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8 non-depressing climate books that won’t ruin your beach vibes

Photography By Toa Heftiba, Daniel Faro
Published 15.12.21

We sincerely hope you’re taking some time out for yourself this holiday season. Spending long days at the beach, going out for a boozy brunch or taking a guilt-free daily nap.

While we’re planning to do all of the above, there’s something specific we’ve also pencilled in for this work-free period: catching up on reading. Across the year our “want to read” list has gotten a little out of control, and the break is our chance to finally make a dent in it. 

If you’re thinking about doing the same, but could use some literary guidance, might the editorial team humbly offer our services? Not shockingly, as the editor-in-chief (Wendy) and the features writer (Courtney), we have become the unofficial RIISE book club captains. The following recommendations are from our favourite area (climate change and the environment) but we promise they’re uplifting reads that won’t leave you feeling depressed about the state of the world. We’ve all had enough of that this year.

 

All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Keeble Wilkinson

All We Can Save has been a popular read around the RIISE office this year. The book is a provocative collection of essays, poetry and art from women at the forefront of the climate movement in the United States: scientists, journalists, farmers, lawyers, teachers, activists, innovators, wonks and designers. It delves into their ideas and insights, while also exploring the ways in which feminine thinking and leadership can provide solutions to climate change and further the impact of the climate movement. 

“This book has become something of a personal touchstone this year. I keep it by my bed and dip in and out when I’m feeling especially dejected over the news,” admits editor-in-chief Wendy Syfret. “The whole project is a real reminder that nothing compares to the intelligence, creativity and kindness of people. A thought that otherwise can be hard to keep in mind sometimes.”

Read if: you need to be reminded why now is not the time to give up and you want to feel inspired about the possibilities that come with solving climate change.

How to Talk About Climate Change in a Way That Makes a Difference by Rebecca Huntley

We all know how hard it can be to talk about climate change. Whether that’s because of the person you’re trying to talk to (like that uncle who still watches Sky News) or because of the complicated language surrounding this topic in general. Rebecca Huntley wrote this book to combat those challenges and teach people how to talk to others about climate change effectively. 

“I read this book when it came out, and it was honestly transformative to my own activism,” Wendy says. “Not only was it deeply practical, with lots of context and tips for having conversations in your own life, it also reframes the issues, to look at the whole climate movement from a more personal perspective. I feel like I could go on about it all day, but in general it helped make a huge topic feel manageable. And combatted that familiar sense of smallness with a reminder that we all hold a lot more power in our private spaces than we realise.”

Read if: you feel ready to have more conversations about the climate, but need a little help articulating.  

 

Who Cares Wins: Reasons for Optimism in Our Changing World by Lily Cole

Lily Cole is a British model, filmmaker, actress and entrepreneur. She’s also a passionate environmental activist. Her work in this space became the impetus for Who Cares Wins, a book exploring solutions to climate change. Over four years, she researched and interviewed hundreds of people around the globe, some of whom have competing views, to compile this “radical guide to thinking differently about the world and initiating change”. The broad perspectives are interesting and informative, as are the solutions (past, present and future) that she discusses. 

“This was one of the first books specifically on climate change that I read,” Courtney says. “It was a really accessible read and an easy way to learn more about a subject that is often very dense. I appreciated the broad spectrum of ideas, voices and solutions presented throughout, and that Cole often went out of her way to share both sides of a viewpoint. It challenged some preconceptions I had and gave me new ideas about the world and climate change to explore.” 

Read if: you want an optimistic overview of the best solutions to climate change underway.

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan

Food: it’s never far from our minds. Honestly, it’s the highlight of most days, but deciding what to eat next can be a fairly complicated decision that cuts across health, diets and the complex food production industry. While there’s a lot of information out there, it often comes with little definitiveness or clarity. Food Rules was written to bring simplicity to our daily decisions about food. It sets out straightforward rules for eating wisely, with information drawn from various traditions and cultures. It’s short, informative and witty – which is exactly what you want from a book dishing out food advice. 

“My whole climate journey started with food. I read Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals and immediately became an environmental vegetarian,” Wendy says. “Both those books are great, but during any major values shift it can be hard to hold all that info in your head. That’s where Food Rules came in. It’s such a simple, practical guide for how to eat. It doesn’t come to you with pages of essays, just easy bites (sorry) that you will actually remember when standing in a frantic supermarket.”

Read if: you constantly find yourself in a dilemma over what to eat. 

 

Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald

“Animals don’t exist to teach us things, but that is what they have always done, and most of what they teach us is what we think we know about ourselves.” Following the success of her first book, H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald returned in 2020 with Vesper Flights, a transcendent collection of 41 essays about the human relationship to the natural world. The essays cover a range of subjects: headaches, catching swans, hunting mushrooms, birds’ nests, wild pigs and farming ostriches. Macdonald’s meditations on the natural world and wildlife have not only won her critical acclaim, but they’ve also seen her recognised as one of this century’s most important and insightful nature writers.

Read if: you appreciate the small, intricate things that make the natural world lovely. 

Windfall: Unlocking a Fossil-Free Future by Ketan Joshi

Ketan Joshi is a highly regarded science communicator and clean tech analyst. He also happens to be very good at taking technical scientific information and turning it into stuff you can actually comprehend (and sometimes laugh about). Windfall looks back on the decade of distraction and inaction on climate change in Australia, discussing what went wrong and what we can learn from past mistakes and missed opportunities. The second half of the book plots a way forward, one fuelled by clean tech projects and an end to Australia’s reliance on fossil fuels. This won’t be everyone’s dream summer read, but, for those who want to contextualise Australia’s historical climate inaction and learn more about the solutions that are often dismissed by politicians, this is a great starting point. 

“I already loved Ketan Joshi’s commentary on climate change and environmental issues, so I was very excited to read his first book, Windfall,” Courtney says. “It’s an excellent analysis and insight into a decade of climate inaction in Australia, shining a particularly frustrating light on the political leaders and media conglomerates who have thwarted progress. Joshi’s is a refreshingly rational perspective and it gave me hope that Australia can beat its historical failings.”  

Read if: you’re tired of hearing Australia’s political cop-outs when it comes to acting on climate change. 

 

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben

Few people ascribe sentience to trees…but should we? In this international bestseller, forester and author Peter Wohlleben puts forward a case for trees as social beings with communication abilities. He explains the amazing processes of life, death and regeneration he has observed in the woodland and while working for the forestry commission. One of the most compelling explorations of the book is Wohlleben’s argument that trees are like human families: parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow and share nutrients with those that are sick and struggling. 

Read if: spending a day in nature is your idea of a very good time. 

Go Lightly: How to Travel Without Hurting the Planet by Nina Karnikowski

We’re basically entering 2022 with our suitcases packed: that’s how ready we are to travel again. But in the future, we’ll be approaching it differently. If the last two years have shown us anything, it’s that we need to travel in a way that is better for the planet and the people who live in the places we visit. One of the things that helped us see that is Go Lightly, written by travel writer and sustainability advocate Nina Karnikowski. The book is filled with ideas and practical advice to travel in a way that conserves, educates and inspires more than it destroys. 

“I really do love to leave the country but the last two years have forced a lot of introspection about the impact of my travelling habits,” Courtney says. “And yet it’s not something I see myself ever giving up. This book helped ease that internal moral quandary. I loved the short Q&As and the plethora of alternative green-travel tips. It didn’t make me feel guilty or dejected about the future of travel; rather, I’m excited to do it differently. I saw a better version of myself on holidays after reading this.” 

Read if: you’re a would-be eco-adventurer who wants to see the travel industry have less of an impact on the environment. 

 

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