Orion Blog, page 3

Remembering Orion cofounder Aina Barten

EARLY THIS YEAR, Orion lost a bright light, founding member, and key figure: Aina Niemela Barten.

After a successful early career on stage and screen including television, a starring role in Hollywood, and a world tour for the U.S. State Department with the inimitable Helen Hayes, Aina turned her love for words into a new career.

It was the 1970s, when Aina, along with her husband, David Barten, and friend Robin Dulaney, noticed the era’s boom in environmental literature, and together created a newsletter that reviewed those books. Orion Nature Book Review launched in 1979 and the community of writers that she cultivated through it set the stage for Orion Nature Quarterly, which debuted in 1982 and eventually became Orion. Aina served as its managing editor until 1992 when she transitioned to editing features to give her more time at home in her beloved home of Conway, Massachusetts, before retiring in 2007.



As her near-town neighbor and Orion’s outreach coordinator from the early 2000s onward, I enjoyed Aina’s company during countless carpool rides through the wooded hills of western Massachusetts to the Great Barrington office. Here she shared the organization’s lore and guided me through writing my regular column on grassroots activism. Sometimes we discussed our other loves like gardening and wildflowers, or how she played the violin.

The list of writers Aina worked with is a who’s who of American environmental writing. A gifted editor and proud Finn who embodied that culture’s concept of sisu— a term that adorned a sticker on her car’s bumper and translates as something like “endurance in the face of long odds”— she always brought the best out of writers, no matter how famous or stubborn, with her characteristic determination, patience, and cheer. Her relationship with writers was not about merely correcting copy or forcing change but was rather a collaboration, one that brought forward the best possible writing for readers’ enjoyment and understanding. A mentor to many editors over the years, the whole editorial team absorbed her sense of what makes a good Orion article, which became a cornerstone of her legacy. She was known by all for her incredible kindness. After an extended illness, she passed peacefully in her sleep. She will be greatly missed by the entire Orion community and a huge extended family of friends.

Sometime soon, when you find yourself in a favorite place, sprouting seeds for spring, watching a busy birdfeeder, or leafing through the pages of Orion, whisper a word of thanks to Aina Barten, for her vision and her example. Remember her with the return of wildflowers. The early-to-bloom marsh marigold was always one of her favorites, so bright and cheery among the stubborn last snowdrifts, and I delighted in alerting her each year when they first appeared near my home. I know I’ll be watching for their return with extra attention this year.


We welcome you to share any memories of Aina in the comments below.


Erik Hoffner is a freelance photojournalist and an editor for the award-winning environmental news service Mongabay.com. Find his work via erikhoffner.com or on social media via @erikhoffner



In honor of Aina, we’d like to share the Autumn 1999 issue essay “Plate Tectonics” (PDF) from our archives with an introduction by its author, frequent Orion contributor BK Loren:

For me, it’s hard to separate Aina from the landscape of New England—how, as a Westerner, I was so astonished to see the tapestry of bare November trees heavy with red apples dusted with snow, a quiet and delicate beauty, something numinous about it. I’d never been to New England before, but I had come to meet Aina, who after years of study, finally taught me to write. Though I’d worked on “Plate Tectonics” for months, it was an utter mess before Aina touched it. But she knew what the essay could be and she let it become exactly that, not by telling me what to do, but through peeling back my writerly ego and getting to the core. Not one word falls from my heart/mind to the page these days without Aina’s fingerprints on it, without her intelligence and spirit imbuing it. She was so generous; I know there are authors everywhere whose words grace the page today on wings borrowed from Aina. Her life, her generosity, her quiet and delicate beauty will truly live on through the work and words of so many. 

BK Loren is the award-winning author of the novel Theft, and the essay collection Animal, Mineral, Radical. Her short fiction and essays have garnered many national awards and have been published in The Best Spiritual Writing Anthologies, Parabola, Yoga International, Orion, and elsewhere.

New Year, New Poetry: Eight Fresh Poetry Recommendations for 2022


LOOKING TO START YOUR YEAR off with some excellent new poetry? Orion poetry editor Camille Dungy has some great recommendations for new and forthcoming collections. Check them out. 




