A set of patterns emerges in a survey of the wide variety of publications on climate change, science, mitigation and an increasing number of books on extreme weather events. 2000-2020 saw numerous Jeremiads and distopian texts on what in French is referred to as climate collapse (‘collapsologie’) with fear as a feature. More recently, in addition to the backbone of texts on climate trends and possible responses, a set of climate histories has apkopan)peared (Fran, the most engaging of which focus on one aspect such as wetlands or islands (Proulx). Finally another set of books urge new values and attitudinal changes or attend to ‘eco-anxiety’.
Some 2022-23 books provide a reference context (Gerhardt). These adult non-fiction books were identified through Amazon.ca top rankings of books on climate change in English and in relation to my experience teaching this topic to undergraduate students in arts and sciences. Page length and price point are in Canadian dollars for paperbacks listed on Amazon.ca
Books on Current Climate Change and Responses
- Biabani, Z., & Figueres, C. (2023). Climate Optimism: Celebrating Systemic Change Around the World. Mango. ISBN 978-1-68481-158-8 256pp. $27.99. Why we need to stay optimistic and how we can in the face of the climate crisis: encouraging environmental trends, practical advice from the “Weekly Earth Wins” series of interviews with activists in the Global South. This takes the form of a set of tips for how to personally respond to climate news and short case studies and examples of NGOs achieving results, complete with QR codes for further information.
- Mothes, A. V. (2023). The Best Researchers in the World Present the Right Strategies to Prevent a Climate Catastrophe! Kircess Buchverlag. ISBN 9783981470857 202pp. $50.25. Consolidates an analysis of the causes and effects of climate change and practical and effective strategies to combat it. Actionable strategies, cutting edge authoritative research, future sustainability, have an impact. www.kircess.de
- Climate awareness network & Godin, S. (2022). The Carbon Almanac: It’s Not Too Late. Portfolio. ISBN 978-0-593-54251-4 352pp. $27.00. Cartoons, quotes, illustrations, tables, histories, and articles to lay out carbon’s impact on our food system, ocean acidity, agriculture, energy, biodiversity, extreme weather events, the economy, human health, and best and worst-case scenarios. Visually engaging.
- Behrens, P. (2021). The Best of Times, The Worst of Times: Futures from the Frontiers of Climate Science. The Indigo Press. ISBN 978-1-911648-09-3 352pp. $26.95. Readable approach to the environmental crisis, with alternating chapters outlining effects on society and the radical actions we can take. Updated sections on COVID-19 and COP26
Focused Studies of Current Climate Change and Responses
- Gerhardt, C. (2023). Sea Change: An Atlas of Islands in a Rising Ocean. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-30482-6 320pp. Hardcover only $46.32 This immersive portal of essays, maps, art about islands around the world that highlights the impacts of sea level rise and hopeful solutions. Atlases are being redrawn as islands are disappearing. Places islands at the centre of the story, highlighting Indigenous and Black voices and the work of communities taking action for local and global climate justice. well-researched and lavishly designed…immersive storytelling, scientific expertise, and rallying cries…One of the Best Science Books of 2023, New Scientist
- Proulx, A. (2023). Fen, Bog and Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis. Scribner. ISBN 978-1-982173-36-4 208pp. $24.40. This is an engaging and accessible book. Novelist writes about the history of wetlands, their environmental role and systematic destruction. History of the fens of 16th-century England, Canada’s Hudson Bay lowlands, Russia’s Great Vasyugan Mire, and America’s Okeefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Explorers and destruction of the Amazon rainforest, diseases spawned in the wetlands—the Ague, malaria, Marsh Fever. Best Book of the Year by The New Yorker and Literary Hub. 2022 NBCC Awards Nonfiction Finalist and a 2023 Phillip D. Reed Environmental Writing Award Finalist
- Frankopan, P. (2023). The Earth Transformed: An Untold History. New York: Knopf. ISBN 978-0-525-65916-7 736pp. Hardcover only $30. This is a huge text but I read it cover to cover. It is perhaps one of the most inclusive overviews which situates current climate change in historical and prehistorical weather patterns starting back before the dinosaurs. In short, the author argues that changing climate has always played a fundamental role in human history. From the fall of the Moche civilization in South America that came about because of the cyclical pressures of El Niño to volcanic eruptions in Iceland that affected Egypt and helped bring the Ottoman empire to its knees, Frankopan explains how long term changes in earth climate impacted social and political stability. He argues, in a form of climate determinism, that the Vikings emerged thanks to catastrophic crop failure, why the roots of regime change in eleventh-century Baghdad lay in the collapse of cotton prices resulting from unusual climate patterns, and why the western expansion of the frontiers in North America was directly affected by solar flare activity in the eighteenth century. His conclusion argues that when past empires have failed to act sustainably, they have been met with catastrophe.
