The best books on understanding the future in a climate changed world

Andrew J. Hoffman Author Of How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate
By Andrew J. Hoffman

Who am I?

Today, we're faced with massive shifts in the environment that challenge who we are as humans. Scientists have proposed that we have left the Holocene and entered the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans, to mark the significance of our increasingly dominant role in a changing environment. But the problem right now is that we are having trouble seeing the future that is revealing itself because we continue to see it in our old ways of knowing. The books I have chosen show us the world that is coming. My hope is that, where some will resist the message of scientists, more may be swayed by writers, painters, photographers, musicians, and filmmakers.


I wrote...

How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate

By Andrew J. Hoffman,

Book cover of How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate

What is my book about?

This book asks a simple question: why do people reject or accept the scientific consensus on climate change? Its answer draws from the social sciences to show that, at its heart, the climate debate for many people is no longer about carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases, or climate modeling; rather, it is the product of contrasting, deeply entrenched worldviews. The models for resistance and the suggestions for overcoming that resistance in this book can be applied to any number of politicized scientific debates, from nuclear power to GMOs to COVID-19.

In a sense, these issues have become caught up in the “culture wars” and we need to develop a more scientifically literate public, a more socially engaged scientific community, and a more thoughtful mode of public discourse.

The books I picked & why

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The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be

By J.B. MacKinnon,

Book cover of The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be

Why this book?

This book is a joy to read. It tells the story of nature as it once was to help us understand what it will be. And in both cases, humans have been a central element. It changed my views about how we have been tampering with nature for a long time and how the challenges we face today have been centuries in the making. But MacKinnon left me with a message of hope, provoking me to better see our place in nature, how to work with it rather than against it, and in the process become better human beings on this wonderful planet.


The Overstory

By Richard Powers,

Book cover of The Overstory

Why this book?

I loved this book and many times I had to stop and reflect on the world Powers was showing me.  It begins with a series of seemingly separate stories and then weaves them together in fascinating and intriguing ways. Central to the story are trees, whether in the Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest or theories of a forest scientist. Based on the work of forest ecologists Suzanne Simard and Diana Beresford-Kroeger, I learned insights on the life of trees; that they react to their surroundings and communicate through those reactions. After having read this book, I don’t think about a forest or a walk in the woods in the same way again.


The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable

By Amitav Ghosh,

Book cover of The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable

Why this book?

In this beautifully written book, Ghosh tackles a central question that really motivates me. How do we describe the world we are changing? In answering this question, Ghosh ponders why climate change is so hard to explain; why it is so hard to write about in novels and fiction. For me, this book is a thought-provoking quest into both the need for evocative literature on this topic and the hazards of drifting into science fiction or being dismissed as alarmist non-fiction. But in his explanation of the challenges of communicating climate change, Ghosh gave me a stronger vocabulary for doing so.


The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

By David Wallace-Wells,

Book cover of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

Why this book?

This book is a challenging read. It started as an article in New York magazine in July 2017 that became the most read article in the magazine’s history. The book begins in a similar way to the article – “It is worse, much worse, than you think.” – and then proceeds to lay out the worst-case scenarios for climate change, literally scaring the reader to death. The article provoked an excellent letters-to-the-editor discussion on whether it is responsible to do this and Wallace-Wells stands his ground, arguing that we have to give people the full scope of what kind of world we can possibly see. But as we experience increasing numbers and intensity of natural disasters, his message seems less alarmist and more a credible glimpse into our future.


Edward Burtynsky with Jennifer Baichwal and Nick de Pencier: Anthropocene

By Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier

Book cover of Edward Burtynsky with Jennifer Baichwal and Nick de Pencier: Anthropocene

Why this book?

As a picture speaks a thousand words, this book packs a real punch. It is primarily a collection of exquisitely detailed photographs by Burtynsky that document human destruction of the earth on a geological scale, and essays by all three authors; and even a special contribution by Margaret Atwood. I pondered each image carefully, reflecting on what it means for our life on this planet. If you can, go see the traveling museum exhibit or the movie of the same name.


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