The Perfect Black by Crystal Wilkinson

This bountiful collection from the poet laureate of Kentucky is a meditation on place and past and power. “The map of me can’t be all hills & mountains even though i’ve been country all my life. The twang in my voice has moved downhill to the flatland a time or two,” she writes in the first poem, “Terrain.” “Still i return to old ground time & again, a homing blackbird destined to return.” A friend gave me some lovely brass book clips that let me mark pages I want to return to without damaging a book with dog ears, and I went through the whole pack on The Perfect Black, clipping poems about cold creeks and water witches, meditations on grief, the ghost voice of an enslaved woman who slept on a kitchen’s dirt floor, bolting horses, snow “like a scorned woman’s tears,” Black farmers, and tobacco that is “pretty & braided/ lined up in rows/ like a room full/ of brown girls with skirts/ hooped out for dancing.” The wealth of the world Wilkinson renders on these pages is measured in witness and love. (University of Kentucky Press)



Last Pawnshop in New Jersey by James Hoch

I’ve been waiting a long time for a new book of poems by James Hoch. And here is the reward. This book. Poem after deeply felt, brilliantly wrought poem. Glory be! Such care, precision, and grace. Image-rich, situationally charged attention in every word, every line, every page. I’m not sure I breathed the whole time I was reading Last Pawn Shop in New Jersey. No, I did breathe, and what I smelled off these pages was the scent of a Zippo flicked in the Jersey Pine Barrens or mucky water slapping the Atlantic City Steel Pier. I smelled the wrecked world in these pages. I read these poems and grieved as if I, too, just lost my mother, as if I lost another friend, and my father, and maybe my hold on what’s left of some little corner of an unpolluted world. But also here is the hope of figs and cheese and June fescue. Of sweet sons who still snuggle without any reason for fear. The world on these pages can be as cold as an Icelandic lake. It could stop your heart. But dive in. There’s something here you need. Inside, the water’s so clear you can “see as far as you can see.”  (Forthcoming from Louisiana State University Press)



Requeening by Amanda Moore

This National Poetry Series winning collection is by a poet and mother and surfer and high school English teacher who also keeps bees. I think it was the poet Elizabeth Bishop who said, “A metaphor should touch in at least three places, and two of them have to be in the real world.” Amanda Moore’s book is proof of this rule at work. The book is filled with the stuff of Moore’s real world and our own and yet, over and over, Requeening transforms everyday experiences by touching one against others. These are poems like honeycomb built around introduced objects: somehow both fragile and sturdy. (Harper Collins)



Paradise by Victoria Redel

Paradise begins at “The Border” and in the “Garden” and keeps going from there. Victoria Redel weaves contemporary stories of refugees and climate catastrophe, stories from her own family in the 1930s and 1940s, and stories from the Judeo-Christian tradition as well. Reading Paradise, I am deeply grounded in a world of beauty and growth and survival, but in a world of catastrophe too. Redel renders landscapes and plants and animals as fully as she does the people in her poems, making me want to touch and hold on to so much. It hurts. One poem, “If You Knew” lists all the things people wanted to take with them, but couldn’t, when they left home: “He wanted to take the muddy stream where he sang with frogs./ She wanted to take dawn in the linden tree. . . . What would you take?” (Forthcoming from Four Way Books)



The Flowers of Evil (Les Fleurs du mal) by Charles Baudelaire, Translated by Aaron Pochigian

This new English translation of Charles Baudelaire’s ground-breaking collection presents the nineteenth-century poet’s works (including some that were banned for nearly a century) in the order Baudelaire intended. The translator, Aaron Pochigian, has taken pains to present English versions of these poems with an attention to rhyme and meter that renders Baudelaire’s formal musicality for an English-speaking ear. The original French poems are reprinted in the second half of the collection. That these translations of the poems sound almost beautiful and almost plain seems justified. In his extensive and informative introduction to the collection, Dana Gioia reminds us that, for Baudelaire, beauty “can also transform the perception of objects considered ugly or evil.” There is ample place for the “sordid” and ugly and awful (rot, decay, the torture of beautiful birds, “late autumn’s luscious and unhealthy rays”) inside these vibrant and musical poems. (Liveright Publishing Company)



