Suggested Reading List and Filmography on Climate Change
With the understanding that there are numerous good books on environmental stewardship, we have selected and reviewed a few of the very best. The following are descriptions of the books we’ve chosen. All of these books are well-written, interesting, informative, and will perhaps motivate you to participate in a stewardship endeavor of your own. We’re presenting this list with the understanding that it can be fluid, with new books added as needed.
It is worthy of note that, since all of our book choices have been written in the last decade, you can easily Google the author’s name and find a plethora of TED talks, interviews, speeches, and films that will enrich your understanding of the books.
There are also many excellent thought-provoking films about climate change and related issues. We have compiled a climate-change filmography that lists documentaries and age-appropriate titles, including animated features.
Because some of the book descriptions are quite lengthy, we’ll start with a pared-down list of just the names and authors. The books are non-fiction, with the exception of The Overstory.
- Griswold, Eliza. Amity and Prosperity
- Hawken, Paul. Drawdown and Regeneration
- Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
- Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction
- Maddow, Rachel. Blowout
- Norberg-Hodge, Helena. Local Is Our Future
- Oreskes, Naomi and Conway, Erik. Merchants of Doubt
- Raycordetsky, Gleb. Archipelago of Hope
- Schwartz, The Reindeer Chronicles
- Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees
- Simard, Finding the Mother Tree
- Powers, The Overstory
Griswold, Eliza. Amity and Prosperity: One family and the Fracturing of America.Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2018.
There were many eye-opening, disheartening truths in this book. 0ne cannot help but empathize with the rural Pennsylvanians who agree to fracking deals on their land. They are poor, often desperate, and a few thousand dollars buys food, a new roof, perhaps much needed farm equipment. The ill effects of fracking soon become manifest in the community. Animals die, children get sick, and wells are poisoned. The state EPA is often complicit in hiding full reports on, for example, metals in the well water. The water testing labs, employed by the fracking companies, blatantly falsify their results. How can the victims prove that their water has been poisoned if they have no proof of the water quality before the fracking poisoned it? This book reads like a gripping novel, but, in fact, it is the true story of how Stacey Haney, farmer and mother, educated herself and enlisted the help of a brilliant, dogged husband and wife team of lawyers to help her fight “the big guys.”
Hawken, Paul (ed.) Drawdown: the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming. Penguin Books, 2017. This generously illustrated and meticulously researched book is a compendium of essays detailing the 80 most impactful solutions to both reduce greenhouse emissions and sequester carbon in soils and vegetation. The goal is to achieve “drawdown”– that point at which greenhouse gases in the atmosphere peak and start to come down. One major tenet of the book is that the climate crisis cannot be solved solely by the implementing wind and solar energy or the use of electric vehicles and appliances, although those are by no means discounted. The wide-ranging and often place-based solutions are organized into sections including: energy, food, women and girls, buildings and cities, land use, and transportation. After each entry, it has been calculated how many metric tons of greenhouse gas can be drawn down by that particular action. The solutions are ranked in terms of their impact. Refrigerant Management was at the top of the list! The section on Food may surprise the reader. When one considers transportation, factory farming, fossil-fuel based fertilizers, the way livestock is raised, rainforests destroyed to raise beef, food waste, etc., food turns out to be the biggest sector. A final section entitled “Coming Attractions” presents promising solutions now in progress. In this volume and his follow-up book, the ever-hopeful and ebullient Hawken recognizes the enormity of the problem, while still believing humans can rise to the occasion.
Hawken’s follow-up book to Drawdown is Regeneration: Ending the climate crisis in one generation. Penguin Books, 2021.
This second volume covers some similar material and format as the first,but there is also a lot of fascinating, new information. There is much emphasis on how we treat the natural world and how it can help us. Restoring degraded ecosystems by such processes as protecting and restoring peatland and wetlands, regenerative farming, aforestation, establishing wildlife corridors, and re-introducing beavers as keystone species are some examples. The section on oceans was particularly interesting. You may have known that various types of algae clean the ocean and act as a carbon sink, but who knew of the amazing properties of the azolla fern, which actually has an affinity for many kinds of pollutants, including heavy metals? Plastic pollution and the wasteful clothing industry are also addressed. Hawken also points out how social and environmental justice are closely entwined. For example, poor families living near power plants are vulnerable to respiratory illnesses and cancer. Finally, he asks us to take action in our own way by creating a “punch list” of doable actions for ourselves.
Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.Milkweed Editions, 2013.
Braiding Sweetgrassis a collection of essays in which Kimmerer, drawing on her experience as a mother, botanist, professor, and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, delights us with her deep understanding of the natural world and our kinship with it. She does so in graceful, transcendent prose, always honoring earth’s gifts and reminding us of indigenous wisdom. We must seek to understand the nuanced and complex relationships in nature, be grateful, never take more than half, find ways to nurture and give back. A common thread throughout is that there need not be a separation between modern science and traditional wisdom and legend, between the material and spiritual world. We are a part of the animate world, not above it or more worthy of respect and moral concern. We should all have a professor like Kimmerer. In a couple of essays, she relates the story of a camping trip to a wetland with college students. They plan to go to medical school, but have never truly gotten their hands dirty in the wild. They do an intimate study of cattails and how the natives used them. They dig in soft, clean humus for spruce roots, follow their long, pliant strands, note the entwined, colorful fungal pathways, and finally weave baskets with their collected roots.
Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction: an unnatural history. Henry Holt and Company, 2014.
In this book, Elizabeth Kolbert summarizes the “big five” mass extinctions which took place over millions of years, contrasting them with the currently unfolding sixth extinction. When homo sapiens so successfully populated the earth, and fossil fuels were recklessly burned, it didn’t take long to “reassemble the biosphere.” The story of the sixth extinction comes in thirteen chapters. Each tracks an indicator species—the American mastodon, the great auk, an ammonite that disappeared at the end of the cretaceous along with the dinosaurs. Subsequent chapters delve into what is happening now, for example, in the Amazon and the Great Barrier Reef. This is a deeply sad tale, but also a reverent homage to the beauty, diversity, and importance of the natural world. Kolbert’s writing is achingly detailed and compelling, and she has personally explored the threatened regions she describes, an example being her scuba diving explorations of the Great Barrier Reef,
her despair over the bleaching and death of so much of the reef. It is all happening so fast!
Maddow, Rachel. Blowout. Crown, 2013.
Blowout is a fascinating history of the oil industry, told in Maddow’s very readable voice, the solid, factual research occasionally leavened with her signature wry humor. She begins with John D. Rockefeller’s founding of Standard Oil. According to Ida Tarbell, turn-of-the-century, progressive muckraker, he systematically attempted to wipe out all competition and was a rapacious, devious villain who amassed both a huge fortune and who came to wield enormous power and influence. She then chronicles the rise of the oil and gas industry up to the present. Its horrific effect on climate change is recognized, along with its far-reaching geopolitical consequences. It is essentially “a big casino that can produce both power and triumphant great gobs of cash, often with little regard for merit.” When oil is discovered in a country, the “resource curse” often takes effect, as corrupt dictators enable the industry to exploit at will, keeping profits to themselves, with no concern for the environment or its citizens. One example is the dictator of Equatorial Guinea’s son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue. He has used oil riches to buy mega-millions worth of luxury cars, vacation homes, yachts, Michael Jackson memorabilia and more. Many of his countrymen live on $2.00 and hour!
Vladimir Putin’s rise to power and riches figures prominently in the book, along with Western Capitalists’ complicity in partnering with Russia. It’s no wonder that Donald Trump chose Rex Tillerson as his first Secretary of State. Russia had oil, Tillerson had Exxon’s technical know-how, along with a knack for stroking Putin’s ego.
Thus, the countries of the world have become almost inextricably dependent on the industry, and complex alliances have ensued. Rachel outlines the problem brilliantly, but, perhaps ruefully, offers no solutions.
Norberg-Hodge, Helena. Local Is Our Future: Steps to an Economics of Happiness. Local Futures, 2019.
