Birds in a tree with rainbow

A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.

Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking “rain bombs,” or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.

Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?

Yale Climate Connections turned to a surprisingly long list of new and recent titles that explore how we can effectively respond to climate change while enhancing our health and happiness. Some of these books call for better measures of economic vitality and social progress. Others call for re-interpretations of religious creeds. Many start by acknowledging our bitter, partisan politics. But all end on a note of hope and how to better sustain it.

As always the descriptions are adapted from copy provided by the publishers. When two dates of publication are listed, the second refers to the release of the paperback edition of the title.

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Happier People, Healthier Planet: How Putting Well-Being First Would Help Sustain Life on Earth, by Teresa Belton (Silverwood Books 2014, 369 pages, $23.49 paperback)

Happier People, Healthier Planet addresses the diametrically opposed issues of personal wellbeing and ecological destruction as inseparable concerns. It shows how attending to what really matters for personal thriving will also protect the environment. Most human beings are strongly attracted to material possessions, novelty, and ever greater comfort and convenience. Yet paradoxically, for those with a decent basic standard of living, growing affluence has not resulted in increased subjective wellbeing: overconsumption does not make us happy. It is perfectly possible to live a rewarding life without consuming more than we need, and we must all find out how to do so if we are to preserve the hospitality of the Earth. This book investigates the factors that are likely to encourage a positive preference for sustainable lifestyles.

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Finntopia: What We Can Learn from the World’s Happiest Country, by Danny Dorling and Annika Koljonen (Columbia University Press, July 2020, 192 pages, $25.00 paperback)

In 2018, the World Happiness Report ranked Finland the world’s happiest country. The Nordic Model has long been touted as the aspiration for social and public policy in Europe and North America, but what is it about Finland that makes the country so successful and seemingly such a great place to live? Finland clearly has problems of its own – for example, a high level of gun ownership and rising rates of suicide – which can make Finns skeptical of their ranking, but its consistently high performance across a range of well-being indicators does raise fascinating questions. In the quest for the best of all possible societies, Danny Dorling and Annika Koljonen explore what we might learn from Finnish success and what they might usefully learn from us.

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The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here, by Hope Jahren (Penguin/Random, March 2020, 224 pages, $14.99)

Hope Jahren is an award-winning scientist, a brilliant writer, a passionate teacher, and one of the seven billion people with whom we share this earth. In The Story of More, she illuminates the link between human habits and our imperiled planet. She takes us through the science behind the key inventions – from electric power to large-scale farming – that, even as they help us, release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere like never before. She explains the current and projected consequences of global warming – from superstorms to rising sea levels – and the actions that we all can take to fight back. Both a primer on the mechanisms of global change and a personal narrative given to us in Jahren’s inimitable voice, The Story of More is the essential pocket primer on climate change that will leave an indelible impact on everyone who reads it.

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Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses and Citizens Can Save the Planet, by Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope (St. Martin’s Press 2017, 272 pages, $26.99)

The 2016 election left many people who are concerned about the environment fearful that progress on climate change would come screeching to a halt. But not Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope. In Climate of Hope, Bloomberg, an entrepreneur and former mayor of New York City, and Pope, a lifelong environmental leader offer an optimistic look at the challenge of climate change, the solutions they believe hold the greatest promise, and the practical steps that are necessary to achieve them. Sharing their own stories from government, business, and advocacy, Bloomberg and Pope provide a road map for tackling the most complicated challenge the world has ever faced. Along the way, they turn the usual way of thinking about climate change on its head: from top down to bottom up, from costs to benefits, and from fear to hope.

See also: Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to Climate Change, by Tim Flannery (Harper Collins 2015/2016, 272 pages, $16.00 paperback) and Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?, by Bill McKibben (Henry Holt & Co. 2019, 304 pages $28.00).

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Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future, by Mary Robinson (Bloomsbury 2018, 176 pages, $26.00)

Holding her first grandchild in her arms in 2003, Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and the UN’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, was struck by the uncertainty of the world he had been born into. The faceless, shadowy menace of climate change had become, in an instant, deeply personal. Mary Robinson’s new mission would lead her all over the world and to a heartening revelation: that an irrepressible driving force in the battle for climate justice could be found at the grassroots level, mainly among women, many of them mothers and grandmothers like herself. Powerful and deeply humane, Climate Justice is a stirring manifesto on one of the most pressing issues of our time, and a lucid, affirmative, and well-argued case for hope.

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The Archipelago of Hope: Wisdom and Resilience from the Edge of Climate Change, by Gleb Raygorodetsky (Pegasus Books 2017/2018, 336 pages, $17.95 paperback)

Climate change is already here. Nobody knows this better than Indigenous peoples who, having developed an intimate relationship with ecosystems over generations, have observed these changes for decades. Gleb Raygorodetsky shows how these communities are actually islands of biological and cultural diversity in the ever-rising sea of development and urbanization. They are an “archipelago of hope” as we enter the Anthropocene, for here lies humankind’s best chance to remember our roots and how to take care of the Earth. These communities are implementing creative solutions to meet these modern challenges. Raygorodetsky’s prose resonates with their positive, adaptive, and spiritual hope.

