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Naturalist Notebook 

August 26, 2009

Bookworms (Book Group for Adults): Swimming with Great Whites

The Devil’s Teeth: Obsession & Survival among America’s Great White Sharks by Susan Casey

November 3rd at 6:30 pm

The Farallon Islands, inhospitable and dramatic, are feeding grounds for sharks. The group will discuss Susan Casey’s account of two biologists who have spent years in this underwater lab observing and learning more about the behavior of these creatures.

Reservations: Free. To reserve a place, go online or call 800-794-7576. Meet at the Business Receptio Desk off the Middle Drive entrance.

Filed under: Book Clubs,News,Programs — nature @ 11:46 am

Bookworms (Book Group for Adults): Randomness, Chance & Probability

The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow

October 13th at 6:30 pm

What role do numbers play in our daily lives? How do we interpret chance events and how do they impact our future behavior in a particular situation? How reliable or unreliable are wine ratings, political polls, and school grades? Physicist Mlodinow’s book on predictability–or the lack thereof–is sure to challenge some of your views.

Reservations: Free. To reserve a place, go online or call 800-794-7576. Meet at the Business Reception Desk off the Middle Drive entrance.

Filed under: Book Clubs,News,Programs — nature @ 11:40 am

Bookworms (Book Group for Adults): Science Made Fun

The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier

September 15th at 6:30 pm

Join a discussion of Angier’s primer on scientific topics ranging from thinking scientifically to geology, astronomy, and evolutionary biology. A New York Times columnist and Putlizer Prize-winning journalist, Aniger asked scientists, “What do you wish everyone knew about your field?” The results are in The Canon.

Reservations: Free. To reserve a place, go online or call 800-794-7576. Meet at the Business Reception Desk off the Middle Drive entrance.

Filed under: Book Clubs,News,Programs — nature @ 11:37 am

August 7, 2009

Water We Doing? June 2009

Photo: Cierva Cove, Antarctica. Gerald and Buff Corsi © 2001 California Academy of Sciences.

Earth is often called the “water planet” so we often take it for granted that there is an endless supply of water. In reality, only 3% of all Earth’s water is freshwater, and of that 3% only 1% is available for human use. Learn more about some of the water issues we face by perusing the following books or watching the DVD. You can also find more resources in the Naturalist Center.

Books and Media Reviews

Glennon, Robert. Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What to do About it.Washington D.C.: Island Press, 2009. Nat. Ctr. TD223 .G578 2009

“ Water is a valuable, exhaustible resource but we treat it as valueless and inexhaustible.” Robert Glennon opens Unquenchable with a series of vignettes showing just how crazy our consumption of water is and how close we are to running out of water. While Las Vegas hotels continue to create flamboyant shows with millions of gallons of water, water shortages all over the West are forcing communities to change their way of life. There is also a strong linkage between water consumption and energy consumption. Glennon also shows how our enthusiasm for fossil fuels is draining our water supplies, but before we get too excited about biofuels we should consider that production of ethanol consumes even more water than oil or natural gas.
Glennon manages to be both funny and scary as he leads us through the follies of our water consumption. But he is utterly clear: we must change our habits as a nation or we will run out of water sooner rather than later. Unquenchable, however, does not just tell us what the problem is: the final third of the book gives us solutions.
Many of the changes Glennon proposes are ones that we as individuals can make: from re-examining what we plant in our gardens to installing composting toilets (what is a composting toilet? Find out here).
In addition, as a nation, we need to abandon business as usual and create a new water infrastructure. This has to come from the federal government and, at the moment, there are no signs.
Unquenchable is packed full of information and is extremely readable. There is an excellent list of sources at the end for further reading.


Shoveller, Herb. Ryan and Jimmy and the Well in Africa that Brought Them Together. Toronto: Kids Can Press, 2006. Nat. Ctr. Juv. HV28 .H74 S56 2006.

Ryan Hreljac was six when he first became aware of the lack of safe drinking water for much of the world. His teacher told the class that it only cost $70 to build a well that could supply a village and surrounding area with safe, clean water. Ryan was inspired and decided to raise the money himself by doing chores around his neighborhood. But this was only the start of it: Ryan went on to raise first $2000 for a well for an African village and then $25000 for a power drill to make more wells. But this is not just Ryan’s story: It is also the story of Akana Jimmy; a boy in the village where Ryan’s well was drilled. Jimmy and Ryan become pen pals and then meet up when Ryan goes to Africa to see his well in place. But Jimmy soon has far greater problems and the book follows his story as his life is threatened in the Ugandan civil war.
This is a story of both boys and their determination and bravery. Both face immense challenges and both Ryan and Jimmy overcome their fears to triumph. It is an inspiring story about what children, even young children, can achieve through persistence and courage.
Parents should note that some of Jimmy’s story might be disturbing for younger children.


Journey to Planet Earth: The State of the Planet [DVD].Washington, DC: Screenscope, 2005. Nat. Ctr. Media GE140 .S72 2005.

