• Luiz Zerbini, "High Definition," (detail), 2010. Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co. Cropped from the original.

    Every Day is Earth Day: 365 Books to Start Your Climate Change Library

    Part One: The Classics

    William Cronon, Changes in the LandWilliam Cronon, Changes in the Land (1983)

    A classic work of ethnoecological history that tracks the ecology of New England as influenced by the European colonists and the Native Americans they displaced.

    Dian Fossey, Gorillas in the MistDian Fossey, Gorillas in the Mist (1983)

    Gorillas in the Mist describes Dian Fossey’s efforts to study and preserve mountain gorillas in Africa from the mid-1960s to her death in 1985. She strongly opposed both tourism and poaching. She was murdered, almost certainly because of her efforts to protect gorillas—she was slain in her bedroom and no valuables were taken from the room, leading to the conclusion that poachers killed her. She wasn’t just a campaigner; she also raised money for her own anti-poaching patrols in Rwanda. Fossey made numerous scientific discoveries about gorillas and their complex social hierarchies. Her critics accused her to loving gorillas more than humans.

    Richard Davies

    Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open SpacesGretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces (1985)

    Ehrlich arrived in Wyoming from California in 1976 to shoot a documentary about sheep herding. She never left: “The arid country was a clean slate. Its absolute indifference steadied me.” She traveled, working as a sheepherder and cowgirl, and eventually married a cowboy, settling on an abandoned ranch they planned to reclaim.

    Ehrlich’s narrative is all about the people of Wyoming—sheep herders, ranchers, cowboys, and indigenous people—who are formed by the landscape in which they live. “The solitude in which westerners live makes them quiet. They telegraph thoughts and feelings by the way they tilt their heads and listen,” she writes. “Cowboys have learned not to waste words from not having wasted water, as if verbosity would create a thirst too extreme to bear.” She also explicitly makes room for women in her Western narrative and strikes down the myth of the tough, macho Marlboro man: “One of the myths about the West is its portrayal as “a boy’s world.” But the women I met . . . were as tough and capable as the men were softhearted . . . This macho, cultural artifact the cowboy has become is simply a man who possesses resilience, patience, and an instinct for survival,” she writes. Ehrlich’s narrative shows a woman at home in a place she’d never imagined she’d ever be.

    “Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are,” Ehrlich writes. “We are often like rivers: careless and forceful, timid and dangerous, lucid and muddied, eddying, gleaming, still.” A must for anyone looking for a greater connection to the natural world.

    Sarah Boon

    Patience Gray, Honey from a WeedPatience Gray, Honey from a Weed (1986)

    A cult cooking classic by “the high priestess of cooking” Patience Gray, filled with unusual recipes, brilliant stories, and hyper-local ingredients and methodologies. Important reading to prepare for a future living well off the land, or just living well in general.

    Mark Reisner, Cadillac DesertMarc Reisner, Cadillac Desert (1986)

    One of the best books on the history water—and water policy, and water politics, and water fantasies—in the American west. Still relevant as the water runs dry…

    Barry Lopez, Arctic DreamsBarry Lopez, Arctic Dreams (1986)

    Barry Lopez is one of the greatest environmental writers of the age, and Arctic Dreams is his masterpiece. It’s a meditation on how vast and forbidding spaces like the Arctic wilderness can both challenge and inspire the human mind. Based on Lopez’s own travels through the icy North, the book exemplifies contemporary nature writing—and its focus has only become more meaningful as climate catastrophe continues to diminish Arctic ice and impact people around the world.

    –Amy Brady

    Vandana Shiva, Staying AliveVandana Shiva, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development (1988)

    A classic text that investigates the intersection between feminism, environmentalism, and anti-colonialism, and argues that our massive overdevelopment is leading us into oblivion on all three fronts.

    Bill McKibben, The End of NatureBill McKibben, The End of Nature (1989)

    Of course the first book on climate change written for a general audience was written by McKibben, the people’s environmental writer, and back in 1989.

    John McPhee, The Control of NatureJohn McPhee, The Control of Nature (1989)

    John McPhee’s book exhibits just how idiotic and futile it is for humankind to try and control nature: in Mississippi and Louisiana to change the course of a river; in the Los Angeles hills to live where humans are determined to live; in Iceland’s volcanic floodplains where a tiny harbor is battered with lava. Yet as McPhee shows, we humans are stubborn, fallible creatures. McPhee’s prescient acknowledgement is that what we do now can create problems in the future. Building homes in the hills of California? Earthquakes, mudslides and more recently, apocalyptic fires will neatly ruin your life’s investment. Damming rivers that skirt Louisiana’s poorest populations? Hurricane Katrina showed us what water diversion can do. And in Iceland, stemming the flow of lava with seawater pumped through fire hoses is like an Icelandic epic itself; where one path leads to other paths unforeseen. But water or lava or rockslides, unlike humans, will always find the easiest and most natural path.

    Kerri Arsenault

    Barry Lopez, The Rediscovery of North AmericaBarry Lopez, The Rediscovery of North America (1990)

    On the destruction of North American lands and lives, beginning with Christopher Columbus, and going so much deeper than that. (Basically, all of Barry Lopez should be in this library, and most of it is.)

