Books offer environmental warnings and sustainability solutions

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Sustainability from the Inside—Out: An eightfold practice in mindful living for personal and planetary peace

By Angela Johnson, M.S.

Sustainability from the Inside—Out is a workbook designed to help the individual live mindfully while also bringing about sustainable living changes within his or her community. Its author, Angela Johnson, teaches at Northern Michigan University in the Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences Department and holds a master’s degree from Michigan State University in community, agriculture, recreation and resource studies with a focus on sustainable community food systems. She also teaches workshops using this book to help people understand what they can do to make a difference in the world and our environment.

What makes this book truly stand out is that it helps us to realize that the environmental problems we are currently facing are not solely related to our misuse of our natural resources, but the spiritual wasteland that we have fallen into. Johnson seeks to reverse that situation in this workbook by offering practical lifestyle habits we can adopt to transform our lives and create sustainable communities of peace.

Johnson begins her message by explaining that “Mindfulness is the practice of learning to live peacefully conscious in the moment and without judgment.” Therefore, “sustainable living is mindful living.”

She then offers some facts to show us that our current lifestyle isn’t sustainable, including that vast numbers of species on this planet are daily becoming extinct. How can we change this trend? Johnson believes we first do it individually by becoming more mindful ourselves and then by spreading out practices to the community at large. She offers practices for accomplishing that through the book’s four sections that teach how to be mindful of spirit, mind, body and earth. Each of these sections contains two “practices” in mindfulness, each of which includes several actions we can take.

As an example, Practice 1 is “Love and Forgive Yourself.” Johnson explains that we must learn to practice self-love and self-forgiveness first if we wish to create peace in the world. She then offers us six actions to take, including seeking solitude and self-reflection, goal setting and learning to rest and recharge. The final action of each practice is always “Community Resources and Action Planning” where the reader is asked to brainstorm how this practice might be implemented in the community at large.

There is much in this book worth considering and practicing. I agree with Johnson that our problem is not “out there” but stems from a spiritual crisis within us. I especially appreciated her discussion on voluntary simplicity, which she explains by drawing on the writings of Henry David Thoreau and Janet Luhrs. Simplicity is not about giving up stuff but rather taking control of our lives, finding ways to be happy without the stress that buying more stuff can bring. Other practices discuss the need for us to eat natural foods, the importance of sharing nature with children and the need for us all to live in unity.

Sustainability from the Inside—Out is a thoughtful and potentially life-changing book worth taking a look at if you feel concerned about our future or simply dissatisfied with the way your life is now.

For more information about Angela Johnson, her book, and workshops, visit www.greenlivingyoga.com.

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Lakeshark: Invasion of the Asian Carp

By Alan D. Roebuck

Ever since Mary Shelley published Frankenstein in 1818, science fiction and horror have blended together to warn humanity about what happens when we mess with nature. Alan D. Roebuck’s new novel Lakeshark is no exception. This is the Great Lakes version of Jaws in the 21st century, and it’s just as scary.

The story begins with Lisa and Emily, two beautiful 25-year-old biologists working in the Chicago area who are trying to prevent the migration of Asian Carp from the Mississippi River into Lake Michigan.

One of the opening scenes is of these two biologists sharing information about Asian carp with an audience at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. This discussion is factual and details the threat posed if the carp enter the Great Lakes. Asian carp are not native to the Mississippi area, and in just a few decades since they were introduced into the waterways, the “biomass” of living organisms in the waterways has gone from being 0 percent Asian carp to 98 percent. Furthermore, because man has built canals and sewer systems to connect various waterways, the Asian carp could get into Lake Michigan and cause the same kind of damage there, as well as easily spreading into all the Great Lakes. Although the story is fictional, this threat to the Great Lakes is real.

The novel then takes an extreme turn—as can be expected. After some days of heavy rain, the streets of Chicago flood, and soon the Asian carp are able to make their way into Lake Michigan.

Things get repeatedly worse from there. The fish begin to grow in size—just like goldfish will stay small in a fishbowl but grow when put into a pond. Now the carp have a giant lake to grow in. Before the story is over, some will exceed 16 feet. As the fish grow, they also evolve, developing more teeth and switching from eating plants and plankton to other fish—including each other. But the most frightening aspect of these changes that Emily and Lisa discover is that the carp are developing a “suprabranchial organ” so they can breathe out of the water, and their fins also grow in size and strength so that they can push themselves about on land or in shallow water on the lake bottom, becoming almost like walking catfish.

Well, you can see where this is going, and I don’t want to give away the whole story, but before long, Lisa and Emily hear about a man who has been attacked by a fish near Beaver Island and they go to investigate. Soon, several people are attacked. Permit me one gratuitous vulgar moment here—the best, and probably most graphic scene in the entire novel for me, is when a girl decides to meditate on the beach. While her eyes are closed, a giant Asian carp sneaks up on her, bites off her head and swims away with it. The author then tells us:

“For a few seconds, Cassandra continued to think.

“Her heart continued to beat for those few seconds, squirting blood out from her ravaged neck, the blood flowing down her body like chocolate down a chocolate fountain…. Then, when her heart stopped beating, the chocolate just oozed from her neck, running down her body, staining the sand she was sitting upon.”

I won’t give away the ending to Lakeshark, but I will say that the novel provides no easy answers and the Asian carp continue to haunt Lake Michigan when the story ends. Fortunately, a sequel is in the works.

For more information about Alan Roebuck and Lakeshark: Invasion of the Asian Carp, visit www.tortoiseshellpublishingcompany.com.

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