Earth Day Reads: Books to Understand Climate Change

As our 32nd Earth Day approaches this April 22, it’s clear our efforts to protect haven’t been so effective. The climate crisis is here, and with it has come a lot of climate anxiety. Rather than living with the weight of climate change as a huge, nebulous doomsday event, it can help to learn what exactly we’re up against – and what we need to do next. The books on this list are all by experts who have sorted through the details to soothe our apocalyptic fears with solutions as multifaceted as the problem.

The Green Movement, like most things in society, can be as whitewashed as a bleached coral reef. But climate change is an issue caused by rich white countries that will affect poor black and brown communities first. Leah Thomas is a social leader bringing the intersectionality of feminism, racism, classism, and environmentalism into focus to elevate change for all, because we cannot have justice for our climate without justice for our people.

Global warming is melting the planet’s glaciers and causing the sea levels to rise. To most of us, the concept of the seas rising means little, if anything. Rolling Stone climate reporter Jeff Goodell puts it into perspective immediately and repeatedly, by reminding us that Miami is projected to be underwater by 2100, and that’s not the only place. This one reads like a trip around the world, partially because Goodell literally took one, including a trip to Alaska with President Obama, observing some of the world’s most at-risk communities when it comes to sea level rise.

As of the 20th century, there’s nothing on our blue marble that hasn’t been affected by humans. But our meddling began long before that, and as biologist Beth Shapiro argues, we should not stop. She breaks down how we’ve meddled in the past by creating man’s best friend, and how we could meddle in the future with gene altering to save ourselves. It’s a much more optimistic take on the future of science than the usual dystopian version, and it’s written in a way that even the least scientific of us can understand. 

Speaking of dystopia: there are a lot of ways the world could end. Editor Bryan Walsh has thought about them all, man-made and otherwise: AI, weaponized pathogens, nuclear warfare, climate change volcanoes, asteroids, and even aliens. Walsh hasn’t just brainstormed how we as a species could die, but he’s also used this book to map out the probability of these events, the impacts they’d have, and the strategies we could use if they did happen. This one is for those who are ready to think about the unthinkable.

Man-made climate change is new, but climate change itself is not. Humans have been grappling with extreme conditions their entire existence. In this great read for history buffs, archeology experts Brian Fagan and Nadia Durrani delve into six catastrophes humans have dealt with in the past, such as 1816, dubbed “the year without a summer,” to discover how we can deal with our future.

Perhaps the most renowned naturalist in the world, Sir David Attenborough, has lived an exceptional life. An elaboration on his Netflix documentary, this part-environmental-book-part-memoir explains how humans went from the Holocene (a happy stable climate) to the Anthropocene (a climate we control), as well as how Attenborough went from behind the camera to in front of it in the most remote corners of the Earth. It’s a remarkably cozy read considering the subject matter, best for those of us wanting to learn about rare orangutans and rewilding while we ponder our eco-anxiety.

 


A cliché of a millennial, Amanda Moore has a podcast, Nineties Babies Nostalgia, a therapist (hi, Dolores), and a novel in the works. The only firm commitments she makes are to her cat and the climate.