With the effects of climate change already apparent—fires in California and Australia, floods in the Midwest and Southeast, and a numbing series of glacier funerals—forthcoming books describe changes the environment has undergone, identify how we arrived here, and offer sometimes harrowing, sometimes hopeful glimpses of the future. One thing that’s certain, publishers say, is that there’s an increasing interest in books with an environmental focus.
“Books on the environment used to be a hard sell,” says Norton v-p Matt Weiland. “They used to all have the same green cover.” He notes that Four Lost Cities by Annalee Newitz (Norton, July), whose cover images are tinted blue, orange, and rose in addition to green, offers a fresh take on climate change with stories of the past that weigh uneasily on the present. Weiland hopes that Newitz’s history of long-disappeared metropolises, including the indigenous Cahokia near present-day St. Louis, will encourage readers to reflect on the impermanence of contemporary cities.
Miami, meanwhile, is already under siege from surging tides. Local journalist Mario Alejandro Ariza’s Disposable City (Bold Type, June) identifies the environmental challenges that residents, particularly those in struggling communities, increasingly face from power outages, higher temperatures, and flooding.
“There are a lot of books focused on the science and the statistics,” says Bold Type associate editor Remy Cawley, “but it can be hard to grasp on a literal or emotional level. Mario brings it down to a more human scale and shows us how climate change is affecting his community. We need to think about how the most vulnerable people are suffering and bearing way more of the risks.”
Ariza, Cawley says, addresses climate gentrification through Miami’s zoning history. He also includes a chapter on climate migration, looking at migrant detention centers in Florida in order to imagine what migration will look like as climate change continues—a subject also of interest to science journalist Sonia Shah. In The Next Great Migration (Bloomsbury, June), Shah describes the obstacles faced by migrants throughout the world—Africans fleeing famine and crossing the Mediterranean into Europe; Tibetans navigating the Himalayas to escape Chinese persecution—and imagines how continued migration will shape the future.
“As I write this, my phone buzzes beside me with breaking news: the governor of Florida has ordered the evacuation of more than a million Floridians, as a category four hurricane approaches, threatening disaster,” Shah writes about the approach of Irma in 2017. “The roads on the peninsula will soon be swarming with families seeking higher ground.”
Dislocation also figures into Fire in Paradise (Norton, May), an account of the 2018 Camp Fire by California journalists Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano. Thousands of people were forced to leave the state in search of new homes due to a shortage of affordable housing during the ongoing cleanup effort. Four Lost Cities editor Weiland approached Gee and Anguiano to do the book after reading their stories in the Guardian, which reported on the fire’s causes and described the town of Paradise’s history dating back to the gold rush.
In Miracle Country (Algonquin, June), another California story, Kendra Atleework chronicles her return to the small desert town where she grew up, coming to terms with a sense of home, and reckoning with the destruction already brought by climate change. “Fire, drought, flood, and blizzard visit the Eastern Sierra often,” she writes. “Perhaps this is why the nearest place with a population over thirty thousand is two hundred miles away.”
The best-laid plans
“Important men have been arguing about global change since before I was born,” writes geobiologist Hope Jahren in her introduction to The Story of More (Vintage, Mar.), citing Thomas Edison’s musing on renewable energy to Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone in 1931. She then presents an approachable breakdown of the climate crisis.
“This book is for those who are wondering who they should believe, and should they be afraid,” says Jahren’s editor LuAnn Walther, senior v-p and editorial director at Vintage.“Hope wanted to do this in original trade paper, to give the book an accessible price point for students and young people.”
Walther compares the book to Jahren’s Lab Girl, which immersed readers in the lives of plants through a blend of science and personal narrative. “She is a storyteller; she describes climate change through her life experience.”
Other books find hope via possible solutions and the enthusiasm of young protestors. In The Future Earth (HarperOne, June), journalist and meterologist Eric Holthaus describes how humans can continue to thrive and what the planet’s cities might look like following a 50% reduction in carbon emissions in the next decade. The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac (Knopf, Feb.) argues that “denying climate change is tantamount to saying you don’t believe in gravity” and notes that the millions of young protestors inspired by Greta Thunberg bring an “energy that we desperately need”—one that “can propel a wave of defiance against the status quo and catalyze the ingenuity needed to realize new possibilities.”