The Thanksgiving-weekend release of the most recent National Climate Assessment is a vivid reminder that climate change does not take a holiday. So here, for the winter holidays ahead, is a selection of recent book titles that portray the problem and challenges while fostering hope for solutions. All were released in 2018.
The descriptions of the 12 books listed below are drawn from copy provided by the publishers.
The Earth Gazers: On Seeing Ourselves, by Christopher Potter (Pegasus Books 2018, 456 pages, $28.95)
Only twenty-four people have seen the whole earth. The most beautiful and influential photographs ever made were taken, almost as an afterthought, by the astronauts of the Apollo space program from the moon. The Earth Gazers is a book about the long road to the capture of those unforgettable images. It is a history of the space program and of the ways in which it transformed our view of the earth and changed the lives of the astronauts who walked in space and on the moon. These twenty-four people saw Earth in all its singular glory, and the legacy of the stories of these “Earth Gazers,” resonate richly even today.
Editor’s note: An earlier book, Earthwise by Robert Poole, also told the story of the iconic photograph, taken by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders, of Earth rising over the moon on Christmas eve, 1968.
Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World, by Marcia Bjornerud (Princeton University Press, 208 pages, $24.95)
Few of us have any conception of the enormous timescales in our planet’s long history, and this narrow perspective underlies many of the environmental problems we are creating for ourselves. Timefulness reveals how knowing the rhythms of Earth’s deep past and conceiving of time as a geologist does can give us the perspective we need for a more sustainable future. The overlapping rates of change in the Earth system – some fast, some slow – demand a poly-temporal worldview, one that Marcia Bjornerud calls “timefulness.” In this human epoch of accelerating planetary change, the Anthropocene, this compelling book presents a new way of thinking about our place in time, enabling us to make decisions on multigenerational timescales.
On the Future: Prospects for Humanity, by Martin Rees (Princeton University Press 2018, 256 pages, $18.95)
Humanity has reached a critical moment. Our world is unsettled and rapidly changing, and we face existential risks over the next century. Many outcomes are possible. Yet our approach to the future is characterized by short-term thinking, polarizing debates, and alarmist rhetoric. Rees argues that the future of humanity is bound to the future of science and hinges on how successfully we harness technological advances to address our challenges. We must think rationally, globally, collectively, and optimistically about the long term. Rich with fascinating insights into cutting-edge science and technology, On the Future will captivate anyone who wants to understand the critical issues that will define the future of humanity on Earth and beyond.
Climate change and politics
Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future, by Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright (Verso 2018, 224 pages, $26.95)
There is now simply no way to prevent the planet breaching the threshold of two degrees Celsius set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. What are the likely political and economic outcomes of this? To further the struggle for climate justice, we need to have some idea how the existing global order is likely to adjust to a rapidly changing environment. Climate Leviathan provides a radical way of thinking about the intensifying challenges to the global order. Wainwright and Mann argue that rapid climate change will transform the world’s political economy and its political arrangements. The result will be a capitalist planetary sovereignty, a terrifying eventuality that makes the construction of viable, radical alternatives truly imperative.
Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climate Regime, by Bruno Latour (Polity 2018, 140 pages, $19.95 paperback)
Exploding inequalities, massive deregulation, and the nightmare of globalization: what holds these three phenomena together is the conviction, shared by some powerful people, that the ecological threat is real and that the only way for them to survive is to abandon any pretense at sharing a common future with the rest of the world. Hence their flight offshore and their massive investment in climate change denial. The Left has been slow to turn its attention to this new situation. This is why it is urgent to shift sideways and to define politics as what leads toward the Earth. Belonging to a territory is the phenomenon most in need of rethinking; learning new ways to inhabit the Earth is our biggest challenge. Bringing us down to earth is the new task of politics.
The Republican Reversal: Conservatives and the Environment from Nixon to Trump, by James Morton Turner and Andrew C. Isenberg (Harvard University Press, 270 pages, $27.95.)
Not long ago, Republicans could take pride in their party’s tradition of environmental leadership. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the GOP helped to create the Environmental Protection Agency, extend the Clean Air Act, and protect endangered species. What happened? As Turner and Isenberg make clear in The Republican Reversal, the conservative abdication of environmental concern stands out as one of the most profound turnabouts in modern American political history, critical to our understanding of the GOP’s modern success. The Republican reversal on the environment is emblematic of their unwavering faith in the market, their skepticism of scientific and technocratic elites, and their religious belief in American exceptionalism.
