Spread the Word

Reed grads have written an astonishing number of books about climate change and sustainability. Here’s a tiny sample.

April 12, 2021

Trees In Trouble: Wildfires, Infestations, and Climate Change.

Climate change manifests in many ways across North America, but few as dramatic as the attacks on our western pine forests. Daniel Mathews ’70 tells the urgent story of this loss, accompanying burn crews and ecologists as they study the myriad risk factors and refine techniques for saving the forests. He transports the reader from the aromatic haze of ponderosa and Jeffrey pine groves to the fantastic gnarls and whorls of five-thousand-year-old bristlecone pines, from genetic test nurseries where white pine seedlings are deliberately infected with their mortal enemy to the hottest megafire sites and neighborhoods leveled by fire tornadoes or ember blizzards. He explores the devastating ripple effects of climate change, introduces us to the people devoting their lives to saving our forests, and also offers hope: a new approach to managing western pine forests is underway. Daniel is the author of many books and lived for years in a forest cabin without electricity, heating with firewood and writing by kerosene lamp.

Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction.

In the late 19th century, as humans came to realize that our rapidly industrializing and globalizing societies were driving other animal species to extinction, a movement to protect and conserve them was born. Acclaimed science journalist Michelle Nijhuis ’96 traces the movement’s history: from early battles to save charismatic species such as the American bison and bald eagle to today’s global effort to defend life on a larger scale. She describes the vital role of scientists and activists such as Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson as well as lesser-known figures in conservation history; she reveals the origins of vital organizations like the Audubon Society and the World Wildlife Fund; she explores current efforts to protect species such as the whooping crane and the black rhinoceros; and she confronts the darker side of conservation, long shadowed by racism and colonialism.

As the destruction of other species continues and the effects of climate change escalate, Beloved Beasts charts the ways conservation is becoming a movement for the protection of all species—including our own.

The Truth about Denial: Bias and Self-Deception in Science, Politics, and Religion.

It is a striking—yet all too familiar—fact about human beings that our belief-forming processes can be so distorted by fears, desires, and prejudices that an otherwise sensible person may sincerely uphold false claims about the world in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Philosopher Adrian Bardon ’92 explains that when we describe someone as being “in denial,” we mean that they are personally threatened by some situation—and consequently have failed to assess the situation properly according to the evidence. People in denial engage in motivated reasoning about their situation: they argue and interpret evidence in light of a pre-established conclusion. When group interests, creeds, or dogmas are threatened by unwelcome factual information, biased thinking becomes ideological denialism, as seen in the denial of climate science. Adrian, a professor of philosophy at Wake Forest University, explores the phenomenon and examines ways to combat it.

Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore.

Rising seas are transforming the coastline of the United States. Elizabeth Rush ’06 guides readers through some of the places where this change has been most dramatic. For many of the plants, animals, and humans in these places, the options are stark: retreat or perish. We meet a Staten Islander who lost her father during Sandy; holdouts of a Native American community on a drowning Isle de Jean Charles; wildlife biologists, activists, and others both at risk and displaced.

Elizabeth is a writer who explores how humans adapt to changes enacted upon them by forces seemingly beyond their control. She teaches at Brown University.

The Five-Ton Life: Carbon, America, and the Culture That May Save Us.

At nearly 20 tons per person, American CO2 emissions are among the highest in the world. Not every American fits this statistic, however. Across the country, there are pockets of land that have drastically lower carbon footprints. These exceptional places, as it turns out, are neither “poor” nor technologically advanced. Their low emissions are due to culture. Susan Subak ’82 explores low-carbon locations in Washington DC, the suburbs of Chicago, Manhattan, and Amish settlements in Pennsylvania, to discern the characteristics that contribute to lower emissions. The most decisive factors are social cohesion and a commitment to small interiors, although each example exhibits its own dynamics and offers its own lessons for the rest of the country. The book won the Nautilus Book Award. Susan is an environmental scientist specializing in carbon footprints and climate change.

