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Books for understanding and combating climate change

By Kobo • April 22, 2021Big Ideas

It’s the challenge of our age -- how to reverse the effects of human-made climate change so that future generations can continue to enjoy life on planet earth.

These are some of the best recent books on what climate change is, what can and is being done about it, and how to think about our own role as individuals in a global ecosystem.

Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert

One way to look at human civilization, says Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe, is as a ten-thousand-year exercise in defying nature. In Under a White Sky she sets out to meet biologists who are trying to preserve a fish species that lives in a single tiny pool in the middle of the Mojave desert; Icelandic engineers turning carbon emissions to stone; researchers who are trying to develop a “super coral” on the Great Barrier Reef that can survive warmer oceans; and physicists planning to shoot tiny diamonds into the stratosphere to cool the earth. In her book The Sixth Extinction, she explored the ways in which our capacity for destruction has reshaped the natural world. Here she examines how the very sorts of interventions that have imperiled our planet are increasingly seen as the only hope for its salvation.

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The New Climate War by Michael E. Mann

Climate scientist Michael E. Mann argues that the inordinate emphasis on individual behaviour in the fight against climate change is the result of a marketing campaign that has succeeded in placing the responsibility for fixing this global problem squarely on the shoulders of individuals. He illustrates how fossil fuel companies have followed the example of other industries deflecting blame (think "guns don't kill people, people kill people") or greenwashing (think of the beverage industry's "Crying Indian" commercials of the 1970s). At the same time, they've blocked efforts to regulate carbon emissions, they’ve smeared viable alternatives in numerous PR campaigns, and have shrugged off their responsibility in fixing the problem they've created.

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The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells

This book is a shocking illustration of the ways that warming threatens to transform global politics, the purpose of technology and the place of nature in the modern world, the viability of our economic systems and the path of human progress. And it’s reported from places on earth already cracking under climate change-induced strain.

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How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates

If you need a shot of optimism, here the renowned philanthropist billionaire describes the areas in which technology is already helping to reduce emissions; where and how the current technology can be made to function more effectively; where breakthrough technologies are needed, and who is working on these essential innovations. And he lays out a concrete plan for achieving the goal of zero emissions--suggesting not only policies that governments should adopt, but what we as individuals can do to keep our government, our employers and ourselves accountable.

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All We Can Save by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson

Edited by one of the hosts of the podcast How to Save a Planet, this anthology intermixes essays with poetry and is both a balm and a guide for knowing and holding what has been done to the world, while bolstering our resolve never to give up on one another or our collective future. It’s a true celebration of visionaries who are leading us on a path toward all we can save.

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Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard

Biologist Suzanne Simard brings us into the intimate world of the trees, where she illuminates the fascinating and vital truths—that trees are not simply the source of timber or pulp but are a complicated, interdependent circle of life; that forests themselves are social, cooperative creatures connected through underground networks by which trees communicate their vitality and vulnerabilities with communal lives not that different from our own. It will make you question the very boundaries of where individual life forms begin and end.

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Under the Sky We Make by Kimberly Nicholas, PhD

If you want to know what you can do as an individual, in this book scientist Kimberly Nicholas does for climate science what Michael Pollan did in The Omnivore’s Dilemma for the food on our plate: offering a hopeful, clear-eyed, and often funny guide to creating real change. Saving ourselves from climate apocalypse will require radical shifts within each of us, but it can be done. It requires, Dr. Nicholas argues, belief in our own agency and value, alongside a deep understanding that no one will ever hand us power--we're going to have to seize it for ourselves.

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We are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer

Novelist (and Kobo in Conversation podcast guest) Jonathan Safran Foer wrote this book to offer hope to individuals wanting to do what they could to avert a climate catastrophe. To him, it’s all quite simple: a significant proportion of global carbon emissions come from farming meat. While giving up meat completely is hard, even just deliberately cutting back on meat consumption can still have a huge positive effect on the environment. Just changing our dinners--cutting out meat for one meal per day--is enough to change the world. It’s a unique and accessible framing for a problem that can often feel overwhelming in scope.

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Inconspicuous Consumption by Tatiana Schlossberg

By examining the unseen and unconscious environmental impacts in four areas--the Internet and technology, food, fashion, and fuel--science writer Tatiana Schlossberg helps readers better understand why climate change is such a complicated issue, and how it connects all of us. She connects the dots across complex systems, showing how streaming a movie on Netflix in New York burns coal in Virginia; how eating a hamburger in California might contribute to pollution in the Gulf of Mexico; how buying an inexpensive cashmere sweater in Chicago expands the Mongolian desert; how destroying forests from North Carolina is necessary to generate electricity in England. Her reporting makes the climate crisis and its solutions interesting and relevant to everyone who cares, even a little, about the planet, and makes it easier to make informed decisions about day to day actions, and what kinds of large-scale solutions we should be fighting for.

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