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The 10 Best Books On Climate Change, According to Climate Activists

The 10 Best Books On Climate Change, According to Climate Activists
A pair of trees grow out of a book that rests on scorched earth to depict climate change. vencavolrab / Getty Images

By Julia Fine

A record number of Americans are concerned about climate change, a recent study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication found. If you're among them, you may be interested in learning more about the climate crisis and what you can do about it. Luckily, you don't have to comb through scientific papers in order to educate yourself (unless you'd like to): More and more books on climate change and climate action are published every year, ranging from grimly realistic takes on the severity of the crisis to optimistic visions of social and technological solutions. To find out which ones are worth a read, Teen Vogue reached out to 11 climate activists for their recommendations. Here are the books they said were most informative and inspiring.

1. Down to Earth: Nature's Role in American History by Ted Steinberg

"Down to Earth is a history of North America from an environmental perspective. It's an easy read, and very interesting. One chapter explains how we used to know where our food came from, but eventually we pushed agriculture out to the sidelines of our cities, causing many other problems. Down to Earth made me realize that this country was founded on exploitation and that everything we do has an impact." —Natalie Blackwelder, commissioner of sustainability, Santa Barbara City College

2. Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken

"Drawdown is a handbook for how to stop and then reverse climate change. It lists dozens of actions to not just avoid putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but to draw carbon dioxide down out of the atmosphere. When you combine 'family planning' and 'educating girls' from the top 10 actions list, they draw down more CO2 from the atmosphere than anything else on the list. Feminism literally saves humanity from climate catastrophe." —Cassian Lodge, LGBTQ+ and environmental activist, U.K.

"When I felt overwhelmed at the big challenge of stopping climate change, this book broke things down to something manageable. It's like a playbook of climate solutions. I was fascinated to learn about marine permaculture, which is one of the proposed solutions. It's a method of growing seaweed on floating platforms that not only removes carbon from the atmosphere, but can also restore life to the oceans and provide an economic boon to coastal communities. I've since learned a lot about it, and I even helped lead a fundraiser that will help build some platforms off the coast of Tasmania." —Mark Abersold, software developer and Citizens' Climate Lobby member; moderator for Reddit's Climate Offensive forum

3. Frontlines: Stories of Global Environmental Justice by Nick Meynen

"Nick Meynen's storytelling is personal, powerful, and inspiring. Every unpacked frontline is one cutting edge of an economic system and political ideology that is destroying life on earth. Revealing our ecosystems to be under a sustained attack, Meynen finds causes for hope in unconventional places. He reminds us that it is up to each and every one of us to play our role in the fight to achieve the radical changes necessary to save the planet." —Paola Hernández Olivan, food project and policy officer, Health Care Without Harm, Brussels

4. No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg

"No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference contains the speeches made by the Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg — in climate rallies across Europe, to audiences at the U.N., the World Economic Forum, and the British Parliament. Greta inspires me because she says it like it is. She doesn't wrap the truth up in pretty paper to make it easier to take. Among millions of activists, Greta has one of the most powerful voices because she occupies the moral and ethical high ground of someone from the next generation whose life is being destroyed." —Christine Essex, coordinator, Extinction Rebellion Newbury

Favorite quote: And we will never stop fighting, we will never stop fighting for this planet, and for ourselves, our futures, and for the futures of our children and our grandchildren.

5. The No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change by Danny Chivers

"This is the clearest and most succinct book I have ever read about the nature of climate change, the forces that are blocking action on it, and the forces that have arisen to confront it. I teach classes on this subject, and this book works year after year to bring everyone up to speed on the problem and potential actions we can take. It's funny, readable, engaging, and powerful." —John Foran, professor of sociology and environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara

Favorite passage: This is going to be the most amazing, inspiring, and unifying social movement that the world has ever seen. It's going to be difficult, and frustrating at times, but it's also going to massively enrich the lives of everyone who's a part of it. This includes you.… [You can] be part of the most exciting and important social uprising of our lifetimes.

6. The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

"By the author of The Windup Girl, The Water Knife is a fictional portrayal of the effects of climate change on the western United States. It includes scenes of trying to get by in Phoenix when it's basically a desert. It's a powerful, well-written story that emphasizes the impacts of climate-induced social collapse on women." —D. Kempton, Climate Reality Canada, Drawdown Newmarket-Aurora

7. As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, From Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker

"This book covers the 500-year history of Native American resistance to colonialism and ecocide. It contextualized my environmental work as part of a struggle that has been taking place in the Americas since European contact, and it made me feel more connected to the larger Native American environmental movement as a cohesive whole both over time and across cultures and places. For Native people, this book is a reminder of how connected and similar our environmental justice struggles have been. This is especially important because the climate crisis requires cooperation across cultures and locations in an unprecedented way." —Shaylon Stolk, Indigenous (Scottish/Wayúu) renewable energy scientist and organizer with Extinction Rebellion justice; based in occupied Duwamish land (Seattl

8. The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells

"This book offers specific, science-based predictions about the effects of unchecked global warming. It scared me silly, and it inspired me to reflect and act." —Gregg Long, high school English teacher, Illinois

Favorite quote: It is worse, much worse, than you think.

9. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein

"This Changes Everything makes the case that the climate crisis is a consequence of capitalism, but it is a crisis that offers an opportunity to organize a new political system. It convinced me that we won't invent or grow our way out of this problem, but that it can be solved by political organizing. It's sobering and empowering, which is a difficult tightrope to walk." —Evan, Climate Justice committee coordinator, Democratic Socialists of America, Los Angeles chapter

Favorite passage: And that is what is behind the abrupt rise in climate change denial among hard-core conservatives: They have come to understand that as soon as they admit that climate change is real, they will lose the central ideological battle of our time — whether we need to plan and manage our societies to reflect our goals and values, or whether that task can be left to the magic of the market.

10. This Is Not a Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook by Extinction Rebellion

"This Is Not a Drill is a handbook on nonviolent civil disobedience for the challenges of the 21st century. Only a mass social movement will save us. This book provides the tools for that." —George, youth climate activist, U.K.

Favorite passage: We may or may not escape a breakdown. But we can escape the toxicity of the mindset that has brought us here. And in doing so we can recover a humanity that is capable of real resilience.

This story originally appeared in Teen Vogue and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

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By Tara Lohan

Warming temperatures on land and in the water are already forcing many species to seek out more hospitable environments. Atlantic mackerel are swimming farther north; mountain-dwelling pikas are moving upslope; some migratory birds are altering the timing of their flights.

Numerous studies have tracked these shifting ranges, looked at the importance of wildlife corridors to protect these migrations, and identified climate refugia where some species may find a safer climatic haven.

"There's a huge amount of scientific literature about where species will have to move as the climate warms," says U.C. Berkeley biogeographer Matthew Kling. "But there hasn't been much work in terms of actually thinking about how they're going to get there — at least not when it comes to wind-dispersed plants."

Kling and David Ackerly, professor and dean of the College of Natural Resources at U.C. Berkeley, have taken a stab at filling this knowledge gap. Their recent study, published in Nature Climate Change, looks at the vulnerability of wind-dispersed species to climate change.

It's an important field of research, because while a fish can more easily swim toward colder waters, a tree may find its wind-blown seeds landing in places and conditions where they're not adapted to grow.

Kling is careful to point out that the researchers weren't asking how climate change was going to change wind; other research suggests there likely won't be big shifts in global wind patterns.

Instead the study involved exploring those wind patterns — including direction, speed and variability — across the globe. The wind data was then integrated with data on climate variation to build models trying to predict vulnerability patterns showing where wind may either help or hinder biodiversity from responding to climate change.

One of the study's findings was that wind-dispersed or wind-pollinated trees in the tropics and on the windward sides of mountain ranges are more likely to be vulnerable, since the wind isn't likely to move those dispersers in the right direction for a climate-friendly environment.

The researchers also looked specifically at lodgepole pines, a species that's both wind-dispersed and wind-pollinated.

They found that populations of lodgepole pines that already grow along the warmer and drier edges of the species' current range could very well be under threat due to rising temperatures and related climate alterations.

"As temperature increases, we need to think about how the genes that are evolved to tolerate drought and heat are going to get to the portions of the species' range that are going to be getting drier and hotter," says Kling. "So that's what we were able to take a stab at predicting and estimating with these wind models — which populations are mostly likely to receive those beneficial genes in the future."

That's important, he says, because wind-dispersed species like pines, willows and poplars are often keystone species whole ecosystems depend upon — especially in temperate and boreal forests.

And there are even more plants that rely on pollen dispersal by wind.

"That's going to be important for moving genes from the warmer parts of a species' range to the cooler parts of the species' range," he says. "This is not just about species' ranges shifting, but also genetic changes within species."

Kling says this line of research is just beginning, and much more needs to be done to test these models in the field. But there could be important conservation-related benefits to that work.

"All these species and genes need to migrate long distances and we can be thinking more about habitat connectivity and the vulnerability of these systems," he says.

The more we learn, the more we may be able to do to help species adapt.

"The idea is that there will be some landscapes where the wind is likely to help these systems naturally adapt to climate change without much intervention, and other places where land managers might really need to intervene," he says. "That could involve using assisted migration or assisted gene flow to actually get in there, moving seeds or planting trees to help them keep up with rapid climate change."

Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis. http://twitter.com/TaraLohan

Reposted with permission from The Revelator.

An illustration depicts the extinct woolly rhino. Heinrich Harder / Wikimedia Commons

The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.

The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.

"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."

The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.

The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.

The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.

To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.

Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.

"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.

"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."

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Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.

For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.

"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."

To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.

"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."

So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.

Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.