Impacts and adaptations
The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene, by Simon L Lewis and Mark A. Maslin (Yale University Press 2018, 480 pages, $25.00)
The old forces of nature – meteorites, mega-volcanoes, and plate tectonics – have been joined by a new geological force: humans. Our actions have driven Earth into a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. For the first time in our home planet’s 4.5-billion-year history a single species is increasingly dictating Earth’s future. To some the Anthropocene symbolizes a future of superlative control of our environment. To others it is the height of hubris, the illusion of our mastery over nature. Tracing our environmental impacts through time, scientists Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin reveal a new view of human history and a new outlook for the future of humanity in the unstable world we have created.
Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island, by Earl Swift (Dey Street Books/Harper Collins 2018, 448 pages, $28.99)
Tangier Island, Virginia, is a community unique on the American landscape. Mapped by John Smith in 1608, settled during the American Revolution, the tiny sliver of mud is home to 470 hardy people who live an isolated and challenging existence, with one foot in the 21st century and another in times long passed. But Tangier is disappearing. The very water that has long sustained it is erasing the island day by day, wave by wave; its shoreline retreats by fifteen feet a year. As the graves of their forebears are being sprung open by encroaching tides, the conservative and deeply religious Tangiermen ponder the end times. Chesapeake Requiem is an intimate look at Tangier by an acclaimed journalist who spent much of the past two years living among its people, crabbing and oystering with its watermen, and observing its odd ways.
What Future: The Year’s Best Writing on What’s Next for People, Technology, and the Planet, edited by Meehan Crist and Rose Eveleth (Unnamed Press 2018, 344 pages, $11.00 paperback)
What Future is a best-of-the-year anthology featuring new writing by and about the scientists, writers, journalists, and philosophers who are proposing the options that lay not just ahead, but beyond us. Focused on in-depth long-form journalism and essays, What Future tackles issues critical to our future: climate change and human migration, feminism and gender politics, digital rights and AI. From the food systems of the future and built environments to constantly evolving systems of justice and surveillance, what kind of future do we envision for people and the planet?
New climate fiction
The Completionist: A Novel, by Siobhan Adcock (Simon & Schuster 2018, 320 pages, $26.00)
After months of disturbing behavior, Gardner Quinn has vanished. Her older sister Fredericka is desperate to find her, but Fred is also pregnant – miraculously so, in a near-future America struggling with infertility. So she entrusts the job to their brother, Carter. Young, jaded, and just home from war, Carter’s search for his sister is a welcome distraction from mysterious physical symptoms he can’t ignore … and his slightly-more-than recreational drinking. Carter’s efforts lead him into a dangerous underground, where he begins to grasp the risks Gardner took on as a Nurse Completionist. In the tradition of The Handmaid’s Tale, The Completionist is speculative fiction at its very best: imaginative and propulsive, revealing our own world in unexpected ways.
Frostlands: A Novel, by John Feffer (Haymarket Books 2018, 248 pages, $15.95 paperback)
In this stand-alone sequel to Splinterlands, Arcadia, the sustainable compound in what was once Vermont, has repelled an attack that appears to have been orchestrated by one of the world’s largest corporations, CR ISPR International, in an attempt to stop Arcadia’s research into stopping global warming. As Arcadia prepares to defend itself against the next CR ISPR attack, lead scientist Rachel Leopold tries to get information that she can use to stop CR ISPR. Feffer intersperses the main action with short reports on Rachel’s clandestine meetings, via virtual reality, in Brussels, Ningxia, and finally Darwin. The novel concludes with an explosive, unexpected twist that forces a reevaluation of all that has come before.
Red Moon: A Novel, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit/Hachette 2018, 464 pages, $27.00)
It is thirty years from now, and we have colonized the moon, but new crypto-currencies, like carboncoin, are destabilizing systems on Earth. American Fred Fredericks is making his first trip to the moon, his purpose to install a communications system for China’s Lunar Science Foundation. But hours after his arrival he witnesses a murder and is forced into hiding. It is also the first visit for celebrity travel reporter Ta Shu. He has contacts and influence, but he too will find that the moon can be a perilous place for any traveler. Finally, there is Chan Qi, the daughter of the Minister of Finance. She is on the moon for reasons of her own, but when she attempts to return to China, in secret, what unfolds will change everything – on the moon, and on Earth.