Climate books for occasional climate readers or activists/academics

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12 titles that make the perfect holiday gift for occasional climate readers

Find the perfect climate book for everyone in your life.

By MICHAEL SVOBODADECEMBER 9, 2022

For this year’s holidays, Yale Climate Connections has created two bookshelves: one for occasional climate readers and the other for climate activists and academics.

How do the titles in the two lists differ from each other? Included in this first list are new examples of long-standing popular genres: nature and natural history, history, current events, financial advice, and fiction. Climate change is not always the central focus, and the writing is generally easier to read. By contrast, most of the titles in the second list are published by university presses, written in more academic prose, and focused on specific aspects of climate change. Not everyone’s cup of tea.

But anyone might enjoy Paul Smith’s beautifully illustrated book on trees, novelist Annie Proulx’s personalized natural history of wetlands, or filmmaker Priyanka Kumar’s memoir about the birds in her life.

Douglas Brinkley’s magisterial account (over 850 pages) of the environmental movement will impress readers of history, while the works by climate and energy expert Hal Harvey and former journalist Justin Gillis (The Big Fix) or British author and climate activist George Monbiot (Regenesis) will captivate readers who follow climate change through the news.

For readers with a financial bent, there’s Bruce Usher’s guide to “investing in the era of climate change” and Gallup CEO Jon Clifton’s analysis of what global polling data reveal about the interconnections between the environment, economics, and human happiness and well-being.

Finally, the four fictional titles offer gift-givers a choice of genres: experimental, suspense, young adult disaster tale, and action-thriller.

In short, something for every reader in one’s life.

As with all of Yale Climate Connection’s monthly bookshelves, the descriptions of the titles are adapted from copy provided by the publishers.


Non-Fiction

A book cover with a close up of a leaf.

Trees: From Root to Leaf by Paul Smith (University of Chicago Press 2022, 320 pages, $49.95)

Trees provoke deep affection, spirituality, and creativity. They cover about a third of the world’s land and play a crucial role in our environmental systems — influencing the water, carbon, and nutrient cycles and the global climate. This puts trees at the forefront of research into mitigating our climate emergency; we cannot understate their importance in shaping our daily lives and our planet’s future. Generously illustrated with over 450 images and organized according to tree life cycle — from seeds and leaves to wood, flowers, and fruit — ecologist Paul Smith’s new book celebrates the great diversity and beauty of the 60,000 tree species that inhabit our planet. As Smith presents the science, art, and culture of trees, we discover their fragile nature — and their interdependence. We understand the forest without losing sight of the magnificent trees.

A book cover with an image of a wetland.

Fen, Bog, and Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis by Annie Proulx (Simon & Schuster / Scribner 2022, 208 pages, $26.99)

A lifelong acolyte of the natural world, Annie Proulx brings her witness and research to the subject of wetlands and the vitally important role they play in preserving the environment — by storing the carbon emissions that accelerate climate change. Fens, bogs, swamps, and marine estuaries are crucial to the earth’s survival, and in four illuminating parts, Proulx documents their systemic destruction in pursuit of profit. In a vivid and revelatory journey through history, Proulx describes the fens of 16th-century England, Canada’s Hudson Bay lowlands, Russia’s Great Vasyugan Mire, and America’s Okeefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. She introduces the early explorers who launched the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, and writes of the diseases spawned in the wetlands—the Ague, malaria, Marsh Fever.

A blue book cover with illustrations of birds.

Conversations with Birds by Priyanka Kumar (Milkweed Editions 2022, 296 pages, $28.00)

“Birds are my almanac. They tune me into the seasons, and into myself.” So begins this lively collection of essays by acclaimed filmmaker and novelist Priyanka Kumar. But Kumar’s perspective is not that of a list keeper. Rather, from the mango-colored western tanager that rescues her from a bout of altitude sickness in Sequoia National Park to the white-breasted nuthatch that regularly visits the apricot tree behind her family’s casita in Sante Fe, for Kumar, birds “become a portal to a more vivid, enchanted world.”At a time when climate change, habitat loss, and the reckless use of pesticides are causing widespread extinction of species, Kumar’s reflections on these messengers offer luminous evidence that “seeds of transformation lie dormant in all of our hearts. Sometimes it just takes the right bird to awaken us.”

