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Good Reads  Ecology  Ecosystem & Landscape Ecology

Crossings How Road Ecology Is Shaping the Future of Our Planet

New
By: Ben Goldfarb(Author)
370 pages, 20 b/w photos
NHBS
A wide-ranging and eye-opening account of the impacts of roads and how ecologists are trying to mitigate them.
Crossings
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  • Crossings ISBN: 9781324005896 Hardback Oct 2023 In stock
    £24.99
    #261402
Price: £24.99
About this book Customer reviews Biography Related titles Recommended titles

About this book

Some 40 million miles of roadways encircle the earth, yet we tend to regard them only as infrastructure for human convenience. While roads are so ubiquitous they're practically invisible to us, wild animals experience them as entirely alien forces of death and disruption. In Crossings, environmental journalist Ben Goldfarb travels throughout the United States and around the world to investigate how roads have transformed our planet. A million animals are killed by cars each day in the U.S. alone, but as the new science of road ecology shows, the harms of highways extend far beyond roadkill. Creatures from antelope to salmon are losing their ability to migrate in search of food and mates; invasive plants hitch rides in tire treads; road salt contaminates lakes and rivers; and the very noise of traffic chases songbirds from vast swaths of habitat.

Yet road ecologists are also seeking to blunt the destruction through innovative solutions. Goldfarb meets with conservationists building bridges for California's mountain lions and tunnels for English toads, engineers deconstructing the labyrinth of logging roads that web national forests, animal rehabbers caring for Tasmania's car-orphaned wallabies, and community organizers working to undo the havoc highways have wreaked upon American cities.

Today, as our planet's road network continues to grow exponentially, the science of road ecology has become increasingly vital. Written with passion and curiosity, Crossings is a sweeping, spirited, and timely investigation into how humans have altered the natural world – and how we can create a better future for all living beings.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • An eye-opening and thought-provoking reportage
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 14 Dec 2023 Written for Hardback


    The road to hell might be paved with good intentions, but the roads to pretty much everywhere else are paved with the corpses of animals. In Crossings, environmental journalist Ben Goldfarb explores the outsized yet underappreciated impacts of the ~65 million kilometres of roads that hold the planet in a paved stranglehold. These extend beyond roadkill to numerous other insidious biological effects. The relatively young discipline of road ecology tries to gauge and mitigate them and sees biologists join forces with engineers and roadbuilders. This is a wide-ranging and eye-opening survey of the situation in the USA and various other countries.

    As Goldfarb points out, roadkill is as old as the road but the phenomenon went into overdrive with the invention of the combustion engine and a new-found need for speed that menaced humans and animals alike. With the morbid curiosity typical of biologists, Dayton and Lilian Stoner published the first tally of motorcar casualties in 1925, in the process diagnosing "a malady with no name" (p. 16), as the word roadkill would not be coined for another two decades. The word road ecology was only coined in 1993 by Richard Forman, though it was translated from the German Straßenökologie that was coined in 1981 by Heinz Ellenberg.

    As a discipline, road ecology both studies the impact of roads and formulates solutions. Particularly common, and featured extensively in this book, are wildlife crossings. Underpasses serve many animals but others have different needs such as overpasses or canopy rope bridges. Amphibians and reptiles are given a helping hand with toad tunnels and bucket brigades. Fish migration is being restored by retrofitting culverts that are better navigable.

    To us, roads are the unnoticed connective tissue that links places of extraction with industry and commerce, and shuttles commuters between home and work. For other animals, they are barriers: despite the good intentions, wildlife crossings cannot serve all animals equally and cannot be constructed everywhere. Millions of animals still die in collisions every day. Goldfarb addresses the very real concerns of extirpation, habitat fragmentation, interrupted migrations, and noise pollution. With roads come humans who bring deforestation, hunting, real estate development, urban sprawl, tourism, etc.

    Amidst this litany of harms, Goldfarb features several topics that will be eye-opening even to ecologists. There is the little-known history of how the US Forest Service constructed one of the world's largest road networks of now mostly abandoned forest tracks. Roads also feed a diverse community of scavengers that includes humans; a necrobiome that "airbrushes our roadsides, camouflaging a crisis by devouring it" (p. 181). In Syracuse, Goldfarb faces the racist legacy of interstate highways that were bulldozed straight through Black and Latino neighbourhoods. Plans are now afoot to reverse this wrong, move the highway, and create a community where people can again walk to their destinations. In a brilliant flourish, Goldfarb connects this back to the book's main topic: "Road ecologists and urban advocates are engaged in the same epic project: creating a world that's amenable to feet" (p. 287).

    So far, so good. Goldfarb's writing shines and certain turns of phrase are memorable. I was initially concerned how US-centric this book would be. Though weighted towards US examples, Goldfarb also visits Wales, Costa Rica, Tasmania, and Brazil, and discusses several European initiatives.

