Earth Day and Climate Change Books: The NYT Greenhouse Part 3
As part of Earth Week last week, the NYT Greenhouse gave its recommended list of books on climate change and hosted a conversation with Earth Day organizer, Denis Hayes, and other environmentalists. Here’s the inside scoop.
- By Amanda Smiley
- Apr 28, 2020
Earth Week gave us a number of ways to think about the environment, climate change and global warming: socially, culturally, politically and economically—even in the midst of this global pandemic. The NYT hosted two virtual events last week and, as always, gave us a lot to think about.
Earth Day’s event, titled “This Climate Book Is For You,” featured a conversation with Gal Beckerman, Kendra Pierre-Louis and Amitav Ghosh on books. They explored, the emerging number of books in all genres that explore the environment. Whether you’re looking for nonfiction, fiction, dystopian or journalistic genres, the team gave a number of recommended books you can get your hands on to learn about the many faces of global warming and climate change.
Friday’s event took a different route. Titled “What’s Better What’s Worse?,” the event featured a conversation between John Schwartz (a climate reporter), Denis Hayes (who helped launch Earth Day in 1970), and young climate leaders Vanessa Nakate and Jamie Margolin.
Both events, of course, highlighted new perspectives on this massive subject, using science, history, culture and helpful tips on what you can do. As it turns out, reading about the topic is not as hard as you think. As it turns out, Earth Day has done much more than start a global day of recognition for the planet.
Reading? Where Do I Start?
One of the first questions the speakers in this event tackled was this: is there a climate change genre? Is climate change and global warming literature simply permeating other genres?
While there’s not a clear answer, it’s evident that the answer is both yes and no. The topic is such a vast one that writers have been getting very creative on how that incorporate that conversation into literature. If you want to learn more about the subject, the good news is, there is so many options to choose from.
Do you prefer fiction stories? Nonfiction accounts? What if you like the scientific or journalistic approach? What about dystopian societies?
There are books that explore the climate, global warming, and nature in all of these settings. The science of it all can be challenging to understand, let alone follow. But authors have refused to let that stop them. Why? Because climate change is affecting every human on this earth some way somehow.
Here’s a breakdown of the NYT recommended climate change books, no matter your cup of tea. While the descriptions are abridged and not encompassing, they give an idea of what to expect.
What We Know About Climate Change by Kerry Emanuel: nonfiction; a guide to the basic science of climate change, and a call to action. The speakers called it “pretty cut and dry…[but a] tell all.” More here.
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert: nonfiction; the speakers called this more “show” than Emanuel’s, as she “remove climate change from the realm of abstraction.” More here.
The Water Will Come by Jeff Goodell, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan and Merchants of Doubt by Erik Conway and Naomi Oreskes all take a more specific, narrow approach to the topic of climate change. They narrow in on particular narratives around the world and try to pinpoint the effects of climate change.
The Story of More by Hope Jahren takes a very personal approach to the scientific facts of climate change. Jahren shares how she’s seen the world change and how the issue has personally affected her. Her simple solution? Use less and share more. More here.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler and The Wall by John Lanchester explore climate change through dystopian fiction—allowing authors and readers to explore the topic without boundary. More here and here, respectively.
For you fiction lovers out there, here are some that use traditional fictional narratives to tell the vary real reality of climate change: Weather by Jenny Offill (more here), Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (more here), and The Overstory by Richard Power (more here).
While the listed NYT list is comprehensive in genre and topic, there are a number more out there on the subject that might float your boat. Speaker and famous author, Amitav Gosh, shared quotes from his climate-related book, The Derangement, on the call. His book explore climate change through narratives, history and politics for a reader who wants a taste of everything. More here.
Gosh provided a list of some of his other favorite books on the subject. Of course, the list goes on:
A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit
This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
Living in Denial by Kari Norgaard
Don’t Even Think About It by George Marshall
The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells
Desert Notebooks: A Roadmap for the End of Time by Ben Ehrenreich
The Rapture by Liz Jensen
The Swarm by Frank Schatzing
Why Read About Climate Change?
While reading preferences vary, all the speakers in The Greenhouse meeting agree: these books all give readers a tangible way to access climate change—something that is so huge it’s hard to touch on.
The pursuit of knowledge on this subject can apply to nearly every facet of the world as we know it: commercialism, politics, economics, societies, cultures and so much more. The sooner you can find a genre or author that resonates with the way you process information, the sooner you can explore this emerging area of literature. Changes are, there’s something out there for everyone.
Look How Far We’ve Come—And How Far We Need to Go
The Greenhouse meeting with climate activists to commemorate Earth Day’s 50th anniversary explored Earth Day’s history, climate conversations today and what the future holds.
This event, hosted by climate journalist John Schwartz, facilitated a conversation with Earth Day’s first organizer Denis Hayes and two climate activists: Jamie Margolin and Vanessa Nakate. Below are some of the questions they answered:
What’s better since Earth Day started? As a direct, eye-witness from the first Earth Day until today’s Denis Hayes definitely had some good news. For example, smog producing chemicals that comes out of tail pipe have been reduced almost 95 percent since 1970. Solar energy technologies have grown and become way more affordable, and they’ve gone from 75 dollars a watt to 25 cents a watt today.
What’s worse? There are, sadly, a number of climate problems that have grown increasingly bad in the last few decades. Among them are problems like increased air pollution all over the world and increase poverty rates where people have a lack of access to clean water and food.
Vanessa Nakate, a climate activist in Uganda, discusses how she got into climate activism. She said it was something she grew into, but she wanted to do something that would help the people in her community. She saw climate change as a personal problem affecting everyone in her community—from poverty to unemployment to more.
Jamie Margolin is the co-executive director of Zero Hour, a youth-led, nonprofit organization based in Seattle to call for action against climate change. Jamie encourages people to not only support and fund nonprofit organizations (because they rely on the support of their communities) but to go out and join one. Hope for the future lies in action, she said.
What is the most important thing we can do in our every-day lives if you are not in a position of power or resources?
The speakers agreed: using your voice is arguably the most powerful tool you have in this climate fight. While the problem can seem so overwhelmingly huge, it’s important to remember that each one of us that cares has a voice for change.
This Friday is the NYT Greenhouse’s fourth and final digital event—and this week they’re discussing food. Yes, food. During this global health crisis, staying inside can feel like you are out of touch with the world and its other issues. But remember: you have a voice, you have books at your fingertips, and you have a community fighting for a better tomorrow.