Another COVID year behind. Another COVID winter ahead. 

A 26th global climate meeting just adjourned. New, and necessarily tougher, meetings on the schedule. 

An historic bipartisan infrastructure bill on the books. In Washington, the more aggressive climate and social justice bill, “the budget reconciliation bill,” still in the balance. 

And records, oh so many records, broken – for fire, for rain, and for temperatures. 

Are there books that can meet this moment? Books that can lift burdened spirits over the holidays?

Yale Climate Connections has identified a dozen. 

Three are relentless in their can-do optimism: we have the ways and the means to meet the climate crisis. Another three transform anxiety into wonder and will, with compelling visualizations. A third set offers reflective engagements with history and nature. And the last three will transport readers into fictional worlds where they can recharge their own imaginations. 

Wrap one up for a relative or a friend. Or for yourself. 

As always with these bookshelves, the descriptions are adapted from copy provided by the publishers. 

Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation, by Paul Hawken (Penguin Books 2021, 256 pages, $25.00 paperback) 

Regeneration offers a visionary new approach to climate change, one that weaves justice, climate, biodiversity, equity, and human dignity into a seamless tapestry of action, policy, and transformation that can end the climate crisis in one generation. The book describes and defines the burgeoning regeneration movement spreading rapidly throughout the world. Regeneration explores how an inclusive movement can engage the majority of humanity to save the world from the threat of global warming, with climate solutions that directly serve our children, the poor, and the excluded. This means we must address current human needs with initiatives that embrace the number one solution for the world: electrifying everything.
 
Speed & Scale: An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now, by John Doerr (Portfolio 2021, 448 pages, $29.00) 

What if the goal-setting techniques that powered the rise of today’s most innovative organizations were brought to bear on humanity’s greatest challenge? Fueled by a powerful tool called Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), Speed & Scale offers an unprecedented global plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions before it’s too late. With clear-eyed realism and an engineer’s precision, Doerr identifies the OKRs we need to reduce emissions across the board and to arrive by 2050 at net zero – the point where we are no longer adding to the heat-trapping carbon in the atmosphere. A launchpad for those who are ready to act now, this book is geared to leaders in every walk of life. We can still reach net zero before it is too late, but there’s no time to waste. 

Electrify: An Optimist’s Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future, by Saul Griffith (The MIT Press 2021, 288 pages, $24.95)

In Electrify, Griffith lays out a detailed blueprint – optimistic but feasible – for fighting climate change while creating millions of new jobs and a healthier environment. Griffith’s plan can be summed up simply: Electrify everything. He explains exactly what it would take to transform our infrastructure, update our grid, and adapt our households to make this possible. Griffith’s plan doesn’t rely on big, not-yet-invented innovations, but on thousands of little inventions and cost reductions. We can still have our cars and our houses – but the cars will be electric and solar panels will cover our roofs. For a world trying to bounce back from a pandemic and economic crisis, there is no other project that would create as many jobs – up to 25 million, according to one analysis. Is this politically possible? Yes. We can change politics along with everything else.

The Atlas of Disappearing Places: Our Coasts and Oceans in the Climate Crisis, by Christina Conklin and Marina Psaros (The New Press 2021, 240 pages, $29.99)

Our planet is in peril. Seas are rising, oceans are acidifying, ice is melting, coasts are flooding, species are dying, and communities are faltering. Despite these dire circumstances, most of us don’t have a clear sense of how the interconnected crises in our ocean are affecting the climate system, food webs, coastal cities, and biodiversity, and which solutions can help us co-create a better future. The authors use the metaphor of the ocean as a body to draw parallels between natural systems and human systems. A beautiful work of art and an indispensable resource to learn more about the devastating consequences of the climate crisis, The Atlas of Disappearing Places will engage and inspire readers on the most pressing issue of our time.

The Human Element: A Time Capsule from the Anthropocene, by James Balog (Rizzoli 2021, 456 pages, $85.00)

For four decades, world-renowned environmental photographer James Balog has traveled well over a million miles from the Arctic to the Antarctic and the Alps, Andes, and Himalayas. With his images heightening awareness of climate change and endangered species, he is one of the most relevant photographers in the world today. Balog’s depictions of how humanity has reshaped the natural environment reveals that when we sustain nature, we sustain ourselves. This monumental book is an unprecedented combination of art informed by scientific knowledge. Featuring Balog’s 350 most iconic photographs, The Human Element offers a truly unmatched view of the world – and a world we may never see again.

Into the Anthropocosmos: A Whole Space Catalog from the MIT Space Exploration Initiative, by Ariel Ekblaw (The MIT Press 2021, 144 pages, $39.95) 

As Earthlings, we stand on the brink of a new age: the Anthropocosmos – an era of space exploration in which we can expand humanity’s horizons beyond our planet’s bounds. And in this new era, we have twin responsibilities, to Earth and to space; we should neither abandon our own planet to environmental degradation nor litter the galaxy with space junk. This fascinating and generously illustrated volume – designed by MIT Media Lab researcher Sands Fish – presents space technology for this new age, tools for a new era of participatory space exploration. More than forty large-format, full-color photographs make our future in space seem palpable. Short explanatory texts by Ariel Ekblaw, astronaut Cady Coleman, and others accompany the images.