Bicycle/Race: Transportation, Culture, & Resistance

This memoir paints an unforgettable picture of Los Angeles from the perspective of two wheels. This is a book of borderlands and intersections, a cautionary tale about the dangers of putting infrastructure before culture, and a coming-of-age story about power and identity. Anthropologist Adonia Lugo ’05 weaves the colonial history of southern California into her own story of growing up Chicana in Orange County, becoming a bicycle anthropologist, and co-founding Los Angeles’s hallmark open streets cycling event, CicLAvia, along the way. After she takes on racism in the world of national bicycle advocacy, she finds her voice and heads back to LA to organize the movement for environmental justice in active transportation. Adonia is interim program chair of the urban sustainability program at Antioch University Los Angeles.

Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food

Tomorrow’s Table argues that a judicious blend of two important strands of agriculture—genetic engineering and organic farming—is key to helping feed the world’s growing population in an ecologically balanced manner. Geneticist Pamela Ronald ’82 and her husband, Raoul Adamchak, an organic farmer, take the reader inside their lives for roughly a year, allowing us to look over their shoulders so that we can see what geneticists and organic farmers actually do. Readers see the problems that farmers face, trying to provide larger yields without resorting to expensive or environmentally hazardous chemicals—a problem that will loom larger and larger as the century progresses—and they learn how organic farmers and geneticists address these problems. Pamela is a professor at the University of California, Davis.

A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal

The age of climate gradualism is over, as unprecedented disasters are exacerbated by inequalities of race and class. We need profound, radical change. Political scientist Thea Riofrancos ’06 and her coauthors argue that a Green New Deal can tackle the climate emergency and rampant inequality at the same time. Cutting carbon emissions while winning immediate gains for the many is the only way to build a movement strong enough to defeat big oil, big business, and the super-rich.

A Planet to Win explores the contours of a Green New Deal. It calls for dismantling the fossil fuel industry and building beautiful landscapes of renewable energy, guaranteeing climate-friendly work and no-carbon housing and free public transit. And it shows how a Green New Deal can strengthen climate justice movements worldwide. We don’t make politics under conditions of our own choosing, and no one would choose this crisis. But crises also present opportunities. We stand on the brink of disaster—but also at the cusp of wondrous, transformative change. Thea is an Andrew Carnegie Fellow and an assistant professor of political science at Providence College.

Sustainability: A Love Story

What does it mean to live sustainably while still being able to eat bacon? Nicole Walker ’93 wants to know how we can get it together to save the planet when we have a hard time getting it together to save ourselves. After all, who wants to listen to a short, blond woman who is mostly a hypocrite anyway—who eats cows, drives a gasoline-powered car, who owns no solar panels—tsk-tsking them? Armed with research and a playful irony, she delves deep into scarcity and abundance, reflecting on matters that range from her uneasy relationship with bats to the fragility of human life, to what recycling reveals about our drinking habits. With a stark humor, she appeals to our commitment to sustaining our world, our marriages, our families, and ourselves. Sustainability won a Nautilus Award for Lyric Prose. Nicole is professor of English and director of the MFA program at Northern Arizona University.

Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country

This disarming book delves into a fascinating notion: that some of the excess carbon wreaking havoc in our atmosphere can be absorbed and stored in soil. Courtney White ’82—a former archaeologist and the founder of the nonprofit Quivira Coalition—introduces the methods through which the essential road to land health can take place, from managing livestock to improve soil quality, to wetland and watershed restoration, to urban agriculture and more. He brings to life the people and projects that prove that we really can save the planet—if we have the resolve. This is a book of profound optimism, laced with a rare combination of science, philosophy, humor, and joy.

The book’s power derives from his grasp of the subject, his gift for lucid explanation, and his zest for ideas and people. He visits France to inspect solar panels installed above crops, New York to view green rooftops, and New Orleans for new ideas about reusing wastewater. Along the way, he also leads you into the formation of the universe and the journey of a carbon molecule into the soil—a great wild ride.

Tags: Alumni, Climate, Sustainability, Environmental