    Despite the gloomy picture, there are some encouraging signs. The US Forest Service has started decommissioning parts of its road network. Brazil, meanwhile, shows what government regulation can achieve. Here, highway operators are held legally responsible for dealing with the harm and costs resulting from collisions. Contrast this with the USA, Goldfarb observes sharply, where individual drivers are blamed for collisions. This "deflects culpability from the car companies building ever more massive SUVs and the engineers designing unsafe streets" (p. 295). As with addressing climate change, individual action only gets us so far; making roads safer demands systemic change, "a public works project, one of history's most colossal" (p. 296).

    And yet, something nagged at me. The focus on mitigation smacks of a palliative solution and Goldfarb concedes the limitations of road ecology. Crossings and fences will not stop the many other impacts of roads and risk becoming "a form of greenwashing [...] a fig leaf that conceals and rationalizes destruction" (p. 265). As with other environmental problems, should we not first focus on abandoning or reducing certain behaviours, instead of turning to techno-fixes? Can we imagine something more radical? Can Goldfarb?

    To his credit, he admits wrestling with this problem. "The most straightforward solution to the road's ills would be a collective rejection of automobility [...] In the course of writing this book, I've felt, at times, like a defeatist—as though, by extolling wildlife passages, I foreclose the possibility of a more radical, carless future" (p. 295). I would have loved to see him explore this further in a dedicated chapter. Instead, Goldfarb comes down on the side of pragmatism. Bicycles and public transport are great for making urban areas more liveable, but most roadkill happens elsewhere. Furthermore, personal mobility is only part of the story, with logistics making up a huge chunk of traffic. The eye-opening chapter on Brazil, and the outsized influence of China's Belt and Road Initiative that sees it invest in infrastructure globally, is a forceful reminder that the developmental juggernaut is nigh impossible to slow down. One road ecologist points out that you cannot seriously enter the discussion around roads if you oppose social and economic development, while another chimes in that, whether we like it or not, more roads will be built. Although I do not think resistance is futile, Goldfarb leaves me sympathetic to the road ecologists who are desperately trying to nudge construction projects in directions "that, if not quite "right," are at least less wrong" (p. 270).

    Goldfarb acknowledges the input of some 250 people and even then stresses his book is far from the final word on the subject. He encourages readers to take it as a starting point and read deeper, providing 43 pages of notes to the many sources of information he has used. I would additionally recommend A Clouded Leopard in the Middle of the Road by Australian road ecologist Darryl Jones which was published last year but seems to have flown under the radar compared to Goldfarb's book. Overall, Crossings is a wide-ranging, eye-opening, and thought-provoking reportage that deserves top marks.
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Biography

Ben Goldfarb is the author of Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter, winner of the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. His writing has appeared in the Atlantic, National Geographic, the New York Times, and many other publications, and has been anthologized in The Best American Science and Nature Writing. A recipient of fellowships from the Alicia Patterson Foundation and the Whiting Foundation, he lives in Colorado.

New
By: Ben Goldfarb(Author)
370 pages, 20 b/w photos
NHBS
A wide-ranging and eye-opening account of the impacts of roads and how ecologists are trying to mitigate them.
Media reviews

– Shortlisted for the NYPL's 2024 Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism
– A New York Times Notable Book of 2023 and an Editors' Choice
– A Science News Favorite Book of 2023
– A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2023
– A Smithsonian Staff Favorite of 2023
– A New Yorker Best Book of 2023
– A Booklist Top 10 Book on the Environment & Sustainability for 2024

"Ben Goldfarb is the kind of gonzo environmental journalist Hunter S. Thompson would have loved. Crossings, his meditation on the ecological devastation roads and highways inflict – and on the very clever responses from humans and other creatures that road life demands – is an absolute shining star of a book. Modernity and the mobility all we Earth animals require is never going to look the same again."
– Dan Flores, best-selling author of Coyote America and Wild New World

"A truly important and landmark book on a subject whose full impacts continue to be disregarded or underestimated in considering conservation efforts. Crossings is a moving, compassionate, and indispensable guide to navigating the issue of wildlife survival – and our own."
– Jeff VanderMeer, best-selling author of the Southern Reach Trilogy

"Ben Goldfarb approaches our fellow animals with delighted curiosity and rare perception. A deeply researched, wonderfully vivid, and genuinely hopeful book."
– Michelle Nijhuis, author of Beloved Beasts

"A brilliantly panoptic look at our planet's sprawling network of roads: what's wrong with them, how they got that way, and how they could be set right. Precise in detail but vast in scale, Goldfarb's storytelling carries echoes of Michael Pollan and John McPhee, but with a wry humor that is uniquely his own."
– Robert Moor, best-selling author of On Trails

