To observe Women’s History Month, Yale Climate Connections has again chosen to present a selection of new and recent titles on how women’s lives will be affected by climate change and on how women are changing the politics and prospects for action.
In the books listed below, women consider the science and politics of climate and energy, efforts to restore landscapes and ecosystems, the history of women-led environmental movements, and different visions of the future. Also included are several new books by and about Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist from Sweden.
As always, the descriptions of the works listed below are drawn from copy provided by the publishers or organizations that released them.
Editor’s note: As this bookshelf was being prepped for posting, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) released a relevant report: Gender and Climate Change in the United States: A Reading of Existing Research by Sam Sellars. At the end of 2019, WEDO also released The Green Climate Fund: A Guide to Advocacy from a Women’s Perspective.
How we address climate change in the next thirty years will determine the kind of world we will live in and will bequeath to our children and to theirs. In The Future We Choose, Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac – who led negotiations for the United Nations during the historic Paris Agreement of 2015 – outline two possible scenarios for our planet. In one, they describe what life on Earth will be like by 2050 if we fail to meet the Paris climate targets. In the other, they lay out what it will be like to live in a carbon neutral, regenerative world. They argue for confronting the climate crisis head-on. The Future We Choose presents our options and tells us what governments, corporations, and each of us can and must do to fend off disaster.
The global drive to provide universal access to sustainable and modern energy by 2030 is creating numerous opportunities for energy users and suppliers. However, women’s contribution to energy planning, supply, and policymaking is limited, as the energy sector is heavily dominated by men. Despite these stark gender differences, evidence to inform more equitable policymaking is lacking. This special issue of the IDS Bulletin aims to fill the evidence gap through five original papers, produced as part of ENERGIA’s Gender and Energy Research Program. Carrying out research in 12 countries in Africa and Asia, the program delivered studies on electrification, energy efficiency, policy dynamics, subsidy reform, the role of the private sector, gender mainstreaming approaches, and global trends in gender and energy.
When it came to climate change, Natalie Isaacs used to think it was someone else’s issue. After all, what can one person do to make a difference? Then she cut her electricity bill by 20 percent and saw how much money and pollution she’d saved. Feeling empowered, she embraced action instead of apathy and changed her life. She has never looked back. In Every Woman’s Guide to Saving the Planet, Natalie shares her journey from climate bystander to international campaigner. Now the founder and CEO of the globally recognized climate action organization 1 Million Women, Natalie’s message is simple: never underestimate the power you have to fight the climate crisis. You just need to act.
Relationships with the land
Terry Tempest Williams’s fierce and spirited essays are a howl in the desert. She asks: “How do we find the strength to not look away from all that is breaking our hearts?” Here, Williams bravely and brilliantly explores the many forms of erosion we face: of democracy, science, compassion, and trust. She examines the cultural and environmental implications of the gutting of Bear Ears National Monument; of the undermining of the Endangered Species Act; of the relentless press by the fossil fuel industry that has led to “oil rigs light[ing] up the horizon.” And she testifies that the climate crisis is not an abstraction, offering as evidence the drought outside her door. Erosion is a book for this moment, political and spiritual at once. Williams reminds us that beauty is its own form of resistance, and that water can crack stone.
From the world of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls comes a historical novel based on the life of Dr. Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist and environmentalist from Kenya. Wangari lives in the lush, green, land of rural Kenya where the soil is perfect for planting, the trees tower into the sky, and the streams are full of mysterious creatures. All day, she plays beneath her favorite fig tree, and at night she gathers around the fire with her family to listen to her mother’s stories. Then Wangari grows up and goes away to school, and things start changing at home. Farmers chop down the trees. Landslides bury the stream. The soil becomes overworked and dry, and nothing will grow. People go hungry. After all her studies, Dr. Wangari Maathai realizes there is a simple solution to these problems: plant a forest full of trees.
For years Isabella Tree and her husband, Charlie Burrell, farmed Knepp Castle Estate and struggled to turn a profit. By 2000, with the farm facing bankruptcy, they decided to try something radical. They would restore estate’s 3,500 acres to the wild. Using herds of free-roaming animals to mimic the actions of the megafauna of the past, they hoped to bring nature back to their depleted land. In the face of considerable opposition the couple persisted with their experiment and soon witnessed an extraordinary change. New life flooded into Knepp, now a breeding hotspot for rare and threatened species. At a time of looming environmental disaster, Wilding is an inspiring story of a farm, a couple, and a community transformed. Isabella Tree’s book brings together science, natural history, a fair bit of drama, and – ultimately – hope.
The remarkable example of Greta Thunberg
In August 2018 a fifteen-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, decided not to go to school one day in order to protest the climate crisis. Her actions sparked a global movement, inspiring millions of students to go on strike for our planet, forcing governments to listen, and earning her a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. No One Is Too Small to Make A Difference brings you Greta in her own words, for the first time, including her history-making address to the United Nations: “Everything Needs to Change, and It Has to Start Today.” Collecting the speeches that have made history across the globe, Thunberg’s book is a rallying cry for why we must all wake up and fight to protect the living planet, no matter how powerless we feel. Our future depends on it.
