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12 books and a report show that empowering women is climate action » Yale Climate Connections

With Women’s History Month in mind, this bookshelf offers 13 titles by or about women and climate action.

The fifth goal of the United Nations’ effort to promote sustainable development focuses on gender equality. More specifically, it calls on all nations to recognize women’s rights — to education, to equal treatment under the law, and to control over their bodies — and to include women at all levels of decision-making. The research behind the Sustainable Development Goals also recognizes that progress on gender is critical to progress on every sustainable development goal, including climate action.

This month’s list starts with “The Climate Book,” edited by climate activist Greta Thunberg. (See our full review here.) The next five titles are new or recent works by women who contributed to that collection.

  • Energy expert Jennie C. Stephens explicitly employs feminist thinking in crafting equitable solutions to energy problems.
  • Climate scientist Joelle Gergis finds hope in honestly facing our “climate emergency.”
  • With co-author Erik Conway, historian Naomi Oreskes builds on their work in “Merchants of Doubt” to show how big business as a whole, not just fossil fuel companies, have consistently sown doubt about collective action.
  • Sociologist Erica Chenoweth shows how one form of collective action, civil resistance, works.
  • And in her anthology of recent science and nature writing, marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson highlights the work of several women who cover the climate beat for American magazines and newspapers.

The next three titles focus on climate justice.

  • Environmental educator Mallory McDuff introduces readers to women climate leaders working in each of our too-often divided states.
  • Sociologist Nadia Y. Kim recounts how immigrant women fight for environmental justice in Los Angeles.
  • And anthropologist Hilda Lorens describes how Afro-Puerto Rican women rebuilt their communities, equitably, after Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated them.

Two novels and one anthology take the stories from there. The novelists, Annalee Newitz and Eleanor Catton, find hope in grim settings and circumstances. By contrast, the writers anthologized in “Afterglow,” most of whom are women, start with hope; they meet the challenge set by “Grist,” the environmental webzine, and imagine better climate futures.*

The list ends with a report issued while this bookshelf was being assembled. The report warns that women who dare to lead are increasingly met with “gendered disinformation,” with the aim of undermining women’s rights and democracy itself. Thus, women leaders face an additional challenge: finding ways to challenge the misogyny social media aims at them.

As always, the descriptions of the titles are adapted from copy provided by the publishers or organizations that released them.

* Submissions are open for Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors, Grist’s writing contest. The contest seeks stories of 3,000 to 5,000 words envisioning the next 180 years of equitable climate progress. $8700 in cash prizes will be awarded among 12 winners and finalists.

The Climate Book: Facts and Solutions by Greta Thunberg (Penguin Random House 2023, $30.00)

In The Climate Book, Greta Thunberg has gathered the wisdom of over one hundred experts – geophysicists, oceanographers, and meteorologists; engineers, economists, and mathematicians; historians, philosophers, and Indigenous leaders – to equip us all with the knowledge we need to combat climate disaster. Throughout, illuminating and often shocking grayscale charts, graphs, diagrams, photographs, and illustrations underscore their research and their arguments. Alongside them, Greta Thunberg shares her own stories of demonstrating and uncovering greenwashing around the world, revealing how much we have been kept in the dark. Once we are given the full picture, how can we not act? And what could we do collectively if we tried?

Diversifying Power: Why We Need Antiracist, Feminist Leadership on Climate and Energy by Jennie C. Stephens (Island Press 2023, 200 pages, $39.00 paperback

In Diversifying Power, energy expert Jennie Stephens argues that the key to effectively addressing the climate crisis is diversifying leadership so that anti-racist, feminist priorities are central. We need to reclaim and restructure climate and energy systems so policies are explicitly linked to social, economic, and racial justice. But inspirational stories of diverse leaders who integrate anti-racist, feminist values to build momentum for structural transformative change show that the shift from a divided, unequal, extractive, and oppressive society to a just, sustainable, regenerative, and healthy future has already begun. By highlighting the creative individuals and organizations making change happen, Diversifying Power provides inspiration and encourages transformative action on climate and energy justice.

