The Branches of Climate Nonfiction

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Climate change is a hyperobject, that is, something so “massively distributed in time and space relative to humans” that we can’t easily wrap our minds around it. But unlike the distance between stars, we ignore climate change at our own risk. Fortunately, these contemporary books rooted in the tradition of environmental classics use solid research and clear language to enable educated action.

Dig into these essential books that will help you get your head around climate change and the challenges it presents humans as they charge into the future.

The Discovery of Global Warming

Spencer Weart, 2003 (updated 2008)

Sometimes the easiest way to understand complicated science is to follow the historical narrative of its development. The Discovery of Global Warming traces the history of research and discovery that led to scientific consensus on climate change.

The Whale and the Supercomputer: On the Northern Front of Climate Change

Charles Wohlforth, 2004

Human beings naturally prioritize immediate rewards over long term goals. Until recently, the impacts of climate change seemed distant enough for most of us to ignore. Wohlforth was one of the first to document the immediate impacts of climate change. The Whale and the Supercomputer follows two groups in the Arctic — scientists and Native people — navigating a radically shifting landscape.

This Changes Everything

Naomi Klein, 2014

Klein’s meticulous journalistic approach is brought to bear on the relationship between economic systems and environmental destruction in This Changes Everything. Klein argues that the changes required to respond to the climate crisis should not be viewed as grim penance, but rather as a fortunate catalyst to transform broken economic systems that harm people as much as the planet.

The Great Derangement

Amitav Ghosh, 2016

Ghosh takes a break from writing novels to examine our inability to grasp the issue of climate change in his nonfiction book The Great Derangement. His awareness of climate change began with a tornado on a Mumbai street. Ghosh considers how literature, history, and politics each fail to address the climate crisis. The failure is so egregious, future generations will think we must have been deranged to ignore so something so significant.

Drawdown

Edited by Paul Hawken, 2017

The subtitle for Drawdown claims the book contains the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming, and that claim may be close to the truth (even if global warming is not the most accurate term to describe the problem). Using meticulous research by leading scientists and policymakers, Drawdown attempts to measure the collective potential of a broad range of solutions.

The Secret Lives of Glaciers

M Jackson, 2019

As a geographer, glaciologist, and National Geographic writer, author M Jackson has the scientific chops to write a book on climate change, but in The Secret Lives of Glaciers she takes a more human-centered approach to understanding an overwhelming subject. Her stories of locals living near Iceland’s glaciers illustrate the anthropogenic transformation of Earth’s systems.

Falter

Bill McKibben, 2019

No list of climate crisis books would be complete without Bill McKibben and his brand-new book. Almost exactly 30 years ago, he wrote The End of Nature, arguably the first wake-up call. In his newest book, Falter, the 350.org founder has produced a grim “I told you so,” that documents the current results of ignoring that early call and critiques the belief that technology will save us. Though depressing, Falter provides strategies for minimizing the damage going forward.

Do you have other recommendations for good nonfiction books on climate change? Share the titles with the community in the Earthling Forum.

 

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Gemma Alexander

Gemma Alexander has an M.S. in urban horticulture and a backyard filled with native plants. After working in a genetics laboratory and at a landfill, she now writes about the environment, the arts and family. See more of her writing here.

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