‘The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight’ by Thom Hartmann

This book had a huge impact on me when it first appeared in 1998. With the exception of a few reviewers’ opinions that the concept really wasn’t new, most of those who read it were excited about the book and the clarity with which it explained that the fossil fuels we’re using now contain the energy of sunlight that plants captured eons ago, long buried in the form of coal and other fossil fuels.

As Hartmann wrote, “In a very real sense, we’re all made out of sunlight. Sunlight radiating heat, visible light, and ultraviolet light is the source of virtually all life on Earth. Everything you see alive around you is there because a plant somewhere was able to capture sunlight and store it.” This reminded me of George Wald’s statement that we carry the stuff of ancient stars within our physical selves.

I enjoyed the book, stuck it on a shelf somewhere, and ultimately forgot about it until two kids listening to a shortwave radio program in Anthony Doerr’s All the Light we Cannot See heard a lecture about the subject of sunlight hidden in fossil fuels. He doesn’t credit Hartmann, so the concept of ancient sunlight has perhaps become so common that we no longer think of it as new or from the writing output of one man twenty-five years ago.

The book was updated in 2004 with an afterword by Neale Donald Walsch (Conversations with God).

From the Publisher

While everything appears to be collapsing around us – ecodamage, genetic engineering, virulent diseases, the end of cheap oil, water shortages, global famine, wars – we can still do something about it and create a world that will work for us and for our children’s children. The inspiration for Leonardo DiCaprio’s feature documentary movie The Eleventh Hour and soon to be released HBO special Ice on FireLast Hours of Ancient Sunlight details what is happening to our planet, the reasons for our culture’s blind behavior, and how we can fix the problem. Thom Hartmann’s comprehensive book is one of the fundamental handbooks of the environmental activist movement. Now with fresh, updated material on our Earth’s rapid climate change and a focus on political activism and its effect on corporate behavior, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight helps us understand – and heal – our relationship to the world, to each other, and to our natural resources.

The concepts in the book are still valid and probably more urgent than they were when the book first appeared.


Malcolm R. Campbell, a conservationist, and a former mountain climber is the author of paranormal, contemporary fantasy, and magical realism novels and short stories.


We could have ended the world sooner and at a lower cost

Apparently, the movers and shakers of humankind have been working diligently to end the world. If not, we wouldn’t be where we are on so many fronts.

Except for various clans of deniers, including those who think history, science, and the notion of a round earth are bunk, most people are accepting climate change as inevitable. How do we know this? Because they’re keeping quiet, just watching it happen. Some people are fighting, speaking out, but it’s too little, too late.

The movers and shakers who–for reasons of insanity or short term gratification of the riches gained from habitat destruction–want the world to call it a day missed their chance to end life as we know it years ago. They could have kept the U.S. out of World War II, let Hitler and Hirohito have it all, and head toward the resulting, predicted ruin.

We had enough nuclear weapons to do the job, but we didn’t. It would have been quick, possibly a spectacular sight to aliens watching from a universe far away. Instead, we’ve opted for the slower annihilation of climate change–the fires, the hurricanes, the rising oceans, the diseases, the chaos. Where is the honor in that?

We’re all accomplices, though, aren’t we? We’ve accepted the notion that we were somehow different than the rest of the world’s flora and fauna and that “taming the land” was okay even if it meant destroying the land because we’re superior to mere rivers and forests, much less the problems of oceans with plastic and rivers with toxic waste..

The land is having its say, but we’re not listening. I’m surprised that the molecules that make up human beings haven’t fled the planet out of guilt and embarrassment to return to the dying stars whence they came. Many have spoken on the land’s behalf, individuals like Edward Abbey, John Muir, Wendell Berry, David Brower, Rachel Carson, and organizations like Audubon, Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, National Parks and Conservation Association, Wilderness Society. Many like what they hear from these people, but then they go back to sleep.

I don’t have any answers. I can suggest that every time the current administration rolls back environmental protections that took decades to put in place, that we put a stop to it. I can suggest that when we hear of measures–getting rid of plastic, for example–that are good ways to combat climate change that we implement them in our lives rather than saying, “No worries, that’s just climate change BS.”

When it comes down to it, I suspect a lot of people have suggestions for things we can do thwart those who are intent on ending the world. Sure, most of those suggestions are inconvenient and cost money. But then, the impact of climate change is also costing money–for example, the lives and money lost due to the western wildfires along with the cost of fighting the fires.

Doomsday-clock-wise, we have 100 seconds left. So at the end of this rant, let me say that it’s time to shift our attention away from our celebrities and cell phones and cars and focus our concerns on saving the planet. Once we accomplish that, we can watch the next season of “Survivor” with the proven knowledge that the show is about us.


Malcolm R. Campbell’s latest novel is “Fate’s Arrows.” His novel “The Sun Singer” is free on Kindle through September 18th.





In praise of urban trees

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Indeed, unless the billboards fall
I’ll never see a tree at all.

– Ogden Nash

If only billboards were the only threat to trees.

We’ve all seen it: the shady tree-lined street that’s ultimately widened at the trees’ expense to improve traffic flow; buildings placed so close to trees that ultimately the trees must be removed for fear they’ll fall on the buildings or ruin the foundations with roots; old farms and woods that are clear cut to make room for subdivisions and shopping malls.

