Apr 232021
Reading to Save the Planet: Books on Climate Change

Happy Earth Month and Earth Day, which was the 22nd of April! In celebration, I want to discuss the power of knowledge in driving positive change for the environment. Reading to save the planet might be an exaggeration, but educating ourselves on important issues like the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and intersectional environmentalism is crucial for activism. So, if you’re looking to do some reading to save the planet, here are some books on climate change I recommend. They include fiction (climate fiction a.k.a clifi) and non-fiction.

Can Reading Save the Planet?

As individuals, we develop our understanding, arguments, and resources through learning. Therefore, reading about climate change can help us contribute to the global conversation on the planet’s health. Individual change plays a significant part in fostering collective action to mitigate climate change. This in turn puts pressure on governments and corporations to enact policy changes. As the saying goes, knowledge is power! As such, I’m sharing some of the books that I’ve found influential in helping me understand climate change and environmental injustice in a more nuanced way.

Before I get into the books, I’m going to give a shout out to all the fantastic projects that were part of the Climate School I participated in this winter (see the winners here). You can read all the poster submissions, including my group’s project on Blue Carbon, or CCS in Coastal Environments (Group 100) here.

Climate School

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

Set in the rural, impoverished Appalachians, Flight Behaviour tells the story of Dellarobia Turnbow, a wife and mother deeply unhappy with her unremarkable life. When a colony of migratory monarch butterflies are discovered on her land, it causes huge disruption to Dellarobia’s family and community. A team of scientists wind up living with Dellarobia, and she finds herself questioning her beliefs and her life’s purpose. It was such a wonderfully-written human approach to understanding climate change, and prejudices along class lines.

Flight Behaviour

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything examines capitalism and the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. Klein’s comprehensive work covers several topics including, for example: climate change denial, greenwashing, and political connections with the fossil fuel industry. Klein also examines the importance of indigenous groups fighting to protect their land rights, as well as the pitfalls of geoengineering.

This Changes Everything

A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and its Assault on the American Mind by Harriet A Washington

Washington focuses on IQ (which she recognises as a biased metric) to argue that African Americans and other minorities are preferentially affected by environmental racism. Toxic chemicals impacting cognitive function and intelligence disproportionately affect minorities, who are more likely to live in sacrifice zones. These are communities that are adjacent to or include industrial facilities and other polluting factors.

A Terrible thing to Waste

Barkskins by Annie Proulx

Through the lens of the environment, Barkskins illuminates the troubled histories of indigenous groups and North American early settlers. It highlights this complicated and deeply destructive history of colonialism through the story of the desolation of the world’s forests. Proulx’s message concludes poignantly on climate change. Her message is clear — in regards to conservation and reforestation “you are pleading with men who just don’t care”. A perfect marriage of historical fiction and sustainability, Barkskins is a must read for anyone interested in either Canadian/ New England history or environmental history, as well as social and environmental justice. This book is one of my favourites!

Barkskins Books I read in 2019

There’s Something In the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous and Black Communities by Ingrid R.G. Waldron

Honestly, this book is a must-read for anyone passionate about environmental racism and environmental justice, especially fellow Canadians. Though it is an academic study, and therefore some of the sociology terminology and literature reviews are bit heavy, it’s an important perspective on the struggles indigenous and Black Nova Scotians face in terms of their land and health being compromised by environmental racism. I would recommend watching the documentary of the same title first (available on Netflix). The film gave me a visual framework to understand the case studies on various communities, and the work being done by the ENRICH Project.

There's Something in the Water

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

I can only describe this as beautifully sad. Like Flight Behaviour, this novel is about both a woman’s personal journey, and a species’ struggle to survive climate change. In this case, Migrations is about the Arctic Tern. It was a little bit nature writing, a bit dystopian, a bit romance, and a bit thriller. If you’re looking for a clifi that deals with ecological and personal loss and resilience, then this is for you!


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Finally, I give credit where it’s due. This post was inspired by a video created by one of my favourite BookTubers, Ariel Bissett. Ariel is a charismatic author and badass woman living in Nova Scotia, who talks about all things books.

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