The best books to help you keep your cool on a warming planet

Sarah Jaquette Ray Author Of A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet
By Sarah Jaquette Ray

Who am I?

As an environmental educator over the past 18 years, I have come to see that the central question of our work is no longer “how do we get more people to care?” Our work now is to keep ourselves sustained for the long haul of climate justice advocacy that lies ahead. People now care, a lot, and need to know how to avoid burnout and “amygdala hijack”, cope with the hard emotions of it all, and build community. The solutions are no longer just political, technological, or economic. We need to develop existential tools, resources of interior sustainability, and cultural resilience if we have any hope of thriving in a climate-changed world.

I wrote...

A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet

By Sarah Jaquette Ray,

Book cover of A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet

What is my book about?

A youth movement is reenergizing global environmental activism. The “climate generation”—late millennials and iGen, or Generation Z—is demanding that policymakers and government leaders take immediate action to address the dire outcomes predicted by climate science. Those inheriting our planet’s environmental problems expect to encounter challenges, but they may not have the skills to grapple with the feelings of powerlessness and despair that may arise when they confront this seemingly intractable situation.

Drawing on a decade of experience leading and teaching in college environmental studies programs, Sarah Jaquette Ray has created an “existential tool kit” for the climate generation. Combining insights from psychology, sociology, social movements, mindfulness, and the environmental humanities, Ray explains why and how we need to let go of eco-guilt, resist burnout, and cultivate resilience while advocating for climate justice.

The books I picked & why

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Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds

By Adrienne Maree Brown,

Book cover of Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds

Why this book?

Reading Emergent Strategy was a transformative experience for me. It changed the way I think about my purpose on this planet, my role as a teacher, what was ailing my students, and what is needed in this historical moment. Some key insights that I’ve implemented in myriad ways, personally and professionally, are “small is all, small is good”, “critical connection is more important than critical mass”, and “what you pay attention to grows.” The book helped me bring the existential insights of social movements to my work with the climate generation as an environmental studies educator. Brown asks the driving question of our lives: “What would it take to thrive in a climate-changed world?”

Hope Matters: Why Changing the Way We Think Is Critical to Solving the Environmental Crisis

By Elin Kelsey,

Book cover of Hope Matters: Why Changing the Way We Think Is Critical to Solving the Environmental Crisis

Why this book?

Kelsey builds an air-tight case for why the planet needs us to get more in touch with our emotions. Emotions dictate all our behavior and action in the world, and so we ought to know which emotions are most effective and in what situations to catalyze actions for climate justice. Because Kelsey is a scientist herself, she buttresses her case about the role of emotions in saving the planet with powerful data. We don’t need more books on “ten things you can do to save the planet.” What we do need is more books like this, which show us why doom and gloom isn’t the only game in town.

Braiding Sweetgrass

By Robin Wall Kimmerer,

Book cover of Braiding Sweetgrass

Why this book?

I cried a lot reading this book, so beautiful is Kimmerer’s writing. Don’t get me wrong; the book isn’t sad per se, it’s just that Kimmerer is able to make me feel like I’m in direct contact with the marrow of life. If the junk of capitalism and all the evils of the world start to clog me up, I open this book again, anywhere, and just start reading. And breathing. And remembering how beautiful and precious life on this planet is, and how we’re all here to serve, and how that’s what matters. Also, since my own area of expertise is the environmental humanities, with a focus on justice, I love the way Kimmerer translates complicated disciplinary discussions into compelling, relevant stories that we can then see happening all around us. From motherhood to language to growing beans, Kimmerer takes us through the doors of seemingly mundane topics on a journey of what it means to be alive on this planet today.

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

By Jenny Odell,

Book cover of How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

Why this book?

What do the California wildfires and our addictions to smartphones have to do with each other? How to Do Nothing spells it out. The book isn’t really about doing nothing, but like a zen koan, it offers a paradox: we live in a society that treats productivity in a particular (capitalist) way, and this kind of productivity is both damaging to ourselves and to the world. Against that grain, “doing nothing” is a kind of resistance. And in the process, we might actually “do” something really great for the world, like for starters, notice it in the first place. Where we put our attention every single moment of every single day has significance beyond our mental health.

All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis

By Ayana Elizabeth Johnson (editor), Katharine K. Wilkinson (editor),

Book cover of All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis

Why this book?

This book has something for everybody—from poetry to pieces by leaders in climate action. The focus is on women’s work in the movement, and on an approach to climate action that centers on community, art, our emotional lives. Does it get better than that? This reframing of climate work around courage and community is a needed antidote to all the doomsday climate books (often by white men). The contributors are diverse—in ability, race, age, religious affiliation, profession, and so on—which models to readers that the frontlines for climate justice are everywhere, and everyone can participate. While it often feels like we’re on the slippery slope to hell, perhaps it’s better to think of being in “a womb, not a tomb,” and start building together the world we desire, as if our lives depended on it.

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