Merchants of Doubt

As I’m writing this in 2022, misinformation is everywhere, and it’s not subtle. Between the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, there are a lot of facts that certain groups of people want to hide or cause confusion with falsehoods. But misinformation is not new. It’s been going on for decades, but when did it start and how did its strategies shift over time? Who were the first merchants of doubt?

The Brilliant Abyss

The scope of The Brilliant Abyss is impressive, rivaling that of the deep sea itself. Helen Scales covers the deep from a variety of angles: biology, history, geology, medicine, carbon capture, exploration, mining, plastic, and conservation. I’m sure she gets this a lot, but Scales is a great name for a marine biologist and ocean-focused writer. And she is a good one.

Speed & Scale

A venture capitalist’s view of the climate crisis. John Doerr, engineer turned investor, tells us exactly where we need to put our money to innovate our way out of this mess, “with urgent speed and at massive scale”. No one solution is going to cut it; we need a variety of solutions for many problems at once.

Eating to Extinction

The globalized food system of modern times relies on a surprisingly small number of plants, which we are quickly eating to extinction.
Pretty much anywhere you go, you will find the same varieties of bananas, wheat, tomatoes, and so on. This is great for world travelers who want access to familiar foods, but there are drawbacks.
Such dependence on low diversity puts humanity’s staple crops at a higher risk of disease and climate effects. Because of this, the indirect effects of climate change will include food shortages on a global scale.
In addition to reducing the strength of our food system, the low variety of foods we eat is not good for our health. Wild foods are richer in nutrients and good bacteria. The biodiversity of our internal microbiomes reflects the biodiversity of our food, which reflects the biodiversity of our planet.
How did we get the food system we have today, and what should the future of our food look like? How do we protect our food from eating to extinction?

The Nature of Nature

Have you always loved nature whether you chose it for a career or not? Enric Sala’s latest book, The Nature of Nature, is a well-written, future-focused Ecology 101 for any background, with a bias to the marine realm that I can appreciate.
If I can pull from the acknowledgements up front, Sala points out that writing a book is a good metaphor for an ecosystem. There are many moving parts, and many contributions from different players, some known and some unknown. They all work together to form the product you see in front of you.
The Nature of Nature is a quick and fairly easy read that gives modern real world examples. You’ve heard that climate change and human impacts are bad but exactly how and why? Sala shows us how it can play out in an ecosystem with cascading effects.

The Future We Choose

Books on climate tend to be passionate, fact-focused, and occasionally incendiary. The Future We Choose is the same, in a way, and yet it is the gentlest climate book I’ve ever read. Its focus is on optimism, through a political lens. The authors are active in the UN, and they work to promote action on climate change, because action is our only choice.

Under a White Sky

Elizabeth Kolbert’s latest work asks how the “nature of the future” will look– ecosystems fundamentally different under a changing climate. The answer she unfolds shows entire regions overrun with invasive species, flooded cities, conservation-reliant species, and, the origin of the title, human interference with the atmosphere resulting in a sky that is not blue, but white.

Her talent with language creates vivid imagery of a present and future that makes the reader think twice about the natural world and our role in it. Some of our current solutions may be worse than the problems themselves. We can do better.