The best books for transforming climate grief into climate action

Who am I?

I’ve been panicking about environmental destruction ever since a fateful day in eighth grade, when I stayed home with the flu binge-watching Animal Planet, realizing that every ecosystem on earth was in decline. In college, unable to hack it as an environmental scientist, I switched majors to writing, and now I tell stories to try and help the planet. I’m an environmental journalist for One Breath Houston, covering the racist, illegal polluting of the petrochemical industry in Houston, Texas. I’m also a climate fiction author, and my debut novella, Depart, Depart! was an Otherwise Award Honor List book. The first installment in my YA cli-fi trilogy Seeds for the Swarm is forthcoming from Stelliform Press in Fall 2022.

I wrote...

Depart, Depart!

By Sim Kern,

Book cover of Depart, Depart!

What is my book about?

When an unprecedented hurricane devastates the city of Houston, Noah Mishner finds shelter in the Dallas Mavericks’ basketball arena. Though he finds community among other queer refugees, Noah fears his trans and Jewish identities put him at risk with certain “capital-T” Texans. His fears take form when he starts seeing visions of his great-grandfather Abe, who fled Nazi Germany as a boy. As the climate crisis intensifies and conditions in the shelter deteriorate, Abe’s ghost grows more powerful, and Noah must decide what he’s willing to sacrifice in order to survive.

“Kern shows the necessity of compassion, empathy, and community in the face of crisis.” — Publishers Weekly starred review

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The books I picked & why

The Overstory

By Richard Powers,

Book cover of The Overstory

Why did I love this book?

In order to transform grief into action, you first need to allow yourself to grieve. Richard Powers’s magnificent novel, The Overstory, was the book I needed to grieve for deforestation. I have always been a tree-hugger, but this book made me appreciate trees on an even deeper level, infused as it is with meticulously researched botany, forestry history, and dire climate warnings. Each of the novel’s eight protagonists have profound relationships with individual trees, and the struggle to save an old-growth forest is what ultimately brings their stories together. It’s a 500-page book about trees, a slow burn will make you sob for all that’s already been lost in the world’s forests and all we still stand to lose. Maybe that sounds like a bummer, but I found it an incredibly healing read. 

By Richard Powers,

Why should I read it?

24 authors picked The Overstory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Overstory, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of-and paean to-the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, Richard Powers's twelfth novel unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. There is a world alongside ours-vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see…

Book cover of Palestinian Walks: Forays Into a Vanishing Landscape

Why did I love this book?

Palestinian Walks is a hiking memoir by Raja Shehadeh, who invites you to wander with him and mourn for the loss of an irreplaceable wilderness and the rights of the people who’ve lived there for millennia. Over six hikes, spanning a quarter-century, Shehadeh chronicles how his beloved hills outside Ramallah have been violently transformed by Israeli colonization. Fortress-like settlements have replaced rolling hilltops; highways have fractured ecosystems and human communities alike; streams have filled with garbage as development outpaces infrastructure; and the simple act of walking has been transformed, as it becomes both illegal and life-threatening for the author to explore the hills of his ancestors.

Shehadeh’s prose is searingly beautiful and inspired in me a profound love for this biome, which I have never visited. The climate movement must center indigenous voices, and Palestinian Walks is particularly deft at shedding light on the connections between indigenous land rights, colonization, and climate change.

By Raja Shehadeh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Palestinian Walks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Raja Shehadeh is a passionate hill walker. He enjoys nothing more than heading out into the countryside that surrounds his home. But in recent years, his hikes have become less than bucolic and sometimes downright dangerous. That is because his home is Ramallah, on the Palestinian West Bank, and the landscape he traverses is now the site of a tense standoff between his fellow Palestinians and settlers newly arrived from Israel.

In this original and evocative book, we accompany Raja on six walks taken between 1978 and 2006. The earlier forays are peaceful affairs, allowing our guide to meditate at…

Book cover of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

Why did I love this book?