This is a sweeping indictment of all the societal and environmental ills caused by globalization and “free” trade. Norberg-Hodge first became aware of the problem after visting Ladakh, a peaceful, happy, largely self-sustaining community in Tibet. Having spent a great deal of time there, starting in 1975, she observed that the trend towards the supposed “progress” of globalization happening in the subsequent decades has wrought harmful changes to the people’s way of life. In her years of world travel, writing and speaking, she has concluded that the climate crisis, disappearing livelihoods, financial instability, income inequality, and, yes, depression and malaise—all lead to one cause: a globalized economy which is incompatible with life on a finite planet. She gives numerous examples, for example, of wasteful supply chains which burn vast amounts of government-subsidized fossil fuels, the outsourced jobs in the name of efficiency, the huge subsidies given to big businesses such as Amazon. In considering Big Ag, she points out that “7,000 species of plants used as food crops in the past have been reduced to 150 commercially important crops…” These are crops chosen for their responsiveness to chemical fertilizers, easy transport, etc., in short, yielding ever-greater profits. She posits the idea that, instead of measuring a country’s well-being with Gross Domestic Product (GDP), we could consider Gross National Happiness (GNH) instead.
This book is not all gloom and doom. It presents numerous hopeful examples of actions to be be taken, some already underway, both at the grassroots level, and in top-down government policies.
Raycorodetsky, Gleb. The Archipelago of Hope: Wisdom and Resilience from the Edge of Climate Change. Pegasus Books, 2017.
Early on in this brutally honest, yet hopeful, narrative, author Raycorodetsky informs us that although indigenous people comprise only 4% of the world’s population, they are caretakers of more than a fifth of the earth’s surface, with close to 80% of the planet’s remaining biodiversity found on their traditional lands and in the seas upon which they depend for their way of life. Over two decades of travel, he gained friendships with and intimate knowledge of the people, immersing himself in their ways of life. We meet the Skolt Sami of Finland, the Sapara of Ecuador, the Karen of Myanmar, and the Tla-o-qui-aht of Canada. Although we of the industrialized world are all facing climate change, habitat loss, and many forms of environmental degradation, the threat to indigenous people’s very existence is cruelly felt every single day. They, who bear so little of the responsibility for climate chaos, must find ways to survive. They do this by being flexible and resilient and, at times employing modern technology, such as meteorological weather predictions to plan the best planting and harvesting times. Politically, they are gaining a voice in land use decisions. They have formed collaboratives and worked with both government and non-government agencies to reclaim some of their traditional lands, protect old growth forests, establish limits to logging, whaling and fishing, lobby against destructive mining on their land, restore degraded wetlands, and more. They are an “archipelago of hope” and humankind’s best chance to understand how to take care of the
Oreskes, Naomi, and Conway, Erik. M. Merchants of Doubt. Bloomsbury Press, 2010.
This book exposes in painful detail how deliberate disinformation and pseudoscience are used in the service of corporations whose activities and products are harmful not only to human health, but to the entire environment. Willing researchers, often selling their souls for profit, construct false narratives based on outlier studies and phony facts. Over four decades, doubt has been sown over the causes of acid rain, the existence and causes of hole in the ozone layer, the harmful effects of second-hand smoke, and, perhaps worst of all, that climate change is happening and is human caused. Proponents of legitimate, well-established science have had to fight to debunk these destructive lies, so widely disseminated by politicians, businesses, and corporate-owned media. Because so many Americans don’t take the time to educate themselves on the actual facts, and because science literacy is in short supply, the disinformation is hard to counter.
Schwartz, Judith, 2020. The Reindeer Chronicles and Other Inspiring Stories of Working with Nature to Heal the Earth. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2020.
As the climate warms, droughts lengthen, and extreme storms and sea level rise threaten ever greater swaths of the earth, it is easy to feel helpless. In this inspiring, intelligent book, Schwartz describes a number of projects across the world which exemplify ecological regeneration, re-greening, and healing of the land. The massive work on China’s Loess Plateau demonstrates that the water and carbon cycles can be restored and desertification reversed. Their barren, degraded land has been transformed by practices such as terrace farming and reduced, rotating grazing of their livestock. Another chapter details how the Sami in Norway maintain their lifestyle by understanding and adapting to the complex relationship of humans, reindeer, and the changing climate’s effect on the land. One cannot help but be impressed by the hard work and ingenuity exhibited by the humans involved in each of these stories.
