Climate Change and Other Frights: 13 Environmental Books to Scare You Into Action

Read time: 5 mins
Covers of books Blowout, Leave It in the Ground, and Kochland

By John R. Platt, The Revelator.

Horror,” wrote novelist and critic Douglas E. Winter, “is not a genre. It is an emotion.”

You know what else generates some horrifying emotions? Topics like climate change and pollution.

As we approach the Halloween season, let’s dive into those fears with a batch of new books about those most fright-inducing of environmental topics. I’ve selected the 13 scariest (and most informative) environmental books published so far this year, pulled from the recommendations in my monthly “Revelator Reads” column.

These books will scare you — honestly, you should be scared — but they also provide the information, ideas, and potential solutions we need to get to a less frightening future. Pick the best ones for your scary late-night reading and then try to go to sleep without leaving the lights on.

Blowout by Rachel Maddow

The ubiquitous MSNBC host takes a deep dive into the many ways Big Oil threatens democracy around the world, most notably Russia’s interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election (although that’s far from the only example). This must-read book gets our vote for the scariest subtitle of the year: “Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth.”

Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America by Christopher Leonard

The scary true story of how one private company stalled action on climate change, bought influence in the government, widened the gap between rich and poor, killed unions and so much more.

The Drowning of Money Island by Andrew S. Lewis

Many island nations around the world fear for their future under the threat of sea-level rise. For some islands the future is already here. Money Island off the coast of New Jersey, once an economic powerhouse, now serves as a storm-ravaged example of what’s to come for islands and other coastal communities.

Unearthing Justice: How to Protect Your Community From the Mining Industry by Joan Kuyek

Covering everything from how to stop a new mining project to figuring out how to clean up an abandoned mine, this important book offers activists a primer for taking on all manner of extractive industries that can harm human health and the environment.

Leave It in the Ground: The Politics of Coal and Climate by John C. Berg

Want to know why we need to get rid of coal — and how we do it? This book lays out the science in clear, understandable language and reveals the truth about the politics and economics of the coal industry. Berg then provides a roadmap for how activists and governments can dismantle it.

A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind by Harriet A. Washington

This book will open your eyes, make you angry, and then point you toward solutions for ending the plague of pollution-related health problems in marginalized communities of color.

Poisonous Skies: Acid Rain and the Globalization of Pollution by Rachel Emma Rothschild

You know, it almost feels quaint to be talking about acid rain these days, but sometimes you need to pay attention to history in order to better understand the present. Rothschild looks at the frightening history of acid rain to explore what happened, how countries fought about it, how scientists led the charge against it, and how all of that offers lessons for the modern world of climate change.

Every Breath You Take: A User’s Guide to the Atmosphere by Mark Broomfield

Why read a romance or horror novel that will leave you breathless when you could learn more about what you’re actually breathing and how to improve air quality?

This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism and Corruption are Ruining the American West by Christopher Ketcham

A book-length investigation of the forces destroying protections for public lands and wildlife — not just in the West, but throughout the entire country. Illuminating and disturbing.

The Reality Bubble: Blind Spots, Hidden Truths and the Dangerous Illusions that Shape Our World by Ziya Tong

Smile, you’re on secret surveillance cameras…unless you’re working at a factory farm, power plant or garbage dump. In that case, go about your business without anyone seeing. Tong’s globetrotting book examines these dangerous parts of the world that remain hidden from public view and reveals how that lack of transparency clouds our vision of the future.

Coal by Mark C. Thurber

A detailed examination of why the industry that relies upon this massively polluting substance never seems to pay its full environmental costs. (Hint: Money has something to do with it, but it’s a lot more complex than that.)

Choked: Life and Breath in the Age of Air Pollution by Beth Gardiner

My lungs hurt just reading the description of this book. Gardiner traveled the world to find out how pollution clogs our cities, hearts and politics. Along the way she uncovers the solutions that just may help us all breathe a little easier.

A Fire Story by Brian Fies

A harrowing graphic-novel memoir about the wildfire that raged through Northern California in 2017 and destroyed 6,200 homes — including that of the author and his family. If you want to learn more about how climate change is affecting people now, this is a good place to start.

Main image: Covers of the books Blowout by Rachel Maddow, Leave It in the Ground by John C. Berg, and Kochland by Christopher Leonard

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