The first weeks of this year’s “official” holiday shopping season coincide with COP 25 – the 25th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The delegates meeting in Madrid, Spain, are discussing ways for countries to carry out and then strengthen the emission reductions they promised in the Paris Agreement. For those who will not be traveling to Madrid, the books listed below offer engaging, even entertaining ways for individuals to celebrate and strengthen their own commitments to act on climate change, whether through personal education and enrichment, lifestyle changes, or activism.
The descriptions of the 12 books listed below are drawn from copy provided by the publishers.
A Better Planet: Big Ideas for a Sustainable Future, edited by Daniel C. Esty (Yale University Press 2019, 416 pages, $30.00)
The 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change and the UN’s adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals have highlighted the need to address critical challenges such as the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, water shortages, and air pollution. But in the U.S., partisan divides, regional disputes, and deep disagreements over core principles have made it nearly impossible to chart a course toward a sustainable future. This timely new book, edited by Daniel C. Esty, offers fresh thinking and forward-looking solutions from environmental thought leaders across the political spectrum. Their forty essays cover such subjects as ecology, environmental justice, Big Data, public health, and climate change, all with an emphasis on sustainability.
More From Less: The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources – and What Happens Next, by Andrew McAfee (Scribner’s Books 2019, 352 pages, $28.00)
Throughout history, the only way for humanity to grow was by degrading the Earth. Since the first Earth Day in 1970, the reigning argument has been that taking better care of the planet means radically changing course: reducing our consumption, learning to share and reuse, and restraining growth. In More from Less, by contrast, McAfee argues that we need to do more of what we’re already doing: growing technologically sophisticated market-based economies around the world. How can he possibly make this claim? Because America – a large, high-tech country that accounts for about 25% of the global economy – is now generally using less of most resources year after year – and placing less stress on the environment – even as its economy and population continue to grow. While acknowledging still unsolved problems like global warming, More from Less is a paradigm-shifting account of how we’ve stumbled into a better balance with nature.
On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, by Naomi Klein (Simon & Schuster 2019, 320 pages, $27.00)
On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal gathers for the first time more than a decade of journalist Naomi Klein’s impassioned writing, and pairs it with new material on the staggeringly high stakes of our immediate political and economic choices. These long-form essays show Klein at her most prophetic and philosophical, investigating the climate crisis not only as a profound political challenge but as a spiritual and imaginative one as well. Delving into topics ranging from the clash between ecological time and our culture of “perpetual now,” to the soaring history of humans changing and evolving rapidly in the face of grave threats, to rising white supremacy and fortressed borders as a form of “climate barbarism,” this is a rousing call to action for a planet on the brink.
The Frigid Golden Age: Climate Change, the Little Ice Age, and the Dutch Republic, 1560-1720, by Dagomar Degroot (Cambridge University Press 2019, 386 pages, $29.99 paperback)
Dagomar Degroot offers the first detailed analysis of how the precocious economy, unusual environment, and dynamic intellectual culture of the Dutch Republic in its seventeenth-century Golden Age allowed it to thrive during the Little Ice Age, even as neighboring societies unraveled in the face of extremes in temperature and precipitation. By tracing the occasionally counter-intuitive manifestations of climate change, Degroot finds that the Little Ice Age presented not only challenges but also opportunities that Dutch citizens aggressively exploited in conducting commerce, waging war, and creating culture. Their success in coping with climate change offers lessons that we would be wise to heed today, as we confront the growing crisis of global warming.
Editor’s note: Degroot recently published an accessible summary of his book with Aeon.
Anointed With Oil: How Christianity and Crude Made Modern America, by Darren Dochuk (Basic Books 2019, 688 pages, $35.00)
Anointed with Oil places religion and oil at the center of American history. As prize-winning historian Darren Dochuk reveals, from the earliest discovery of oil in America during the Civil War, citizens saw oil as the nation’s special blessing and its peculiar burden, the source of its prophetic mission in the world. Over the decades that followed, the oil industry’s leaders and its ordinary workers transformed American religion, business, and politics — boosting America’s ascent as the preeminent global power, giving shape to modern evangelical Christianity, fueling the rise of the Republican Right, and setting the terms for today’s political and environmental debates. This sweeping, magisterial book transforms how we understand our nation’s history.
Waters of the World: The Story of the Scientists Who Unraveled the Mysteries of Our Oceans, Atmosphere, and Ice Sheets and Made the Planet Whole, by Sarah Dry (University of Chicago Press 2019, 380 pages, $30.00)
Linking the history of the planet with the lives of those who studied it, historian of science Sarah Dry follows the remarkable scientists who summited volcanic peaks to peer through an atmosphere’s worth of water vapor, cored mile-thick ice sheets to uncover the Earth’s ancient climate history, and flew inside storm clouds to understand how small changes in energy can produce both massive storms and the general circulation of the Earth’s atmosphere. Gradually, their separate discoveries coalesced into a unified working theory of our planet’s climate. We now call this field climate science, and in recent years it has provoked great passions, anxieties, and warnings. By revealing the complexity of its history, Waters of the World delivers a better understanding of our planet’s climate at a time when we need it the most.
