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Book Reviews from our Board

Posted Thursday, July 20, 2023
— Connections 2023 Summer

Fen, Bog, & Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis

by Annie Proulx
Reviewed by Everett McGinley

Annie Proulx, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Shipping News and Barkskins, has written a new non-fiction account of the world’s major peatlands. Fens, bogs, and swamps are related types of peatlands, wetlands that create and store peat. Peatlands store more carbon than all other vegetation types combined, twice as much as the world’s forests, and their continuing destruction is a major contributor to climate change. 

In her compelling novelist’s prose, Proulx takes us through not only the geology and ecology of peatlands, but the lives, culture, and fate of the peoples that inhabited them. The English Fenlands, once 6% of the land mass, supported a thriving population of ”fenlanders” and a rich and diverse ecosystem for thousands of years. Now drained, they are used for monoculture. The bogs of northern Europe and Canada, filled with Sphagnum moss, hide the mysteries of the well-preserved prehistoric to medieval bog bodies found there. Some may be victims of human sacrifice, some sent there in isolation, some thrived. The more than 500,000 acre Grand Kankakee Marsh of Indiana and the Great Black Swamp of Ohio, once the largest habitats for waterfowl and furbearers, were drained and sold off to the large cattle and agriculture interests of the day. Mangrove swamps around the world–critical human and animal habitat, essential in mitigating rising sea levels, and five times more efficient than tropical forests in storing CO2–are being ripped out for industrial shrimp farms and petroleum refineries. 

The news is not all bad. With our new insight into the role of peatlands in the ecosystem, there are major restoration projects underway in the mangroves of Indonesia and Florida, in Scotland’s Flow Country (once drained but now storing CO2 again), and restoration of the marshes of Iraq. Proulx examines how our perspective is evolving from how we can change and use peatlands for our purposes to how they better serve us in their natural state. 

Proulx graduated from UVM and Concordia University in Montreal and lived in Vermont for 30 years.



The Progress Illusion: Reclaiming Our Future from the Fairytale of Economics

By Jon D. Erickson
Reviewed by Nancy Patch

This is a must-have book for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of fair and equitable economics that includes caring for the earth and subsequently humanity’s future. I love how it starts with a lesson in word etymology. “Economics is derived from the Greek word oikonomia, the management of the household. Tellingly economics and ecology share the Geek root oikos, together the management and study of the household.” As Jon describes, Ecological Economics is the way back to the original meaning: bringing the people and nature to a more equal footing.

The history of individualism and economics that concentrates wealth to the few is bad for the rest of us and bad for the planet. This is not the only path and we can change direction as we must for the sake of our future. This path has led us into the era of the Anthropocene, a term that embodies the reality that humans are the dominant force affecting the planet. A different path can lead us into an era of the Ecozoic. The Ecozoic is a term coined by Thomas Berry to describe an era in which people live in harmonious relationship with the earth. The economics of the Ecozoic is one “in service of flourishing human-Earth relations that reject extremes in waste and want, embrace co-operative arrangements in a shared economy, and negotiate a political economy where well-regulated markets are our servants not our masters”

This book draws on personal story, professional growth, and an in-depth knowledge of economic theory to define a way forward. I have never read a history of economics so compelling. I urge you all to take a look or listen.  

Please order your book from Phoenix Books to support our local booksellers.

The audiobook version of The Progress Illusion: Reclaiming Our Future from the Fairytale of Economics is now out. Produced by and narrated by the talented David Colacci

Jon Erickson is the Blittersdorf Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy at the University of Vermont, a faculty member of the Rubenstein School of Environment and natural resources, and Fellow of the GUND Institute for Environment.