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Read Sustainably: Books on Environmentalism (2021)

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

This sci-fi classic is a great book to pick up for Black History month! Parable of the Sower is a novel that tells the story of an apocalyptic future wrecked by a myriad of environmental disasters. Food is scarce, clean water is all but absent, disease is rampant, dangerous pyromaniac street drugs are in circulation, and corporate slavery is back in business. Corporate greed, economic inequalities, racial divides, and global warming have all contributed to the dystopian American setting portrayed. Butler’s positionality provides a unique perspective on what will happen if America continues to progress down our current path, crafting an alarmingly realistic tale that has quickly become a literary staple. While themes of race, class, and gender permeate the book, the main message underlying the narrative is that if we fail to change our poor environmental behavior this is the future we are headed towards.


No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg

This is a short, hopeful collection of activist Thunberg’s speeches. If you want some inspiration headed into the new year or an enjoyable, short read, this is the book for you. These eleven speeches focus on the main themes of global warming and the climate crisis we are currently experiencing. While the topics are daunting, Thunberg is able to demonstrate that we can all have a positive impact on the world we live in.


The Overstory by Richard Powers

This is a literary fiction novel that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2019. The book focuses on five trees, from redwoods to Douglas firs, and the relationships they have with the humans in their vicinity. In this book, trees are truly brought to life. They think, feel, dream, care for one another, and communicate. They give back to those who care for them. This book, like the others on this list, asks us to consider the future we are headed towards. The importance of caring for the nonhumans around us—trees, soil, etc.—is a central theme of this book. Activism is another main discussion point. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a love letter to trees or a book that is able to encapsulate the force of Mother Nature.


The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins by Anna Tsing

This collaborative, interdisciplinary research follows the commodity chain of the Matsutake mushroom. While that one sentence synopsis may put readers to sleep, this book is one of my favorite reads of last year. Tsing interviews mushroom pickers and buyers from a wide swath of culture in order to answer the question: what grows and thrives in the ruins humans have created? This book looks at a variety of species to show how nature impacts people and how we have effectively shaped the environment. I have never read something so diverse, poetic, and eye opening. I recommend this book to anyone interested in cultural studies, the growing of plants, or the effects of capitalism. While studying a heavy topic, Tsing is able to craft a truly amazing narrative that leaves reader’s with a hopeful ending.


The Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World by Emma Marris

This shorter nonfiction book explores the different goals of conservation practices. For example: do we want our green spaces to serve humans? Is the goal biological diversity? Or perhaps the goal is to recreate the environment as it was pre-contact. The pros and cons of each idea is explored. Additionally, Marris asks us to question: what is nature? What makes a species invasive? Lastly, throughout the book Marris presents natural elements, such as soil, as their own players. Plants are impacting us just as much as we impact them. I highly recommend this book to anyone that wants to take a deeper dive into conservation and sustainability. This book really gets at the bigger questions and pushes readers to think about what the goals of our environmentalism are.


Article Written by Amanda Micek


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