The best books about environmental catastrophe

Joshua David Bellin Author Of Ecosystem
By Joshua David Bellin

The Books I Picked & Why

The Drowned World

By J.G. Ballard

Book cover of The Drowned World

Why this book?

This classic science fiction novel, first published in 1962, is set in a future earth where the melting of the polar ice caps has turned the world’s cities into jungles teeming with life that hasn’t existed since the primordial past. The vision of a world where society has collapsed and human beings are no different than any animal struggling to survive is vivid and terrifying, and Ballard’s prose has a dreamy intensity that heightens the experience.

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By Sherri L. Smith

Book cover of Orleans

Why this book?

In the wake of super-hurricanes and the deadly pandemic that follows, New Orleans has been quarantined from the rest of the United States, and those who seek to cross the border wall are killed. Narrator Fen, a member of the clan-based culture that has developed behind the wall, tells the story of her people and her personal quest for freedom in a dialect voice that is both beautifully rendered and brutally honest.

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Parable of the Sower

By Octavia E. Butler

Book cover of Parable of the Sower

Why this book?

An unflinching portrait of a world plagued by heatwaves, water shortages, shrinking coastlines, and desperate poverty, Butler’s celebrated novel focuses on an African American teen who comes to accept the dire choices facing her and who founds a new religion, Earthseed, that promises hope, but not certainty, for the unknown future. Butler is simply one of the best sci-fi writers of all time, and Parable of the Sower shows her at the top of her game.

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The Water Knife

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Book cover of The Water Knife

Why this book?

Another master sci-fi storyteller shows us a world where climate change runs rampant and mega-corporations have swooped in to monopolize the world’s dwindling supply of potable water. This novel can be particularly grisly, so be warned. If you’re looking for a (somewhat) less dark vision of the future, Bacigalupi has also written an excellent climate change duology for teens, Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities.

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The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

By David Wallace-Wells

Book cover of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

Why this book?

My other choices were fiction; this one is not. Journalist Wallace-Walls assembles the scientific data on anthropogenic climate change and comes to an inescapable conclusion: it’s happening, and we can’t stop it from affecting us. What we can do is decide how bad it’s going to get, and that means making some tough choices in the next decade or two. As he sums up: “What happens, from here, will be entirely our own doing.”

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