Welcome to Love of Place. Most of my work celebrates our connection to the natural world.

My new eco science fiction Knocking on Heaven's Door is just released. A number of early reviewers have been enthusiastic, including the website Geeks of Doom, which makes me smile. Not many people know me as a geek of doom! But I am happy to embrace the complexity of my personality.

I'm also so pleased that Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World has been awarded the 2016 John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing, as well as the 2014 WILLA Award for Creative Nonfiction from Women Writing the West.

My historical fantasy Teresa of the New World won the 2015 Arizona Authors Association Award for best Children's Literature and was a finalist for the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards.

These are nice landmarks in a writer's life. I would be writing regardless--but, still, whew. It's good to have some encouragement.

Feel free to contact me at http://www.sharmanaptrussell.com or through my author Facebook page, Sharman Apt Russell.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Once in a while I get in a strange conversation. I tell a friend that my next book is on childhood malnutrition and the paradigm shifts we have seen in this field in the last twenty years. New discoveries about micronutrients like iron and zinc, and new ways of empowering mothers, are behind the optimism of my working title Within Our Grasp: Feeding the World’s Children. My friend’s face is momentarily still. She is repressing her first thought, which eventually gets said, gently, as though she were explaining something a little difficult to someone a little simple: “Sharman, I feel badly for those children, too. But, really…” Another pause. “Isn’t overpopulation our real problem?

I have learned not to scream and jump on her head. I know this woman is compassionate and educated. I know my reply will surprise her. One in four of the world’s children under five—some 165 million children----is physically and mentally stunted due to a lack of food or nutrients. One-fourth of the world’s children. But “only” three million of these children die every year from hunger, with perhaps “only” seven million more from hunger-related disease. The rest are sentenced to a lifetime of diminished potential. They do less well in school. They do less well in work. Almost certainly, they will spend their lives in poverty. In fact, malnutrition is considered one of the greatest causes of poverty, as well as one of its most damaging results.
Population growth is part of that cycle. The very poorest countries have the highest birthrates. The wealthiest have the lowest. When parents know their children are going to survive and flourish, they tend to have smaller families. When women have access to education and employment, they tend to have smaller families. When an entire population feels healthy and well-nourished, they tend to have smaller families.
Here is the good news: much of the world has already reached this point. Globally, the fertility rate—the number of children a woman has in her lifetime— is 2.5, not yet replacement rate but getting close. The reasons for this have to do with greater economic prosperity, literacy, urbanization, and policies that reward small families. In Bangladesh, there is a new saying, “Two are good. One is better.” In Bangladesh, women on average have 2.2 children. In India, that number is 2.4. In Brazil, that number is 1.8. In China, that number is 1.6.
As the next generations have their children and as many of us live longer than ever before, the number of humans in the world will continue to swell before we stabilize. In addition, we will keep seeing an exponential climb in the two billion of us still malnourished. Most of our extreme poor are now in Africa, in countries like Niger where a woman on average has seven children, half of whom are stunted due to malnutrition, with one in five dying before reaching the age of five. In terms of population growth, feeding those children—bringing those families out of extreme poverty—is the real solution.
One of the things that excites me about this new writing project is how clearly the goals of the environmental community and humanitarian community are aligned. I feel like two great concerns in my life are coming together. I am also naturally worried about this proposed book. Who am I, a nature writer from rural New Mexico, to tackle this complex, global problem? How can I corral the politics and acronyms of food aid? What will happen when I go to Malawi this fall? Sometimes my doubts crescendo. This is such a bad idea, and I am going to fail so spectacularly. Of course, I have felt this way with almost every book I wrote. So, there’s that.
Ending the misery of worldwide childhood malnutrition would have enormous consequences. One quarter of the next generation could now learn better, work harder, and engage actively in solving social and environmental problems. Together, that generation could promote gender and racial equality. Together, they could face the challenges of climate change. Together, they would slow population growth. I know—this list sounds brazenly hopeful. Still…whenever we see a child, don’t we have these hopes?

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