Summer reading for the climate crowd
Three essentials for summer: Linen shirt, stylish shades, a good book. We can help with the latter. Photo by Anna Gustafson/flickr.
July 3, 2013
Journal articles and white papers can wait. It's time for some fun reads.
By Douglas Fischer
The Daily Climate
Summertime and the reading is easy. Or should be. Which is why climate-themed summer reading may go over as well as a declaration that your kids have to do math homework every morning.
But there is lighter climate reading to be had. Literature even. Trust the staff at Daily Climate – the ones who ferreted out articles about the CO2 dress or Lady Gaga's carbon footprint – to find the gems and the must-reads amid the dense and the doom.
So head to the hammock. Load the Kindle. Surely you can find room between Agatha Christie and Danielle Steele for one or two items on this list.
Besides, like your kids, you need to stay sharp over the summer.
It's summer, so let's start with the blockbusters:
"Flight Behavior" by Barbara Kingsolver
"Spillover" by David Quammen
A-list writers Barbara Kingsolver and David Quammen both came out recently with books exploring our changing environment. Kingsolver sets her story in Appalachia, where a crushingly undereducated, poor, beautiful, bored housewife discovers something horribly amiss: Millions of monarch butterflies, instead of migrating to Mexico, are wintering much farther north in her woods.
"Flight Behavior" mixes tensions: belief and science, wealth and poverty, education and ignorance. The question is how – or whether – we want to steer the world toward a better place.
"Spillover" comes to climate change only in the last chapter.
First Quammen takes us on a global romp tracing the rise of zoonotic diseases – illnesses that jump from animals and other species to humans. Each chapter brings a disease into slow focus: Mysterious deaths, grim symptoms, unsuspected infection pathways. In Quammen's hands, it's gripping stuff.
The final chapter explores reasons why these diseases are on the rise: Huge human and livestock populations, habitat destruction, global warming. "It could easily become a diatribe," warns the Guardian's Alice Roberts. But Quammen "is careful to emphasize that humans are part of the natural world, not separate from it – and there lies the problem."
"Odds Against Tomorrow" by Nathaniel Rich
An engaging novel about preparing for worst-case scenarios, "Odds" seemed to predict Hurricane Sandy when the book appeared weeks after the storm hit the East Coast. It didn't, of course, and Rich doesn't once mention climate change. But that's on purpose, and readers will find a surprisingly suspenseful, romantic tale woven amid a story of adaptation and perseverance.
One legit question, as the mercury settles comfortably in the triple digits: Who has time for novels? For those stuck in traffic, or on a train, or simply looking for less commitment, magazine articles – or a podcast – might be the ticket.
Global Warming's Terrifying New Math, by Bill McKibben, Rolling Stone
Last summer activist and author Bill McKibben launched a movement aimed at castigating fossil fuel companies and pushing for society to call investments in such companies morally wrong. Read the article that set it all in motion.
Obama: Stealth Climate Warrior? by Jonathan Foley, Ensia
One of the deeper thinkers on planetary limits and climate change argues that Obama deserves props for limiting US emissions – and this before the president's big climate speech last week.
Why are environmentalists taking anti-science positions? by Fred Pearce, Yale Environment 360
A veteran environmental reporter explores the dangers environmentalists run by refusing to listen to science that challenges their views.
Tom Steyer: Billionaire turned climate activist by Michael Krasny, KQED's Forum
An interview with the San Francisco investor-turned-activist who raised money for Obama – and now finds himself now fighting the president and other Democrats who haven't opposed the Keystone XL pipeline.
Climate of Denial by Al Gore, Rolling Stone
The former veep takes on the media and the denial industry in a classic essay from 2011.
The '90s are hot again. Well, not as hot as right now, but the retro file has some goodies:
"The Corps and the Shore" by Orrin Pilkey and Katharine Dixon (1998)
An early and prescient critic of the Army Corps of Engineers' billion-dollar efforts to thwart nature and protect coastal real estate, Pilkey and his co-author examine our political and financial relationship to the beach. All the more relevant now that sea-level rise has been outlawed in Pilkey's home state of North Carolina.
"End of the Long Summer" by Dianne Dumanoski (2009)
Take back that part about no doom and gloom: This book makes a powerful argument that society's guiding values have become "dangerously obsolete" in our new era. As summer days grow shorter and we slip into fall, we should be ready, Dumanoski warns, for surprises.
"The Outermost House" by Henry Beston (1928)
In the mid-1920s, Beston spent a year in solitary on the then-deserted dunes of Cape Cod's barrier beach and penned a memorable diary. But there's no happy ending: After the book made it famous, the house was relocated back from the eroding beach twice, then eventually destroyed by a fierce winter storm in 1978.
"The Age of Missing information" by Bill McKibben (1991)
The least environmental of McKibben's books chronicles his effort to watch a full 24 hours of videotape from the same day from each one of the 120-plus cable channels in the massive Fairfax County, Va., cable system. He then retreats to the Adirondacks to ponder it all.
"Merchants of Doubt" by Naomi Oreskes and Michael Conway (2010)
The authors trace a nomadic group of science contrarians as they sow doubt and misinformation on behalf of powerful industries on vital health and environmental questions. The same suspects show up in controversies over tobacco, nutrition, pesticides, the ozone layer and finally climate change. The authors fail to acknowledge that these "merchants of doubt" are actually helping to move the coastline closer to millions of Americans.
"Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time" by Michael Shermer (2002)
An entertaining read, recommended by librarians and writers at the University of California, Berkeley, on what science is, why science comes up short, and why humans tend to explain unknowns with belief in things such as extraterrestrials, ghosts, superstitions, and prejudices.
Daily Climate publisher Peter Dykstra contributed to this list. Daily Climate is an independent, foundation-funded news service covering climate change, energy and the environment. Contact editor Douglas Fischer at email@example.com. Twitter: @TheDailyClimate.
Photos of Henry Beston's cabin by Debora Rosen.
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