From tiny cowries to giant clams, seashells have gripped human imaginations since time immemorial. In her magnificent new book, The Sound of the Sea, journalist Cynthia Barnett tells the epic history of humanity’s interactions with shells and the soft-bodied animals who make them. These stories of how we have treasured, traded, plundered, and coveted shells reveal much about who we are and who we’ve been, both good and bad. Barnett’s deep research ranges from the awe-inspiring “great cities of shell” of the Calusa people in Florida, to the use of cowrie shells as currency in the Atlantic slave trade, to the decimation of mollusk populations due to climate change and over-harvesting. In this episode, we speak with Barnett about what she describes as our “world of shell,” what shells can tell us about our past, how they have shaped our present, and how the future of shells and their animal makers is tied to our own.
In “Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction,” science journalist Michelle Nijhuis chronicles the history of the wildlife conservation movement through the stories of the extraordinary people — both legendary experts and passionate amateurs — who shaped its evolution and expanding ambitions. Nijhuis introduces us to the Swedish scientists who devised the system of naming and grouping species that endures today, the rebel taxidermist who led the fight to save the American bison from extinction, the New York City socialite who demanded that the Audubon Society stop ignoring the gunning down of game birds by sportsmen, and more. These inspiring, dogged, and often flawed characters transformed both the ecological communities and ideas that we inherited. In this episode, we speak with Nijhuis about what we can learn from the stories of conservationists and their efforts to protect the wild animals that they loved, and the possibilities within a more equitable, inclusive fight to defend life.
For the past ten years, journalist Christopher Ketcham has documented the confluence of commercial exploitation and government misconduct on public lands across the West, the role of the livestock and energy industries in their despoliation, and the impact of rampant federal land management agency capture on wildlife. We speak with Ketcham about his fierce new book, This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption Are Ruining the American West, which Outside Magazine called “the Desert Solitaire of our time.” The national commons that Ketcham focuses on — hundreds of millions of acres stretching across 12 Western states — are managed on the public’s behalf by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. Both agencies operate with a “multiple use mandate.” This means they are required to strike a balance between using the land for purposes that generate economic profit and protecting the health of the ecosystem. But today, Ketcham says, “multiple use” is multiple abuse and our public lands — and the wild animals and plants that depend on them — are being pillaged, poisoned, and assaulted by industries and the government agencies captured by them.