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The American West At Risk summarizes the dominant human-generated environmental challenges in the 11 contiguous arid western United States—America’s legendary, even mythical, frontier. When discovered by European explorers and later settlers, the west boasted rich soils, bountiful fisheries, immense, dense forests, sparkling streams, untapped ore deposits, and oil bonanzas. It now faces depletion of many of these resources, and potentially serious threats to its few “renewable” resources.

The importance of this story is that preserving lands has a central role for protecting air and water quality, and water supplies—and all support a healthy living environment. The idea that all life on earth is connected in a great chain of being, and that all life is connected to the physical earth in many obvious and subtle ways, is not some new-age fad, it is scientifically demonstrable. An understanding of earth processes, and the significance of their biological connections, is critical in shaping societal values so that national land use policies will conserve the earth and avoid the worst impacts of natural processes. These connections inevitably lead science into the murkier realms of political controversy and bureaucratic stasis.

Most of the chapters in The American West At Risk focus on a human land use or activity that depletes resources and degrades environmental integrity of this resource-rich, but tender and slow-to-heal, western U.S. The activities include forest clearing for many purposes; farming and grazing; mining for aggregate, metals, and other materials; energy extraction and use; military training and weapons manufacturing and testing; road and utility transmission corridors; recreation; urbanization; and disposing of the wastes generated by everything that we do. Many chapters are based on our own geologic research in a number of western states, which we have come to love deeply. (Apologies to Alaska and Hawaii, whose environmental stories demand separate books). One chapter is devoted to critical western issues of water availability and degradation, and a final chapter details most of the natural processes that continually come up throughout the book. We also define scientific jargon words and concepts in a glossary. Ten appendices cover diverse topics as shown in the outline. We have incorporated essential information on climate change and genetically modified organisms in appropriate chapters, while complete chapters on these topics will appear only on the American West at Risk website.

The American West At Risk is intended to be understandable by non-scientists, but useful to all in setting out scientific bases for promoting local, national, and world policies that maintain earth’s crucial life-support systems. For those who wish to delve more deeply into the issues than provided by our discussions, substantial endnotes give appropriate references to the scientific literature and provide additional details. A complete alphabetical index to all references to the scientific literature are given at the American West at Risk website.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Douglas T. Hawes permalink
    October 6, 2009 8:36 pm

    This is the first paragraph of the review I am writing. I may post the first three paragraphs on where I purchased the book. After that I just took out quotes I enjoyed. Should you want to see the rest just send me an email. I typically only send the review to a few friends who might be interested in the book. Good work!

    THE AMERICAN WEST AT RISK: Science, Myths, and Politics of Land Abuse and Recovery by Howard G. Wilshire, Jane E. Nielson and Richard W. Hazelett. Copyright 2008 Oxford Univ. Press. Web site (www.losingthe This is a textbook on the science, myths, and politics of land abuse in the 11 western states in the U.S. of A. I enjoyed the philosophical conclusions at the end of each chapter. It is a lot easier read than most textbooks but very depressing and very short on ideas for recovery. The three geologist authors have done an excellent job documenting the abuse and I particularly enjoyed the philosophical conclusions at the end of each chapter. As a 74 year old retired agronomist who has traveled extensively in this area I felt obligated to read the book after a book review by Leslie Thatcher of Truthout in August of 2009 (082409).

    • Jane permalink*
      March 29, 2011 7:20 pm

      Mr. Hawes —

      Thanks for the nice review. We appreciate your intent to also post it on Amazon.

      Jane and Howard

  2. October 28, 2009 3:11 am

    Dear Mr & Mrs Wilshire and Nielson.

    your opinion of environmental overload is quite succinct. We have been working in this direction for the past 4 years.

    Our solution is on our website, which might be of interest. You should be aware of us.


    Marc Hagan
    VP Communivations
    Energy Visions USA

  3. Ellen Schafhauser permalink
    July 3, 2010 3:48 am

    Can you please provide information on how much energy is needed to manufacture a solar voltaic panel as apposed to how much energy the solar panel produces over its lifetime.

    Ellen Schafhuaser

    • July 25, 2010 12:01 am

      I can’t give you an easy answer to this in terms of calories, since there are many types of panels, and a variety of implementations, and efficiency rates. The resource community approaches the question using a “net-energy” formulation called EROI (energy returned on energy invested). A 2003 reference estimates that mc-Si module panels have 4.29 to 8.57 more energy than used to make them over a lifetime of 15-30 years, not taking into account the energy used for transport, maintenance or disposal. A 2005 reference estimates that a grid of commercially-available mc-Si photovoltaic panels “connected and retrofitted on a tilted roof” could produce anywhere from 3.75 times to 10 times more energy from cradle to grave (including everything). A 2006 reference states that an operational 24 kW Amonix concentrator PV system will produce slightly over 23 times the amount of energy required to create it over 30 years. If you want to look it up, go to The Oil Drum website and search for the DrumBeat discussion of April 29, 2008.

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