Girl as Birch by Rebecca Kaiser Gibson

In the beginning of Girl as Birch, it’s hard to differentiate the girl at its center from the trees and flowers around her. She’s described as oak and azalea, foxglove and honeysuckle, her life timed with the return of cicadas. But she will leave the garden. In the story, the girl must always leave the garden. The world she must walk through is weird and windy, full of dance lessons and lakes where she might drown. The lines of Rebecca Kaiser Gibson’s poems are fragmented and staggered in wandering arrays. The narratives are clipped and sparse, as if even the speaker can bear to share only snippets of her story. There are secrets here “as dark as rhododendron.” There are grosbeaks and grackles singing their awkward, necessary songs. (Forthcoming from Bauhan Publishing)



Dear Specimen by W.J. Herber

In this tightly braided series of poems steeped in both immediate loss and deep geological time, the poet offers neither consolation nor exemption, just honest observation and compassionate connection to what we are losing or have already lost. The poems in Dear Specimen speak to the tar-trapped remains, jarred bodies, and flower-strewn fossilized bones of the wooly mammoth, the zigzag salamander, and the humanoid first flower people of Shandihar. Poems in the National Poetry Series winning collection praise the compromised persistence of the red fox, the merganser, the manatee, the American beaver. Though she never names herself, except, once, as “Mom,” W. J. Herbert names her daughter and her grandson and gives them voices and nightmares and grief counselors. These poems don’t try to pretend that no one will die in the end. Let’s dispense with platitudes. Everything is not going to be okay. We are part of a great extinction. It’s time to face it, these poems say. (Beacon Press)



Parasitic Oscillations by Madhur Anand

I devoured this book in a two-hour sitting, fascinated by the way Madhur Anand writes about the nineteenth-century egg and bird research collections of A. O. Hume. Anand visited natural history museum research collections in the U.S. and U.K. as well as field sites in India. She writes into mathematical simulations of birdsong and talks back to letters and diaries kept by A. O. Hume. The songs and feathers and flight patterns and habitats of extinct and extant bird species flutter through these pages, and Anand’s own life (and, perhaps, our own) is in these pages too. Parasitic Oscillations is a fascinating medley of science, philosophy, and art. (McClelland & Stewart)


Want more poetry recommendations from Orion poetry editor Camille Dungy? Click here


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The Most-Read Orion Articles of 2021


As we wrap up 2021, take a look at the most-read Orion articles available online. This year, our web-only content had its highest readership ever, so we’ve included our top ten print features and web exclusive articles. Subscribe to Orion today. All holiday gift subscriptions are 20% off through January 2022.


Top 10 Most-Read Features From Orion Magazine:


10. Now That It’s Come to This by John Freeman (Summer 2021)
On the life, mind, and heart of Barry Lopez



9. First Passage by Elizabeth Rush (Summer 2021)
A journey toward motherhood in the age of glacial loss



8. The Ghost Crop of Goa by Sharanya Deepak (Autumn 2021)
Heirloom rice hangs by its last stalks



7. Upriver by Rebecca Altman | Photography by Ansel Adams (Summer 2021)
A researcher traces the legacy of plastics



6. Figs by Aimee Nezhukumatathil (Autumn 2021)
A taste of wonder



5. Woman in the Woods by Sandra Steingraber (Summer 2021)
A study of resilience in does and other female creatures



4. The Nature of Plastics by Meera Subramanian (Spring 2021)
Explorations at the edge of the artificial



3. Spark Bird by Emily Raboteau (Spring 2021)
Bearing witness to New York’s endangered species



2. Brutes by Amitav Ghosh (Autumn 2021)
Meditations on the myth of the voiceless



1. What Slime Knows by Lacy Johnson (Autumn 2021)
There is no hierarchy in the web of life



Top 10 Most-Read Orion Web Exclusive Features:


10. The Endling by Christina Cogswell
Exploring extinction denial through the eyes of the last vaquita



9. Celebrating Old Growth: A Conversation with Robin Wall Kimmerer and Robert Macfarlane
Orion cohosted a live web event with record attendance, a conversation between Robin Wall Kimmerer, Robert Macfarlane, and David Haskell, in celebration of Orion’s new anthology, Old Growth.



