Environmental Ponderings – 14: Thoughts on Environmental Books

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

Aldo Leopold


It is always interesting to be reminded of those events, activities and people that triggered change in views and perspectives on environmental matters. I have always been inspired by the writings of the American author, philosopher and conservationist, Aldo Leopold. Leopold first coined the term, “Wilderness”, not as a preserve for hunting, but as an area managed as an arena for a healthy biotic community. He brought focus on the importance of range and land management, as opposed to land mining and raping. His book, A Sand County Almanac: with essays on conservation from Round River, although first written in 1949, contains some wonderfully simple and wise thoughts on the changing seasons and how our human activities need to adjust to Nature’s varying demands and bounties. Ironically, effective protection of forests and wildlife on federal lands in the USA only began through the efforts of President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919).


Rachel Carson published Silent Spring” in 1962: A book which scientifically documented the pollution of air, water and wildlife from the widespread and uncontrolled use of pesticides such as DDT. She and her book were directly responsible for raising public awareness in the USA of pollution problems and subsequent better regulation of pesticides and herbicides.

South African climate change

Leonie Joubert, a South African freelance journalist and science writer, wrote a powerful book, Scorched – South Africa’s changing climate in 2006. The book spelled out the facts about climate change in this country but it had little if any effect on our regulators. She makes use of anecdotes to tell hard hitting stories about how climate change impacts every part of our life and functioning. Although 12 years old, this book still has a powerful and important message for us to consider in the way we run our lives. She quotes naturalist and writer, John Muir (1838-1914), “…When one tugs at a single thing in nature [one] finds it attached to the rest of the world…”. This important lesson is also reflected in the way in which current globalisation affects us all.

Uranium Road

South African researcher and writer, David Fig, wrote Uranium Road in 2005. His questioning of the development of nuclear technology and power generation in South Africa through an explanation of the secretive nuclear industry in the country created a basis for many activists to develop from. Once again, although this book is 13 years old, its chronicling of the nuclear industry is a real eye opener. Much of what David spelled out led to grassroots activists, Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid building a broad coalition to stop the South African government’s massive secret nuclear deal with Russia. On April 26, 2017, the High Court ruled that the R1 trillion nuclear power project was unconstitutional—a landmark legal victory that protected South Africa from an unprecedented expansion of the nuclear industry and production of radioactive waste. The two were recognised by being awarded the 2018 Goldman Prize, the environmental activist equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Environmental Management in South Africa

Environmental Management in South Africa (2018) edited by ND King, HA Strydom and FP Retief is a doorstop of a book (1,387 pages!) which documents environmental management and law in South Africa and is THE environmental reference work for the country. Sadly, it highlights the fact that we have the legislation but not the means (or possibly the political will…) to apply it all.

Other Books

I don’t have the space to discuss other South African environmental books such as, Vanishing Waters   by Bryan Davies & Jenny Day” (1998), Ecological Intelligence (2005) by Ian McCallum, Coming Back to Earth: South Africa’s Changing Environment(2002) by James Clarke and David Holt-Biddle,  and Invaded – The Biological Invasion of South Africa (2009) by Leonie Joubert.

They are gems which have been written with passion and commitment.

Final Thoughts

Our lives are rushed, hurried and often we function on “putting out fires” rather than reflecting upon the matters that we need to act upon with deliberation, prioritisation and commitment. Many of these books give us insight into where the future lies for ourselves and our children and their children. We need to spend more time thinking about where we are and where we want to be. Life is not about being carried by the currents, it is about taking actions that will steer our futures. Take some time to read some of these types of books and think about where you want to be instead of where others are driving you to go.

Arend Hoogervorst is an environmental scientist with some 35 years of experience in South Africa in environmental management and sustainable development in local and central government, commerce and industry and private practice.

© Arend Hoogervorst, 2018.