7 Books About the Wide-Ranging Cause and Effects of Climate Change
The surprising, insidious roots of this planet-sized problem
Most writing about the climate crisis focuses on large-scale events like extreme weather, wildfires, and flooded coastlines—and for good reason. Such events impact the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. But how might the crisis affect us in smaller, more intimate ways? How are we seeing it manifest at the level of a life, in our relationships, jobs, memories, and daydreams? How are we seeing it unfold in our own backyards, even if we don’t live in the immediate path of destruction?
These are the questions that motivated our book, The World As We Knew It: Dispatches from a Changing Climate, an anthology of first-person essays about the contributors’ experiences with climate change. As we write in the introduction, this focus on the individual level “isn’t the most intuitive way to think about climate change.” But we believe that writing that connects the personal to the planetary is “among the most powerful” kind there is.
As the anthology came together, we looked for inspiration in books that, like ours, explore the climate crisis in surprising ways, whether by tackling the subject from a unique angle, connecting climate to other related social issues (such as racism, xenophobia, etc.), or by shedding light on communities too often overlooked in the literature of climate change. Some of these books aren’t directly about climate at all—but explore the surprising, insidious roots of this planet-sized problem.
Our hope is that our book and the books on this list will inspire readers to see the climate crisis not as a single issue as it’s so often described, but as the wide-ranging, multifaceted phenomenon it truly is—and crucially, feel motivated to do something about it.
The Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People + Planet by Leah Thomas
Leah Thomas coined the term “intersectional environmentalism” to describe an approach to environmentalism that centers the voices of marginalized communities. With this book, she leverages that definition to show in concrete ways how people of all kinds and backgrounds can work together for a more just and sustainable planet. The book drives home the point that the climate crisis isn’t just a crisis of nature; it’s a humanitarian crisis, too.
The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis by Amitav Ghosh
In The Great Derangement, Amitav Ghosh argues that humanity’s failure to act on climate change is rooted in a failure of imagination. Humans have been unable (or unwilling) to grasp the immense scale of climate change, he argues, because we can’t properly visualize it in our art and storytelling. With The Nutmeg’s Curse, he seeks a solution to that failure by helping readers to see the climate crisis as part of a most surprising narrative. Combining essay, philosophy, and first-person testimony, this book examines how the history of something as inconsequential as nutmeg is shaped by colonialism and exploitation—the very roots, he argues, of the most consequential problem we face today.
Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush
Much reporting on sea-level rise focuses on the physics of the problem, on mathematical equations that predict just how high the seas will rise in a lifetime. In Rising, Rush focuses instead on the intimate ways in which the pending floods will impact the people who live in their wake. Her reportage allows for her interviewees to speak for themselves with direct quotes and all the power and emotion we should expect from people who will soon be saying goodbye to the places and homes they love.
The Reckonings: Essays on Justice for the Twenty-First Century by Lacy M. Johnson
Some of the essays in this powerful, beautiful collection are about ecological destruction and the consequences of generational violence done to the land. But many are not. What they all have in common, however, is commentary on justice—what it means, how it manifests, and in what ways it’s related to retribution. Taken together, these essays speak to the need for compassion and patience in our fight for a more just society. These are lessons needed now more than ever as the climate crisis continues to lay bare the fact that its origins are rooted in injustice at every level of society.
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Robin Wall Kimmerer is a trained botanist and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. In Braiding Sweetgrass, she puts both scientific training and Indigenous forms of knowledge into conversation—something the realm of science, in her experience, hasn’t always been open to. But, in Kimmerer’s hands, the combination offers a more capacious way of relating to and inhabiting the natural world. Throughout, Kimmerer models an attentive, reciprocal relationship to the land and its creatures, and calls upon her readers to do the same—to treat the natural world with mutual respect and care. The writing in these essays is playful, human, and will make you see the world differently.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents follows her influential study on the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns. In Caste, Wilkerson explores the roots of global caste systems, including race, class, bloodlines, and stigma, to show how such systems continue to fundamentally shape and stratify American society. She argues that caste systems have led to more than social division–they’ve resulted in some of history’s most heinous examples of racism, disenfranchisement, and injustice. Through her view of history, readers can see how all contemporary crises—including the climate crisis—are connected by that which divides us, and that the only just and sustainable way forward is to find and celebrate that which we have in common.
A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott
Alicia Elliott’s debut essay collection explores the reality of contemporary Indigenous life in North America. Braiding memoir with criticism, research, and pop-culture analysis, Elliott’s essays investigate questions of intergenerational trauma, systemic oppression, and the legacy of colonialism. She also writes piercingly of the logic of colonial extractivism, a form of violence that has been used to both disenfranchise and displace Indigenous communities, and has been a driving force in accelerating the climate crisis.