Humanity’s Moment: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope by Joelle Gergis (Island Press 2023, 336 pages, $30.00)

When climate scientist Joëlle Gergis set to work on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report, the research she encountered kept her up at night. In Humanity’s Moment, Joëlle takes us through the science in the IPCC report with unflinching honesty, explaining what it means for our future while sharing her personal reflections on bearing witness to the heartbreak of the climate emergency unfolding in real time. But this is not a lament for a lost world. Joëlle shows us that the solutions we need to live sustainably already exist. Humanity’s Moment is a climate scientist’s guide to rekindling hope, and a call to action to restore our relationship with ourselves, each other, and our planet.

The Big Myth: How American Business Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway (Bloomsbury Publishing 2023, 576 pages, $35.00)

In their bestselling book Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway revealed the origins of climate change denial. Now, they unfold the truth about another disastrous dogma: the “magic of the marketplace.” In the early 20th century, business elites, trade associations, wealthy power brokers, and media allies set out to build a new American orthodoxy: down with “big government” and up with unfettered markets. By the 1970s, this propaganda was succeeding. Free market ideology would define the next half-century, giving us a housing crisis, the opioid scourge, climate destruction, and a baleful response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Only by understanding this history can we imagine a future where markets will serve, not stifle, democracy.

Civil Resistance: What Everyone Needs to Know by Erica Chenoweth (Oxford University Press 2021, 368 pages, $18.95 paperback)

Sometimes called nonviolent action or unarmed struggle, civil resistance is now a mainstay across the globe. It was central to the 1989 revolutions and the Arab Spring, and it was widely practiced in Trump’s America. In Civil Resistance: What Everyone Needs to Know, Erica Chenoweth — one of the world’s leading scholars on the topic — explains what civil resistance is, how it works, why it sometimes fails, how violence and repression affect it, and the long-term impacts of such resistance. Featuring both historical cases and contemporary examples, such as the Arab Awakenings and various ongoing movements in the United States, this book provides a comprehensive yet pithy overview of this enormously important subject.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2022, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson (Harper Collins 2022, 336 pages, $17.99 paperback)

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2022 is a collection of articles written in 2021 and selected by series editor Jaime Green and by guest editor Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, renowned marine biologist and co-founder of the All We Can Save climate initiative.

Editor’s Note: Among the authors Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson selected for this year’s collection were many women who wrote about climate change for prestigious magazines and newspapers, including Manuela Andreoni, Emily Atkin, Justine Calma, Catrin Einhorn, Jane C. Hu, Sabrina Imbler, Sarah Kaplan, Kendra Pierre-Louis, Jessica Plumb, Rachel Ramirez, Shira Rubin, Somini Sengupta, Lucy Sherriff, Lisa Song, Meera Subramanian, and Lisa Wells  

Love Your Mother: 50 States, 50 Stories, and 50 Women United for Climate Justice by Mallory McDuff (Broadleaf Books 2023, 276 pages, $26.99)

As a mother and a professor of environmental education, Mallory McDuff wanted to give her two daughters and her students a road map to engage in climate justice in their communities, rather than be left feeling paralyzed by the enormity of the problem. She set out to find women of diverse ages, backgrounds, and vocations — one from each of the 50 U.S. states — as inspiration for a new kind of leadership focused on the heart of the climate crisis. Love Your Mother lifts up the stories of these women working toward a viable future, from farmer and rancher Donna Kilpatrick in Arkansas to writer Latria Graham in South Carolina. These women are poets, physicians, farmers, writers, documentary filmmakers, and more. Their work lights the way for conversation and collective action in our homes and in the world. It’s time we follow their lead.

Refusing Death: Immigrant Women and the Fight for Environmental Justice in LA by Nadia Y. Kim (Stanford University Press 2021, 384 pages, $28.00 paperback)

The industrial-port belt of Los Angeles is home to 11 of the top 20 oil refineries in California, the largest ports in the country, and those “racist monuments” we call freeways. In this uncelebrated corner of “La La Land,” pollution is literally killing the residents. In response, a grassroots movement for environmental justice has grown, predominated by Asian and undocumented Latin@ immigrant women who are transforming our political landscape. In Refusing Death, Nadia Y. Kim tells their stories, finding that the women are influential because of their ability to remap politics, community, and citizenship in the face of the country’s nativist racism and class injustice. The women know how these harms assault their bodies and emotions. In spite of such challenges, they still find ways to support each other and to refuse death.

