Climate change is perhaps the worldwide challenge of our time. As we celebrate Earth Day on April 22, global temperatures and sea levels are rising in unprecedented ways, and we are losing more and more animal and plant species to extinction. Human life as we know it is at stake. How can we face the facts of global warming? We know that radical change is necessary, but it is too easy to feel hopeless. How do we open our eyes to our rapidly evolving world and empower ourselves at the same time?
Our study guides below offer not only the history and facts of climate change, but also provide models for how we narrate this crisis. The problem is dire and the politics frustrating, but we still have time to act. As so many of the books below remind us, don’t give up—not yet.
The Uninhabitable Earth, Life After Warming
The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, by David Wallace-Wells, explores the horrors of climate change on an unprecedented scale. He reveals how global warming has already started to affect us and why it is much worse than most of us are aware. Wallace-Wells explains how the intricate ecological and geopolitical systems behind these disasters are only beginning to unravel throughout the world. Many scientists believe there is still time to save the planet even though most of humanity has done little to tackle the problem of climate change over the last two centuries. Even if we could gain worldwide consensus and action to cut carbon emissions, we would still experience the negative consequences of global warming for centuries to come. Furthermore, if this generation continues to do nothing in the interest of reaping short-term profits, then the consequences will be catastrophic—making the earth uninhabitable in the near future.
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
In the book Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, author Jared Diamond examines the environmental factors that influence the rise and decline of civilizations throughout history. Societies often fail due to the depletion of natural resources and a lack of political will to recognize the problem adequately and mitigate impending disaster. Diamond uses global case studies from ancient to modern-day civilizations—including the United States—revealing how each society failed to implement conservation solutions that contributed to their demise. History shows us repeatedly that damage to our fragile ecosystem has long-term consequences for the survival of the human race and our planet.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert, documents the author’s journey around the world to gather evidence of mass extinction on earth. Consulting with scientists and naturalists about loss prevention, she explores the theories behind the natural extinction process versus swift, mass extinction events. As Kolbert investigates the historical data further, she begins to understand the causes of the current mass extinction underway. It’s due to man-made global warming. As humankind advances rapidly, species in the natural world will inevitably be disturbed—such as the death of coral reefs and other marine life. Since we are closely connected to nature, these abrupt changes have powerful impacts on humans—putting us at serious risk for survival.
Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water
Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, by Marc Reisner, exposes the creation of a subsidized and expensive “hydraulic society” in the Southwestern United States. This harmful dependence on irrigation canals and dams was built on and maintained by greed in pursuit of the American Dream. These ambitious infrastructure goals have disrupted the fragile ecosystems of the desert and damaged the environment. Driven by corruption and profits, corporations and government powers have mismanaged our national resources in their attempts to get rich from taming the American West.
This Changes Everything
This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein, tackles the complexities of the climate change debate from different perspectives. Conservative think tanks and lobbyists employ experts to craft misinformation campaigns about fossil fuels to influence legislation. These efforts favor Big Oil players and other polluters who contribute to the majority of greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, approximately 97% of climate scientists continue to present overwhelming evidence that human-made carbon emissions threaten all life on Earth. As governments remain deadlocked and hinder solutions to the highly politicized issue of global warming, catastrophes escalate globally along with the soaring profits of major polluters. Most environmentalists believe the answer begins with replacing capitalism—which focuses on profits at the expense of our environment—and developing an alternate economy that effectively combats climate change.
The Control of Nature
The Control of Nature, by John McPhee, examines the price humans pay by radically altering their environment instead of respecting the unpredictable forces of nature. The author investigates how societies have created disorder and suffered tragic consequences. Geopolitics and corruption influence destructive policies that disrupt the natural order of things. The author visits the people who chose to live near beautiful but fragile habitats susceptible to earthquakes, floods, lava flows, droughts, and other natural disasters globally. Working with nature to successfully protect societies is vital, instead of subduing it at all costs.
The Ecology of Commerce
The Ecology of Commerce, by Paul Hawken, examines the ways industrialization has negatively impacted the environment. Our economic system and the processes of industrialization do not support nature, where most waste is not recycled or utilized in ways that are conducive to maintaining the character of the natural world. Hawken argues that society must transition to a restorative economy to save the planet from destruction. However, the author acknowledges this will be a challenge since corporations are driven solely by profits. The costs of not transitioning will be far greater than the dividends and lead to the destruction of the earth if we don’t convert to a sustainable ecologic economic system yielding minimal waste.
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, by William A. McDonough, explores alternatives to current methods in favor of environmentally friendly building and manufacturing practices. The author focuses on utilizing environments with designs that best take advantage of the surrounding landscape’s natural ability to heat and cool. Designers and manufacturers are encouraged to consider various ways of planning buildings and industrial complexes using nontoxic and biodegradable materials. McDonough challenges them to employ uncomplicated, healthy design options using recycled materials as optimal ways to build durable and eco-friendly structures.
Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, by Paul Hawken, evaluates the cost of our current industry on the natural world. The author argues that the United States should be responsible for leading the world into an alternative industrial revolution that will restore a healthier environment. Communities and cities should organize around pedestrian accessibility rather than reliance on cars. Businesses must form a new model of industry practices that avoids waste and recycles everything they take from nature. The simplicity of systems and their efficiency in using less energy are more cost-effective in the long run. Since humans cannot manufacture anything better than what nature has already provided, we must find better ways to protect the environment from industrial waste and destruction.
Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming
The book Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming, by McKenzie Funk, focuses on the economic perspective of climate change issues. Companies are figuring out how to profit from losses as global warming accelerates floods, droughts, and the melting of glaciers. The Netherlands is stepping up investment in water infrastructure to help with sanitation issues that threaten to overwhelm Bangladesh. As the Southwestern United States struggles with lack of water, it is becoming a hot commodity bought and sold on the open market. Greenland is gaining access to vast stores of minerals as glaciers disappear into the sea. Canada is looking to capitalize on ice breaks that are clearing the way for new commercial shipping routes in the Northwest Passage. These case studies show the continued drive to place profit ahead of the protection of the environment.