The climate is finally reaching a tipping point. Decades of scientific debates and reports have resulted in ground-breaking works by authors like Elizabeth Kolbert, and climate fiction and nonfiction are now becoming global bestsellers. Everyone wants to read about collapse, dystopia, and the aftermath — it’s in the air we breathe, after all, with the IPCC recently announcing that all numbers point to us being hotter, redder, and closer than ever before.
Despite the fact that the shelves of climate change literature continue to grow, one can’t help but believe that little is changing on such a dynamic topic. Of course, there are always more facts to uncover: another species on the verge of extinction, a river that no longer runs, a town losing its final vestiges of civilization. Nonetheless, we are familiar with the tropes and common narratives at this stage (or simply deny that anything is occurring, so it doesn’t matter). The world’s most difficult problem is, to be honest, becoming a little boring.
As a result, there are still innovative works out there, works that stretch the boundaries of our understanding, reformulate some of the old tropes, and deliver a powerful punch that unmoors our thinking and compels us to confront the familiar damage with new empathy. I wanted to identify the most engaging books for engineers and technologists who want to learn more about what’s going on with our planet in a more systematic way. Not so much on-the-spot answers (though we do have one), but rather literature that can help us think about how to understand the changes that are, by now, unavoidable.
So I chose and assessed six works that I believe offer a strong canon by which to improve our understanding of climate change, not just as an environmental issue, but also as an economic, social, and personal one. From systems-thinking assessments to archetypal non-fiction to personal reflections and an atmospheric novel, they cover a wide range of topics. Each of us, in our own unique way, can assist us in coming to terms with what will be the most difficult collective mission of our lives.
- On The Wall by John Lanchester, “On the Future of Walls, or the Wall”
- On Michael T. Klare’s book All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change, he discusses how climate change is redefining national security.
- “One of the greatest technologies of the twentieth century was air conditioning. It’s also killing the twenty-first century,” says Eric Dean Wilson in an interview about his new book, After Cooling: On Freon, Global Warming, and the Exorbitant Price of Comfort.
- On Pablo Servigne and Raphal Stevens’ How Everything Can Collapse: A Manual for Our Times, they ask, “Can the world really just come apart?” Andrew Brown translated from the French.