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Hanley Sustainability Institute

Must-read books for understanding sustainability and social justice in adulthood

By Izzy Waite

Leaving college and entering adulthood comes with a big challenge: staying involved in sustainability and social justice while juggling a full-time job and other commitments.

But there's a simple and great way to stay engaged: reading books. I know finding time to read can be tough when life gets busy, but it's a fantastic way to relax and take a break from screens during downtime. I've read four books that really changed how I see sustainability and social justice. They cover different topics and offer different interpretations on the human perspective of climate change.

I believe books about sustainability shouldn't just be hard-to-understand science warnings. These books combine solid science with hope for the future.

HSI book reviews, 2024

Warmth: Coming of Age at the End of the World, Daniel Sherrell

Warmth is one of my all-time favorite books, and I recommend it to everyone. Sherrell writes about his struggle to live a normal life (have a job, raise a family, be a human) in the face of "The Problem," a pseudonym for Climate Change and Social Inequality. He writes in a sort of memoir/letter format addressed to his future child. I think this book speaks to a lot of the struggles that normal adults have in the face of climate change: How to get involved, what do you value, what makes you happy and how to just be a human.

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Warming, David Wallace-Wells

This is a great book for people who respond more to hard facts rather than stories and narratives. Wallace-Wells provides science-based future scenarios for topics such as food, flooding, wildfires, superstorms, droughts, diseases and climate conflicts. Wallace ensures through the many chapters that these events will not be isolated events but will happen all at once, each affecting the other in different ways. This is an easy read, with lyrical prose and interesting scenarios sentence after sentence.

HSI book reviews, 2024

The Anthropocene Reviewed, John Green

This may be a weird book to put on this list, but hear me out. Through a series of essays, Green attempts to capture the Anthropocene: the age of Humans, all rated on a Five-Star Scale. This book is for readers who delight in the mundane and revel in the extraordinary aspects of life. Though this is a non-fiction book written about Green’s experiences, anyone can relate to it. It is an extremely easy read you can pick up from any chapter (though I find it more meaningful if you read it in its entirety). The book focuses on what we love, how we love and why we love. I put this on the list because sometimes it is okay to be present and be mindful of our passions, quirks and relationships now, rather than constantly living in the future.

How High We Go in the Dark, Sequoia Nagamatsu

This is a book that I always recommend to people who love futuristic/dystopian works. This isn’t a cliché apocalyptic book like "Divergent" or "The Hunger Games." It's more of a series of scenarios, from multiple points of view, about a plague that is released after global warming causes the permafrost in Siberia to melt. The effects of climate change in the book don’t stop there. Many children are affected by asthma (an emerging symptom of climate change we see now), and there are multiple authorities vying for control of precious resources and money. This is a very compelling series of stories that focus on the humanity and resilience of people in the face of horrifying events, such as climate change.

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