Half of the world’s governments have officially told their populations to stay home. Now that most Americans are weeks into their quarantine, many of us are starting to look for new cultural production to distract from despair during this time. Needing a break from the constant glut of COVID content is completely reasonable, and can be an opportunity to bulk up on your climate knowledge, or escape into a novel that takes ecological concerns seriously, weaving them into engrossing narratives. Here are five books, a mix of fiction and nonfiction, that address our climate crisis.
Jenny Offill, Weather
Set in the present day, Jenny Offill’s novel depicts both the dailiness and the existential dread of living while the planet probably dies. The novel follows a Brooklyn mother as she takes a gig job answering letters to a climate change podcast, while simultaneously parenting her child and interacting with friends and family. Offill’s writing is fragmentary, sometimes dreamy, and always engrossing.
Claire Vaye Watkins, Gold Fame Citrus
Opening in a Los Angeles that hasn’t felt rain in years, this 2015 novel follows a former model squatting in a Laurel Canyon home its starlet owner abandoned years ago. With California beset by world-historical draught, this protagonist attempts to travel East, where water still falls, but must navigate the ever-encroaching desert sands and the dangerous, dessicated landscape to get there.
Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood
Atwood is a master of dystopia, and her plausible yet terrifying futures usually turn on some form of ecological catastrophe. In The Year of the Flood, a religious sect called God’s Gardeners believe a “waterless flood” will destroy humanity and the planet they live on, so they devote their lives to vegetarianism and saving all the human and animal life they can. This book is the second in a trilogy, which can be read on its own or as part of the series, which includes an earlier climate crisis in the first book.
Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate
This 2014 book catalyzed a lot of leftists’ environmental awakening, and it’s essential reading now whether you’re just picking it up or returning for a reread. Years before any politicians were promoting a Green New Deal, Klein was calling for a Marshall Plan for the environment. In this book, she lays out the impending climate calamity in stark detail and clear prose, as riveting as it is terrifying. She deftly reveals that capitalism is inextricable from ecological death, showing the many ways polluters and capitalist governments are currently working together to prevent progressive a progressive restructuring of the international economy, which is the only real way we have a chance to save the planet. Still, she never gives up hope, charting the course activists and organizers are currently forging to a re-oriented, livable future.
Naomi Klein, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal
On Fire brings together an assortment of Klein’s writing over the past decade, placing new essays alongside old ones to spotlight the burning urgency of a Green New Deal. Published just last year, Klein addresses a wide array of climate contingencies and interrelated crises, connecting the dots between different countries’ struggles to address climate change and highlighting the need for collective action. She writes about the various labor sectors, like health and education, that should be considered green jobs even if their ecological role is opaque at first, demonstrating the way most roads lead back to the climate in our current moment.
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