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The Climate Swerve: Reflections on Mind, Hope, and Survival, by Robert Jay Lifton (The New Press 2017, 192 pages, $22.95)

Over his long career, National Book Award-winning psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton has grappled with the profound effects of nuclear war, terrorism, and genocide. Now he shifts to climate change, which, Lifton writes, “presents us with what may be the most demanding and unique psychological task ever required of humankind.” Yet a large swathe of humanity has numbed themselves to this reality. In this lucid and moving book that recalls the works of Rachel Carson and Jonathan Schell, Lifton explains how we might call upon the human mind – “our greatest evolutionary asset” – to translate a growing species awareness, or “climate swerve,” into action to sustain our selves, our plant and our civilization.

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The Hard Work of Hope: Climate Change in the Age of Trump, by Robert William Sandford and Jon O’Riordan (Rocky Mountain Books 2017, 168 pages, $16.00)

Building on events that have transpired since the Paris climate conference in December 2015, The Hard Work of Hope, Rocky Mountain Books’ latest manifesto, emphasizes three themes: the growing urgency for global action regarding climate change; the fact that future development must not just avoid causing damage but strive to be ecologically and socially restorative; and the reality that effective solutions require changes to technology, restoration of biodiversity and increased public awareness. Though contemporary politics and the state of the environment seem grim in this “post-truth world,” there will always be hope. But that hope will require hard work by everyone if our planet is to remain a desirable place to live in a warming world.

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Where Is the Hope? An Anthology of Short Climate Change Plays, edited by Chantal Bilodeau (Climate Change Theatre Action 2018, pages, $35.00 paperback)

Where is the Hope? An Anthology of Short Climate Change Plays is a collection of 50 short plays by writers from all over the world, commissioned for Climate Change Theatre Action 2017. A creative response to the question “How can we inspire people and turn the challenges of climate change into opportunities?” the plays offer a diversity of perspectives and artistic approaches in telling stories that may point to a just and sustainable future.

Religious Perspectives

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We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast, by Jonathan Safran Foer (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2019, 288 pages, $25.00)

Some people reject the fact, overwhelmingly supported by scientists, that our planet is warming because of human activity. But do those of us who accept the reality of human-caused climate change truly believe it? In We Are the Weather, Jonathan Safran Foer [explains that] the task of saving the planet will involve a great reckoning with ourselves – a reckoning Foer illustrates by relating his Jewish grandmother’s experience of the Holocaust, taking great personal risks to flee Poland before it was too late to do so. Now we have turned our planet into a farm for growing animal products, and the consequences are similarly catastrophic. Only collective action will save our home and way of life. And it all starts with what we eat – and don’t eat – for breakfast.

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Caring for Creation: Inspiring Words from Pope Francis, edited by Alice Stamwitz (Franciscan Media 2016, 192 pages, $22.99)

Since his inaugural Mass in March 2013, Pope Francis has frequently reminded a global audience that care for creation is among his highest priorities. The writings, homilies, prayers, talks, and even tweets of Pope Francis in this book gather his most important and inspiring words about our shared responsibility to protect, nurture, and care for “our common home.” The planet is in peril, the pope is telling us, along with the well being of the poor who depend on the earth’s natural resources. Still, his message is always ultimately one of hope. In Caring for Creation, Pope Francis’s words reveal that he believes we can move towards a new kind of conversion – a higher level of consciousness, action, and advocacy that will spark “a bold cultural revolution.”

See also: Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality: On Care for Our Common Home, by Pope Francis, with an Introduction by Naomi Oreskes (Melville House 2015, 192 pages, $20.00 paperback)

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Climate Church, Climate World: How People of Faith Must Work for Change, by Jim Antal (Rowman & Littlefield 2018, 242 pages, $25.00)

Climate Church, Climate World argues that climate change is the greatest moral challenge humanity has ever faced. Hunger, refugees, poverty, inequality, deadly viruses, war – climate change multiplies all forms of global social injustice. Environmental leader Reverend Jim Antal presents a compelling case that it’s time for the church to meet this moral challenge, just as the church addressed previous moral challenges. After describing how we have created the dangers our planet now faces, Antal urges the church to embrace a new vocation, one focused on collective salvation and an expanded understanding of the Golden Rule (Golden Rule 2.0). He suggests ways people of faith can reorient what they prize through new approaches to worship, preaching, witnessing and other spiritual practices that honor creation and cultivate hope.

In a similar vein, see also the following religious titles:

Down to Earth: Christian Hope and Climate Change, by Richard A. Floyd (Wipf and Stock 2015, 144 pages, $17.00 paperback)

Eco-Reformation: Grace and Hope for a Planet in Peril, edited by Lisa E. Dahill and Jim B. Martin-Schramm (Cascade Books 2016, 306 pages, $36.00 paperback)

Hope in the Age of Climate Change: Creation Care this Side of the Resurrection, by Chris Doran (Cascade Books 2017, 258 pages, $31.00)

Love in a Time of Climate Change: Honoring Creation, Establishing Justice, by Sharon Delgado (Fortress Press 2017, 226 pages, $29.00 paperback)

The Spirit of Hope: Theology for a World in Peril, by Jurgen Moltman (Westminster/John Knox Press 2019, 232 pages, $30.00 paperback)

Michael Svoboda, Ph.D., is the Yale Climate Connections books editor. He is a professor in the University Writing Program at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he has taught since...