Book Reviewer
Lloyd Alter is managing editor of environmental news site TreeHugger. He has been an architect, developer, inventor, prefab promoter, and writes for the website Planet Green. Lloyd also teaches sustainable design at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Book review: Carbon Black

In the self-published novel Carbon Black, GHG markets and regulations are backdrops to a thrilling work of fiction.

It’s two weeks to deadline. Corporate Knights’ editor-in-chief Tyler Hamilton pings me, asking what book I’m planning to review. I ponder as I pace the modernist concrete block and plywood room that is my office. I have no idea. He pings me again. “How about reviewing a fictional, self-published book, just for a change? Carbon Black, by Declan Milling.”

OMG. Fiction. I don’t do fiction. Self-published. Kindle. About The Most Boring Subject In The World, carbon trading. Just kill me now. But then I look, and it is only 306 pages and costs all of $3.71. And I think, I’m man enough for this. I hit the Amazon one-touch order button, open my Retina-screened sepia toned iPad and start reading. It’s not that bad. Short, declarative Hemingwayish sentences. Cardboard characters, albeit FSC-certified cardboard. Perhaps it’s a candidate for the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

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It’s a jungle out there

Paul Barrett delivers a thrilling tale of trickery in the Amazon.

This is exciting. Why read dry business books when you can pick up the equiva­lent of an unputdownable John Grisham-style thrill read? Even better when the story is real, as in the $10-billion legal battle over oil spills in the rainforest of Amazonian Ecuador.

Law of the Jungle is Paul Barrett’s telling tale of young lawyer Steven Donziger and his “obsessive crusade – waged at any cost” to bring an oil giant to justice for environ­mental crimes that go back decades. The giant in focus is Texaco (now part of Chev­ron), which drilled the rainforest and left 400,000 barrels of oil in toxic ponds, poi­soning rivers and the people who lived on them. (Chevron maintains it met all clean­up obligations and that Ecuador released it of liability in 1998).

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A pivotal moment for business

New book puts climate, resource scarcity and transparency under spotlight.

Andrew Winston's The Big Pivot is most definitely a business book, "intended to be relatively short, but still provide a solid roadmap to a new way of operating.” In a sense, it's pre-condensed. The book is an operating manual for adaptation to three mega-trends that the author says every business must face: climate change, resource constraints (and costs) and technology-driven demands for transparency – or "hotter, scarcer and more open."

As for the title, Winston explains it this way: “If you believe that these pressures are real, then what has until now been called green business, or sustainability, cannot be a side department or a niche conversation in commerce.” Indeed, he continues, “we must pivot – sometimes painfully, always purposefully, so that solving the world's biggest challenges profitably becomes the core pursuit of business."

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Waking the frog

Tom Rand says becoming amphibian soup is not a climate fait accompli.

In his new book, Waking the Frog, Tom Rand tackles the question of why we, like the metaphorical frog in the boiling pot, are just sitting and doing nothing while the carbon count rises and the climate gets more disruptive.

Rand makes clear he doesn’t think we have to boil to death. “The good news is that we can solve the climate problem,” he writes. “The capital we need sits in our pension funds and money markets, the policy tools to unlock it are well understood and emerging innovations are fully capable of powering our civilization.”

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Scrap culture

The secret world of recycled stuff

Every Jewish family that's been in North America since before WWII has the scrap business in its genes. A hundred years ago, 25 per cent of New York's Jews were in scrap. My dad's first job for the in-law's family business was racing for the car batteries of dead cars, the most valuable component being the easily removed lead inside. He followed scrap from Toronto to Fort Wayne, Indiana, to Chicago (where I was born) and back.

Reading Adam Minter's book Junkyard Planet reminded me of the many stories I’ve heard about the business, about the menches and the schlemiels who were part of it. Minter, who is Shanghai columnist for Bloomberg World View, traces how what was a Jewish business has become a Chinese one, as China developed a voracious appetite for scrap that gets melted down and returned to us in the form of new products. As an author and a grandchild of the scrap business, Minter is in an extraordinary position. His knowledge and background gives him entrée into a very secretive world. He understands what he is looking at and as a skilled writer does a great job of sharing what he sees.

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