Making Livable Worlds: Afro-Puerto Rican Women Building Environmental Justice by Hilda Llorens (University of Washington Press 2021, 224 pages, $30.00 paperback)

When Hurricanes Irma and María made landfall in Puerto Rico in September 2017, their destructive force further devastated an archipelago already pummeled by economic austerity, political upheaval, and environmental calamities. To navigate these multiple ongoing crises, Afro–Puerto Rican women have drawn from their cultural knowledge to engage in daily improvisations that enable their communities to survive and thrive. Making Livable Worlds weaves together autobiography, ethnography, interviews, memories, and fieldwork to recast narratives that otherwise erase Black Puerto Rican women as agents of social change. In doing so, Lloréns serves as an “ethnographer of home” as she brings to life the powerful histories and testimonies of a marginalized, disavowed community that has been treated as disposable.

The Terraformers: A Novel by Annalee Newitz (Tor Books / Macmillan 2023, 352 pages, $28.99)

Destry’s life is dedicated to terraforming Sask-E. As part of the Environmental Rescue Team, she cares for the planet and its burgeoning ecosystems as her parents and their parents did before her. But the bright, clean future they’re building comes under threat when Destry discovers a city full of people that shouldn’t exist, hidden inside a massive volcano. As she uncovers more about their past, Destry begins to question her mission and must make a choice that will reverberate through Sask-E’s future for generations to come. A science fiction epic for our times and a love letter to our future, The Terraformers will take you on a journey spanning thousands of years and exploring the triumphs, strife, and hope that find us wherever we make our home.

Birnam Wood: A Novel by Eleanor Catton (Farrar, Straus, Giroux 2023, 432 pages, $28.00)

A landslide has closed the Korowai Pass on New Zealand’s South Island, cutting off the town of Thorndike and leaving a sizable farm abandoned. The disaster presents an opportunity for Birnam Wood, an undeclared, unregulated, sometimes-criminal, sometimes-philanthropic guerrilla gardening collective that plants crops wherever no one will notice. But the enigmatic American billionaire Robert Lemoine also has an interest in the place: he has snatched it up to build his end-times bunker, A gripping psychological thriller from the Booker Prize–winning author of The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton’s Birnam Wood is Shakespearean in its drama and Austenian in its wit. A brilliantly constructed study of intentions, actions, and consequences, it is a mesmerizing, unflinching consideration of the human impulse to ensure our survival.

Afterglow: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors, edited by Grist (The New Press 2023, 256 pages, $16.99 paperback)

Afterglow is a stunning collection of original short stories in which writers from many different backgrounds envision a radically different climate future. Published in collaboration with Grist, these stirring tales expand our ability to imagine a better world. Whether through abundance or adaptation, reform, or a new understanding of survival, these stories offer flickers of hope, even joy, as they provide a springboard for exploring how fiction can help create a better reality. Afterglow welcomes a diverse range of new voices—most of which are women’s voices — into the climate conversation to envision the next 180 years of equitable climate progress. A creative work rooted in the realities of our present crisis, Afterglow presents a new way to think about the climate emergency—one that blazes a path to a clean, green, and more just future.

Monetizing Misogyny: Gendered Disinformation and the Undermining of Women’s Rights and Democracy Globally by Lucina Di Meco (She Persisted 2023, 35 pages, free download available here)

The Monetizing Misogyny research series explores how gendered disinformation is weaponized to undermine women’s political participation and to weaken democratic institutions and human rights. Over the last five years, we interviewed over one hundred women political leaders and activists all over the world; we heard over and over again how they all faced torrents of online abuse and violence. Many were targeted through gendered disinformation campaigns, building on gender biases, deployed in a coordinated manner and designed to undermine them and their civic or political agendas. Crucially, our research also looks at the responsibilities and responses that state actors and digital platforms have taken — or failed to take — to address this issue.

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