#101: Our Uninhabitable Earth
Welcome everyone to The Highlighter #101! We are well into the middle of summer, and I’m back from a mini-vacation that helped me escape my foggy and chilly city. Last week was a huge one for the digest — 12 people became new subscribers! Let’s welcome Pam, Greg, Danielle, Kate, Gail, Nicole, Sandy, Michele, Nancy, Katherine, Carah, and B.R. I hope you like what you read!
This week, there’s a little bit for everyone: mass extinctions, therapy animals, rugged individualism, and orange harvests. All four articles push our thinking on topics we think we know about. The first piece, which focuses on climate change, makes the case that our end of days may occur earlier than we’ve imagined. The second piece, which centers on the ascendancy of therapy animals, raises questions about their impact. Then comes the photo break (a beautiful vista!), after which please enjoy an article that will challenge what you thought you knew about American history. Coming up last is another article about oranges, because there’s no way you can read too many articles about oranges. Please enjoy The Highlighter and have a great week!
When Will Climate Change Make the Earth Too Hot For Humans?
Al Gore warned us more than ten years ago in An Inconvenient Truth. We weren’t listening. Record heat last month (129 degrees in Pakistan!) didn’t faze us. Even yesterday’s news — that a 1 trillion ton iceberg broke off Antarctica — didn’t stop us in our tracks. Maybe the reason for our indifference is that we like our gadgets too much, our air travel, our cheeseburgers, our air conditioning. Either that or we feel powerless. That kind of mentality, writes David Wallace-Wells in this very scary article, will only hasten our doom. If we do not get serious, climate change will cause a mass extinction before the end of this century that will kill off more than 95 percent of life on our planet. (Happy Summer!)
Therapy animals are everywhere. Proof that they help is not.
OK, Animal Lovers, promise not to unsubscribe because I’ve highlighted this article, which suggests that it’s possible that therapy animals are not, in fact, providing therapy. The jury is still out about whether interacting with animals results in lower stress and anxiety. Some studies suggest a moderate positive effect, but there’s nothing yet that concludes causation over correlation. But even if science says no to comfort animals, what’s the problem of letting them inside grocery stores, restaurants, movie theaters, concert halls, museums, airplanes? (For all you naysayers out there, you’ll love this article from 2014.)
Though hiking is not my strength (because it involves walking uphill, which is strenuous), almost always you get a beautiful view. Here’s one from Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Kenwood, California.
Now it’s time to announce the first-ever giveaway at The Highlighter! Be very excited. As many of you know, this digest began two years ago, with its first issue reaching exactly two people. Since then, I’ve highlighted more than 400 articles, and the digest’s readership has grown, thanks to the recommendations of loyal subscribers like you. To celebrate you, I’m giving away one of my favorite books to one lucky subscriber. The winner gets their choice of Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson; Evicted, by Matthew Desmond, or Blood at the Root, by Patrick Phillips. To enter the giveaway, all you need to do is to offer your feedback on today’s issue by clicking on the thumbs-up or thumbs-down icon on the bottom of today’s issue. (There’s no penalty for choosing thumbs-down.) The last day you can enter is next Tuesday, and I’ll announce the winner in next Thursday’s issue. Good luck!
At Walden, Thoreau Wasn’t Alone With Nature
We learned in high school that Henry David Thoreau went to Walden Pond to get away from the bustle of city life, to live deliberately in nature. Perhaps he was the 19th-century version of Marie Kondo? “Do not trouble yourself much to get new things,” he wrote. “Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.” This image of Thoreau — spartan and austere — has driven for 200 years our American construct of gritty, rugged individualism. Except this image is not true. Thoreau wasn’t alone at Walden. There was his neighbor Brister Freeman, a former slave who fought in the Revolutionary War. There was his neighbor Hugh Coyle, a poor Irish ditchdigger, new to the country, and as a result, an outcast. And of course, before Thoreau arrived, hundreds Native Americans lived at Walden Pond before they were killed or pushed away. When we believe that Thoreau lived alone in the woods, we cling to a myth that discredits the more nuanced reality of the American story.
Inside the Dangerous Life of an Orange
Last week I unveiled my fascination with oranges. This article — about the orange harvest in California — is less gloomy but not exactly hopeful. We learn that each tree holds 1,100 oranges, that they’re picked by hand 16 at a time by men climbing up and down ladders, earning not by the hour but by the bin, that they’re processed by women earning minimum wage, that they’re classified “choice” or “premium,” the former sold in American stores and ones without blemishes shipped to Asia, that rising labor costs are encouraging orange growers to invest in technology that will eliminate jobs, all to make sure that the oranges we buy remain as cheap as they are sweet and juicy. (Also noteworthy: This piece is written in the first-person plural — as in, from the point of view of the oranges themselves.)
You’ve done it! Thank you for making your way through another issue of The Highlighter. Before you go, I need to tell you more about The Highlighter Podcast. You can listen to this week’s episode here (please do!), where I talk a little about my favorite article this week. Starting in a few days, the podcast will move to being broadcast on Mondays, and I’ll begin interviewing loyal subscribers about your favorite articles. Let me know (by replying to this message) if you want to be on the show! Also, feel free to subscribe to the podcast so it becomes enormous.
Have a great week, and I’ll see you next Thursday at 9:10 am!
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