8. A Case for the Porch by Charlie Hailey
We don’t have to go far because stepping out on a porch brings climate change to us



7. How to Write Love by Leslie Jamison and Sarah Sentilles
Kinship, craft, humus, tattoos


6. The Stability Fantasy by Emmett Fitzgerald
Why the pace of change is unraveling our myth of a stable planet



5. Out of Breath by Tishani Doshi
The more unbelievable something is, the more we reach for our mouths



4. A River Reawakened by Jessica Plumb
Ten years of rewilding the Elwha watershed



3. Hummingbirds and the Ecstatic Moment by Jeff VanderMeer
Hummingbirds help a writer become a lover of the natural world




2. The Ecological Imagination of Hayao Miyazaki by Isaac Yuen
A retrospective on four fantastical worlds



1. My Five Summer Yard Hacks by Jeff VanderMeer
A list that includes the world’s first armadillo obstacle course


Want more? Take a look at Orion’s top twenty-five articles of the past decade and the ten best Orion covers since 2013.


One Women-Led Nonprofit. One Hundred Photographers. One Million Dollars for the Planet.

Photographer: Jasper Doest. During a blizzard in Joshin’etsukogen National Park, on the island of Honshu, a Japanese macaque shakes off snow and water drops while resting on a rock that’s poking out of a hot spring. “For a year I obsessed about the wind swirling over the famous hot springs within the park. It resulted in this photo of a Japanese macaque that seems to fly through the galaxy on a magic carpet.”


ONE HUNDRED TOP PHOTOGRAPHERS have come together to offer an extraordinary selection of 200 fine art prints, including over fifty highly sought-after limited edition prints, to raise awareness and much needed funding for conservation efforts around the world. The initiative is called Vital Impacts and its mission is to support organizations working to protect endangered habitats for humans and wildlife and the storytellers who amplify these critical stories.


Photographer: Reuben Wu.Field of Infinity XT2011.” A continuation of his Lux Noctis and Aeroglyphs series, Reuben explored the landscapes of Bolivia on a weeklong road trip, photographing in remote and extreme locations, in combination with his modified drone to illuminate the landscapes at night. Reuben Wu is a visual artist and music producer. He is also a co-founder of Ladytron and an official ambassador for Phase One Photography.


Photographer: Anand Varma. The forked tongue of this Anna’s hummingbird can be seen through the glass vessel from which it’s drinking artificial nectar. To fuel their energetic flight, hummingbirds may consume more than the equivalent of their body weight in nectar each day, via a tongue that makes a sipping motion up to fifteen times a second. To keep the birds healthy in captivity, the artificial nectar they’re fed contains protein powder and other nutrients, seen here as white specks. Anand Varma is a National Geographic Explorer and award-winning photographer based in Berkeley, California.


Photographer: Jane Goodall. In her early days at Gombe, Dr. Jane Goodall spent many hours sitting on a high peak with binoculars or a telescope, searching the forest below for chimpanzees. She took this photo of herself with a camera fastened to a tree branch. “I was really excited to see that that photo of me looking out at the valley at Gombe with my trusty lightweight telescope was chosen. It was taken in, I think, 1962. I was on my own, very high up in the hills and I thought what a great photo this would make.”

“I had to find a place where there was a tree that was just right for balancing the camera. I had to set up the tripod and fiddle about until I had the tripod and the imagined image of me framed just right. That was in the days before digital so I had to wait a long time before I got the results back from National Geographic. I was pretty proud of myself. I love that picture.”

Vital Impacts is led by women—founded by award-winning National Geographic photographer and filmmaker Ami Vitale and the visual journalist Eileen Mignoni. Vital Impacts provides financial assistance, and expands and strengthens the narrative of community-oriented organizations dedicated to protecting and preserving human and wildlife habitats.

The photographers who have been selected for this collection are renowned for their dedication to the planet. They have demonstrated a deep commitment to conservation efforts around the globe and are donating to support the grassroots conservation campaigns: Big Life Foundation, Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots and Shoots program, Great Plains Conservation Project Ranger and SeaLegacy.

Dr. Jane Goodall DBE, the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees and conservation hero to many, has contributed exclusive, signed prints from her time working in Gombe, Tanzania, sixty years ago. These newly available images include a self-portrait, as well as two other images showing the remarkable lives of chimpanzees she has been working to protect for sixty years.