When climate activist Greta Thunberg was eleven, her parents Malena and Svante, and her little sister Beata, were facing a crisis in their own home. Greta had stopped eating and speaking, and her mother and father had reconfigured their lives to care for her. Desperate and searching for answers, her parents discovered what was at the heart of Greta’s distress: her imperiled future on a rapidly heating planet. Steered by Greta’s determination to understand the truth and generate change, they began to see the deep connections between their own suffering and the planet’s. Written by a remarkable family and told through the voice of an iconoclastic mother, Our House Is on Fire is the story of how they fought their problems at home by taking global action. And it is the story of how Greta decided to go on strike from school, igniting a worldwide rebellion.
Ever since she learned about climate change, Greta Thunberg couldn’t understand why politicians weren’t treating it as an emergency. In August 2018, temperatures in Sweden reached record highs, fires raged across the country, and fifteen-year-old Greta decided to stop waiting for political leaders to take action. Instead of going to school on Friday, she made a sign and went on strike in front of Stockholm’s parliament building. Greta’s solo protest grew into the global Fridays for Future movement, which millions have now joined. She spoke at COP24 and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. This timely, unofficial biography is her story, but it is also the story of many others around the world willing to fight for a better future.
See also Greta and the Giants by Zoe Tucker and Zoe Persico (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books 2019), The Greta Thunberg Story: Being Different Is a Superpower by Michael Part (Sole Books 2019), Our House Is on Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet by Jeanette Winter (Simon & Schuster 2019), and We Are All Greta: Be Inspired to Save the World by Valentina Gianella (Laurence King Publishing 2019).
Perspectives from humanities
Before, during, and after World War I, the iconic figure of the “New Woman” informed women’s responses to the environmental issues of their day, including familiar concerns about air and water quality as well as critiques of Victorian floral ecologies, extinction narratives, land use, local food shortages, biodiversity decline, and food importation. As the Land Question intersected with the Woman Question, women contributed to a transformative early green culture, extolling the benefits of going back to the land themselves. Exploring the early green culture of Arts and Crafts to women’s formation of rural utopian communities, the Women’s Land Army, and herbalists of the Great War and beyond, New Woman Ecologies shows how women established both their own autonomy and the viability of an ecological modernity.
From noted environmental historian Carolyn Merchant, this book focuses on the original concept of the Anthropocene first proposed by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in their foundational 2000 paper. It undertakes a broad investigation into the ways in which science, technology, and the humanities can create a new and compelling awareness of human impacts on the environment. Drawing on history, art, literature, religion, philosophy, ethics, and justice, Merchant traces key figures and developments in the humanities throughout the Anthropocene era and explores how these disciplines might influence sustainability in the next century. Ultimately, she argues, the Age of the Anthropocene must be replaced with a new Age of Sustainability.
Scholarship on African American history and culture has often neglected the tradition of African American women who engage in theological and religious reflection on their ethical and moral responsibility to care for the earth. Melanie Harris argues that African American women make distinctive contributions to the environmental justice movement in the ways that they theologize, theorize, practice spiritual activism, and come into religious understandings about our relationship with the earth. To illustrate her argument, Harris intersperses her academic reflections with her own personal stories and anecdotes. This unique text stands at the intersection of womanist theology, eco-theology, spirituality, and theological aesthetics.
In 2019, seventy-year-old Signe sets sail alone on a hazardous voyage across the ocean in a sailboat. On board, a cargo that can change lives. Signe is haunted by memories of the love of her life, whom she’ll meet again soon. In 2041, David and his young daughter, Lou, flee from a drought-stricken Southern Europe that has been ravaged by thirst and war. Separated from the rest of their family and desperate to find them, they discover an ancient sailboat in a dried-out garden, miles away from the nearest shore. Signe’s sailboat. As David and Lou discover Signe’s personal effects, her long ago journey becomes inexorably linked to their own. An evocative tale of the search for love and connection, The End of the Ocean is a profoundly moving father daughter story of survival and a clarion call for climate action.
Lizzie Benson slid into her job as a librarian without a traditional degree. But this gives her a vantage point from which to practice her other calling: she is a fake shrink. For years she has tended to her God-haunted mother and her recovering addict brother. They have both stabilized for the moment, but Lizzie has little chance to spend her new free time with husband and son before her old mentor, Sylvia Liller, makes a proposal. She’s become famous for her prescient podcast, Hell and High Water, and wants to hire Lizzie to answer the mail she receives: from left-wingers worried about climate change and right-wingers worried about the decline of western civilization. As Lizzie dives into this polarized world, she begins to wonder what it means to keep tending your own garden once you’ve seen the flames beyond its walls.
A little more than a century from now, our world has been utterly transformed. After years of slowly overtaking the continent, rising floodwaters have obliterated America’s great coastal cities and then its heartland, leaving nothing but an archipelago of mountaintop colonies surrounded by a deep expanse of open water. For seven years, Myra has grieved the loss of her oldest daughter, Row, who was stolen by her father after a monstrous deluge overtook their home in Nebraska. Then, in a violent confrontation with a stranger, Myra suddenly discovers that Row was last seen in a far-off encampment near the Arctic Circle. Throwing aside her usual caution, Myra embarks on a perilous voyage into the icy northern seas. Compulsively readable, After the Flood is an action packed and sometimes frightening odyssey – laced with wonder.