    Robert D. Bullard, Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental QualityRobert D. Bullard, Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality (1990)

    Is living on a healthy planet a basic human right? It should be, argues Bullard in this book—one of the few that examines the way poor and working-class communities, as well as communities of color, are disproportionately affected by environmental issues, and links social justice with environmentalism.

    David Yergin, The PrizeDavid Yergin, The Prize (1990)

    The Prize was published in December of 1990, and in 1992 won the Pulitzer for General Nonfiction—it’s still a touchstone text for understanding the history of energy and oil in this country.

    Terry Tempest Williams, RefugeTerry Tempest Williams, Refuge (1991)

    Terry Tempest Williams is an environmental and feminist activist, a former Mormon with a keen connection to the land, and a birder. Refuge focuses on Utah’s Great Salt Lake, chronicling the period from September 1982 to July 1989, when the lake flooded and the local community engineered several major drainage projects to manage the rising water level. The flooding overran Williams’s local birding spot and her personal refuge: the 65,000-acre wetlands of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

    Williams tells the story of the expansion of Great Salt Lake, the loss of birds, and the human effort to engineer a solution, in tandem with the story of both her mother and grandmother being diagnosed with, treated for, and eventually passing away from, cancer. To her, the landscape is more than just a place. She sees our bodies as landscapes, and landscape itself as religion, as change, as rejuvenation, as anchor, as hazard, as challenge, as self, and as myth. “The birds and I share a natural history,” she writes. “It is a matter of rootedness, of living inside a place for so long that the mind and imagination fuse.”

    Sarah Boon

    A Walk in the Woods bill brysonBill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods (1991)

    Being a whole generation’s first introduction to the Appalachian Trail and the beauty of going for a walk—a very, very long walk—in the woods.

    John McPhee, Annals of the Former WorldJohn McPhee, Annals of the Former World (1998)

    A compilation of four of McPhee’s books on geology, published between 1981 and 1993, along with an original essay, which all adds up to a Pulitzer Prize-winning, multi-layered geological history of North America and a masterpiece of nonfiction writing.

    Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of DisasterMike Davis, Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (1998)

    “For generations, market-driven urbanization has transgressed environmental common sense,” Davis writes in this antidote to any California dreaming you might have considered indulging. “Historic wildfire corridors have been turned into view-lot suburbs, wetland liquefaction zones into marinas, and flood plains into industrial districts and housing tracts. Monolithic public works have been substituted for regional planning and a responsible land ethic. As a result, Southern California has reaped flood, fire and earthquake tragedies that were as avoidable, as unnatural, as the beating of Rodney King and the ensuing explosion in the streets.”

    Winona LaDuke, All Our RelationsWinona LaDuke, All Our Relations (1999)

    A compelling portrait of the Indigenous experience in America, exploring the relationship of First Peoples to the land; by Native environmental activist Winona LaDuke.

    Subcomandante Marcos, Our Word Is Our WeaponSubcomandante Marcos, Our Word Is Our Weapon (2000)

    Because the Zapatistas are an extraordinary example of resistance by the supposedly powerless against the powerful and they have endured for 25 years—and brought us what this book offers, a poetic, sometimes lyrical, sometimes comic, often utterly fresh and insightful, political language, grounded in the natural world, in weather, seasons, plants, animals, growing, harvesting . . .

    Rebecca Solnit

    Joy Williams, Ill NatureJoy Williams, Ill Nature (2001)

    Every day I receive a dozen or more mass emails about the devastating effects of climate change. These are accompanied by photographs that bring on what the poet Mark Doty called “soul-honing grief.” People and animals stranded or destroyed in the wake of the latest plague. After seeing yet another photo of a polar bear trapped on a tiny ice floe, I wrote a check to the agency trying to help, and felt that it was time to read, for perhaps the fifth time, the book that matches my feelings about these conditions.

    Late in Ill Nature, the collection of searing essays by Joy Williams, she writes that these essays “were meant to annoy and trouble and polarize . . .”   She describes the way they differ from her fiction, calls them “unelusive and strident and brashly one-sided.” The new style served a purpose, one we are ever closer to ignoring at our peril. These essays showed Williams to also be a passionate advocate—backed by deep research—of the irreplaceable animal and plant life that is destroyed and dismissed so easily by so many. Hip to the sickening ironies of “conservation” as interpreted by self-interested business and government, Williams enlists readers in a call to conscience. Think of the old saying: “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” Joy Williams has been paying attention for a long time.

    And her anger is eloquent.

    Amy Hempel

    Devra Davis, When Smoke Ran Like WaterDevra Davis, When Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales Of Environmental Deception And The Battle Against Pollution (2002)

    A leading epidemiologist on her lifetime fight against pollution, and a strong warning about the real health dangers of our current system.

    Al Gore, An Inconvenient TruthAl Gore, An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

    The original climate change book of the contemporary moment. If only we’d elected this guy. . .

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    Lit Hub Daily: April 22, 2019 Because every day is Earth Day: 365 books to start your climate change library (part one, The Classics) · Bill McKibben...
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