This hour long DVD, narrated by Matt Damon, provides an overview of many of the challenges the world is facing from population growth to climate change. Water supply is one of these challenges and possibly the most underestimated one. The State of the Planet takes a global look at the question “Are we running out of water?”, as experts project that the demand for water will double in twenty years. The program uses stories from different countries around the world to skim the surface of profound concerns such as the supply of clean drinking water to the developing world, the potential exhaustion of underground water sources and the link between economic development and water usage. However, there is also a section of good news, which looks at how human ingenuity has come up with new ways to balance our need for water with what is available.
Although there is a lot of information crammed into the program, clearly these topics cannot be covered in much more than a superficial way in such a short time. The strength of The State of the Planet is how it draws together all the threads of the different issues covered.
The State of the Planet is one episode in the PBS series Journey to Planet Earth, which explores the fragile relationship between people and the world they inhabit. For more information see http://www.pbs.org/journeytoplanetearth/about/index.html.

Read an engaging book or seen a riveting movie about water? Share the title and why you liked it with us below in our comments section.

What’s the Difference?

Photo: G. Sharlow, 2009.

Bottled Water vs. Tap Water

Despite what many people think, tap water is much cleaner and safer than bottled water; strict federal regulations control it. It is much cheaper, about 100 times less expensive than bottled water, which can cost more than gas! It is also better for the environment. Forty-seven million gallons of oil are used to produce and transport plastic water bottles for Americans every year—the equivalent of putting 100,000 cars on the road and producing a billion pounds of carbon dioxide. Thirty billion plastic water bottles are thrown away each year in the United States and most aren’t recycled. They end up in landfills and can take up to 1,000 years to decompose.

Want to know more about water? Visit:

  1. American Museum of Natural History Water: H2O =Life
  2. Circle of Blue
  3. EPA Ground Water and Drinking Water
  4. USGS Water Science for Schools

Filed under: Theme of the Month — nature @ 2:20 pm

Green Living April 2009

Want to learn more about moving towards an eco-friendly lifestyle? Check out the books and DVD listed below as well as other resources found in the Naturalist Center. You can also use our “Sustainability Made Simple” card to take some simple steps towards a more sustainable future. It might not seem like much individually, but every small step can lead to a world of difference.

Book and Media Reviews

Melville, Greg.Greasy Rider: Two dudes, one fry-oil-powered car and a cross-country search for a greener future.Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2008. Nat. Ctr. GE197 .M45 2008

In 1903, H. Nelson Jackson and mechanic Sewell Crocker were the first people to drive across the country in an automobile. Just over a hundred years later, journalist Greg Melville and his friend and mechanic, Iggy, set out to emulate this feat by being the first people to drive cross-country in a car powered by re-used vegetable oil. Greg is initially motivated more by the economic opportunity – free fuel! – than by environmental concerns.
The journey itself is pretty uneventful: only a few mechanical mishaps and the struggle to find suitable fryer oil liven up a routine cross-country drive. Along the way, Greg and Iggy stop off at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the American Council on Ethanol and the Rocky Mountain Sustainable Fair to glean more information about how the way we live impacts on the environment.
The third strand of the book is a series of six ‘errands’, or challenges, that Iggy sets Greg, to be met after the drive is completed. These include finding the greenest house in America (hint: it’s not Al Gore’s) and investigating renewable heat sources at Fort Knox.
Over the course of his journey, Greg forms some conclusions about the direction that we, as individuals and as a nation, need to take if we are to avoid the looming environmental crisis. His frustration at a nation that seems content with small, incremental changes rather than “fence-swingers’ is clear.
Greasy Rider includes some excellent notes, sources and websites for further reading.


Collard, Sneed B.Acting for nature: What young people around the world have done to protect the environment. Berkeley, Calif. : Heyday Books, c2000. Nat. Ctr. Juv. GE195.5 .C65 2000.

This is a collection of 15 real life stories of how young people have made a difference to the world we live in. The stories are drawn from all around the world: USA, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. The challenges the young people faced range from saving sea turtles that walked away from the sea to saving an ancient forest in London that was threatened by a four-lane highway.
The message of the book is very clear: there are many ways to help the environment and everyone has a way they can contribute. The stories are often inspiring struggles, in which the young hero needs to persevere, usually in the face of opposition or indifference from their peers. In the end, each of them triumphs through persistence, making connections and being passionate about their cause.
Action for Nature, a San Francisco based organization, continues to encourage young people to take personal action for the environment. Every year Action for Nature honors these people through the Eco-Hero Awards.


The Recyclergy: 33 minutes of garbageDVD. Produced and directed by Jeremy Kaller. 2006. Nat. Ctr. Media TD794.5 .R42 2006.

In May 2009, Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco, announced that San Francisco had the highest recycling rate in the U. S: 72% of discards are now recycled. This DVD is about those who push even further than that: Bay Area non-profit recycling organizations that love to salvage what others would send to the landfill. But now the work that these organizations do is becoming absorbed into the mainstream as the general population catches up with the pioneers interviewed here. Rollicking music by Rube Waddell sets off this entertaining small piece of local history.


Read an engaging book or seen a fabulous movie about green living? Share the title and why you liked it with us below in our comments section.

Filed under: Theme of the Month — nature @ 1:15 pm

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