A book cover with a mountain landscape.

Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the Great Environmental Awakening by Douglas Brinkley (Harper Colins 2022, 896 pages, $40.00)

During the 1950s, an unprecedented postwar economic boom took hold, with America becoming the world’s leading hyper-industrial and military giant. But with this historic prosperity came a heavy cost. In Silent Spring Revolution, historian Douglas Brinkley pays tribute to those who combated the mauling of the natural world in the Long Sixties: Rachel Carson (a marine biologist and author), David Brower (director of the Sierra Club), Barry Commoner (an environmental justice advocate), Coretta Scott King (an antinuclear activist), Stewart Udall (the secretary of the interior), William O. Douglas (Supreme Court justice), and Cesar Chavez (a labor organizer). Now, as the US grapples with climate change, David Brinkley reminds us that a new generation of twenty-first-century environmentalists can save the planet from ruin.

A gray book cover with colorful text.

The Big Fix: 7 Practical Steps to Save Our Planet by Hal Harvey and Justin Gillis (Simon & Schuster 2022, 320 pages, $28.99)

Dozens of kids in Montgomery County, Maryland, agitated until their school board committed to electric school buses. Mothers in Colorado turned up in front of an obscure state panel to fight for clean air. If you think the only thing you can do to combat climate change is to install a smart thermostat or cook plant-based burgers, you’re thinking too small. That’s where The Big Fix comes in, offering everyday citizens a guide to the seven places where ambitious but practical changes will have the greatest effect: electricity production, transportation, buildings, industry, urbanization, use of land, and investment in promising new green technologies. At once pragmatic and inspiring, The Big Fix is an indispensable action plan for citizens looking to drive our country’s greenhouse gas emissions down to zero  and save our climate.

A book cover with soil and seedlings.

Regenesis: Feeding the World Without Devouring the Planet by George Monbiot (Penguin / Random House 2022, 352 pages, $18.00 paperback)

Farming is the world’s greatest cause of environmental destruction— and the one we are least prepared to talk about. Regenesis is a breathtaking vision of a new future for food and for humanity. Drawing on astonishing advances in soil ecology, Monbiot reveals how our changing understanding of the world beneath our feet could allow us to grow more food with less farming. He meets the people who are unlocking these methods, from the fruit and vegetable grower revolutionizing our understanding of fertility; through breeders of perennial grains, liberating the land from plows and poisons; to the scientists pioneering new ways to grow protein and fat. Together, they show how the tiniest life forms could help us make peace with the planet, restore its living systems, and replace the age of extinction with an age of regenesis.

A white book cover with green and red text.

Investing in the Era of Climate Change by Bruce Usher (Columbia University Press 2022, 304 pages, $27.95)

A climate catastrophe can be avoided, but only with a rapid and sustained investment in companies and projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This has already begun to happen. Investors are abandoning fossil-fuel companies and other polluting industries and financing businesses offering climate solutions. Bruce Usher offers an indispensable guide to the risks and opportunities for investors as the world faces climate change. He explores the role that investment plays in reducing emissions to net zero by 2050, detailing how to finance the winners and avoid the losers in a transforming global economy. This book sets out a practical and actionable plan for investors that will alter the course of climate change.

A white book cover with an image of a gray map of the world and a red arrow line.

Blind Spot: The Global Rise of Unhappiness and How Leaders Missed It by Jon Clifton (Gallup Press 2022, 352 pages, $24.99)

The rising unhappiness that leaders didn’t see. That’s because while leaders pay close attention to measures like GDP or unemployment, almost none of them track their citizens’ wellbeing. The implications of this blind spot are significant and far-reaching — leaders missed the citizen unhappiness that triggered events ranging from the Arab uprisings to Brexit to the election of Donald Trump. What are they going to miss next? Grounded in Gallup’s global research, Blind Spot makes the urgent case that leaders should measure and quantify wellbeing and happiness — how citizens’ lives are going — and shows them how. It also discusses the five key elements of a great life and where the world needs to improve to better the lives of people everywhere.

