Collage of books

The effects of the coronavirus crisis are leading to a recalibration of our understanding of what’s possible.

At the beginning of the year, no one imagined that people around the world would be ordered to shelter in place – or that so many would accept those orders with such equanimity. The last several weeks have taught us that we can accomplish remarkable things in the face of a crisis, especially a crisis that puts the lives of our caretakers – nurses and doctors who treat the COVID-19 patients in hospitals – at such risk.

So what does this mean for more traditional or conventional action on climate change?

Although books explicitly responding to the coronavirus crisis are only now being written, it’s important to recognize that the political landscape already had been changing: an increasingly powerful youth movement, the ever-more pervasive Internet, and a surprisingly successful Covering Climate Now media initiative.

In response to those changes, several authors have published new visions for American politics, new strategies for action on climate change, and new guidebooks for dealing with misinformation and denial.

None of this is to suggest that the coronavirus crisis is “over” – or even necessarily close to an end. Most public health experts say that’s not the case. But as and when societies begin the work of recreating public life after the crisis, there is a unique opportunity to test new ideas.

As always, the descriptions of the titles are drawn from copy provided by the publishers. When two dates of publication are provided, the second is for the release of the paperback edition.

Updating our understanding of the social-political process

How Change Happens, by Cass Sunstein (The MIT Press 2019/2020, 344 pages, $17.95 paperback)

How does social change happen? Guided by behavioral economics, psychology, and related fields, Cass Sunstein focuses on the crucial role of social norms. When norms lead people to silence themselves, even an unpopular status quo can persist. Then one day, someone challenges the norm – a woman who says “me too” – and long-standing practices fall. Sometimes change is more gradual, as “nudges” help produce new and different decisions, like automatic enrollment in green energy or pension plans. Sunstein explores the kinds of nudges, which are effective and which sometimes give way to bans and mandates. Finally, he considers social divisions, social cascades, and “partyism,” when identification with a political party creates a strong bias against all members of an opposing party – which can both fuel and block social change.

The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For: How a New Generation of Leaders Will Transform America, by Charlotte Alter (Viking 2020, 368 pages, $27.00)

A new generation is stepping up. There are now twenty-six millennials in Congress – a fivefold increase gained in the 2018 midterms alone. They are acting urgently on climate change (because they are going to live it); they care deeply about student debt (because they have it); they are utilizing big tech but still want to regulate it (because they understand how it works). In The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For, TIME correspondent Charlotte Alter gives a big-picture look at how this generation governs differently than their elders, and how they may drag us out of our current political despair. Millennials have already revolutionized technology, commerce, and media and have powered the major social movements of our time. Now government is ripe for disruption by this bright new generation of political leaders.

Politics Is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change, by Eitan Hersh (Scribner Books 2020, 288 pages, $27.00)

Who is to blame for our broken politics? The uncomfortable answer to this question starts with ordinary citizens. We vote (sometimes) and occasionally sign a petition or attend a rally. But we mainly “engage” by consuming politics as if it’s a sport or a hobby, spending hours on social media, reading, tweeting, posting and sharing. Instead, we should be spending the same number of hours building political organizations and getting to know our neighbors, whose votes will be needed for solving hard problems. In Politics Is for Power, data analyst Eitan Hersh shows us a way toward more effective political participation. Filled with remarkable stories of ordinary citizens who got off their couches and took political power seriously, this book shows us how to channel our energy away from political hobbyism and toward empowering our values.

Revising – and reinvigorating – climate politics, practices, and policies

The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success: Overcoming Myths That Hinder Progress, by Mark Jaccard (Cambridge University Press 2020, 292 pages, $19.95 paperback, free download available here)

Sometimes solving climate change seems impossibly complex. It is hard to know what changes we all can and should make to help, which can leave us feeling paralyzed. This book offers hope. Drawing on the latest research, Mark Jaccard shows us how to recognize the absolutely essential actions (decarbonizing electricity and transport) and policies (regulations that phase out coal plants and gasoline vehicles). More importantly, Jaccard shows how to distinguish climate-sincere from insincere politicians and how to increase the chance of electing and sustaining these leaders in power. In combining the personal and the political, The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success offers a clear and simple strategic path to solving the greatest problem of our times.

Facing the Climate Emergency: How to Transform Yourself with Climate Truth, by Margaret Klein Salamon and Molly Gage (New Society Publishers 2020, 160 pages, $14.99)

Facing the Climate Emergency gives people the tools to confront the climate emergency, face their negative emotions, and channel them into protecting humanity and the natural world. As the climate crisis accelerates toward the collapse of civilization and the natural world, people everywhere are feeling deep pain about ecological destruction and their role in it. Yet we are often paralyzed by fear. Help is at hand. Drawing on facts about the climate, tenets of psychological theory, information about the climate emergency movement and elements of memoir, Facing the Climate Emergency provides the motivation, guidance, and support needed to leave “normal” behind and travel the path of the climate warrior, rising to the challenge of our time.

