The best books on how we got here with climate change and mass extinction – and where to go

Jeremy Bendik-Keymer Author Of Involving Anthroponomy in the Anthropocene: On Decoloniality
By Jeremy Bendik-Keymer

Who am I?

I’m the grandson of a coal miner from a multi-generational, Ohio family. What matters most to me is having some integrity and being morally okay with folks. I never thought of myself as an environmentalist, just as someone trying to figure out what we should be learning to be decent people in this sometimes messed-up world. From there, I was taken into our environmental situation, its planetary injustice, and then onto studying the history of colonialism. This adventure cracked open my midwestern common sense and made me rethink things. Happily, it has only reinforced my commitment to, and faith in, moral relations, giving our word, being accountable, and caring.


I wrote...

Involving Anthroponomy in the Anthropocene: On Decoloniality

By Jeremy Bendik-Keymer,

Book cover of Involving Anthroponomy in the Anthropocene: On Decoloniality

What is my book about?

In an act of mourning over the death of my mother, Esther Bendik, this book was written as a year-long, personal, and philosophical reflection. Anyone who loves philosophy can get into it. Beginning in overwhelming anxiety, it ends with some understanding, directions for action, and excitement for political change. I like Christine J. Winter’s description:

“How does one become responsible to and with the smallest fleck of life and simultaneously all being that is planet earth? Bendik-Keymer's novel set of reflections moves us – the author in community with his readers – from moments of intimate contemplation and heartfelt anxiety to a place of stimulating possibility for reconfiguring nested sets of relationships that span from the hearth to the planetary, from colonial wrongdoing to intergenerational accountability.”

The books I picked & why

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The Climate of History in a Planetary Age

By Dipesh Chakrabarty,

Book cover of The Climate of History in a Planetary Age

Why this book?

I love how Dipesh’s book shows a historian at the height of his powers explaining how history has become geological. Decades ago, Chakrabarty began as someone arguing for a history that made Europe “provincial”. Now he argues that all human history is relative to planetary time. His writing is infused with humanism and is up to date on Earth System Science.


A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change

By Stephen M. Gardiner,

Book cover of A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change

Why this book?

Steve’s book is analytically challenging, but he has great examples and a knack for conceptualizing the core problems that are making it so hard for our world to grapple with climate change and things like mass extinction. He shows how there are three interlocking problems that all go back to how the modern state system was created as something competitive and uncoordinated, abstract from the land it’s on, and short-sighted with its politics.


Grounded Authority: The Algonquins of Barriere Lake Against the State

By Shiri Pasternak,

Book cover of Grounded Authority: The Algonquins of Barriere Lake Against the State

Why this book?

Maybe, this book seems tangential to put on the list. It’s about the struggle to maintain legal authority over ancestral land in a part of what is today called eastern “Canada”. The scare quotes are there because older nations still live on this land and have not ceded their authority. The book shows how the very same problems Gardiner detailed are actually the result of the colonial order that has shaped our international politics and its capitalist system. The book also suggests a way out through an “ontology of care” for the land.


The Birth of Energy: Fossil Fuels, Thermodynamics, and the Politics of Work

By Cara New Daggett,

Book cover of The Birth of Energy: Fossil Fuels, Thermodynamics, and the Politics of Work

Why this book?

Daggett’s award-winning book is a good example of a turn in political studies to understand the roots of our environmental problems by grasping how the way we organize society was shaped during early capitalism, colonialism, and the industrial revolution. Her book is also an example of the turn to energy politics which will define this century for some time. Check out the way this book uses history and old steampunk-esque documents to show us the bizarre dreams of the industrial revolution as these were tied to exploiting laborers for the sake of the wealth generation of the few!


The Politics of the Anthropocene

By John S. Dryzek, Jonathan Pickering,

Book cover of The Politics of the Anthropocene

Why this book?

For folks who are now thinking how the heck can we make political progress in this locked up and self-destructive world? this book is a clear guide. It breaks down the major things that we should be thinking about as we head into a climate destabilized world. Its core idea is especially relevant and hearkens back to what Pasternak described in her work for the Algonquins of Barriere Lake: the “first virtue” of institutions going forward needs to their responsiveness to ecological feedback, even before their justice. This makes sense, too! Without our institutions being “ecologically reflexive,” they can never be just. They won’t be able to sustain fairness over generations! That’s one of the big problems Gardiner found.


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