McSweeney’s Issue 58: 2040 AD, edited by (The McSweeney’s Store 2019, $26.00)
Spanning six continents and nine countries – from metropolitan Mexico City to the receding coastline of Singapore – McSweeney’s 58 is wholly focused on climate change, with speculative fiction from ten contributors, made in collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Each story is set in the year 2040 and imagines what the world might look like if the dire warnings issued by the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C were to come true. Featuring authors Tommy Orange, Elif Shafak, Luis Alberto Urrea, Asja Bakic, Rachel Heng, and others, with gorgeous full-color illustrations by Wesley Allsbrook, this handsomely bound volume explores the tangible, day-to-day implications of these cataclysmic scientific projections.
Bad Environmentalism: Irony and Irreverence in the Ecological Age, by Nicole Seymour (University of Minnesota Press 2018, 320 pages $26.00)
Activists strive to educate the public about climate change, but sociologists have found that the more we know about alarming issues, the less likely we are to act. Meanwhile, environmentalists have acquired a reputation as gloom-and-doom killjoys. In response, Nicole Seymour develops the concept of “bad environmentalism”: cultural thought that employs dissident affects and sensibilities to reflect critically on our current moment. She identifies works that respond to the absurdities and ironies of climate change through absurdity and irony – as well as camp, frivolity, irreverence, perversity, and playfulness. Funny and original, Bad Environmentalism champions the practice of alternative green politics, expanding our understanding of how environmental art and activism can be pleasurable, even in a time of undeniable crisis.
Greta and the Giants: Inspired by Greta Thunberg’s Stand to Save the World, by Zoe Tucker (author) and Zoe Persico (illustrator) (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books 2019, 32 pages, $17.99)
This inspiring picture book retells the story of Nobel Peace Prize nominee Greta Thunberg – the Swedish teenager leading a global movement to raise awareness about climate change – using allegory to make the topic accessible. In this telling, Greta is a little girl who lives in a beautiful forest threatened by Giants. They chop down trees to make houses. Then they chop down more trees to make even bigger homes, until now there is hardly any forest left. Greta knows she has to help the animals who live in the forest, but how? The conclusion explains that the fight against the “giants” isn’t over and suggests ways young readers can help Greta in her fight. Three percent of the cover price of each book, printed on 100% recycled paper, will be donated to 350.org.
Selections from previous bookshelves*
One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the Moon by Charles Fishman (Simon & Schuster 2019, 480 pages, $29.99)
One Giant Leap is the sweeping, behind-the-scenes account of the furious race to complete one of mankind’s greatest achievements. It’s a story filled with surprises – from the item the astronauts almost forgot to take with them (the American flag), to the extraordinary impact Apollo would have back on Earth, and on the way we live today. Charles Fishman introduces readers to the men and women who had to solve 10,000 problems before astronauts could reach the Moon. One Giant Leap is the captivating story of men and women charged with changing the world as we knew it – their leaders, their triumphs, their near disasters, all of which led to arguably the greatest success story, and the greatest adventure story, of the twentieth century.
Editor’s note: The full list of books and documentaries Yale Climate Connections reviewed for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing can be found here. To that list can now be added The Apollo Chronicles: Engineering America’s First Moon Missions by Brandon R. Brown and The Moon: A History for the Future by Oliver Morton.
The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, by David Wallace-Wells (Tim Duggan Books 2019, 320 pages, $27.00
In his travelogue of our near future, David Wallace-Wells brings into stark relief the climate troubles that await – food shortages, refugee emergencies, and other crises that will reshape the globe. But the world will be remade by warming in more profound ways as well, transforming our politics, our culture, our relationship to technology, and our sense of history. It will shape and distort nearly every aspect of human life as it is lived today. Like An Inconvenient Truth, The Uninhabitable Earth is both a meditation on the devastation we have brought upon ourselves and an impassioned call to action. For just as the world was brought to the brink of catastrophe within the span of a lifetime, the responsibility to avoid it now belongs to a single generation.
The Ice at the End of the World: An Epic Journey into Greenland’s Buried Past and Our Perilous Future, by Jon Gertner (Penguin Random 2019, 448 pages, $28.00)
The ice sheet that covers Greenland is 700 miles wide and 1,500 miles long, and contains nearly three quadrillion tons of ice. As this ice melts and runs off into the sea, it not only threatens to affect hundreds of millions of people who live in coastal areas, it will also have drastic effects on ocean currents, weather systems, economies, and migration patterns. In The Ice at the End of the World, Gertner chronicles the unfathomable hardships, amazing discoveries, and scientific achievements of the Arctic’s explorers and researchers with a transporting style – and a keen sense of what this work means. The melting ice sheet in Greenland is, in a way, an analog for time. It contains the past. It reflects the present. It can also tell us how much time we have left.
*The editors thank the readers who suggested that titles like The Uninhabitable Earth deserve a second mention at this time of year.
Filed under: Michael Svoboda
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