A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet, by Sarah Jaquette Ray (University of California Press 2020, 216 pages, $16.99 paperback)

The younger people inheriting our planet’s environmental problems expect to encounter challenges, but they may not have the skills to grapple with the feelings of powerlessness and despair that can arise. Drawing on a decade of experience leading and teaching in college environmental studies programs, Sarah Jaquette Ray has created an “existential tool kit” for the climate generation. Combining insights from psychology, sociology, social movements, mindfulness, and the environmental humanities, Ray explains why and how we need to let go of eco-guilt, resist burnout, and cultivate resilience while advocating for climate justice. A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety is the essential guidebook for the climate generation – and all of us.

A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal, by Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and Thea Riofrancos (Verso Books 2019, 208 pages, $19.95 paperback)

Unprecedented disasters are exacerbated by inequalities of race and class. To meet these challenges, we need profound, radical change. A Planet to Win explores the political potential and concrete first steps of a Green New Deal. It calls for dismantling the fossil fuel industry and building beautiful landscapes of renewable energy, guaranteeing climate-friendly work, no-carbon housing and free public transit. And it shows how a Green New Deal in the United States can strengthen climate justice movements worldwide. We don’t make politics under conditions of our own choosing, and no one would choose this crisis. But crises also present opportunities. We stand on the brink of disaster – but also at the cusp of wondrous, transformative change.

The Future Earth: A Radical Vision for What’s Possible in the Age of Global Warming, by Eric Holthaus (Harper One 2020, 256 pages, $22.99 paperback)

In The Future Earth, leading climate change advocate and weather-related journalist Eric Holthaus offers a radical vision of our future. Anchored by world-class reporting and interviews with futurists, climatologists, biologists, economists, and climate change activists, it shows what the world could look like if we implemented radical solutions on the scale of the crises we face. This is the book for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the current state of our environment. Hopeful and prophetic, The Future Earth invites us to imagine how we can reverse the effects of climate change in our own lifetime and encourages us to enter a deeper relationship with the earth as conscientious stewards and to re-affirm our commitment to our shared humanity.

Winning the Green New Deal: Why We Must, How We Can, edited by by Varshini Prakash and Guido Girgenti (Simon & Schuster 2020, 256 pages, $18.00 paperback)

In Winning a Green New Deal, leading youth activists, journalists, and policymakers explain why we need a transformative agenda to avert climate catastrophe, and how our movement can organize to win. Featuring essays by Varshini Prakash, cofounder of Sunrise Movement; Rhiana Gunn-Wright, Green New Deal policy architect; Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist; Bill McKibben, internationally renowned environmentalist; Mary Kay Henry, the President of the Service Employees International Union, and others we’ll learn why the climate crisis cannot be solved unless we also confront inequality and racism, how movements can redefine what’s politically possible and overcome the opposition of fossil fuel billionaires, and how a Green New Deal will build a just and thriving economy for all of us.

Dealing with misinformation and denial

Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online, by Alice Marwick and Rebecca Lewis (Data & Society 2017, 106 pages, free download available here.)

Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online summarizes relevant research from journalism, media studies, psychology, and sociology, including these findings:
* Internet subcultures take advantage of the media ecosystem to manipulate news frames, set agendas, and propagate ideas.
* Far-right groups develop techniques of “attention hacking” to increase their visibility.
* Groups that diverge deeply in their beliefs, share tactics and converge on common issues.
* Media manipulation may contribute to decreased trust of mainstream media, increased misinformation, and further radicalization.

Industrial Strength Denial: Eight Stories of Corporations Defending the Indefensible, from the Slave Trade to Climate Change, by Barbara Freese (University of California Press 2020, 353 pages, $29.95)

Barbara Freese, an environmental attorney, confronted corporate denial years ago when cross-examining coal industry witnesses who were disputing the science of climate change. She set out to discover how far from reality corporate denial had led society in the past and what damage it had done. Her deeply-researched book is an epic tour through eight campaigns of denial waged by industries defending the slave trade, radium consumption, unsafe cars, leaded gasoline, ozone-destroying chemicals, tobacco, the investment products that caused the financial crisis, and the fossil fuels destabilizing our climate. Industrial-Strength Denial also explores what it is about the corporation itself that promotes such denial, drawing on psychological research into how cognition and morality are altered by tribalism, power, ideology, and of course, money.

Verification Handbook: A Definitive Guide to Verifying Digital Content for Emergency Coverage, edited Craig Silverman (European Journalism Centre 2014, 122 pages, free download available here)

When a crisis breaks, trusted sources such as news and aid organizations must sift through and verify the mass of reports being shared and published, and then report back to the public with accurate, fact-checked information The handbook provides actionable advice to facilitate disaster preparedness in newsrooms, and best practices for how to verify and use information, photos and videos provided by the crowd. Authored by leading journalists from the ABC, BBC, Digital First Media and other verification experts, the Verification Handbook is a ground-breaking new resource for journalists and aid providers. It provides the tools, techniques and step-by-step guidelines for how to deal with user-generated content (UGC) during emergencies.

Editor’s note: See also First Draft’s Essential Guide to Verifying Online Information, by Shaydanay Urbani (First Draft News 2019, 29 pages, free download available here).

Michael Svoboda

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...