Fiction

A book cover with different colored stripes.

Our Shared Storm: A Novel of Five Climate Futures by Andrew Dana Hudson (Fordham University Press 2022, 224 pages, $19.95 paperback)

Written by speculative-fiction writer and sustainability researcher Andrew Dana Hudson, Our Shared Storm features five overlapping fictions that employ a futurist technique called “scenarios thinking.” These five scenarios highlight the political, economic, and cultural possibilities of futures where investments in climate adaptation and mitigation promised today have been successfully completed, kicked down the road, or abandoned altogether. The opening setting for all is the year 2054, during the Conference of the Parties global climate negotiations in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Each story features a common cast of characters, but events unfold differently for them — and human society — in each alternate universe. From harrowing to hopeful, these stories highlight the choices we must make to stabilize the planet.

A cream book cover with a black and white image of water and red text.

Denial: A Novel by Jon Rathmond (Simon & Schuster 2022, 240 pages, $26.00)

The year is 2052. Climate change has had a predictably devastating effect: Venice submerged, cyclones in Oklahoma, megafires in South America. Yet it could be much worse. Two decades earlier, the global protest movement helped break the planet’s fossil fuel dependency, and the subsequent trials convicted oil executives and lobbyists for crimes against the environment. But pipeline mastermind Robert Cave escaped. Now, journalist Jack Henry has received a tip that Cave is living in Mexico. Using a fake identity, he makes contact with the fugitive. The two men strike up an unexpected friendship, leaving Jack torn about exposing Cave. Who will really benefit from the unmasking? Denial is both a page-turning speculative suspense novel and a powerful existential inquisition about the perilous moment in which we currently live.

A book cover with an image of a person standing in front of a forest on fire.

Two Degrees: A Planet Is Crisis. And Time Is Running Out by Alan Gratz (Scholastic Books 2022, 384 pages, $17.99

Fire. Ice. Flood. Three climate disasters. Four kids fighting for their lives. Akira is riding her horse in the California woods when a wildfire sparks — and grows scarily fast. Owen and his best friend, George, are used to seeing polar bears on the snowy Canadian tundra. But then one bear gets way too close for comfort. Natalie hunkers down at home as a massive hurricane barrels toward Miami. When the floodwaters crash into her house, Natalie is dragged out into the storm. Akira, Owen, George, and Natalie are all swept up in the devastating effects of climate change. Bestselling author Alan Gratz is at the top of his game, shining a light on our increasingly urgent climate crisis while spinning an action-packed story that will keep readers hooked. (Ages 8–12)

Read more: Fictional ‘Two Degrees’ aims to engage 8 to 14 year olds on climate

A gray book cover with red text that is dripping oil.

The Doomsday Show: Would You Kill a Climate Criminal to Save the World? by Mark Alpert (Severn House 2022, 256 pages, $25.99)

It’s Climate Emergency Week in New York City. Thousands of environmentalists are protesting against the ongoing destruction of the planet. Also in NYC are the five fossil-fuel tycoons and reactionary politicians labeled “The Worse Climate Criminals” by Max Mirsky, former editor of the Journal of Climatology. When Number Five on the list mysteriously dies as Max confronts him, quickly followed by Number Four, Max becomes the FBI’s prime suspect. Things go from bad to worse when his daughter is kidnapped. Max can’t sit back and wait for the FBI to solve the case. He must rescue his daughter and discover who the real assassins are. And he must stop the killings before the outrage and backlash destroy all hopes for a climate change solution.

12 titles for climate activists and academics on your holiday gift list

Some timely books for those comfortable with more academic prose.

by MICHAEL SVOBODA DECEMBER 9, 2022

or this year’s holidays, Yale Climate Connections is posting two bookshelves.