I placed this book at the center of this list as a powerful fulcrum that will lift you from the depths of climate despair to a place of soaring hope for the future. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, a botanist, a professor, and a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation, and she brings the full wisdom of all these identities into Braiding Sweetgrass. In this collection of essays, she asks profound questions like, "Why do purple and yellow flowers look especially beautiful together? And why does rain sound different when it lands on moss?" She answers such questions with a wealth of botanical, historical, spiritual, and personal insights. She’ll make you feel unprecedented awe and reverence for the natural world—and also horror at what’s been done to it, in sacred places like Lake Onondaga, where decades of industrial sludge are only beginning to be mitigated.

Kimmerer also shares story after story of people living in a positive relationship with the natural world. She shares an inspiring vision for how we can live in reciprocity with our environment, as indigenous people have for tens of thousands of years. She invites settlers to Turtle Island to become “naturalized” to this place, rather than invasive—contributing to our local biomes rather than devouring them. In short, immediately after reading this book, I started digging up my front lawn and planting a native prairie.

By Robin Wall Kimmerer,

Why should I read it?

39 authors picked Braiding Sweetgrass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Called the work of "a mesmerizing storyteller with deep compassion and memorable prose" (Publishers Weekly) and the book that, "anyone interested in natural history, botany, protecting nature, or Native American culture will love," by Library Journal, Braiding Sweetgrass is poised to be a classic of nature writing. As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer asks questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces indigenous teachings that consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take "us on a journey that is…

A Spy in the Struggle

By Aya de Leon,

Book cover of A Spy in the Struggle

Why did I love this book?

At this point in the reading list, hopefully, you’re feeling more grounded in your climate grief and energized to fight for what’s left of the natural world. A Spy in the Struggle is a fast-paced novel about activism at the intersection of racial and environmental justice. Yolanda Vance is a ruthless, capitalist FBI agent who infiltrates a Black activist group organizing against a biotech corporation that’s poisoning their neighborhood. 

By making the protagonist start off as an enemy of the climate movement, De León demonstrates the kinds of experiences and messaging that can win over new allies. This book also centers the Black communities that are doing some of the most critical organizing against environmental racism in the U.S. and reveals the interconnectedness between police brutality, racial capitalism, and the climate crisis. In most cities in the U.S., you’ll find communities of color organizing against environmental racism, and I hope this book will inspire you to join their movements! 

By Aya de Leon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Spy in the Struggle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Washington Post Featured Thriller That Will Have You On The Edge Of Your Seat
Bustle's Most Anticipated Reads for December
An Amazon Best of the Month Selection
Book Riot Featured Hispanic Heritage Month Book
CrimeReads Most Anticipated Crime Books of Fall 2020
Novel Suspects Featured December New Release

"A passionately felt stand-alone with an affecting personal story at its center." - The Washington Post

Winner of the International Latino Book Award, Aya de Leon, returns with a thrilling and timely story of feminism, climate, and corporate justice--as one successful lawyer must decide whether to put everything on the line…

Book cover of The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth

Why did I love this book?

Now that you’ve committed yourself to doing something for the climate movement, it can be overwhelming figuring out where to start. There are countless organizations and initiatives to join, all fighting for your limited dollars and volunteer hours, and it’s hard to know where your efforts will be most helpful. 

The Red Deal goes far beyond “The Green New Deal” in calling for a comprehensive reordering of society and full decolonization. The Red Deal argues that environmental devastation is inevitable under capitalism, and only by decolonizing and discarding the profit motive can we live in positive relation with the rest of the natural world. The Red Deal also contains a list of five key areas of struggle for activists to move us towards a better world, alongside recommendations for specific policies and actions to support in each area. Reading this book helped me hone my vision for the future and figure out which causes and organizations were most aligned with that vision.

By The Red Nation,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Red Deal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When the Red Nation released their call for a Red Deal, it generated coverage in places from Teen Vogue to Jacobin to the New Republic, was endorsed by the DSA, and has galvanized organizing and action.

Now, in response to popular demand, the Red Nation expands their original statement filling in the histories and ideas that formed it and forwarding an even more powerful case for the actions it demands.

One-part visionary platform, one-part practical toolkit, the Red Deal is a platform that encompasses everyone, including non-Indigenous comrades and relatives who live on Indigenous land. We-Indigenous, Black and people of…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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