The climate is finally hitting a climax. Decades of discussions and reports by scientists have yielded pathbreaking works by writers like Elizabeth Kolbert, and today, climate fiction and non-fiction are even becoming global bestselling works. Everyone wants to read about collapse, dystopia, the aftermath — it’s in the very air we breathe after all, what with the IPCC just reporting once again that all numbers point hotter, redder and closer to us than ever.
The shelves of climate change books extend ever farther, and yet, one can’t help but feel that not much is changing about such a dynamic topic. There are always more details to unravel of course: another species that’s meeting the end of its precarious existence, a river that no longer flows, a town losing its last sparks of civilization. Yet, we know the tropes and the typical plots at this point (or just deny any of it is happening so it doesn’t matter anyway). The most challenging problem on the Earth today is, frankly, getting a bit repetitive.
The upshot is that there are still original works, works that push the edges of our understanding, reformulate some of the old tropes and deliver a forceful punch that unmoors our thinking and forces us to confront the familiar destruction with a new empathy.
I wanted to find the most intriguing books for engineers and technologists who are interested in more systematic ways for understanding what is happening to our planet. Not so much on-point solutions (although we have one book on that), but rather books that can develop our thinking about how to understand the changes that are by now inevitably coming.
So, I picked out and reviewed six books that I think represent a strong canon by which to develop our intuitions about climate change, not just as an environmental problem, but as an economic, social and personal one as well. They range from systems-thinking analyses and prototypical non-fiction to personal reflections and an atmospheric novel. Each in its own way can help us come to terms with what will be the most challenging collective mission in our lives.
- “Can the world really just fall apart?” on How Everything Can Collapse: A Manual for our Times by Pablo Servigne and Raphaël Stevens. Translated from French by Andrew Brown.
- “Bill Gates offers direction, not solutions” on How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need by Bill Gates.
- “Is the best way to solve climate change to ‘do nothing?’” on How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell.
- “How national security is being redefined by climate change” on All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change by Michael T. Klare.
- “Air conditioning is one of the greatest inventions of the 20th Century. It’s also killing the 21st,” an interview with Eric Dean Wilson on his new book, After Cooling: On Freon, Global Warming, and the Terrible Cost of Comfort.
- “On the future of walls, or The Wall” on The Wall by John Lanchester
Call it beach reading, while that beach is still there.