Sign Up for Our Newsletter


Weekend Reads: America’s Most Toxic Town, Crossing the Unfrozen North, Itty Bitty Krill Have a Ginormous Impact
Five #greenreads that might make you late to the Labor Day barbecue.

Piping plover

“Can the Plover Save New York?”
The piping plover is an unremarkable, pipsqueak of a bird. It’s skittish of humans and unlikely to bother your picnic or show up at the birdfeeder. But when a flock of plovers picks a beach and makes landfall, watch out—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may not be far behind. For where the plovers go, so do the “Beach Closed” signs. And though this makes those with beachfront property resent the species, Joe Roman points out that protecting the plover and its preferred habitat may actually help save us when the next Hurricane Sandy comes knocking. Slate

“Port Arthur, Texas: American Sacrifice Zone”
It all starts with a YouTube video. The camera pans to reveal a skyline beset by flaming towers and billows of nightmare-black smoke. Is this some viral marketing stunt for the summer’s umpteenth post-apocalyptic blockbuster? Nah, it’s just Port Arthur, Texas—a poor town where the air is full of poison and cancer mortality rates are 40 percent higher than in the rest of the state. “The reason is simple,” writes Ted Genoways. “This is where many Americans get their oil and gas.” It’s also where, if built, the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline would deliver the dirtiest fuel on earth for refining—not exactly anyone’s idea of a civic improvement project. OnEarth

“On a Remote Island, Lessons in How Ecosystems Function”
Halfway between South America and Africa sits an island populated almost entirely by invasive species. Some came by wind, others by water, but most of Ascension Island’s inhabitants have been deposited on its shores by the ultimate invader … us. Less than 200 years ago, Darwin described the lonely rock as having a “naked hideousness,” but the island now teems with life’s diversity—a fact conservationists and biologists don’t really know what to do with. Should the invasives be eradicated and the land returned to its “original” state? Or might this Island of Misfit Toys usher in a paradigm shift regarding the very roots of conservation? Fred Pearce dives into the fray. Yale Environment 360

“Life in Antarctica Relies on Shrinking Supply of Krill”
In the Antarctic, krill is king. From the bottom up, this tiny, shrimp-like filter feeder supports an entire ecosystem—from albatrosses and petrels to skates, squid, and more than a dozen species of whale. Kenneth Brower explains that if you could coax all the krill on earth onto a scale, they would outweigh humanity twice over. Unfortunately, this is a stock largely dependent on ice. And while some scientists are cautious about blaming climate change for plummeting populations, a study of one crucial breeding ground puts krill numbers at an 80 percent decline over the last 30 years. One thing is certain: if krill go down, the reverberations felt throughout the food chain will be nothing short of nuclear. National Geographic

“China’s Voyage of Discovery to Cross the Less Frozen North”
On the other end of the world, Chinese sailors embark on a journey that’s been attempted for centuries and claimed the lives of thousands—the Northern Sea Route. With summer ice cover dropping 40 percent over recent decades, other daring ships have already completed the treacherous journey, but the voyage of the Yong Sheng would mark the first time the world’s largest exporter, China, plied a direct course to its most lucrative market, Europe. Aside from the issues of ecology and climate typically associated with polar stories, Robin McKie shows just how much the global economy stands to change with the prospect of an open Northern Sea Route. (In other words, cue up the Dylan.) Guardian

Tired of Reading Yet? Watch This:

STAMPEDE!: Ever wonder what it’s like to stare down an elephant charge and live to tell the tale? Well, now you don’t have to. National Geographic

Tips: @OnEarthMag (tag it #greenreads)
Image: GregTheBusker via Compfight cc

Like this article? Donate to NRDC to support OnEarth's groundbreaking nonprofit journalism.