Recent Historical Impact of Extreme Weather Events
- Carney, S., & Miklian, J. (2023). The Vortex: A True Story of History’s Deadliest Storm, an Unspeakable War, and Liberation. Ecco. ISBN 978-0-06-298542-2 528pp. $28.50
- In 1970, the deadliest storm in modern history ripped Pakistan in two and led the world to the brink of nuclear war when American and Soviet forces converged in the Bay of Bengal. Great Bhola Cyclone killed 500,000 people and began a chain reaction of turmoil, genocide, and war. Pakistan was on the brink of a historic election. Told through the eyes of the men and women who lived through it, including the infamous president of Pakistan, General Yahya Khan… a universal tale of resilience and liberation in the face of climate emergency… Long-listed for the Carnegie medal for excellence. American Library Association notable book in nonfiction.
- Vaillant, J. (2023). Fire Weather: The Making of a Beast. Knopf Canada. ISBN 978-0-7352-7316-0 432pp. $31.20. Account of 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, and a panoramic exploration of the rapidly changing relationship between fire and humans kind in a hotter world. Intertwined histories of North America’s oil industry and the birth of climate science. #1 Canadian bestseller. See my review and commentary in this blog.
Ecological ethics and attitudes for future sustainability (in decreasing order of relevance)
- Thunberg, G. (2023). The Climate Book: The Facts and the Solutions. Penguin Press. ISBN 978-0-593-49230-7 464pp. $29.10. Experts diagnose and propose responses to climate change. Grayscale charts, graphs, diagrams, photographs, and illustrations. Author’s stories of demonstrating and uncovering greenwashing, which is presented as a serious problem. NYT Bestseller.
- Dalai Lama & McDonnell, P. (2023). Heart to Heart: A Conversation on Love and Hope for Our Precious Planet. HarperOne. From His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Mutt’s cartoonist Patrick McDonnell: an illustrated, allegorical conversation with a Panda bear about the future of the planet with a message of joy, hope and change.“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday, and one is called Tomorrow.”
- Wray, B. (2022). Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis. Toronto: Knopf Canada. ISBN 978-0-7352-8072-4 296pp. Hardcopy only $26.00. Generational perspective on eco-anxiety. Becoming an engaged steward of the planet requires connecting with our climate emotions. Climate-aware therapists, critical perspectives on race and privilege in this crisis, ideas about the future of mental health innovation, and creative coping strategies. Finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Awards finalist, CBC Best Canadian Nonfiction Book of 2022. Indigo top ten best self-help book of 2022
- Wallach, A. (2022). Longpath: Becoming the Great Ancestors Our Future Needs – An Antidote for Short-Termism. HarperOne. ISBN 978-0-06-327588-1 208pp. $33.75. TED Talk futurist proposes focus on long term goals to which choices can be aligned.
Distopias and Collapsologies (the French term for doom and gloom climate literature typical of the 2010s)
- Remnick, D., & Finder, H. (2021). The Fragile Earth: Writing from the New Yorker on Climate Change. New York: Ecco. A collection of the New Yorker’s articles including writing from Bill McKibben, Elizabeth Kolbert, Ian Frazier, Kathryn Schulz that popularize both the science and politics of climate change. New York Times New & Noteworthy Book
- Sovani, A. (2022). The Heat Is On: How To Overcome The Climate Emergency. Waterfront Media Group Inc. ISBN 978-1-73875-012-2 224pp. $22.22. Venture capitalist proposes a Business Plan for the Planet and imagines the political emergence of two new superpowers and the extinction of the existing ones.
- Wallace-Wells, D. (2020). The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. Crown. Interesting case of marketing with a plain cover but text focuses on fears, doom and gloom. I found this particularly deceptive and not useful for teaching. Dramatizes climate change avoiding technical language of climatology: “an overflow of insanely lyrical prose about our pending Armageddon.” It is worse, much worse, than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible—food shortages, refugee emergencies, climate wars and economic devastation. #1 NYT Bestseller.
Rob Shields (Univ. of Alberta)