9 Nonfiction Books About Nature and Climate Change

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Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

When I was a kid (middle school age), I was a big environmentalist. I read all about CFCs and aerosol, and my best friend and I even constructed a program where we taught younger kids in our school about recycling, the environment, endangered animals, and other ecological issues. As time went on, my fervor for the topics waned and I stopped reading about the environment and focused on other things.

Clearly, that luxury doesn’t exist anymore, and environmental savviness is part of most of our everyday lives, I’d like to think: reducing use of single-use plastics, recycling, making more earth-friendly choices, reducing our carbon footprint, etc. We are seeing public lands and sacred land being destroyed for profit and national monuments being altered in devastating ways.

This Earth Day (which happens to be its 50th anniversary!), here are some nonfiction books to add to your TBR pile that examine climate change, nature, public lands, and more. If you need even more suggestions, check out this post for nature books for children, and this post for great books on backpacking for beginners.

The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go From Here by Hope Jahren

If you liked Jahren’s book Lab Girl, you’ll like this one, too. Written in the same wry, forthright voice, this is an accessible book that looks at human habits and behaviors and how they affect the environment. She examines how technological developments that make our lives easier also negatively affect the planet, what the future may hold for the earth, and what we can do to help stop this.

The Future Earth: A Radical Vision for What’s Possible in the Age of Warming by Eric Holthaus (June 30)

If the climate crisis is caused by humans, then humans can help solve it, right? That’s the basic premise of this book. A mix of reportage and narrative nonfiction, Holthaus has put together a book about how to reverse climate change—in the short and long-term. It is a positive, hopeful book that is accessible for readers to start taking action.

The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Fight to Protect the Arctic and Save the Planet from Climate Change by Sheila Watt-Cloutier

Watt-Cloutier has written a memoir about growing up in Nunavik, in the Arctic regions of Quebec. This area is part of the homeland of the Canadian Inuits. She not only writes about growing up there and how the weather and the land itself is changing because of the climate crisis, but also how human rights, Indigenous life, and the climate crisis are all intertwined.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

If you’re looking for something that mixes personal essay with science and nature writing, look no further. This essay collection is based on Kimmerer’s experiences as an Indigenous woman and a scientist, and she explores the human relationship with plants and animals (particularly plants). The lyrical prose adds an extra layer of beauty to this book.

Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time by Ben Ehrenreich (July 7)

This one comes out in July, but add it to your TBR list now. Ehrenreich combines climate science, nature writing, personal essay, and storytelling to create a book that examines the current geopolitical landscape, and the potential for disaster. That being said, this is not a depressing or book that promotes catastrophizing—just the opposite. He looks at history, at the land, at science, to guide us to help fight the climate crisis. While it doesn’t shy away from the dire situation we are in, above all, this is a hopeful book. It is how we go forward.

Spirit Run: A 6000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land by Noé Álvarez

Okay, so this isn’t exactly “environmental.” But I included it here because not only is it a striking story about coming of age and reconciling identity and history, but also about immigration and capitalism and how these are tied to labor and the land in inextricable ways. Is it also a story about long-distance running in a variety of landscapes? Sure. But it’s also about a hell of a lot more, too.

The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky by Ellen Meloy

While this essay collection can be hit-or-miss for some people, I’d recommend it because of the artist’s eye that Meloy has that she manages to convey on the page. In this book, she focuses on turquoise—the color and the stone—as the lens through which she examines nature and the land (the Southwest in particular).

Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park by Conor Knighton

In the past year or so, I’ve become fascinated by the National Parks. When I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. After his fiancée breaks up with him, Knighton decides to visit every National Park in the contiguous United States. It sounds like an adventure of a lifetime, and although I just started reading it, it hasn’t disappointed me.

Miracle Country: A Memoir by Kendra Atleework (June 16)

With comparisons to Annie Dillard and Terry Tempest Williams, I knew I had to read this. Growing up in the Owens Valley of the Eastern Sierra Nevada, Atleework was always conscious of the potential for drought and wildfires. After her mother died, the family fell apart and Atleework left her hometown—only to return years later. This is a story about rebuilding family, climate change and its effects on the land and people’s livelihoods, and what home really is.

There are lots of other great books about nature, so hopefully this list will pique your interest to read more!