For this year’s holidays, Yale Climate Connections has created two bookshelves: one for occasional climate readers and the other for climate activists and academics.
How do the titles in the two lists differ from each other? Included in this first list are new examples of long-standing popular genres: nature and natural history, history, current events, financial advice, and fiction. Climate change is not always the central focus, and the writing is generally easier to read. By contrast, most of the titles in the second list are published by university presses, written in more academic prose, and focused on specific aspects of climate change. Not everyone’s cup of tea.
But anyone might enjoy Paul Smith’s beautifully illustrated book on trees, novelist Annie Proulx’s personalized natural history of wetlands, or filmmaker Priyanka Kumar’s memoir about the birds in her life.
Douglas Brinkley’s magisterial account (over 850 pages) of the environmental movement will impress readers of history, while the works by climate and energy expert Hal Harvey and former journalist Justin Gillis (The Big Fix) or British author and climate activist George Monbiot (Regenesis) will captivate readers who follow climate change through the news.
For readers with a financial bent, there’s Bruce Usher’s guide to “investing in the era of climate change” and Gallup CEO Jon Clifton’s analysis of what global polling data reveal about the interconnections between the environment, economics, and human happiness and well-being.
Finally, the four fictional titles offer gift-givers a choice of genres: experimental, suspense, young adult disaster tale, and action-thriller.
In short, something for every reader in one’s life.
As with all of Yale Climate Connection’s monthly bookshelves, the descriptions of the titles are adapted from copy provided by the publishers.
Trees: From Root to Leaf by Paul Smith (University of Chicago Press 2022, 320 pages, $49.95)
Trees provoke deep affection, spirituality, and creativity. They cover about a third of the world’s land and play a crucial role in our environmental systems — influencing the water, carbon, and nutrient cycles and the global climate. This puts trees at the forefront of research into mitigating our climate emergency; we cannot understate their importance in shaping our daily lives and our planet’s future. Generously illustrated with over 450 images and organized according to tree life cycle — from seeds and leaves to wood, flowers, and fruit — ecologist Paul Smith’s new book celebrates the great diversity and beauty of the 60,000 tree species that inhabit our planet. As Smith presents the science, art, and culture of trees, we discover their fragile nature — and their interdependence. We understand the forest without losing sight of the magnificent trees.
Fen, Bog, and Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis by Annie Proulx (Simon & Schuster / Scribner 2022, 208 pages, $26.99)
A lifelong acolyte of the natural world, Annie Proulx brings her witness and research to the subject of wetlands and the vitally important role they play in preserving the environment — by storing the carbon emissions that accelerate climate change. Fens, bogs, swamps, and marine estuaries are crucial to the earth’s survival, and in four illuminating parts, Proulx documents their systemic destruction in pursuit of profit. In a vivid and revelatory journey through history, Proulx describes the fens of 16th-century England, Canada’s Hudson Bay lowlands, Russia’s Great Vasyugan Mire, and America’s Okeefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. She introduces the early explorers who launched the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, and writes of the diseases spawned in the wetlands—the Ague, malaria, Marsh Fever.
Conversations with Birds by Priyanka Kumar (Milkweed Editions 2022, 296 pages, $28.00)
“Birds are my almanac. They tune me into the seasons, and into myself.” So begins this lively collection of essays by acclaimed filmmaker and novelist Priyanka Kumar. But Kumar’s perspective is not that of a list keeper. Rather, from the mango-colored western tanager that rescues her from a bout of altitude sickness in Sequoia National Park to the white-breasted nuthatch that regularly visits the apricot tree behind her family’s casita in Sante Fe, for Kumar, birds “become a portal to a more vivid, enchanted world.”At a time when climate change, habitat loss, and the reckless use of pesticides are causing widespread extinction of species, Kumar’s reflections on these messengers offer luminous evidence that “seeds of transformation lie dormant in all of our hearts. Sometimes it just takes the right bird to awaken us.”
Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the Great Environmental Awakening by Douglas Brinkley (Harper Colins 2022, 896 pages, $40.00)
During the 1950s, an unprecedented postwar economic boom took hold, with America becoming the world’s leading hyper-industrial and military giant. But with this historic prosperity came a heavy cost. In Silent Spring Revolution, historian Douglas Brinkley pays tribute to those who combated the mauling of the natural world in the Long Sixties: Rachel Carson (a marine biologist and author), David Brower (director of the Sierra Club), Barry Commoner (an environmental justice advocate), Coretta Scott King (an antinuclear activist), Stewart Udall (the secretary of the interior), William O. Douglas (Supreme Court justice), and Cesar Chavez (a labor organizer). Now, as the US grapples with climate change, David Brinkley reminds us that a new generation of twenty-first-century environmentalists can save the planet from ruin.
The Big Fix: 7 Practical Steps to Save Our Planet by Hal Harvey and Justin Gillis (Simon & Schuster 2022, 320 pages, $28.99)
Dozens of kids in Montgomery County, Maryland, agitated until their school board committed to electric school buses. Mothers in Colorado turned up in front of an obscure state panel to fight for clean air. If you think the only thing you can do to combat climate change is to install a smart thermostat or cook plant-based burgers, you’re thinking too small. That’s where The Big Fix comes in, offering everyday citizens a guide to the seven places where ambitious but practical changes will have the greatest effect: electricity production, transportation, buildings, industry, urbanization, use of land, and investment in promising new green technologies. At once pragmatic and inspiring, The Big Fix is an indispensable action plan for citizens looking to drive our country’s greenhouse gas emissions down to zero — and save our climate.