Most of the old trees on my subdivision lot have fallen down during the ten years we’ve owned the house. Why? The contractor’s grading crews got too close to them or otherwise disturbed the lot’s water flow. Recent droughts in Georgia haven’t helped.

Fortunately, more and more people are getting tired of a world of hardscapes and tree canopy losses. Initially, people spoke only about sacred spaces, habitats, shade and ambiance, but in a practical world, those weren’t considered important enough reasons for conserving and maintaining urban trees. Now, like most things that should be saved simply for themselves, trees are standing a better chance of standing because we have found economic reasons for doing so.

Click here to learn more

In Virginia, Tree Fredericksburg is typical of the kind of local initiative that demonstrates the rationale behind saving trees, showing the day-to-day economic benefits of preservation (in addition to the ability to attract grant money).  The group’s WHY PLANT section on its website lists reasons that are (thankfully) becoming disseminated more widely these days.

  • Improve air quality
  • Protect air and water
  • Save Energy
  • Extend the life of paved spaces
  • Increase traffic safety
  • Sustain local economies
  • Increase real estate values
  • Increase the quality of life

For years many conservationists (including me) focused our efforts on habitats and quality of life, but few people cared. Perhaps we have become a little wiser by pointing out that while “quality of life” is usually the last on most lists of benefits (and habitat/ecosystem is often missing), we can influence people toward a praise-of-urban-trees stance with the other items in the mix.

Events such as this one in Jefferson, Georgia draw attention to the need for trees in urban settings.

Many organizations are willing to help you translate your love of trees into tree-canopies-favorably-impact-your-pocketbook facts that people will listen to. Among my favorites are the Arbor Day Foundation (including its Tree City USA program and standards) and the Trust For public Land* (with a focus that includes urban parks as well as wilderness).

Local groups, such as my town’s tree council, work with volunteers and local governments to assess tree canopies, recognize heritage trees, sponsor tree donation programs, and add tree-favorable provisions into land use management codes as well as historic district regulations.

Joyce Kilmer’s widely known poem “Trees” ends with the lines:

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

In the current century, we can still love Kilmer and ambiance and our fine feathered friends. But stronger tools are needed for effectively praising urban trees. Since money appears to speak louder than the gods and goddesses—at least in a voice we can hear and understand—then perhaps we must stop talking about the joys of shade and bird songs, and focus a bit more on real estate values and the preservation of pavement.


* The Trust for Public Land, in partnership with Cox Communications, announced May 23 that Anne Little has been selected as Virginia’s Cox Conserves Hero. As her nonprofit of choice, Tree Fredericksburg will receive $10,000.

Adventure fiction can be a strong advocate for the environment

Reflections on Good News for Our National Parks

More often than not, the daily news brings us more bad news about threats to the environment and Congress’ continued threats to reduce National Parks funding even more than they have already. Next week, Congress will decide whether to vote for a “Dirty Water Bill” that would undo much of the rivers, lakes and watersheds progress implemented with the 1972 Clean Water Act.

I have been a member of the National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA) ever since the days when George Hartzog was the high-impact director of the National Park Service between 1964 and 1972. There’s an indepth feature about Hartzog in the current issue of National Parks.

The greatest threat to the environment, is much larger than the issue of a Dirty Water Bill or an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico: it is, quite simply, the fact we have to keep fighting to save and protect something that ought to be a top priority for everyone.

While it’s almost criminal that we–as a society–should have to fight so long and at such great expense to create good news for our environment and our National Parks, such news brings hope and a chance to reflect upon what kind of world we would have if the good news occurred so often, it was no longer newsworthy.

Reading the first 14 pages of the Summer 2011 issue of National Parks was a true pleasure:

  • Once again, the Gettysburg National Military Park has been spared from the disruption and sprawl of a casino on its doorstep. According to the NPCA, opposition to the casino by prominent historians, NPCA members and supporters, and a 30,000-signature peition helped persuade the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to do the right thing.
  • Kaiser Ventures has been trying since 1988 to create the largest landfill in the United States on land adjactent to Joshua Tree National Park. Had the company been allowed to do so, 20,000 tons of trash per day would have been dumped next to a fragile ecosystem. In 2009, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said “no,” and the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from Kaiser. Until Kaiser finds a new way to build the dump, Joshua Tree has much to celebrate on its 75th anniversary.
  • It has taken eleven years for the NPCA, its allies and its lawyers to force the Tennesee Valley Authority to stop polluting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On days when the pollution is at its worst, vistors to the park can see only 17 miles. On a clear day, visitors can see 77 miles. With the settlemen agreement, there will be many more clear days. The TVA will  reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 69% and sulfur dioxide emissions by 67% by phasing out 18 coal-fired units and by installing modern pollution controls on 36 other units by 2018.

I look forward to the time when clear victories will bring us the kind of clear days that allow us to see forever-–insofar as clean air and clean water are concerned. Until then, every success brings infinite relfections on what is possible.

You May Also Like: Beauty and Heartbreak in Arroyo Pescadero – The Whittier, California city council wants to drill for oil in this environmentally sensitive arroyo east of Los Angeles.


99 cents

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the recently released Bears; Where they Fought: Life in Glacier Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley, a glimpse at the dramatic history of the most beautiful place on Earth. A Natural Wonderland… Amazing Animals… Early Pioneers…Native Peoples… A Great Flood… Kinnickinnick… Adventures… The Great Northern Railway.

“Give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and will make you truly immortal. — John Muir, “Our National Parks,” 1901