This month, HNY’s Online Community Conversations will focus on “Community and Climate Change,” with a series of questions that focus on the collision of culture, science, and global warming. We will be hosting this conversation on April 21st at 8:00 p.m. HNY’s Zoom-based Community Conversations are free with registration. Register here.
To complement this conversation, we have curated a selection of articles and books that explore the cultural and community impacts of the climate crisis. Like all of HNY’s Community Conversations, this one will use a single brief text to get things going. This text will be provided after registration. You are not required to read any of the selections on this list in order to participate in the conversation!
“I’ve Said Goodbye to ‘Normal.’ You Should, Too,” Roy Scranton
Scranton reflects on the desire to “return to normal” after the pandemic, arguing that, instead of going back to yesterday’s fossil-fueled lifestyle, we should use the pandemic’s emergency mindset, its defining sense of rupture, to forge ahead with “a new ethos adapted to the chaotic world we’ve created,” leaving our complacency and denialism behind in order to finally confront the climate crisis.
“What the Coronavirus Means for Climate Change,” Meehan Crist
In one of the earliest pieces on the relationship between coronavirus and the climate crisis, Crist argues that, for all its horrors, the pandemic presents an opportunity to reflect on long-term social and institutional patterns in the United States, asking what has worked and what hasn’t and what it would take to build a better society.
“The Coronavirus Is a Preview of Our Climate-Change Future,” David Wallace-Wells
Building on insights from his 2018 book, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (see below), Wallace-Wells discusses the links between coronavirus and the climate emergency and notes that we can expect more frequent and terrifying pandemics in a future of cascading crises.
“Gaia Versus the Anthropocene: A Conversation with Dorion Sagan,” Greg Ruggerio
This fascinating conversation explores scientist James Lovelock’s “Gaia theory” — the idea that the Earth is a sentient and self-regulating organism — and how it challenges Enlightenment-based anthropocentrism, including the theory of evolution and the idea of “the Anthropocene.” Proponents of Gaia theory urge humans to try to live more cooperatively with each other and with the planet’s biodiversity.
“We Are Nature,” Beth Lord
Drawing on the holistic philosophy of Baruch Spinoza, Lord argues that once people see humanity — and its contribution to global heating — as an extension of nature rather than of its destruction, they will better understand climate change and the need to rethink humanity’s relationship to Earth and its biodiversity.
“Climate Signs,” Emily Raboteau
Prompted by a public-art exhibit featuring cryptic messages about climate change, Raboteau travels across New York City’s five boroughs with a new friend, reflecting on family bonds, environmental racism, public policy, and community development in the context of rising sea levels.
“The Concession to Climate Change I Will Not Make,” Jedidiah Britton-Purdy
In this meditation on what it means to raise a child amid climate breakdown, Purdy pushes back against the nihilistic strain in climate doomism, arguing that children must inherit a sense of wonder about the natural world, the belief that the Earth is indeed worth preserving.
“Is It OK To Have a Child?” Meehan Crist
Crist offers a radical-humanist rebuke to environmentalists who see population control as the key to limiting humanity’s carbon footprint, writing that the problem is not humanity itself but the fossil-fuel economy, which is far and away the leading source of carbon emissions.
“Optimism has Never Been Cool but Even Covid and Climate Change Give Us Reasons to Be Cheerful,” Ian Leslie
This brief against climate doomism calls for sober-minded optimism in the face of compounding crises, suggesting that optimism is morally necessary if we are to escape the evasion and inertia bred by constant doom-mongering in the media.
“Dudes Who Won’t Wear Masks,” Julia Marcus
In this early analysis of our ongoing mask-wearing controversy, epidemiologist Julia Marcus zooms in on matters of trust and responsibility, arguing that public-health measures work best when they recognize and support people’s needs and desires without judgment.
“How to Actually Talk to Anti-Maskers,” Charlie Warzel
Writing on how difficult it is to get some people to wear masks, Warzel suggests that our mask controversy is a proxy for deeper crises of trust and legitimacy in America and that calls to “mask up” will need to rely less on scientific evidence than on renewed trust and solidarity.