Regenesis: Feeding the World Without Devouring the Planet by George Monbiot (Penguin / Random House 2022, 352 pages, $18.00 paperback)
Farming is the world’s greatest cause of environmental destruction— and the one we are least prepared to talk about. Regenesis is a breathtaking vision of a new future for food and for humanity. Drawing on astonishing advances in soil ecology, Monbiot reveals how our changing understanding of the world beneath our feet could allow us to grow more food with less farming. He meets the people who are unlocking these methods, from the fruit and vegetable grower revolutionizing our understanding of fertility; through breeders of perennial grains, liberating the land from plows and poisons; to the scientists pioneering new ways to grow protein and fat. Together, they show how the tiniest life forms could help us make peace with the planet, restore its living systems, and replace the age of extinction with an age of regenesis.
Investing in the Era of Climate Change by Bruce Usher (Columbia University Press 2022, 304 pages, $27.95)
A climate catastrophe can be avoided, but only with a rapid and sustained investment in companies and projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This has already begun to happen. Investors are abandoning fossil-fuel companies and other polluting industries and financing businesses offering climate solutions. Bruce Usher offers an indispensable guide to the risks and opportunities for investors as the world faces climate change. He explores the role that investment plays in reducing emissions to net zero by 2050, detailing how to finance the winners and avoid the losers in a transforming global economy. This book sets out a practical and actionable plan for investors that will alter the course of climate change.
Blind Spot: The Global Rise of Unhappiness and How Leaders Missed It by Jon Clifton (Gallup Press 2022, 352 pages, $24.99)
The rising unhappiness that leaders didn’t see. That’s because while leaders pay close attention to measures like GDP or unemployment, almost none of them track their citizens’ wellbeing. The implications of this blind spot are significant and far-reaching — leaders missed the citizen unhappiness that triggered events ranging from the Arab uprisings to Brexit to the election of Donald Trump. What are they going to miss next? Grounded in Gallup’s global research, Blind Spot makes the urgent case that leaders should measure and quantify wellbeing and happiness — how citizens’ lives are going — and shows them how. It also discusses the five key elements of a great life and where the world needs to improve to better the lives of people everywhere.
Our Shared Storm: A Novel of Five Climate Futures by Andrew Dana Hudson (Fordham University Press 2022, 224 pages, $19.95 paperback)
Written by speculative-fiction writer and sustainability researcher Andrew Dana Hudson, Our Shared Storm features five overlapping fictions that employ a futurist technique called “scenarios thinking.” These five scenarios highlight the political, economic, and cultural possibilities of futures where investments in climate adaptation and mitigation promised today have been successfully completed, kicked down the road, or abandoned altogether. The opening setting for all is the year 2054, during the Conference of the Parties global climate negotiations in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Each story features a common cast of characters, but events unfold differently for them — and human society — in each alternate universe. From harrowing to hopeful, these stories highlight the choices we must make to stabilize the planet.
Denial: A Novel by Jon Rathmond (Simon & Schuster 2022, 240 pages, $26.00)
The year is 2052. Climate change has had a predictably devastating effect: Venice submerged, cyclones in Oklahoma, megafires in South America. Yet it could be much worse. Two decades earlier, the global protest movement helped break the planet’s fossil fuel dependency, and the subsequent trials convicted oil executives and lobbyists for crimes against the environment. But pipeline mastermind Robert Cave escaped. Now, journalist Jack Henry has received a tip that Cave is living in Mexico. Using a fake identity, he makes contact with the fugitive. The two men strike up an unexpected friendship, leaving Jack torn about exposing Cave. Who will really benefit from the unmasking? Denial is both a page-turning speculative suspense novel and a powerful existential inquisition about the perilous moment in which we currently live.
Two Degrees: A Planet Is Crisis. And Time Is Running Out by Alan Gratz (Scholastic Books 2022, 384 pages, $17.99
Fire. Ice. Flood. Three climate disasters. Four kids fighting for their lives. Akira is riding her horse in the California woods when a wildfire sparks — and grows scarily fast. Owen and his best friend, George, are used to seeing polar bears on the snowy Canadian tundra. But then one bear gets way too close for comfort. Natalie hunkers down at home as a massive hurricane barrels toward Miami. When the floodwaters crash into her house, Natalie is dragged out into the storm. Akira, Owen, George, and Natalie are all swept up in the devastating effects of climate change. Bestselling author Alan Gratz is at the top of his game, shining a light on our increasingly urgent climate crisis while spinning an action-packed story that will keep readers hooked. (Ages 8–12)
The Doomsday Show: Would You Kill a Climate Criminal to Save the World? by Mark Alpert (Severn House 2022, 256 pages, $25.99)
It’s Climate Emergency Week in New York City. Thousands of environmentalists are protesting against the ongoing destruction of the planet. Also in NYC are the five fossil-fuel tycoons and reactionary politicians labeled “The Worse Climate Criminals” by Max Mirsky, former editor of the Journal of Climatology. When Number Five on the list mysteriously dies as Max confronts him, quickly followed by Number Four, Max becomes the FBI’s prime suspect. Things go from bad to worse when his daughter is kidnapped. Max can’t sit back and wait for the FBI to solve the case. He must rescue his daughter and discover who the real assassins are. And he must stop the killings before the outrage and backlash destroy all hopes for a climate change solution.