The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eight Continent in the Trees Above Us, by Meg Lowman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2021, 368 pages, $28.00)

As a graduate student exploring the rain forests of Australia, Meg Lowman realized that she couldn’t monitor her beloved leaves using any of the usual methods. So she put together a climbing kit: she sewed a harness from an old seat belt, gathered hundreds of feet of rope, and found a tool belt for her pencils and rulers. Up she went, into the trees. The Arbornaut chronicles Lowman’s irresistible story, taking us into the life and work of a field scientist, ecologist, and conservationist. Lowman offers hope; through trees, we can still make an immediate and lasting impact against climate change. The Arbornaut is the uplifting story of a nerdy tree climber – the only girl at the science fair – who became a giant inspiration, a groundbreaking, ground-defying field biologist, and a hero for trees everywhere. Welcome to the eighth continent!

Abundance: Nature in Recovery, by Karen Lloyd (Bloomsbury 2021, 288 pages, $25.00)

How should we restore nature and species, and why does it matter? What is lost when we choose not to engage in restoration and rewilding? In this era of urgent ecological challenge, Karen Lloyd’s timely book reveals the places that people are coming together to bring species and habitats back from the edge of extinction. She examines how humans have chosen to entangle themselves in nature and considers the ways we perceive the natural world, contemplating why certain aspects of nature can hold our attention whiles others only briefly distract us. Lloyd explores attitudes towards meaningful conservation as she weaves her delightful narrative through a diverse range of inspiring landscapes, including mountains, rivers, forests, and the rice paddies.

The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis, by Amitav Ghosh (The University of Chicago Press 2021, 336 pages, $25.00)

An ambitious successor to The Great Derangement, Amitav Ghosh’s new book of history, testimony, and polemic traces our contemporary planetary crisis back to the discovery of the New World and the sea route to the Indian Ocean. At the center of Ghosh’s narrative is the now-ubiquitous spice nutmeg. In his hands, the story of the nutmeg, a story of conquest and exploitation, becomes a parable for our environmental crisis, revealing the ways human history has always been entangled with earthly materials such as spices, tea, sugarcane, opium, and fossil fuels. Writing against the backdrop of the global pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, Ghosh connects our shared colonial histories with the deep inequality we see around us today. The Nutmeg’s Curse speaks to the remarkable ways human history is shaped by nature. 

Cloud Cuckoo Land: A Novel, by Anthony Doerr (Scribner 2021, 640 pages, $30.00)

Set in Constantinople in the fifteenth century, in a small town in present-day Idaho, and on an interstellar ship decades from now, Anthony Doerr’s gorgeous third novel is a triumph of imagination and compassion, a soaring story about children on the cusp of adulthood in worlds in peril, who find resilience, hop – and a book. In Cloud Cuckoo Land, Doerr has created a magnificent tapestry of times and places that reflects our vast interconnectedness – with other species, with each other, with those who lived before us, and with those who will be here after we’re gone. Doerr’s dazzling imagination transports us to worlds so dramatic and immersive that we forget, for a time, our own. Cloud Cuckoo Land is a beautiful and redemptive novel about stewardship – of the book, of the Earth, of the human heart.

Something New Under the Sun: A Novel, by Alexandra Kleeman (Hogarth Books 2021, 368 pages, $28.00)

East Coast novelist Patrick Hamlin has come to Hollywood with simple goals in mind: overseeing the production of a film adaptation of one of his books and turning this last-ditch effort at career resuscitation into the sort of success that will dazzle his wife and daughter back home. But California is not as he imagined: Drought, wildfire, and corporate corruption are omnipresent, and the company behind a mysterious new brand of synthetic water seems to be at the root of it all. In this witty and timely story, Alexandra Kleeman grapples with the corruption of our environment in the age of alternative facts. Something New Under the Sun is a meticulous and deeply felt accounting of our human anxieties, liabilities, dependencies, and responsibilities. 

Termination Shock: A Novel, by Neal Stephenson (Harper Collins 2021, 720 pages, $35.00)

Visionary billionaire restaurant chain magnate T. R. Schmidt, Ph.D., has a Big Idea for reversing global warming. But will it work? And just as important, what are the consequences for the planet and all of humanity should it be applied? Ranging from the Texas heartland to the Dutch royal palace in the Hague, from the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas to the sunbaked Chihuahuan Desert, Termination Shock brings together a disparate group of characters who must grapple with the real-life repercussions of global warming. Epic in scope while heartbreakingly human in perspective, Termination Shock sounds a clarion alarm, ponders potential solutions and risks, and wraps it all together in an exhilarating, witty, mind-expanding speculative adventure. 

Michael Svoboda

Michael Svoboda, Ph.D., is a professor in the University Writing Program at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he has taught since 2005. Before completing his interdisciplinary...