Jeff Masters Weather Blog

Climate books for Black History Month » Yale Climate Connections

To win allies for climate action, activists must understand how the environment, intersects with concerns for the health and well-being of people and communities. Inequities of the past and the present must be addressed by the policies and programs offered for a sustainable future. 

Toward that end, this month’s list begins with four reports: Green 2.0’s just-published annual assessment of representation in environmental nongovernmental organizations and foundations, Black climate justice leader Jacqui Patterson’s new review of climate impacts and climate solutions for the Chisholm Legacy Project, Climate Advocacy Lab’s blueprint for a genuinely diverse and inclusive climate movement, and Greenpeace and Runnymede Trust’s proposal for confronting injustice. 

The next set of books and reports survey specific sites of environmental injustice: communities living in the “fossil fuel sacrifice zone[s]” of Louisiana and Texas, communities, like Detroit, Michigan, that are struggling to recover from toxic water systems, and urban cores wrestling with “carbon gentrification.” 

The ninth title provides overviews and case studies for “climate justice in the majority world.” 

The last three titles seek to ground climate and environmental justice in revitalized relationships with the natural world, by reviewing the depictions of nature in Black literature and by sharing deeply personal experiences of farming (“Unearthed”) and ecological fieldwork (“Wild Life”).

As always, the descriptions of the titles are adapted from copy provided by the organizations or publishers that released them. When two dates of publication are indicated, the second is for the release of the paperback edition. 

A purple report cover

2023 NGO and Foundation Transparency Report Card by Chandler Purrity et al. (Green 2.0, 204 pages, free download)

For the seventh consecutive year, Green 2.0 presents data on the diversity of staff and inclusivity practices of nonprofit organizations (“NGOs”) and foundations in the environmental sector. After the murder of George Floyd and calls for racial and social justice in 2020, many sector organizations publicly committed to centering racial equity in internal staffing, organizational policies, and external programming. Three years later, this report serves as a key mechanism to hold organizations accountable for those promises. 

See The Race Report for equivalent data on environmental organizations and foundations in U.K. 

A purple report cover

Adversity to Advancement: 15 Climate Impacts & 45 Black-Led Pathways to Climate Justice by Jacqui Patterson (The Chisholm Legacy Project 2023, 72 pages, free download)

Black communities are more likely to breathe polluted air, drink contaminated water, live in homes on contaminated soil, have compromised access to food and reliable energy, and feel the impacts of disasters, as well as the consequences of false solutions, from carbon offsets to biomass and nuclear. At the same time, Black communities are leading local food projects, community-owned energy, democracy initiatives, community resilience planning, and so many more of the key components in the transition to a regenerative economy. This analysis, review, and inventory reflect the fact that for every problem there are three solutions that are already in motion. And for every solution, there are multiple entities leading change from different perches.

A blue and orange report cover

Blueprint for a Multiracial Cross-Class Climate Movement: The Report on Coalitions by Lynsy Smithson-Stanley and Jack Zhou (Climate Advocacy Lab 2023, 45 pages, free download with registration) 

Why do some coalitions for climate action seem to work well while others fall apart? And how can traditional environmental organizations find not only common ground but common ways of working across sectors with different types of advocates? To answer these questions, the Climate Advocacy Lab has developed a Blueprint to analyze and breakdown how climate advocates can set up and work in the multiracial, cross-class coalitions. Our Blueprint is made up of two complementary pieces. The Report on Coalitions presents our research findings from a combination of case study analysis and interviews with organizers and movement leaders. We distill our findings into 19 recommendations. The Workbook for Coalitions takes those 19 recommendations and transforms them into discussion prompts for coalition members.

A report cover with a photo of a Native protestor.

Confronting Injustice: Racism and the Environmental Emergency by Alba Kapoor, Nannette Youssef, and Simon Hood (Greenpeace and Runnymede Trust 2022, 78 pages, free download

The legacy of colonialism has ensured racism and the environmental emergency are inextricably linked. As a result of this systemic racism, people of color struggling for environmental justice face barriers to being heard, being respected, and influencing decisions. This has led to widespread erasure of people of color who are impacted by the environmental emergency, and exclusion of people of color as leaders, professionals, academics, and experts within sectors dealing with the environmental emergency. A new report by Greenpeace and the Runnymede Trust explores the impact of this discrimination and provides a rallying call for environmental justice. Without solidarity with people of color, and a rebalancing of power, there will be no just and equitable solutions to the environmental emergency.

A report cover with an illustration of a river surrounded by toxic industry.

The Cost of Doing Business: The Petrochemical Industry’s Toxic Pollution in the USA by Research Staff (Amnesty International 2024, 131 pages, free download

Amnesty International’s latest report shows the harms suffered by local communities from pollution emitted by the petrochemical plants and refineries along the Houston Ship Channel in Texas. The report documents the health and human rights consequences of repeated and regular exposure of residents to toxic pollutants emitted by the facilities, and the severe lack of regulatory oversight or enforcement to prevent the pollution that continues to harm people, the environment, and the climate. It determines the area is a “sacrifice zone” that disproportionately harms Latinx/Hispanic and Black communities, and thus constitutes environmental racism. Responses from government agencies and companies named in the report can be found in an annex.

A report cover with a photo of people in the hot sun.

