The View From Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World (Book Review)

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From his ongoing work through the Safina Center, to his moving TED talk about the gulf oil spill's unseen victims, Carl Safina is one of our favorite ocean activists. Now, he is moving into the territory of Henry David Thoreau or even William Jordan with his new book, "Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World." The book takes a hard look at the seasonal changes in Safina's home of Lazy Point in Long Island and how the wildlife passing through and the subtle changes of the ecosystem are the subtexts for a much larger message.

Shifting between daily life and detailed accounts of different species, migrations, and how human activities are impacting these systems, Safina's book brings the discussion of global warming back into a perspective we can all grasp.

long beach photo
Adam Lerner / Flickr / Creative Commons

The flow of the book follows that of the seasons. Starting in February and continuing through the year to the following January, Safina follows the shift of animals and annual events all over the world, from the icy Arctic to the overly warm Caribbean seas. While he branches off into specific detail about particular species or systems, Safina continually brings the issues of pollution, global warming, and environmental abuse back to our backyard. Yet, he does so with a sense of humor and charm that makes this book more about a celebration of what we still have and what we can become, than a tome of doom and gloom.

Safina details not only the current status of the environment, but the whys and whos that caused the problems we face, from governments to corporations to religions, and how these institutions can be altered so they are in touch with the natural world and work alongside it rather than against it.

lazy point gulls photo
diluvi / Flickr / Creative Commons

Why Humans Do What We Do

Safina states that we currently consume about 40% of the life that the land produces. "Each time a plant of the land or coastal sea uses the sunlight's energy to make a sugar molecule or add a cell, changes are about four out of ten that the cell will become food -- or be eaten by an animal that will become food -- for a human."

If this is indeed the case, then every human system, from family life to governments to economies to religious ideals should be far more closely concerned with the health of the planet's ecosystems. And it begs a question Safina addresses: Why are we the way we are?

"The View from Lazy Point" explores this question, along with a recurring theme: "Though we're fearless about revolutionizing technologies, we cling to concepts that no longer reflect realities. We're incredible at solving puzzles, poor at solving problems. And if the whole human enterprise has one fatal shortcoming, this is likely it."

Safina addresses the difficulties around our perceptions of the world; for example how even among animal rights activists, it's usually only the animals that appear to feel pain or suffer that get the attention, while the rights of, say, oysters are left by the wayside. This issue of limited human thinking, and many others, is often what keeps us from acting in the earth's (and therefore our own) best interests.

long island fishing
Oquendo / Flickr / Creative Commons

Realistic Optimism for a Sustainable Future

Luckily, Safina addresses these issues without the shrill arguing that might be expected. While maintaining a decidedly modern perspective on our environment, his writing style harkens back to the style of Thoreau, which weaves larger philosophical concepts in with relaxed ecological writing of microscopic detail. Safina recounts everything from his trip to coral reefs of the Caribbean and how coral larvae selects their new homes, to his experience with bears fishing for salmon in Alaska and the deforestation encountered there.

Everything a hopeful environmentalist could want to find in a book is here, in "The View from Lazy Point." The realistic optimism is contagious and readers learn an incredible amount about the wonders of the natural world we still can see, and with some diligence around mending gaps in our fault-filled thinking, can witness with our next generation of humans.