The end is just beginning
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 can 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.
And 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.
Call it beach reading, while that beach is still there.