The first, for occasional climate readers, consists of new books in popular genres like nature writing, history, current events, advice, and fiction.

The second shelf of titles, presented below, is for the climate activists and academics on your gift list, the sort who can digest books written in more academic prose, published by university presses, and focused on specific aspects of climate change. If you’re shopping for someone who fits this description, then take this further assurance: Most of the titles in this list are so new that there’s little chance they’re already on the shelf of your intended recipient.

Leading off the list are three titles that deepen our understanding of already recognized problems: the fossil-fuel-funded far-right conspiracy to cover up climate change, the net-negative effects of rising CO2 levels on the plants on which humanity relies (contrary to the “CO2 is plant food” meme popularized by climate “deniers”), and the role climate change is already playing in accelerating global migration.

The next three titles reaffirm an old but often forgotten maxim: “think global, act local.” When it comes to mitigation and adaptation, which often include technological innovation, the most effective solutions emerge from the bottom-up rather than the top down. One needs to see and feel both the particulars of the climate problem to be solved and the consequences, intended and unintended, of attempts to address it.

The last six titles explore a common, paradoxical proposition: the real barriers to action on climate change are our habits of mind. We don’t know how to calibrate a problem when the horizon for what is possible keeps shifting. The apocalyptic stories we tell ourselves about the way the world works — and ends — make corrective change more difficult. And our social norms and interactions often blinker our perceptions of our choices. Thus, some of the work of adapting to climate change must be done on ourselves.

And that work can begin by gifting one of these books.

As with all of Yale Climate Connection’s monthly bookshelves, the descriptions of the titles are adapted from copy provided by the publishers.


A book cover with an hour glass filled with oil.

The Petroleum Papers: Insider the Far-Right Conspiracy to Cover Up Climate Change by Geoff Dembicki (Greystone Books 2022, 256 pages, $27.95)

In The Petroleum Papers, investigative journalist Geoff Dembicki tells the story of how the American oil companies that founded the tar sands in Alberta, Canada—home to the third-biggest oil reserves on the planet—ignored warnings about climate devastation as early as 1959. Instead of alerting the world to act on this impending global disaster, Exxon, Koch Industries, Shell and others created ad campaigns saying climate change isn’t real and that alternatives to oil are an economic disaster. With experts now warning we have less than a decade to get global emissions under control, The Petroleum Papers provides a step-by-step account of how we got to this precipice and the politicians and companies who deserve our blame.

A book cover featuring a photo of a lush green forest.

Greenhouse Planet: How Rising CO2 Changes Plants and Life as We Know It by Lewis H. Ziska (Columbia University Press 2022, 240 pages, $24.95)

Greenhouse Planet reveals the stakes of increased CO2 for plants, people, and ecosystems—from crop yields to seasonal allergies and from wildfires to biodiversity. Veteran plant biologist Lewis H. Ziska describes the importance of plants for food, medicine, and culture and explores the complex ways higher CO2 concentrations alter the systems on which humanity relies. Ziska confronts the claim that “CO2 is plant food,” a longtime conservative talking point. While not exactly false, it is deeply misleading. CO2 doesn’t just make “good” plants grow; it makes all plants grow. It makes poison ivy more poisonous, kudzu more prolific, cheatgrass more flammable. Many crops grow more abundantly but also become less nutritious. Greenhouse Planet is an indispensable book for all readers interested in the ripple effects of increasing CO2.

A book cover with an image of an old map in the background.

Nomad Century: How Climate Migration Will Reshape the World by Gaia Vince (Macmillan Publishers 2022, 288 pages, $28.99)

Drought-hit regions bleeding those for whom a rural life has become untenable. Coastlines diminishing year on year. Wildfires and hurricanes leaving widening swaths of destruction. The cause is climate change, but not enough of us are willing to confront one of its biggest consequences: a total reshaping of the earth’s human geography. Global migration has doubled in the past decade, on track to see literal billions displaced in the coming decades. How will this new great migration reshape us all? In Nomad Century, Vince draws on a career of environmental reporting and over two years of travel to the front lines of climate migration across the globe, to tell us how the changes already in play will transform our food, our cities, our politics, and much more. Her findings are answers we all need, now more than ever.