Just a few of the contributors taking part are Paul Nicklen, James Balog, Cristina Mittermeier, Nick Brandt, Gideon Mendel, Ragnar Axelsson, Mitch Dobrowner, Tamara Dean, David Doubilet, Jim Naughten, Maggie Steber, Joel Sartore, Tim Flach, Carol Guzy, Matthieu Paley, Xavi  Bou, Beth Moon, Ami Vitale, Stephen Wilkes, and Reuben Wu.


Photographer: Ami Vitale. Edition: 5 of 50. Joseph Wachira comforts Sudan, the last living northern white rhino on the planet, moments before his death on March 19, 2018 at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in northern Kenya. He died surrounded by love, together with the people who committed their lives to protecting him. From the moment I heard about the bold plan to airlift four of the last northern white rhinos from Safari Park Dvör Karlove Zoo in the Czech Republic back to Africa in 2009, until today, when Najin and Fatu, his daughter and granddaughter, are the last two remaining of their kind, this story has shaped the lives of countless dedicated keepers, scientists, and conservationists.

“I believe this moment can be a catalyst to awaken humanity to the reality of the losses we face and inspire action. In a hopeful twist, scientists from The Biorescue Project have already created twelve pure northern white rhino embryos which are awaiting implantation in a southern white rhino surrogate.”


For the past twenty-five years, I have been reporting on stories about humanity’s impacts on the planet for publications like National Geographic, among many others. Human activity has placed one million plant and animal species in immediate danger of extinction, causing what scientists have identified as the sixth major extinction event on this planet. This extinction event is different—not only is it driven by humans but it is happening at an incredibly fast and accelerating rate. Removal of a keystone species has a huge effect on the ecosystem and impacts all of us. These giants are part of a complex world created over millions of years, and their survival is intertwined with our own survival. Without wildlife, we suffer more than just the loss of ecosystem health. We suffer a loss of imagination, a loss of wonder, a loss of beautiful possibilities.

What happens next is in all of our hands. Nature is resilient if we give it a chance—if we give it our time. We all have the capacity to get engaged and use our voices to make a difference. Each of us will be a much more powerful voice when speaking to the people in our lives. I believe we must first fall in love with the world around us. Love gives us the courage to make a difference. But I know it’s not just about loving this planet. In fact, that’s not going to save us.

What’s going to save us is believing in the wonder of this world. Wonder allows us to get beyond routine ways of thinking and to reimagine our future together. Wonder shows us how deeply connected we are to one another and that our choices are profound in their impact. We all want to be on the right side of history, and that can only happen when we realize that history is our story and our story is the story of every living thing on this planet. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that this issue is too big to deal with or that someone else will take care of it. It is up to you. It is up to me. It is up to us.


Photographer: Dudley Edmondson. “Great Grey Owl in a Snowstorm.” For three decades Dudley Edmondson has photographed nature and wildlife across the country.


Photographer: Jimmy Chin. “Charakusa Valley.” Karakoram, Pakistan, 2001.


Photography has the unique ability to transcend all languages and help us understand our deep connections to one another and to all of life on this planet. It is the ultimate tool for creating empathy, awareness, and understanding across cultures, a tool for making sense of our commonalities in the world we share.

The genesis of this initiative is to use photography and powerful storytelling images to support organizations working to protect endangered habitats and amplify these critical stories. This is a moment to reimagine our relationship with nature and to one another. We all need to do all we can to care for the plants and critters that inhabit Earth. They are fellow travelers in this universe. Our future happiness depends on them.


Photographer: Jody MacDonald. “This is Rajan. He is a sixty-six-year-old Asian elephant brought to the Andaman Islands for logging in the 1950s. He and a small group of ten elephants were forced to learn how to swim in the ocean to help bring the logged trees to nearby barges and then eventually swim onto the next island. When logging was banned in 2002, Rajan was out of a job. He spent the rest of his days living out an idyllic elephant retirement on one of the islands he helped log. I photographed him and his Majout (caretaker) named Nazroo, who had been with him for thirty years, and documented Rajan spending time sunbathing on the beach, swimming in the ocean and foraging in the forest. Rajan was the last of the group to survive until his death in 2016. He was truly the last of his kind. This image is from the artist series ‘The Last of His Kind.'” An award-winning photographer, Jody MacDonald is no stranger to adventure and exploration in the last untamed corners of the planet.


