Earth Day 2021 Recommended Reading List

Happy Earth Day and Earth Week from the UNC Press Staff! In celebration of the times, we’ve created a recommended reading list of some of our latest environmental justice books.


DEFENDING THE ARCTIC REFUGE: A PHOTOGRAPHER, AN INDIGENOUS NATION, AND A FIGHT FOR ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

BY FINIS DUNAWAY

Tucked away in the northeastern corner of Alaska is one of the most contested landscapes in all of North America: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Considered sacred by Indigenous peoples in Alaska and Canada and treasured by environmentalists, the refuge provides life-sustaining habitat for caribou, polar bears, migratory birds, and other species. For decades, though, the fossil fuel industry and powerful politicians have sought to turn this unique ecosystem into an oil field. Defending the Arctic Refugetells the improbable story of how the people fought back. At the center of the story is the unlikely figure of Lenny Kohm (1939–2014), a former jazz drummer and aspiring photographer who passionately committed himself to Arctic Refuge activism. With the aid of a trusty slide show, Kohm and representatives of the Gwich’in Nation traveled across the United States to mobilize grassroots opposition to oil drilling. From Indigenous villages north of the Arctic Circle to Capitol Hill and many places in between, this book shows how Kohm and Gwich’in leaders and environmental activists helped build a political movement that transformed the debate into a struggle for environmental justice.  

TAINTED TAP: FLINT’S JOURNEY FROM CRISIS TO RECOVERY

BY KATRINELL M. DAVIS

After a cascade of failures left residents of Flint, Michigan, without a reliable and affordable supply of safe drinking water, citizens spent years demanding action from their city and state officials. Complaints from the city’s predominantly African American residents were ignored until independent researchers confirmed dangerously elevated blood lead levels among Flint children and in the city’s tap water. Despite a 2017 federal court ruling in favor of Flint residents who had demanded mitigation, those efforts have been incomplete at best.

THE SWAMP PEDDLERS: HOW LOT SELLERS, LAND SCAMMERS, AND RETIREES BUILT MODERN FLORIDA AND TRANSFORMED THE AMERICAN DREAM

BY JASON VUIC

Florida has long been a beacon for retirees, but for many, the American dream of owning a home there was a fantasy. That changed in the 1950s, when the so-called “installment land sales industry” hawked billions of dollars of Florida residential property, sight unseen, to retiring northerners. For only $10 down and $10 a month, working-class pensioners could buy a piece of the Florida dream: a graded home site that would be waiting for them in a planned community when they were ready to build. The result was Cape Coral, Port St. Lucie, Deltona, Port Charlotte, Palm Coast, and Spring Hill, among many others—sprawling communities with no downtowns, little industry, and millions of residential lots.

OIL PALM: A GLOBAL HISTORY

BY JONATHAN E. ROBINS

Oil palms are ubiquitous—grown in nearly every tropical country, they supply the world with more edible fat than any other plant and play a role in scores of packaged products, from lipstick and soap to margarine and cookies. And as Jonathan E. Robins shows, sweeping social transformations carried the plant around the planet. First brought to the global stage in the holds of slave ships, palm oil became a quintessential commodity in the Industrial Revolution. Imperialists hungry for cheap fat subjugated Africa’s oil palm landscapes and the people who worked them. In the twentieth century, the World Bank promulgated oil palm agriculture as a panacea to rural development in Southeast Asia and across the tropics. As plantation companies tore into rainforests, evicting farmers in the name of progress, the oil palm continued its rise to dominance, sparking new controversies over trade, land and labor rights, human health, and the environment.