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"A Sand County Almanac" is one of those great bedside-table books, a book to pick up and browse through to renew your spirit.

Thus it is no surprise that Aldo Leopold's book ranks at the top of some 500 books in a new survey of environmental reading. Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" is close behind.

Both are bellwether books. They top the list in "The Environmentalist's Bookshelf: A Guide to the Best Books" by Robert Merideth (MacMillan, 272 pages, $40), a sleeper that will never be a best seller but is a treasure of information.

Merideth is a writer-editor for a ground-water policy project at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. He surveyed scores of environmental scientists, educators, authors, activists and government officials -- no journalists, unfortunately -- and asked them about the books that most influenced them.

The list of 500 books that resulted ranges from the technical to the philosophical. There are some omissions, such as Henry Beston's "The Outermost House" and "Blueprint for Survival," but generally the list is a helpful guide.

Others in the Top 10: "State of the World" by Lester Brown and the staff of the Worldwatch Institute; "The Population Bomb" by Paul R. Ehrlich; "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau; "Wilderness and the American Mind" by Roderick Nash; "Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered" by Ernst F. Schumacher; "Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness" by Edward Abbey; "The Closing Circle: Nature, Man and Technology" by Barry Commoner, and "The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Man" by Donella H. and Dennis L. Meadows and others.

Merideth's Top 40 books were picked on the basis of responses from 236 persons who had answered his inquiries. One hundred are listed as core books, another 150 are strongly recommended and the final 150 are recommended. Each listing includes a helpful brief description of the book's contents.

It's intriguing that at least half of the Top 10 books deal with the broad issue of human misuse of the planet and the conviction that such intrusion must cease.

The call for an environmental ethic pervades books by Carson, Abbey, Leopold, Thoreau and others. It is a message often lost in today's frenzy of laws, regulations and enforcement. Until humans decide to live at peace with the planet, there may be little hope for survival.

Some other recent books of interest:

"1993 Earth Journal" by the editors of Buzzword magazine (430 pages, $9.95) is a handy reference work on global developments. It covers the odd issue such as fashion or the arts and environment, along with a more serious assessment of earth issues in such places as Eastern Europe, what happened at Rio and the latest on minorities and the environment.

"The Global Partnership for Environment and Development (United Nations, 239 pages) outlines the goals of the Earth Summit last year at Rio and summarizes actions taken.

"Environmental Quality," a report of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (449 pages), may be a collector's item because the Clinton White House has called for abolishing the CEQ and spreading its functions among a proposed Department of Environment, a White House Office of Environment and other agencies. For 23 years -- sometimes good, sometimes average, sometimes poor (as in the Reagan years) -- the CEQ's annual report has assessed federal programs with a good dose of statistical information.

"Guide to the National Wildlife Refuges," by Laura and William Riley (Collier Books, 684 pages, $16) -- from Pea Island at Cape Hatteras to Montezuma in central New York, the refuges are all there in a well-organized, well-edited guide that includes maps and detailed information on how to get to sites, the best times to visit, what you'll see and where to stay. A fine reference book, and one that urban environmentalists should browse through to remind them of their roots in Mother Earth.

"Science Under Siege," by Michael Fumento (William Morrow, 448 pages, $27.50) and "Eco-Scam," by Ronald Bailey (St. Martin's Press, 228 pages, $19.95) express the skeptics' view of the environmental movement. It's always interesting to know what they're thinking. A former Forbes science and technology writer, Bailey debunks what he views as false prophets and scaremongers on such questions as the greenhouse effect and overpopulation. Fumento criticizes the media, debunks environmental extremism and questions the dangers of dioxin, Alar and electromagnetic radiation as he defends modern science and technology.

We've saved the best for last -- "Beyond the Limits: Confronting Global Collapse, Envisioning a Sustainable Future," by Donella and Dennis Meadows and Jorgen Randers (Chelsea Green, 300 pages, $19.95). This is the sequel to "Limits to Growth," mentioned above. The authors, who are concerned that the limits on the planet may be reached in the next 100 years if current trends continue, suggest steps to confront and avoid global collapse and establish a sustainable society. "Beyond the Limits" poses the questions that a society concerned about the future must ponder. For environmentalists, it is a yardstick with which to measure the success and failure of the past two decades.

Environmental notes -- Laidlaw, the Canadian company that wants to take over operations at BDT in Clarence, is telling the Canadian government that the best solution for an "infamous" toxic lagoon in Quebec is to let it dissolve naturally over several centuries. . . . Alex Cukan, a longtime activist, is the new chairman of the Sierra Club's Niagara Group. . . . Elizabeth Dowdswell, former Environment Canada Great Lakes area director general, has been named head of the United Nations Environmental Program in Nairobi. . . . Bud Wildman replaces Ruth Grier as Ontario's minister of environment in an apparent downgrading of the agency. . . . Jeffery T. Lacey, longtime regional DEC attorney for Region 9 in Buffalo, has been named director of the Division of Environmental Enforcement at the Department's Albany headquarters. . . . Visited a friend's apartment on Symphony Circle recently and found, despite all the talk by BFI about recycling, that its dumpsters don't have bins to separate paper, glass and other recyclables.

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