A green book cover with yellow text.

Fixing the Climate: Strategies for an Uncertain World by Charles F. Sabel and David G. Victor (Princeton University Press 2022, 256 pages, $24.95)

Global climate diplomacy—from the Kyoto Protocol to the Paris Agreement—is not working. Despite decades of sustained negotiations by world leaders, the climate crisis continues to worsen. The solution is within our grasp—but we will not achieve it through top-down global treaties or grand bargains among nations. Charles Sabel and David Victor explain why the profound transformations needed for deep cuts in emissions must arise locally, with government and business working together. They show how some of the most iconic successes in environmental policy—like the Montreal Protocol and the rise of electric vehicles—were products of this experimentalist approach. Fixing the Climate is a road map to institutional design that can finally lead to reductions in emissions that years of global diplomacy failed to deliver.

A book cover with a diagram of a battery and many things it can and cannot charge.

Charged: A History of Batteries and Lessons for a Clean Energy Future by James Morton Turner (University of Washington Press 2022, 256 pages, $34.95)

To achieve fossil fuel independence, few technologies are more important than batteries. Used for powering zero-emission vehicles, storing electricity from solar panels and wind turbines, and revitalizing the electric grid, batteries are essential to scaling up the renewable energy resources that help address global warming. In Charged, James Morton Turner unpacks the history of batteries to explore why solving “the battery problem” is critical to a clean energy transition. As activists focus on what a clean energy future will create—sustainability, resiliency, and justice—the history of batteries offers a sharp reminder of what building that future will consume: lithium, graphite, nickel, and other specialized materials. With new insight, Turner draws on the past for lessons that will help us build a just and clean energy future—from the ground up.

A book cover with a photo of a landscape with mountains and a glacial lake.

Climate Change Adaptation: An Earth Institute Sustainability Primer by Lisa Dale (Columbia University Press 2022, 216 pages, $20.00 paperback)

Climate change policy has typically emphasized mitigation, calling for reducing emissions and shifting away from fossil fuels. But these efforts have floundered even as floods, wildfires, droughts, and other disasters became more frequent and potent. As risks escalate, we must ask how to adapt to a changing climate. In clear, accessible language that draws on her expertise in sustainable development, Lisa Dale describes key strategies that governments, communities, and the private sector are deploying in order to govern climate adaptation. She presents the theory and practice that underlie efforts at local and global scales, providing illuminating case studies that foreground the problems facing developing countries. Her book is an invaluable introduction for all readers interested in how societies can meet the challenges of an altered climate.

A book cover with large text and blue, orange and black rectangles.

Horizon Work: At the Edges of Knowledge in an Age of Runaway Climate Change by Adriana Petryna (Princeton University Press 2022, 224 pages, $26.95)

Anthropologist Adriana Petryna examines the climate crisis through the lens of “horizoning,” a mode of reckoning that considers unnatural disasters against a horizon of expectation in which people and societies can act. She talks to wildfire scientists who, amid chaotic fire seasons and shifting fire behaviors, are revising predictive models calibrated to conditions that no longer exist. She tells the stories of firefighters who could once rely on memory of previous fires to gauge the behaviors of the next. But sometimes the very concept of projection becomes untenable. Yet if all we see is doom, we will overlook something crucial about the labor needed to hold back climate chaos. Horizon Work reveals how this new way of thinking can reverse harmful legacies while creating spaces for collective action and recoverable futures.

A black book cover with a lit match on it.

