Tackling climate change, one page at a time
Climate activists acknowledge that most of us care about climate change, which is a good thing. But for a lot of us, the absence of immediate and effective solutions can lead to a sense of helplessness.
One way to combat that? Learning about the stakes and solutions offered up by the brilliant minds of the world, through reading. Understanding the facts and contemporary conversations is the first step in making informed decisions and becoming a force for change.
Here are LifeLab’s book picks to better understand the climate crisis and live more sustainably. S hare these reads with family and friends, so we all have a better understanding of global warming and its effects on the climate. We feel the planet’s urgent environmental issues and possible solutions are best digested one page at a time.
By Richard Powers
Climate fiction, or cli-fi, features a changed or changing climate as a major plot device, and it’s striking a chord with younger generations. With pivotal themes like examining the impact of pollution, rising sea levels, and global warming on human civilization, cli-fi bridges science with the humanities and activism, and is making environmental issues more accessible and engaging to readers.
Like most climate fiction, Richard Powers’ writing usually involves the devastating toll of environmental catastrophes, but Powers proposes something more radical. As the New York Times says, “He wants to challenge our innate anthropocentrism, both in literature and how we live.”
Unlike Powers’s last book, The Overstory, a Pulitzer Prize-winning 500-page epic that follows nine major characters across many years of their lives, Bewilderment spans one year and circles around a father-son duo. Narrated by Theo Byrne, an astrobiologist searching for life on other planets, and his 9-year-old son, Robin, who is consumed by grief over the death of his mother and the fate of the planet. Powers’s prose, which has been called insightful and poetic, draws us closer to the threats facing our planet.
As an Outside magazine review stated, in Bewilderment “the urgent clarity on the most important issue of our time contrasts uncomfortably with the apathy that most of us feel every day, even those of us who care deeply about the environment. Powers’s new novel reads as angrier, or perhaps just more frustrated. We are running out of time, it seems to say. Get over yourselves. Snap out of it already.”
The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after warming
By David Wallace-Wells
Another startling portrait of our future that inspires immediate action, The Unhabitable Earth paints a grim picture, but eliminates complacency as an option. Journalist David Wallace-Wells’s acclaimed book will get you up to speed with the sheer scale of the climate emergency in just 200 words.
As Wallace-Wells puts it in the book’s first line, “It is worse, much worse, than you think.” The author knows readers must accept the emergency if we are to have any chance at avoiding climate change’s worst impacts. One section, the Elements of Chaos, composes 12 short, panic-attack inducing chapters. Wallace-Wells dissects the past, present and future of life in the era of global warming (including climate displacement, food insecurity, geopolitical war, global plagues, and increased natural disasters) and says we must capitalize on the solutions we already have to turn things around.
The book expands on a viral article, also titled The Uninhabitable Earth , which Wallace-Wells published in New York magazine in the summer of 2017. It was the most read article in the history of the magazine.
“This is not a book about the science of warming; it is a book about what warming means to the way we live on this planet,” Wallace-Wells writes.
The author empowers readers by writing that solutions are within our control, and “everything is up to us”. Wallace-Wells suggests huge new plantations of solar panel plants and carbon-capture technology and, basically, an entirely new infrastructure with new kinds of airplanes and new kinds of public transportation.
As one critic says: “First you’ll get scared straight; then you’ll get straight to work.”
The End of Nature
By Bill McKibben
Reissued on the tenth anniversary of its publication, this classic work on our environmental crisis features a new introduction by the author addressing some of the latest environmental issues that have risen during the 1990s and reviews both the progress and ground lost in the fight to save the earth.
Written in 1989, when global warming was referred to as “the greenhouse effect”, McKibben addressed a bigger problem: a disregard for nature and how humans were capable of harming it. His plea for radical and life-renewing change is still considered a groundbreaking work in environmental studies and is more relevant than ever.
More than simply a handbook for survival or a doomsday catalog of scientific prediction, this classic, soulful lament on Nature is required reading for nature enthusiasts, activists, and concerned citizens alike.
His only solution, one our society has not followed, is: “go no farther down the path we've been following.”
As the New York Times Book Review says, "By the end of nature, Mr. McKibben means the end of nature as a force independent of man . . . for a man preaching apocalypse, he speaks in a measured and civilized voice that deserves hearing."
The book will leave you better informed, and with a renewed sense of realism. As another critic said, “the world will never again look the same to you after you've read it."
Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation
By Paul Hawken
In 2017, Hawken offered Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. Written by hundreds of expert researchers, this collection of captivating, easy-to-understand essays suggested both systematic and small-scale solutions and spotlighted 100 innovative technologies to cut carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases emissions.
In his 2021 book, with the help of esteemed researchers and scholars, Hawken assesses our “dying planet—a phrase that may have sounded inflated or over the top not long ago."
Hawken says in order to curb the devastating effects of climate change, we must contain carbon and reduce surface temperature. He says that requires rethinking our short-sighted extractive economy. It’s a project to regenerate the world to health that requires replanting over-logged forests, cleaning up the oceans, bringing sustainable power to consumers, and respecting all forms of life on the planet in a way we never have.
The environmentalist and entrepreneur brings good news that it’s not too late to correct some of the worst effects of global warming. Hawken and the book’s contributors examine attainable strategies, from “absolute no-take zones” that forbid ocean fishing in large marines to building sustainable food chains to make use of the plants that “grow best where people live and help meet their nutritional needs.”
As one critic says, Regeneration combines “pie-in-the-sky visions and gritty practicality in a book of interest to all environmentally minded readers.”
By Robin Wall Kimmerer
It took 7 years for Robin Wall Kimmerer’s break out book to land on the NYT best seller list. Maybe that’s due in part to the reach of its small independent publisher, Milkweed, but it also could be that when the book came out in 2013, people weren’t quite ready for the message Wall Kimmerer had to share.
Braiding Sweetgrass is a deviation from mainstream climate change literature. It doesn’t lean on fear-inducing statistics and harrowing stories from the global warming frontlines. Instead, it offers something more wholesome, and in some ways sustainable, an invitation as Wall Kimmerer says, “to celebrate the gifts of the earth.”
Wall Kimmerer is both member of the Potowatomi Nation and an academically trained botanist. The book is a series of essays that explore her relearning of the scientific plant world through the traditions of her indigenous roots. Sequentially organized under the section titles Planting Sweetgrass, Tending Sweetgrass, Braiding Sweetgrass, Picking Sweetgrass and Burning Sweetgrass, the stories present a cyclical journey that mirrors the lifecycle of all living things.
As for the book’s recent surge to popularity, Wall Kimmerer offered her thoughts in a NY Times article . “When we’re looking at things we cherish falling apart, when inequities and injustices are so apparent, people are looking for another way that we can be living. We need interdependence rather than independence, and Indigenous knowledge has a message of valuing connection, especially to the humble.”