Photographer: Nick Brandt. Harriet, a giant eagle owl, has lived at Kuimba Shiri Bird Sanctuary for thirty-five years, rescued when she was a chick as a result of deforestation. This image is the first part of a global series, The Day May Break, portraying people and animals that have been impacted by environmental degradation and destruction. The people in the photos have all been badly affected by climate change—some displaced by cyclones that destroyed their homes, others such as farmers displaced and impoverished by years-long severe droughts. The fog is the unifying visual. We increasingly find ourselves in a kind of limbo, a natural world now fading from view. Created by fog machines on location, the fog is also an echo of the suffocating smoke from wildfires, intensified by climate change, devastating so much of the planet. However, in spite of their loss, these people and animals are the survivors. And therein lies possibility and hope. These animals can never be released back into the wild. As a result, they are habituated. So the animals and people were photographed together in the same frame.


Photographer: Tim Flach. Best known for his stylized portraits of animals, Tim Flach is known for the originality he brings to capturing animal behavior and characteristics.


Vital Impacts is minimizing environmental impact by offsetting emissions. The printing, shipping, ordering system, and web platform for the sale are all carbon neutral. Click here to learn more.


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Ten Books for Every Transformational Change Bookshelf

IT’S NOW INCREASINGLY APPRECIATED that our current system of political economy is failing us right and left. The search is on for a new economy and polity that can routinely deliver good results for people, place, and planet. Fortunately, a growing public interest in social and political transformation has been matched by an outpouring of exceptional books addressing what that means and how to accomplish it. My reading shelf is full with these books, and my goal here is to share some of my favorites with you.

From the outset, then, the list that follows reflects my preferences and biases, and, inevitably, the books that have somehow come to my attention. I made the tough decision to limit my selection to only books published from 2020 on. What follows are neither book reviews nor book summaries, but instead brief vignettes that should introduce the book and, I hope, whet appetites for more. I will start with books that deal with the sine qua non of transformative change, the movement from destructive values and habits of thought to a new consciousness appropriate for the situation ahead.



There’s no better place to begin than Tim Jackson’s Post Growth: Life After Capitalism (Polity Press, 2021). It’s a prosaic title for a passionate and poetic book that, among much else, seeks to shatter our enthrallment with the reigning economic paradigm. A key quote:

“The relentless pursuit of growth has driven us to the verge of ecological collapse, created unprecedented financial fragility, and precipitated the terrifying spectre of social instability. Capitalism has no answers to its own failings. . . . Capitalism’s core belief in eternal growth lies trembling in the ruins. The myth itself is moribund.”



Thomas Homer-Dixon’s Commanding Hope: The Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril (Knopf Canada, 2020) aims at new values and visions that can lead us out of the current horribleness. Starting with a rejection of both despair and idle hope, he explores the paths to new and inclusive worldviews that can provide the wellspring of deep change. A key quote:

“Commanding hope recognizes the possibility of negative outcomes, but these outcomes aren’t seen as inevitable. Without succumbing to delusion and dishonesty, this hope keeps those negative emotions from penetrating into and infecting [our] vision of the future. . . . In this way, that vision can continue to sustain the powerful agency that can help make the vision real.”




Let’s shift now from hearts and minds to the critical process of envisioning alternative systems and developing specific ideas for change. The twenty-nine essays in The New Systems Reader: Alternatives to a Failed Economy (James Gustave Speth and Kathleen Courrier, eds., Routledge, 2020) cover possibilities ranging from twenty-first-century social democracy, to democratic ecosocialism, to alternatives for even deeper change, including full-blown reconstruction. A key quote:

“‘There is no alternative’ threatens us with expulsion to a barren desert if we dare to demand some set of arrangements that transcend the possibilities of our current capitalist configuration. But as the plenitude of alternative visions we have collected show, far from a desert, what we have is a thriving, diverse ecosystem.”