The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, David Wallace-Wells (2019)
A terrifying glimpse into a torrid, inhospitable future, Wallace-Wells’s book could be seen as a touchstone of contemporary doomism, but its careful analysis of warming’s social and cultural implications is nothing if not humanistic, focusing on humanity’s intransigence and adaptability in the face of ecological breakdown.
The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, by Amitav Ghosh (2016)
Reflecting on the depth and persistence of climate denialism in all its guises, author Amitav Ghosh writes that the sheer scale of the climate crisis is beyond our imaginations, that the cultural tools we’ve used in the past to explain natural phenomena — myth, history, politics, literature — fail to capture the magnitude of our present emergency. A stellar introduction to the fraught question of how culture relates to nature and the climate crisis.
Notes from an Apocalypse: A Personal Journey to the End of the World and Back (2020)
In this dystopian travelogue, Dublin-based writer Mark O’Connell explores the dark heart of contemporary catastrophism — “prepper culture,” Mars colonization, Chernobyl tourism, disaster real estate — surveying it all with skepticism, a biting sense of humor, and a practical humanism grounded in fatherhood.
Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver (2012)
When an unlikely group of climate refugees — a swarm of delicate Mexican butterflies — suddenly descends on a small Appalachian town, the arrival prompts wonder and suspicion from the local population, who use science, religion, and conspiracy to make sense of the spectacle. An early and first-rate contribution to “climate fiction,” Kingsolver’s book shows how ordinary people interpret climate change through the prisms of place, class, and culture.
The Yellow House, Sara M. Broome (2019)
In this epic memoir about the meaning of “home,” ownership and loss, Broome uses the destruction of her childhood home during Hurricane Katrina to explore her family history and the abiding patterns of dispossession in New Orleans East and the United States more generally.
The Wall, John Lanchester (2018)
An accessible work of dystopian fiction that explores the human-scale experience of climate disruption, reflecting on the altered meanings of trust, responsibility, and friendship in an age of environmental catastrophe, in particular the generational tensions that emerge between the old and the young — between those who bequeath, and those who inherit, a broken world.
Ethics of Climate Change: Right and Wrong in a Warming World, James Garvey (2008)
Philosopher James Garvey shifts the focus from climate science, which he accepts as indisputable, to the moral dimensions of the climate emergency, casting new and urgent light on familiar values of respect, compromise, responsibility and justice.
A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind, Harriet A. Washington (2019)
In this data-driven story about the deleterious effects of toxic exposure (e.g., heavy metals, neurotoxins, bad nutrition) on cognitive development and intelligence in contemporary African-American communities, medical ethicist Harriet A. Washington argues that ostensibly “lower” IQ levels in such communities — itself a problematic claim — have less to do with “race” than with racism and class in America today.
As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock, by Dina Gilio-Whitaker (2019)
Indigenous researcher and activist Gilio-Whitaker provides a history of Native American resistance to land incursion and environmental injustice, and calls upon the environmental justice movement to accommodate indigenous cultural practices and learn from these traditions’ history of activism.
The Great Conversation: Nature and the Care of the Soul, Belden C. Lane (2019)
Drawing on spiritual masters from a wide range of global religious traditions, theology professor Belden Lane offers a spiritually-centered environmentalism for our moment of ecological breakdown, showing that doomism is best countered with humility and solutions grounded in past cultural practice.
How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate, Andrew Hoffman (2015)
Environmental scholar Andrew Hoffman argues that, in our polarized age, it’s not scientific data but opposing worldviews that set the terms of contemporary climate “debate,” with people interpreting the science through multiple cultural lenses — and only a significant culture shift will end the impasse and bring about decisive action.
This Land is Our Land: The Struggle for a New Commonwealth, Jedidiah Purdy (2019)
Legal scholar Jedidiah Purdy offers a vision of civic engagement for the “Age of the Anthropocene,” one that appreciates the interdependence of democracy and environmental stewardship and builds on America’s “long environmental justice movement” while acknowledging and transcending its flaws.
The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation, Adam Rome (2014)
A comprehensive, highly readable history of the inaugural Earth Day in 1970 that focuses on the intellectual milieu and generational politics that gave rise to the environmental movement and a legacy of green consciousness and sophisticated eco-infrastructure in the United States.