Gift Guide: This Year's Essential Climate Change Books
What's your most potent weather-related memory?
Katharine Hayhoe's occurred in October 2011. She left home in haste at 5 a.m. to catch a flight at the Lubbock, Texas, airport, and, rolling down her window to grab a parking-lot ticket, apparently forgot to roll it back up. That afternoon, a record-setting dust storm replaced everything not bolted to her car's interior with a mound of dust. Hayhoe is chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy and author of the recent book, Saving Us. "For the rest of its life," she writes, "the air vents in that car squeaked as if there were a cricket stuck in them."
She posed the same question to a group of women gathered for a Christmas chat in Lubbock to encourage them to talk about climate change—a specialty for Hayhoe—and it worked.
Everybody's talking about climate change and many are writing books about it, too. I quoted Hayhoe in an October story about scientists who analyze extreme weather events for human influence. That story also includes Peter Stott, a science fellow at the U.K. Met Office, whose new book, Hot Air, is a memoir of his time as a path-setting climate scientist—too often spent fighting forces that wrongly dismissed his and his colleagues' research. The subject of the profile, Imperial College London's Friederike Otto, has also written a fast-moving account of her career in climate science, Angry Weather.
This led me to wonder, how many climate books come out in a year? Turns out, a lot. At this writing, 60 recents and coming-soons.
I've already written about a non-climate climate book that’s one of the best this year. Kimberly Nicholas's Under the Sky We Make was an easy and early pick, too. Nicholas, like Hayhoe, captures the current Zeitgeist in climate nonfiction: Absorb the perpetually not-great news about global heating and layer over it both a thumping drive to make the future as prosperous as it can be and the brightening hope that we will.
This year you can also read about:
- Who Nobel economist Elinor Ostrom was
- The trouble with and solutions for, well, everything: media, education, the politics of gender and race, and North-South geopolitics
- What we should unlearn about our culture of buying stuff
- Climate models and their discontents
- How to disaster right
- A deep-dive into hopeful climate fixes and fixes to previous fixes
- What optimists should do even though we’re all hypocrites
- What’s wrong with conservation in developed countries
- How to fight climate change after Covid-19
- The zen approach to climate change
- Another Nobel economist’s prescriptions for a warming, pandemic-wracked world
Journalist Devi Lockwood spent five years traveling to 20 countries. The result, 1,001 Voices on Climate Change, is a moving travelogue from parts of the world that have already suffered from rich-world folly. Pair that with The Atlas of Disappearing Places, a colorful global tour filled with artistic maps and imagined views from a 2050 when many problems have been addressed.
New to the climate space? Settle in for They Knew, an overview of how the U.S. helped cause the crisis, by Gus Speth, who served as chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and founded the nonprofit World Resources Institute. Journalist and researcher Alice Bell published Our Biggest Experiment, a history from the first demonstration that carbon dioxide absorbs heat, in 1856, to today. Energy Crises, by Jay Hakes, a former chief of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, is a comprehensive tour of the 1970s havoc that created the world we live in.
Or maybe you prefer fiction. In Paradise on Fire, technically a children's chapter book, Jewell Parker Rhodes movingly depicts how a girl, orphaned by fire, develops an intense situational awareness that turns into a love of maze- and map-making. It serves her and others well at a California summer camp for Black youths who live in cities. (There’s also a good nonfiction account of the actual 2018 Camp Fire.) Alexandra Kleeman's Something New Under the Sun makes the near future super-vivid as characters move about ordinary (Hollywood) lives in a transforming world. On my to-be-read list: Matt Bell's well-reviewed Appleseed and science-fiction legend Neal Stephenson’s Termination Shock.
What to make of this embarrassment of climate riches? Journalist and activist Bill McKibben in 1989 published The End of Nature, celebrated ever since as the first breakthrough work of climate nonfiction. I showed McKibben the growing list of climate books.
"This is a source of great, great comfort," he said. "For some years after The End of Nature there were almost no other books, and it all felt lonely. I take enormous solace and strength from the huge number of people now engaged in this work."
My climate book of the year is Amitav Ghosh's latest, The Nutmeg's Curse, a beautiful, harrowing historical essay about mass-mobilizing empathy as the way to undermine the centuries-old drive toward targeted extermination of entire peoples and communities out of greed for ever-more natural resources. Ghosh produced a work that reaches your brain and your heart with unforgettable analytic and moral clarity.
Eric Roston writes the Climate Report newsletter about the impact of global warming. Authors and publishers can e-mail him with new climate-related titles at ClimateBooksString@gmail.com.
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