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Books

Going and Gone

Swift as a Shadow: Extinct and Endangered Animals
by Rosamond Purcell; Houghton Mifflin, $20

A number of unfortunate creatures never made it to this new millennium. Consider Incas, the last Carolina parakeet, who, writes Rosamond Purcell, "died in his cage in the Cincinnati Zoo on February 21, 1918, only six months after the death of Lady Jane, his companion of 32 years."

Purcell conducts a belated wake for the Carolina parakeet and some 60 other wildlife species with brief accounts of their demise and color photographs of each one's mortal remains - stuffed museum specimens, skeletal reconstructions, sometimes only bones. She mourns the paradise parrot, the glaucous macaw, the pig-footed bandicoot, and the Jamaican giant galliwisp, along with the better-known passenger pigeon and dodo, all laid low by humans wrecking their habitats, introducing predators and diseases, or just hunting them down.

Viewing the animals frozen in mummylike poses evokes shame at the annihilation of a menagerie so interesting, gorgeous, and, yes, friendly. Sheer hospitality doomed many, like the Falkland dog. "When Darwin visited Falkland in 1833," Purcell writes, "he feared that the Falkland dog's extreme tameness might lead to its extinction. He was right. Encouraged by a booming market for dog fur, traders lured the trusting animals by holding a piece of meat in one hand and a knife in the other."

Granted, some colonizers had a knack for appreciation, like the Frenchman Francois Leguat, who celebrated the Indian Ocean's big flightless bird, the Rodriguez solitaire: "They walk with such stately form and good grace that one cannot help admiring and loving them." But utilitarian brutality usually prevailed. The great auks, Purcell reports, were "hunted for their feathers . . . and to loosen their plumage the birds were boiled in large cauldrons over fires fed by oil from auks killed before them."

Also included are photos of some of today's endangered species, like the Pacific islands' birdwing butterfly, which so entranced the great naturalist Alfred Wallace that he found himself "gazing, lost in admiration, at the velvet black and brilliant green of its wings, seven inches across, its golden body and crimson breast." Purcell's book vividly shows why we must choose such ecstasy over exploitation.

- Bob Schildgen


More Books: Water Wars

In the complicated debates on industrialized agriculture and genetically engineered food, it's easy to overlook the simple question of whether there's going to be enough water to grow the crops. As the following authors show, however, there is increasing concern about how to keep water flowing while alleviating the huge environmental damage caused by dams, irrigation, sewage, and industrial use of our most important natural resource.

Pillar of Sand: Can the Irrigation Miracle Last? by Sandra Postel (W. W. Norton, $13.95) starts off with a dramatic history of the collapse of ancient irrigation-dependent civilization. Moving into the present, Postel describes ecological disasters wrought by irrigation, such as the drying up of the Aral Sea, where she finds "a graveyard of ships rotting in the dried-up seabed" in a dusty coastline town that now rests 25 miles from what remains of the once mighty inland sea. She also reminds us that simply eating lower on the food chain would conserve billions of gallons, noting that the meat-heavy American diet soaks up twice as much water as the more herbivorous European fare.

Tapped Out: The Coming World Crisis in Water and What We Can Do About It by Paul Simon (Welcome Rain, $22.95) draws on the former Illinois senator's political experience to explain water issues both at home and globally. A zealous proponent of desalinization to relieve water shortages, he also shows how water scarcity has impaired international relations, especially in the Middle East and Africa. For example, although 85 percent of the Nile originates in Ethiopia, the main consumers of its water are the Sudan and Egypt. With Ethiopia poised to build dams to collect its share, Simon warns, tensions could greatly increase.

The World's Water 1998-1999: The Biennial Report on Freshwater Resources by Peter H. Gleick (Island Press, $29.95) is a comprehensive overview of all aspects of the world's water situation, with a wealth of data presented in clear graphic form. Gleick covers everything from the environmental impacts of huge dam projects such as China's controversial Three Gorges Dam to descriptions of new ways to move water. Among the worst unintended consequences of huge dams is an increase in earthquakes, even in seismically inactive areas. And among the more exotic proposals for delivering water are ambitious schemes to tow it across the seas in gigantic bags. Packed with technical detail yet quite readable, this book is both an excellent reference work and an intriguing general introduction.

These big-picture approaches are complemented by stories of local crises. An updated version of John Opie's Ogallala: Water for a Dry Land (University of Nebraska Press, $25) shows the immense environmental impact of irrigation on the Great Plains and addresses new problems such as the polluting industrial-size hog farms on the plains. Salt Dreams: Land and Water in Low-Down California by William deBuys and Joan Myers (University of New Mexico Press, $35) unveils the utter folly (and bizarre loveliness) of the waterworks on the lower Colorado River that created the Salton Sea, a "witches' brew . . . lethal for a substantial portion of the wild creatures unfortunate enough to depend upon it." DeBuys' powerful narrative is echoed in Myers' stark photographs of the desert and the detritus of irrigation follies. Uphill Against Water: The Great Dakota Water War by Peter Carrels (University of Nebraska Press, $25) tells how tenacious South Dakota farmers defeated irrigation boosters pushing to drown their fields under an immense water project.

Seeing how the planners tried to force Americans off their land, we are reminded that forced migration to make way for dams remains a major environmental-justice tragedy.

- B.S.


World on the Web:
Green Going

Summer's arriving, and that means it's time to hit the trail, or at least daydream about it. The Web is a great place to browse for travel options, and particularly good for people who want to travel lightly on the land. Sunscreen? Check. Phrase book? Check. Modem? Check. Off we go!

Start with an all-purpose ecotravel site. Away.com's green travel page (http://away.com/channels/green) offers extensive indexes of destinations, guidebooks, and outfitters, a question-and-answer session with a panel of travel experts, a trip-finding feature, and discussion forums with other travelers. Wondering where to find the best shrimp shack on Aruba? Look here. Another useful "umbrella" site is Ecotourism Explorer (www.ecotourism.org), a service of the Ecotourism Society, an organization of environmentally responsible tour operators.

If ecotravel means more to you than just twiddling your toes in tropical sand, check out Earthwatch Institute (www.earthwatch.org). With Earthwatch, you work with scientists and conservationists on their field projects. If monitoring Kenyan rhinos or excavating Viking settlements is your ideal vacation, this site's for you.

Of course, my favorite ecotravel site is our very own Sierra Club Outings (www.sierraclub.org/outings). Club founder John Muir realized that the best way to persuade people to fight to save wild areas was to take them to see and enjoy the places firsthand. From safaris to ski tours to revegetation projects, Sierra Club Outings has a trip for you.

Finally, there's one no-frills Web site that's always worth a visit before you cast off for exotic shores: the U.S. State Department's Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets (http://travel.state.gov/travel_warnings.html). This frequently updated site offers a quick list of health conditions, political disturbances, and unusual currency or entry regulations for every country in the world. You'll be pleased to hear that crime in Vanuatu is listed as "rare."

- Mike Papciak

Mixed Media: Video


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