Note: There are a number of great YouTube videos which convey the amazing transformation of the Loess Plateau.
A TRIO OF TREE BOOKS
*Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World. Graystone Books,Ltd. German language version, 2015. English translation, 2016.
Drawing on his experience managing a German forest and the groundbreaking research done by scientist Suzanne Simard in the Pacific Northwest, Peter Wohlleben invites us to take a fascinating walk with him in the natural forest. It is a slow, ancient world, one in which trees appear to cooperate, rather than compete, nurturing one another through vast underground fungal networks, dubbed the “wood wide web.” As one reads on, it may appear that Wohlleben, with his passionate, poetic writing, is anthropomorphizing; however, all is backed by solid science and an intimate acquaintance with the forest. Trees can communicate with their neighbors through these networks. For example, if threatened by a predator, such as a munching caterpillar, a forewarned neighbor tree can send noxious chemicals into its leaves to deter the pest. Conversely, it can emit pheromones which attract a beneficial creature which may prey upon the pest or eat its eggs.
Readers of this book will emerge with a deeper understanding of the forest ecosystem, its wondrous secrets, its beauty, and its importance in the world.
*Simard, Suzanne. Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest.
Alfred A. Knopf, 2021.
Suzanne Simard is probably the foremost forest ecologist in the world, and this volume is truly a seminal work in the field. Part memoir and largely hard-core science, Simard tells her story, starting as a young woman in a logging family, then working for the British Columbia forest service, and finally becoming a full-fledged scientist. Over decades of tenacious observation and experimentation, she has unearthed hidden, underground processes that enable trees to survive as they live and grow in the forest. In 1979, she published her first important article in the prestigious journal Nature. At the time, she still had to fight to have her findings recognized by the male-dominated forestry industry.This book expands upon her earlier articles and work since then. She explains that there are vast fungal, or “mycorrizal,” species that form an underground network “as brilliant as a Persian rug.” This subterranean lace of tree roots and fungal filaments enables trees to communicate, share nutrients, send warnings of predators, even assist other species. Important “mother trees” form a hub and help new, young trees to survive. Cooperation among forest trees was proven by her painstaking experiments using carbon isotopes to establish a relationship between firs and aspens. Using sophisticated measuring instruments, she recorded exchanges of carbon between the two species and found that they take turns offering the most help as needed. In reading Simard’s work, it is clear that she holds firm the belief that an intact forest is a community, not a group of competitive species.
This is a fascinating, important book, but some of the experiments described in detail are a tough slog for the less science-savvy among us. You might want to read Wohlleben’s book first for a more accessible, though still informative, walk through the forest.
*Powers, Richard. The Overstory. W.W. Norton& Company, inc., 2018.
The Overstory is a sprawling, magnificent, and important novel, one which deals with both humanity’s essential connection to nature along with, sadly, its all too frequent disconnect from nature. Its stunning prose, depth of understanding about both human characters and the natural world—all are difficult to convey in a short review.
There are four overarching sections labeled Roots, Trunk, Crown, and Seeds. Into these tree parts are interwoven the stories of nine people, their back stories, and how their lives become interconnected as their own awe at the wonders of the arboreal world unfold to them. The threats to them and their beloved forests are very real as they encounter the resistance which exploitative humans present. The characters are quite diverse, for example, there is Olivia, formerly a directionless young woman, involved in drugs and promiscuous sex, who gets called to and healed by her activism. A very major character is that of Patricia Westerford, a scientist clearly modeled on the real life ecologist, Suzanne Simard. The path of each of the characters towards activism is beautifully woven into a rich tapestry of forest lore and wisdom. This is an intense, thoughtful book, but one which does not come to a tidy happy ending for either characters or forests.