"Crossings, Ben Goldfarb's impassioned quest to understand the ecology of roads and its impact on the natural world, is a marvel. The reader learns something new on every page, disturbed and amazed in equal measure. Goldfarb moves us briskly along the manipulated ecosystem of the highway, with vivid, evocative pitstops for environmental history, ecology, and the built environment. With 15 million additional miles of road scheduled to be built over the globe in the near future, the time for this book is now. Crossings adds a new perspective to conversations on how humans have reshaped life on earth."
– The Whiting Award Judges' Citation

"Like some David Attenborough of the asphalt, Ben Goldfarb has written a fascinating guide to understanding the wilder side of roads, both symbols of freedom and harbingers of unnatural selection."
– Tom Vanderbilt, best-selling author of Traffic

"Crossings is science writing at its best [...] [A] hopeful reminder of our responsibilities in the Anthropocene."
– Miranda Weiss, American Scholar

"Beyond the staggering data and the constructive ideas, Crossings is an important book because it is timely: Road ecology is bleeding into the public consciousness at a moment when we can still act on its lessons."
– Jonathan C. Slaght, Atlantic

"Chronicles the enormous ecological damage caused by roadbuilding [...] Goldfarb guides the reader through an array of often heartbreaking stories, from the Los Angeles mountain lions so isolated by highways that they could inbreed themselves into extirpation to salmon populations smothered by tire pollution."
– David Zipper, Bloomberg

"A fresh and startling history of roads, automobiles, and the carnage and destruction they cause [...] An astute, funny, and imaginative writer, Goldfarb pairs horror with hope as he chronicles the brilliant innovations and tireless advocacy that resulted in lifesaving wildlife crossings, including park-like overpasses and cozy underpasses."
Booklist (starred review)

"Goldfarb examines the severe impact of roads on wildlife populations and their migration and reproduction [...] Roads aren't going away anytime soon, but Crossings will spark conversation around the future of motorized vehicles and transportation."
Bookpage (starred review)

"Through expert interviews, compelling research and analysis, and dogged experiential reporting, Goldfarb brings to life some of the core impacts our 40 million miles of roads have had, and are having, on the natural world."
– Brett Berk, Car and Driver

"Illuminating, witty [...] [Crossings is] an astonishingly deep pool of wonders."
Kirkus Reviews (starred)

"Goldfarb traveled across the country, and the globe, to learn more about how roads have shaped not just our communities but the natural world around us [...] [R]oads may be nearly invisible to the modern human, just another necessary part of everyday infrastructure. But to the other species on this planet, roads have fundamentally changed their existence."
– Emily Baron Cadloff, Modern Farmer

"The book is teeming with horrifying statistics: More birds die every week on US roads than were killed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; each year, frogs are squished by the millions; in New York alone, a deer collision occurs every eight minutes [...] While that may sound bleak, Crossings is at times surprisingly funny."
– Jackie Flynn Mogensen, Mother Jones

"Wide-ranging and absorbing [...] Brilliant."
– Bill McKibben, New York Review of Books

"Fascinating and compassionate [...] [Goldfarb] does an admirable job of detailing the ways that highways and freeways divide our cities along racial lines [...] It's rare for a work so focused on wildlife conservation to also treat race."
– Emily Raboteau, New York Times Book Review

"Captivating [...] This one's a winner."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A deeply researched and compelling read [...] [O]ffers readers a look behind the scenes of a rich but underappreciated field of study that has the potential to affect our everyday lives."
– Sarah Boon, Science

"Delves into the burgeoning field of road ecology and introduces the impassioned, sometimes eccentric scientists who invite us to perceive our roads as animals do to better understand the ecological impacts."
– Amanda Heidt, Science News

"[A] swift and winding ride through the science of road ecology [...] [A] surprising reflection on what we owe to nature [...] [T]he roadkill you spot along the highway will never look the same."
– Tess Joosse, Scientific American

"[Crossings has] so many cool stories [...] frogs and turtles being ushered across roads by volunteer hands, a wildlife crossing for cougars in California, citizen roadkill reporting networks. In many ways, it's a book about the people trying to correct our mistakes."
– Colleen Stinchcombe, Seattle Times

"Written elegantly and convincingly, Crossings acknowledges that most of us can't make do without automobiles but urges individual responsibility [...] as well as public works initiatives of global proportions."
– David Luhrssen, Shepherd Express

"Crossings provides a badly needed corrective [...] [D]eserves to make the reading lists of policymakers around the world."
– Marina Bolotnikova, Vox

"Goldfarb is perceptive about how roads tangle animals together with humans [...] Crossings is well-paced and vivid, an engaging account."
– Timothy Farrington, Wall Street Journal

"A powerhouse of a book, a comprehensive and engaging study of the many ways that roads damage natural habitats."
– David Gessner, Washington Post

"A tour de force. Ben Goldfarb has done a masterful job of helping us see the world from the vantage point of all the life that must somehow cope with these alien landforms – and of suggesting how we might lessen the remarkable toll they take."
– Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org

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