11 Nonfiction Books About The Environment You Need To Read To Better Understand The Global Crisis
I know it’s been insanely difficult to stay on task this election season — for politicians, the media, and voters in equal measure — but one super important thing that’s gotten lost among the near-constant exchange of GIFs of Donald Trump yelling at babies, or whatever shenanigans he’s up to these days, is the fact that: oh yeah, elections are about global issues, people. Issues, for example, like healthcare, and women’s rights, and education, and the ever-present threat of man-made climate change — a threat that takes front and center stage in many of these nonfiction books about the environment.
And yes, while I acknowledge that sorting out solutions to climate change isn’t nearly as fun as taking your picture in a hut designed to look like Donald Trump’s comb-over (Google it) the reality is if we want to keep living in a world where the air (and soil, and water) is clean enough to allow us to go outside and do things like build huts designed to look like Donald Trump’s comb-over, then we need take better care of our environment. You with me? Less GIFs, more recycling.
OK, now that we’ve got that settled, let’s talk about some ways to amp up your excitement about doing your part to take care of our planet. Why not start by reading some great nonfiction books about nature and the environment? Conveniently, I’ve put together a list for you. And surprisingly enough, they’re not all your typical environmental doom-and-gloom sagas — some of these books even share some inspiring stories of hope for our climate. Here are 11 nonfiction books guaranteed to bring out the environmentalist in you.
1. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World by Andrea Wulf
Even if you’ve never heard of Alexander von Humboldt before, chances are you’ve passed through one of the many towns, parks, lakes, or rivers named after him — as the brains behind our modern understanding of nature, his name graces more than a few. In The Invention of Nature , biographer Andrea Wulf will take you into the life of this early environmentalist and explorer, who not only conceived of nature as an interconnected global force, but who was also one of the first environmentalists to suspect the existence of human-induced climate change.
2. Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things by M.R. O'Connor
Perfectly blending hard science with the philosophy and moral inquiry that should always accompany it, in Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things journalist M.R. O’Connor not only explores the science behind conservation and de-extinction (aka: using cloning and/or selective breeding to revive or reproduce an extinct species) but also the real-world moral implications of what it means to “play God” with nature. Taking readers across the world, and into the natural (or reproduced) habitats of species of toads, lizards, pigeons, pumas, rhinoceros, and others, O’Connor tackles the pros and cons of human influence on some of the world’s most endangered — and beautiful — animals.
3. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein
Canadian journalist and activist Naomi Klein takes everything the mainstream media has ever told you about climate change and turns it inside out, in her latest literary call-to-action, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate . Klein sheds light on the economic reasons for denying (or furthering) climate change, exposing the people and corporations that profit from ignoring climate change, while people and communities across the world suffer immeasurably. But don’t let yourself feel totally defeated by Kline’s reporting: among all the difficult stats is a message of hope — one that gives voice to the places around the world where the fight to protect our planet has already found success.
4. The Beekeeper's Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America by Hannah Nordhaus
At my house we operate on a strict “save the bees” policy — no spraying, swatting, or squashing of any kind, and if we can do anything to make the bees’ journey in and around our yard more enjoyable, we make our best efforts to do it. Because once bees — a species already in decline — are gone, we humans won’t be far behind. Don’t believe me? Then you definitely need to check out Hannah Nordhaus’s book, The Beekeeper's Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America , which tells the story of migratory beekeeper John Miller, a man whose job is essential to the food we grow and consume. You will have a newfound respect for bees after reading this book.
5. Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity by James Hansen
I love the title of this book — one designed to make you think more deeply about climate change, since anticipating the storms of our grandchildren is the terrifying, and very real place we find ourselves in 2016. In Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance To Save Humanity James Hansen, one of the world's leading scientists on climate issues, gets real about the serious environmental challenges facing our planet today — human-caused climate change, the politicians and corporations that deny it, and what that means not only in our lifetimes but in the lifetimes that come after us. Hansen argues that there is still time to save the planet — but that time is dwindling, so we really, really have to act now. Really.
6. How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of de-Extinction by Beth Shapiro
Think Jurassic Park — but much more philosophical and scientific. Beth Shapiro’s How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of de-Extinction asks a lot of so-crazy-it’s-amazing-they’re-legit questions about whether or not cloning can lead to the revival of some of the world’s formerly-extinct species (apparently much of the science says yes) and what reintroducing cloned species back into habitats they’ve long ceased to exist in would mean not only to the ecosystem, but to the man-made habitats that now occupy such regions. Plus, how would cloning — and the subsequent rapid reintroduction of species — impact the process of natural selection that has evolved over millions of years? See, I told you this one was packed with hard questions. Good thing Shapiro has some answers.
7. Katrina: After the Flood by Gary Rivlin
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina pummeled the coast of southeast Louisiana, in a natural disaster that sent shock waves across the entire country. In recognition of the ten-year anniversary, journalist Gary Rivlin revisited the storm’s immediate and lasting effects in his book Katrina: After the Flood . The book takes readers through New Orleans — the flooded homes and shuttered businesses that still lay empty months and even years after the hurricane — and into the heart of a city that became an unwilling case study for how the effects of climate change and natural disaster can reverberate through communities and cities for generations.
8. The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health by David R. Montgomery, Anne Biklé
So, OK, when you hear the word “microbes," you don’t necessarily think: “well, I’m hooked.” But hear me out, because as David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé illuminate in The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health microbes are essentially the foundation of life as we know it — from agriculture to medicine, those invisible little buggers basically rule our entire lives. And, as Montgomery and Biklé demonstrate, understanding microbes means understanding an essential component to keeping ourselves and our planet healthy.
9. The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean's Are One by Sylvia A. Earle
The ocean is home to some of my favorite creatures — most specifically, the dolphin — and never before in human history have we understood the ocean quite as extensively as we do now. Unfortunately, the same is true for our environmental impact on our oceans as well — never before in human history have humans impacted the health of the ocean as much as we do today. In The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean's Are One details humanity’s impact on our world’s water, and demonstrates how changes in human behavior over the next decade might just be the deciding factor on whether or not our oceans survive.
10. The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History by Thor Hanson
Written for adults and young adults alike, Thor Hanson’s The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History takes readers from the fall of the Roman empire to the more-recent Arab Spring, explaining how seeds — from the coffee beans the fueled the Enlightenment, to the cottonseeds that inspired the Industrial Revolution, and more — play surprisingly essential roles in many of humanity’s major developments. Who’d’ve thought, right?
11. Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist by Bill McKibben
In the summer of 2011, author and activist Bill McKibben was arrested while leading a protest against the Keystone XL pipeline — an oil pipeline system beginning in Canada and traveling through the Midwestern United States, to Texas, with proposed expansions throughout the northwestern United States. Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist is McKibben’s journey into the politics of sustainability — from the influence of things like beekeeping to the impacts of the global fossil-fuel industry. He’ll take you through the cycle of one year’s honey crop, and will heighten your awareness of a myriad of small actions you can take each day to contribute to the preservation of our planet.
Images: Levi Morsy/Unsplash