“We’re Dying Here”: The Fight for Life in a Louisiana Fossil Fuel Sacrifice Zone by Research Staff (Human Rights Watch 2024, 135 pages, free download

“‘We’re Dying Here’: The Fight for Life in a Louisiana Fossil Fuel Sacrifice Zone,” documents how residents of Cancer Alley suffer the effects of extreme pollution from the fossil fuel and petrochemical industry, facing elevated rates and risks of maternal, reproductive, and newborn health harms, cancer, and respiratory ailments. Parts of Cancer Alley have the highest risk of cancer from industrial air pollution in the United States. These harms are disproportionately borne by the area’s Black residents. Human Rights Watch recommends a Federal Fossil Fuel and Petrochemical Remediation and Relocation Plan whereby companies operating in Cancer Alley would work with community-based organizations to employ local workers and provide decommissioning and remediation services for the safe and efficient phaseout of fossil fuels.

A book cover with a photo of protesters.

Urban Climate Justice: Theory, Praxis, Resistance, edited by Jennifer L. Rice, Joshua Long and Anthony Levenda (University of Georgia Press 2023, 284 pages, $34.95 paperback)

Arguing that climate injustice is one of our most pressing urban problems, this volume explores the possibilities and challenges for more just urban futures under climate change. Whether the situation be displacement within cities through carbon gentrification or the increasing securitization of elite spaces for climate protection, climate justice, and urban justice are intimately connected. The editors’ introduction situates our climate emergency within historical processes of colonization, racial capitalism, and heteropatriarchy; the conclusion offers pathways forward through abolition, care, and reparations. Where other books focus on the project of critique, this collection advances real-world politics to help academics, practitioners, and social justice groups imagine, create, and enact more just urban futures under climate change.

An orange and yellow book cover.

Toxic Water, Toxic System: Environmental Racism and Michigan’s Water War by Michael Mascarenhas (University of California Press 2024, 334 pages, $27.95 paperback) 

Toxic Water, Toxic System exposes the consequences of a seemingly anonymous authoritarian state willing to maintain white supremacy at any cost — including poisoning an entire city and shutting off water to thousands of people. Weaving together narratives of front line activists along with archival data, Michael Mascarenhas provides a powerful exploration of the political alliances and bureaucratic mechanisms that uphold inequality. Drawing from three years of ethnographic fieldwork in Flint and Detroit, this book amplifies the voices of marginalized communities, particularly African American women. Toxic Water, Toxic System offers a fresh perspective on the ties between urban austerity policies, environmental harm, and the advancement of white supremacist agendas in predominantly Black and brown cities.

See also Toxic Debt: An Environmental Justice History of Detroit by Josiah Rector (The University of North Carolina Press 2022, 344 pages, $39.95 paperback) 

A report cover with a photo of people repairing a roof.

Climate Justice in the Majority World: Vulnerability, Resistance, and Diverse Knowledges, edited by Neil J.W. Crawford, Kavya Michael, Michael Mikulewicz (Earthscan/Routledge 2024, 300 pages, $48.95 paperback) 

This edited collection explores a diverse range of climate (in) justice studies from the Majority World – where most humans and non-humans live. It is also the site of the most severe impacts of climate change and home to some of the key solutions for the climate crisis. The 12 chapters focus on a range of crosscutting themes, offering both individual and collective experiences of climate change and struggles for achieving climate justice. By adopting a decolonial lens, this book provides empirical content, insightful comparisons, and novel conceptual interventions. It presents climate justice from an intersectional perspective and contributes to efforts by scholars and activists to address epistemic injustice in climate change research, policy, and practice. 

Black to Nature - Pastoral Return and African American Culture

Black to Nature: Pastoral Return and African American Culture by Stefanie K. Dunning (University Press of Mississippi 2021, 208 pages, $30.00 paperback) 

In Black to Nature: Pastoral Return and African American Culture, author Stefanie K. Dunning considers both popular and literary texts that range from Beyoncé’s Lemonade to Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the BonesThese key works restage Black women in relation to nature. Dunning argues that depictions of protagonists who return to pastoral settings contest the violent and racist history that incentivized Black disavowal of the natural world. Written in a clear, approachable, and multilayered style that aims to be as poignant as nature itself, the volume offers a unique combination of theoretical breadth and narrative beauty suggests it will be a foundational text in a new critical turn toward framing nature within a cultural studies context.

A green, floral book cover

Unearthed: On Race and Roots and How the Soil Taught Me I Belong by Claire Ratinon (Penguin / Random House / Vintage 2023, 320 pages, $19.99 paperback) 

Like many diasporic people of color, Claire Ratinon grew up feeling cut off from the natural world. She lived in cities, reluctant to be outdoors, and stuck with the belief that success and status could fill the space where belonging was absent. But a chance encounter with a rooftop farm was the start of a journey that caused her to rethink the life she’d been creating and her beliefs about herself. Enlivened, she turned her hand to growing food in London before finding herself yearning for a small parcel of land to call her own. Unearthed tells the story of her leaving the city for the countryside — and her first garden — in the hope of forging a pathway toward the embrace of the natural world and a sense of belonging cultivated on her own terms.

A blue book cover with a picture of a woman on it.

Wild Life: Finding My Purpose in an Untamed World by Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant (Get Lifted Books 2024, 288 pages, $28.00)

Growing up in the California Bay Area, wildlife ecologist Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant always felt worlds away from the white male adventurers she watched explore the wilderness on TV. She dreamed of a future where she could spend sleepless nights under the crowded canopies of the Amazon and the starry skies of the savanna. But as Rae set off on her own journey in the wild, finding her way in a profession where there were few scientists who looked like her, she saw nature’s delicate balance in a new light. Through her personal story of resilience and adaptation, Rae argues for a more connected, more ecologically conscious world. Spanning the Great Plains of North America to the rainforests of Madagascar, Wild Life sheds light on our relationship and responsibility to the natural world and the creatures with whom we share it. 

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