Earth Day 2024: A reading list from our environmental sciences editor Beth Clevenger

Beth Clevenger, senior acquisitions editor in environment and urbanism, shares her top reads for Earth Day 2024

For Earth Day 2024, we turned to our resident expert and senior acquisitions editor in environment and urbanism, Beth Clevenger, to share some of her favorite recent MIT Press books about the Earth, our environment, and climate change. Read on to explore Beth’s picks for Earth Day 2024—including Christopher Preston’s inspiring book on wildlife recovery, Neta Crawford’s careful exploration of U.S. military emissions, and Manisha Anantharaman’s study of the politics of environmental mobilizations in Bengaluru, India.

Gaia’s Web: How Digital Environmentalism Can Combat Climate Change, Restore Biodiversity, Cultivate Empathy, and Regenerate the Earth by Karen Bakker

At the uncanny edge of the scientific frontier, Gaia’s Web explores the promise and pitfalls the Digital Age holds for the future of our planet. Instead of the Internet of Things, environmental scientist and tech entrepreneur Karen Bakker asks, why not consider the Internet of Living Things? At the surprising and inspiring confluence of our digital and ecological futures, Bakker explores how the tools of the Digital Age could be mobilized to address our most pressing environmental challenges, from climate change to biodiversity loss. Interspersed with ten elegiac, enigmatic parables, each of which is based on an existing technology, Gaia’s Web evokes the conundrums we face as the World Wide Web intertwines with the Web of Life.

Tenacious Beasts: Wildlife Recoveries That Change How We Think about Animals by Christopher J. Preston

The news about wildlife is dire—more than 900 species have been wiped off the planet since industrialization. Against this bleak backdrop, however, there are also glimmers of hope and crucial lessons to be learned from animals that have defied global trends toward extinction: bears in Italy, bison in North America, whales in the Atlantic. These populations are back from the brink, some of them in numbers unimaginable in a century. How has this happened? What shifts in thinking did it demand? In crisp, transporting prose, Christopher Preston reveals the mysteries and challenges at the heart of these resurgences.

A Darwinian Survival Guide: Hope for the Twenty-First Century by Daniel R. Brooks and Salvatore J. Agosta

Despite efforts to sustain civilization, humanity faces existential threats from overpopulation, globalized trade and travel, urbanization, and global climate change. In A Darwinian Survival Guide, Daniel Brooks and Salvatore Agosta offer a novel—and hopeful—perspective on how to meet these tremendous challenges by changing the discourse from sustainability to survival. Darwinian evolution, the world’s only theory of survival, is the means by which the biosphere has persisted and renewed itself following past environmental perturbations, and it has never failed, they explain. Even in the aftermath of mass extinctions, enough survivors remain with the potential to produce a new diversified biosphere.

Democracy in a Hotter Time

Democracy in a Hotter Time: Climate Change and Democratic Transformation edited by David W. Orr

Democracy in a Hotter Time calls for reforming democratic institutions as a prerequisite for avoiding climate chaos and adapting governance to how Earth works as a physical system. To survive in the “long emergency” ahead, we must reform and strengthen democratic institutions, making them assets rather than liabilities. Edited by David W. Orr, this vital collection of essays proposes a new political order that will not only help humanity survive but also enable us to thrive in the transition to a post–fossil fuel world.

The Pentagon, Climate Change, and War: Charting the Rise and Fall of U.S. Military Emissions by Neta C. Crawford

The military has for years (unlike many politicians) acknowledged that climate change is real, creating conditions so extreme that some military officials fear future climate wars. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Defense—military forces and DOD agencies—is the largest single energy consumer in the United States and the world’s largest institutional greenhouse gas emitter. In this eye-opening book, Neta Crawford traces the U.S. military’s growing consumption of energy and calls for a reconceptualization of foreign policy and military doctrine. Only such a rethinking, she argues, will break the link between national security and fossil fuels.

They Knew: The US Federal Government’s Fifty-Year Role in Causing the Climate Crisis by James Gustave Speth

In 2015, a group of twenty-one young people sued the federal government in Juliana v. United States for violating their constitutional rights by promoting climate catastrophe and thereby depriving them of life, liberty, and property without due process and equal protection of law. They Knew offers evidence supporting the children’s claims, presenting a devastating and compelling account of the federal government’s role in bringing about today’s climate crisis. James Gustave Speth, tapped by the plaintiffs as one of twenty-one preeminent experts in their climate case, analyzes how administrations from Carter to Trump—despite having information about the impending climate crisis and the connection to fossil fuels—continued aggressive support of a fossil fuel based energy system.

Deep Time Reckoning: How Future Thinking Can Help Earth Now by Vincent Ialenti

We live on a planet careening toward environmental collapse that will be largely brought about by our own actions. And yet we struggle to grasp the scale of the crisis, barely able to imagine the effects of climate change just ten years from now, let alone the multi-millennial timescales of Earth’s past and future life span. In this book, Vincent Ialenti offers a guide for envisioning the planet’s far future—to become, as he terms it, more skilled deep time reckoners. The challenge, he says, is to learn to inhabit it longer now.

Being Ecological by Timothy Morton

Ecology books can be confusing information dumps that are out of date by the time they hit you. Slapping you upside the head to make you feel bad. Grabbing you by the lapels while yelling disturbing facts. Handwringing in agony about “What are we going to do?” This book has none of that. Being Ecological doesn’t preach to the eco-choir. It’s for you—even, Timothy Morton explains, if you’re not in the choir, even if you have no idea what choirs are. You might already be ecological.

A World in a Shell: Snail Stories for a Time of Extinctions by Thom van Dooren

In this time of extinctions, the humble snail rarely gets a mention. And yet snails are disappearing faster than any other species. In A World in a Shell, Thom van Dooren offers a collection of snail stories from Hawai’i—once home to more than 750 species of land snails, almost two-thirds of which are now gone. Following snail trails through forests, laboratories, museums, and even a military training facility, and meeting with scientists and Native Hawaiians, van Dooren explores ongoing processes of ecological and cultural loss as they are woven through with possibilities for hope, care, mourning, and resilience.

Natura Urbana: Ecological Constellations in Urban Space by Matthew Gandy

Postindustrial transitions and changing cultures of nature have produced an unprecedented degree of fascination with urban biodiversity. The “other nature” that flourishes in marginal urban spaces, at one remove from the controlled contours of metropolitan nature, is not the poor relation of rural flora and fauna. Indeed, these islands of biodiversity underline the porosity of the distinction between urban and rural. In Natura Urbana, Matthew Gandy explores urban nature as a multilayered material and symbolic entity, through the lens of urban ecology and the parallel study of diverse cultures of nature at a global scale.

Recycling Class: The Contradictions of Inclusion in Urban Sustainability by Manisha Anantharaman

In Recycling Class, Manisha Anantharaman examines the ideas, flows, and relationships around unmanaged discards in Bengaluru, India, itself a massive environmental problem of planetary proportions, to help us understand what types of coalitions deliver social justice within sustainability initiatives. Recycling Class links middle-class, sustainable consumption with the environmental labor of the working poor to offer a relational analysis of urban sustainability politics and practice. Through ethnographic, community-based research, Anantharaman shows how diverse social groups adopt, contest, and modify neoliberal sustainability’s emphasis on market-based solutions, behavior change, and the aesthetic conflation of “clean” with “green.”

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