One necessary and fundamental transition is the shift from today’s runaway consumerism to new lifestyles drawing on what we know about human well-being, happiness, and fulfillment. Our admirable guide here is Kate Soper’s eloquent plea in Post-Growth Living: For an Alternative Hedonism (Verso, 2020). A key quote:

“. . . [E]ven if it were possible to sustain the consumerist market indefinitely [which she seriously doubts], it would not enhance human pleasure or happiness. It would inhibit and stunt the discovery and development of other ways of meeting material needs and other sources of pleasure and satisfaction.”



Ever wonder why so much weight is put on co-ops as pillars of a new economy? If so, you will want to read Melissa Scanlan’s excellent Prosperity in the Fossil-Free Economy: Cooperatives and the Design of Sustainable Businesses (Yale, 2021). Drawing on careful case studies from the U.S. and Europe, her book convincingly presents the most attractive alternative to the now dominant investor-owned corporation. A key quote:

“Not only can cooperatives be successful organizational models for the transition to a fossil-free economy, they . . . offer the opportunity to reinvest surplus revenue in the community . . . exercise democratic governance . . . and provide greater equality in incomes.”



The current series “The Case for . . .” from Polity Press deserves our attention for its fine exploration of path-breaking policy directions that move toward a new order. These five books in the series show what I mean: Andrew Cumbers’s The Case for Economic Democracy, Anna Coote and Andrew Percy’s The Case for Universal Basic Services, Joe Guinan and Martin O’Neill’s, The Case for Community Wealth Building, Louise Haagh’s The Case for Universal Basic Income, and Pavlina R. Tcherneva’s The Case for a Job Guarantee. These books and others in the series lay out paths to a future that is radically more egalitarian, caring, and community centered.



A first cousin to this Polity series is Peter Barnes’s exceptional Ours: The Case for Universal Property (Polity, 2021). Barnes begins with the insight that most of today’s productive capacity is not due to the entities that benefit overwhelmingly from it, but instead to the ongoing accretion of scientific and technical knowledge and access to Earth’s natural resources. He argues successfully that these storehouses of wealth rightfully belong to each of us, and he has ideas to move this realization into action. A key quote:

“Universal property is needed to supply what markets currently lack: self-regulating brakes on external harms and money pumps that lift everyone up. Without such additions, inequality will split us apart and nature will become our mortal enemy.”



Why is there enough money to save the economy but not the environment and its inhabitants? Modern monetary theory (MMT) is not so much a theory as a practical explanation for how money is generated and allocated in our economy today. In The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy (PublicAffairs, 2020), Stephanie Kelton debunks the myths that have constrained federal spending in areas now desperately underfunded. A key quote:

“MMT teaches us that if we have the real resources we need—that is, if we have the building materials to fix our infrastructure, if we have people who want to become doctors, nurses, and teachers, if we can grow all the food we need—then the money can always be made available to accomplish our goals. That is the beauty of a sovereign currency.”



I feel that I have spent sixty years climbing a high hill only to find the younger Kate Aronoff already there on top. Her Overheated: How Capitalism Broke the Planet—and How We Fight Back (Bold Type Books, 2021) is a sustained, historically grounded reflection on how we got to this unfortunate moment and what that means for “how we fight.” Included in her prescriptions is public ownership of controlling shares in the fossil giants. A key quote:

“How capitalism has developed as an economic and belief system shapes not just the carbon content of the atmosphere but world governments’ continued inability to respond. . . . Without a major course correction, capitalism will define, for the worse, how the US deals with the consequences of having waited so long.”



With mainstream economics in tatters, at least outside the economics departments, many recognize the need for a new economics to help guide the transition ahead. One of the most seminal and relevant efforts to forge a new economics has progressed under the banner of “ecological economics.” (It’s badly misnamed.) Peter Victor’s stimulating book about one of its leading proponents, Herman Daly’s Economics for a Full World: His Life and Ideas (Routledge, 2021) engages with the many debates kicked off by the ever thoughtful Daly, including his sustained challenge to GDP growth. A key quote:

“Daly argues that there is a logical policy sequence starting with sustainable scale, followed by just distribution and then efficient allocation. . . . Mainstream economists, Daly says, concentrate too much on efficient allocation to the neglect of sustainable scale and just distribution.”


Read a conversation with Megan Mayhew Bergman and Gus Speth, as they discuss Speth’s newest book, They Knew: The U.S. Government’s Role in Causing the Climate Crisis



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