An Inconvenient Apocalypse: Environmental Collapse, Climate Crisis, and the Fate of Humanity by Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen (University of Notre Dame Press 2022, 184 pages, $24.00 paperback)

For decades, our world has understood that we are on the brink of an apocalypse—and yet the only implemented solutions have been small and convenient, feel-good initiatives that avoid unpleasant truths about the root causes of our impending disaster. The climate crisis has already progressed beyond nondisruptive solutions. The only question now about the end result is how bad it will be. Though the challenge can feel overwhelming, Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen use a secular reading of theological concepts—the prophetic, the apocalyptic, a saving remnant, and grace—to chart a realistic path for humanity not only to survive our apocalypse but also to emerge on the other side with a renewed appreciation of the larger living world.

A book cover with an image of a forest fire mixed with a photo of an unburned forest.

Beyond Climate Breakdown: Envisioning New Stories of Radical Hope by Peter Friederici (The MIT Press 2022, 200 pages, $25.00 paperback)

Why is society unable to grasp the enormity of climate change? In Beyond Climate Breakdown, Peter Friederici writes that the answer must come in the form of a story, and that our miscomprehension of the climate crisis comes about because we have been telling the wrong stories. These stories are pervasive; they come from long narrative traditions, sanctioned by capitalism and Hollywood, and they revolve around a myth: that the nation is primarily a setting for economic activity. The story that “the economy” takes priority over everything else may seem foreordained, but it actually reflects choices made by specific people out of self-interest. So we need new stories—stories that center the persistence of life, rather than of capitalism, stories that embrace contradiction and complexity.

A book cover with an image of people walking on the crest of a sand dune.

The Climate Crisis: Science, Impacts, Policy, Psychology, Justice, Social Movements by Adam Aron (Cambridge University Press 2022, 350 pages, $34.99 paperback)

Why, despite all we know about the causes and harms of global heating, has so little effective action been taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions? This book explains the mechanisms and impacts of the climate crisis, traces the history and reasons behind the lack of serious effort to combat it, describes some people’s ongoing skepticism and how to shift it, and advances an urgent program of action. It argues that the pathway to stopping dangerous global heating will require a much larger mobilization of advocacy and activism to impel decision makers to abandon fossil fuels, and to transition to renewable energies, in a political and social framework guided by principles of justice. It is an excellent resource for students and researchers on the climate crisis, the need for a renewable energy transition, and the current blocks to progress.

A red book cover with a white sandal on it.

Children’s Health & the Peril of Climate Change by Frederica Perera (Oxford University Press 2022, 248 pages, $35.00)

Children’s Health and the Peril of Climate Change brings to light the mental and physical harms to children’s health inflicted by climate change and its root cause–our addiction to fossil fuel. Drawing on the author’s extensive expertise in children’s environmental health, this essential and thought-provoking text exposes the unique vulnerability of the developing child and the multiple and synergistic effects of climate change and air pollution on child health, especially for disadvantaged children. But the book also presents a roadmap to a brighter future with case studies of climate change and air pollution policies that have benefitted children’s health and the economy. Frederica Perera’s timely book is a call to action to replace denial and despair around climate change with purpose and commitment for a healthier, more sustainable future.

A book cover with a large light switch on it.

Sustainable Solutions: The Climate Crisis and the Psychology of Social Action by Robert G. Jones (American Psychological Association 2022, 205 pages, $34.99 paperback)

A sustainable future requires more than just technological innovation. We must change the way we think and behave to avoid environmental catastrophe. In this book, Robert G. Jones combines insights from biological adaptation with a psychological analysis of the ways in which we identify problems, consider solutions, and take action. He examines the complicated web of behaviors and motivations that underlie our sustainability problem, and identifies actions social scientists, policymakers, and individuals can take to help transform ourselves, and our planet. For centuries, human beings have transformed our physical environment to service our needs and desires. But today, with the looming threats of climate change, we must learn to adapt ourselves in order to create a sustainable planet for our children and grandchildren.

MICHAEL SVOBODA

Michael Svoboda, Ph.D., is a professor in the University Writing Program at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he has taught since 2005. Before completing his interdisciplinary… More by Michael Svoboda

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