The best books for deep environmental learning

Mitchell Thomashow Author Of To Know the World: A New Vision for Environmental Learning
By Mitchell Thomashow

Who am I?

I’ve been engaged in the environmental field for fifty years as an educator, a professor, a university president, and as a concerned citizen. The field is dynamic, complex, inspiring, and often overwhelming. All of my writing and teaching emphasizes empowering readers and students alike to use the depth of their experience to gather insight, wisdom, and agency. I want readers to actively think about their relationship to the biosphere, the contributions they can make as environmental citizens, and the inspiration they can cultivate at home or in the workplace. 


I wrote...

To Know the World: A New Vision for Environmental Learning

By Mitchell Thomashow,

Book cover of To Know the World: A New Vision for Environmental Learning

What is my book about?

How can we respond to the current planetary ecological emergency? In To Know the World, I propose that we revitalize, revisit, and reinvigorate how we think about our residency on Earth. First, we must understand that the major challenges of our time—migration, race, inequity, climate justice, and democracy—connect to the biosphere. Traditional environmental education has accomplished much, but it has not been able to stem the inexorable decline of global ecosystems. I use the term environmental learning to signify that our relationship to the biosphere must be front and center in all aspects of our daily lives.

Mixing memoir, theory, mindfulness, pedagogy, and compelling storytelling, I discuss how to navigate the Anthropocene's rapid pace of change without further separating psyche from biosphere; why we should understand migration both ecologically and culturally; how to achieve constructive connectivity in both social and ecological networks; and why we should take a cosmopolitan bioregionalism perspective that unites local and global.

The books I picked & why

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Fathoms: The World in the Whale

By Rebecca Giggs,

Book cover of Fathoms: The World in the Whale

Why this book?

Fathoms is a remarkable narrative about the human relationship with whales, and how our understanding of that relationship lends insight to both the human condition, the state of the oceans, and of course, the survival of whales. While reading Fathoms you will learn a great deal about how you perceive nature, and how whales are a barometer for that insight. You will experience both the compassion and savagery of humanity, and you will ponder questions about the meaning of life. Fathoms is wide-ranging, and includes great insights about how technology changes our relationship to the natural world, and our understanding of human history. Most importantly, it helps you perceive the world differently, and develop empathy (as much as humanly possible) for what the whale experiences. It is also brilliantly written.


The Sound of the Sea: Seashells and the Fate of the Oceans

By Cynthia Barnett,

Book cover of The Sound of the Sea: Seashells and the Fate of the Oceans

Why this book?

If you have ever experienced the delight of admiring seashells then you will be enamored with this fine book. The Sound of the Sea uses seashells as a way to explore the history of life on earth, the extraordinary biology of mollusks, the fascinating cultures of First Nations Amerindians, and the political economy of shells, from the naming of Shell oil to their use as natural resources. Who knew that seashells could take us on such an encompassing journey? After reading this book, you will enhance your sense of wonder and gain a deeper appreciation for the role of mollusks in the biosphere. And you will be more firmly committed to natural history exploration and the necessary conservation it requires. 


The Nutmeg's Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis

By Amitav Ghosh,

Book cover of The Nutmeg's Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis

Why this book?

Amitav Ghosh is an outstanding novelist who has now written two great books about global environmental change. His previous work, The Great Derangement, looks at the relationship between colonialism, the humanities, and the climate crisis. Now, The Nutmeg’s Curse expands that exploration provides more detail and depth, and covers the historical era of European expansion, paying close attention to how that process irrevocably and dangerously changed how we perceive the natural world. In so doing, Ghosh covers some of the most pertinent issues of contemporary environmental learning—race, equity, diversity, inclusion, and migration.

If you want to gain deeper insight into our current environmental challenges from a cultural perspective, this book will reward that interest. Hopefully, too, it will give you insight into your own behaviors and cultural predispositions. 


Islands of Abandonment: Nature Rebounding in the Post-Human Landscape

By Cal Flyn,

Book cover of Islands of Abandonment: Nature Rebounding in the Post-Human Landscape

Why this book?

Are you interested in a world tour that brings you to some of the most toxic, abandoned, and disturbed places in the world? On the face of it, not really! However, Cal Flyn remarkably transforms what seems like a death spiral into avenues of hope. She finds that many of these places, in part because of human absence, are also islands of restoration and revitalization. Despite the disturbance, nature once again takes hold. I’m amazed at the courage involved in visiting these places, and then the investigative thoroughness in exploring and explaining the possibilities.

The word resilience is gaining urgency and this book provides great insight into the deeper meaning of that word. I also appreciate how she highlights the human dimensions of her experience, both in terms of the people she meets who are agents of revitalization and the emotional responses that they and she have. Inevitably, there are such places close to where you live. After reading this book, you may view them differently. 


Atlas of the Invisible: Maps and Graphics That Will Change How You See the World

By James Cheshire, Oliver Uberti,

Book cover of Atlas of the Invisible: Maps and Graphics That Will Change How You See the World

Why this book?

Sometimes we need much more than words. Maps, diagrams, and artistic illustrations often provide a comprehensive view. Over the last few years there’s been a conceptual transformation in the graphic arts, culminating in wonderful portfolios of visual illustrations depicting global environmental change. This new project, Atlas of the Invisible, is among the best. The title is crucial as so often the most important trends and patterns of our times are hard to ascertain, and even more difficult to synthesize and interpret. It is hard to perceive environmental change because of the scale at which it takes place. Atlas of the Invisible provides two hundred maps that portray the dimensions of these changes, helping to make them more clear and accessible, and in so doing, empowering the reader’s perceptual abilities.

Their previous work, Where the Animals Go is a brilliant series of maps depicting animal migration, and is also highly recommended. If you’d like to learn more about how to enhance your ability to perceive global environmental change, please check out my earlier book, Bringing the Biosphere Home


5 book lists we think you will like!

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