying local food supports local food producers, the food often tastes good, and shopping in this way does contribute to reducing food transport pollution, even if the impact is small compared to food production impacts.

Members of Bangor University can find the article by selecting American Chemical Society from the list of Physical and Applied Science Databases, clicking on Environmental Science and Technology in the journals list, and then clicking on the tab at the top of the journal list of contents which says most read. At the moment, Food-Miles is at the top of this list.

If you’re not at the university, there are a lot of articles about the conclusions drawn in the paper available online, including this article on Food Miles versus Food Choice in The Ethicurean, which summarises the article, but also points out the importance of buying local food.

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