The following are books suggested by educators and discussed at previous NOAA Planet Stewards Book Club meetings. Included are links to resources and guiding questions. All are welcome to join our discussions! For information about current Book Club selections, meeting dates, and how to attend, see our Upcoming Events page. Sign up to our email list and receive invitations to future events. Have questions? Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Silent Spring for our era, this eloquent, urgent, fascinating book reveals how just 50 years of swift and dangerous oceanic change threatens the very existence of life on Earth. Legendary marine scientist Sylvia Earle portrays a planet teetering on the brink of irreversible environmental crisis.
In recent decades we’ve learned more about the ocean than in all previous human history combined. But, even as our knowledge has exploded, so too has our power to upset the delicate balance of this complex organism.
Fortunately, there is reason for hope, but what we do—or fail to do—in the next ten years may well resonate for the next ten thousand. The ultimate goal, Earle argues passionately and persuasively, is to find responsible, renewable strategies that safeguard the natural systems that sustain us. The first step is to understand and act upon the wise message of this accessible, insightful, and compelling book.
In your opinion should the United States ratify the treaty? Why or why not?
Website links on pages 316-318 in The World is Blue were reviewed prior to the NOAA Planet Stewards Book Club meeting. Amended website URLs are noted below
In A Tale of Two Planets John Freeman draws together a group of writers from around the world to help us see how the environmental crisis is hitting some of the most vulnerable communities where they live.
In the past five years he has compiled two anthologies that deal with income inequality as it is experienced. In the course of this work, one major theme came up repeatedly: Climate change is making already dire inequalities much worse, devastating further the already devastated. But the problems of climate change are not restricted to those from the less developed world.
Galvanized by his conversations with writers and activists around the world, Freeman engaged with some of today’s most eloquent storytellers, many of whom hail from the places under the most acute stress–from the capital of Burundi to Bangkok, Thailand. The response has been extraordinary. Margaret Atwood conjures a dystopian future in a remarkable poem. Lauren Groff whisks us to Florida; Edwidge Danticat to Haiti; Tahmima Anam to Bangladesh; Yasmine El Rashidi to Egypt, while Eka Kurniawan brings us to Indonesia, Chinelo Okparanta to Nigeria, and Anuradha Roy to the Himalayas in the wake of floods, dam building, and drought. This is a literary all-points bulletin of fiction, essays, poems, and reportage about the most important crisis of our times.
Published in 1951, The Sea Around Us is one of the most remarkably successful books ever written about the natural world. Rachel Carson's rare ability to combine scientific insight with moving, poetic prose catapulted her book to first place on The New York Times best-seller list, where it enjoyed wide attention for thirty-one consecutive weeks. It remained on the list for more than a year and a half and ultimately sold well over a million copies, has been translated into 28 languages, inspired an Academy Award-winning documentary, and won both the 1952 National Book Award and the John Burroughs Medal.
This classic work remains as fresh today as when it first appeared. Carson's writing teems with stunning, memorable images--the newly formed Earth cooling beneath an endlessly overcast sky; the centuries of nonstop rain that created the oceans; giant squids battling sperm whales hundreds of fathoms below the surface; and incredibly powerful tides moving 100 billion tons of water daily in the Bay of Fundy. Quite simply, she captures the mystery and allure of the ocean with a compelling blend of imagination and expertise.
When Plastic Free July founder Rebecca Prince-Ruiz made a commitment to try to avoid single-use plastic a decade ago, the decision started at her bin. In the first half of 2020, a year of unexpected change, the humble bin has been in the limelight again, though for very different reasons. Aussies, their laconic sense of humour coming to the fore during the pandemic, used their weekly bin outing as an opportunity to dress up in outlandish costumes, the theory being that our bins were going out more than we were.
Plastic Free: The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters is, at its heart, a book about how ordinary people can make extraordinary changes. It tells the story of Plastic Free July, a social phenomenon involving over 250 million people in 177 countries. Most importantly, it shows how a determined community can be a formidable force.
Additional points for discussion:
After the climate wars, a floating city is constructed in the Arctic Circle, a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering, complete with geothermal heating and sustainable energy. The city’s denizens have become accustomed to a roughshod new way of living, however, the city is starting to fray along the edges—crime and corruption have set in, the contradictions of incredible wealth alongside direst poverty are spawning unrest, and a new disease called “the breaks” is ravaging the population.
When a strange new visitor arrives—a woman riding an orca, with a polar bear at her side—the city is entranced. The “orcamancer,” as she’s known, very subtly brings together four people—each living on the periphery—to stage unprecedented acts of resistance. By banding together to save their city before it crumbles under the weight of its own decay, they will learn shocking truths about themselves.
Blackfish City is a remarkably urgent—and ultimately very hopeful—novel about political corruption, organized crime, technology run amok, the consequences of climate change, gender identity, and the unifying power of human connection.
Animals plainly know where they’re going, but how they know has remained a stubborn mystery—until now. Supernavigators is a globe-trotting voyage of discovery alongside astounding animals of every stripe: dung beetles that steer by the Milky Way, box jellyfish that can see above the water (with a few of their twenty-four eyes), sea turtles that sense Earth’s magnetic field, and many more. David Barrie consults animal behaviorists and Nobel Prize–winning scientists to catch us up on the cutting edge of animal intelligence—revealing these wonders in a whole new light.
This touching and at times laugh-out-loud funny novel introduces us to Cooper Gosling, a painter who’s struggling in the aftermath of family tragedy. She grew up listening to her father tell stories about Antarctica’s greatest explorers, and now that she’s thirty and uncertain what to do with her life, she decides to set out on an adventure of her own. She signs up with an artist colony that piggy-backs on a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research team’s trip to South Pole, and proceeds to spend a dark and freezing year among not only fellow artists, but climate scientists.
Much to everyone’s chagrin, a climate change denier is in the mix, and as Cooper’s story unfolds, so does a rivalry between the believers and the non-believer. The novel is rife with fascinating and piercingly funny dialogue about the meaning of the scientific method, the importance of NSF funding, and how both art and science can lend insight into the workings of the universe.
Additional great resource reads:
A book of great ambition, Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House tells a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home in a neglected area of one of America’s most mythologized cities. This is the story of a mother’s struggle against a house’s entropy, and that of a prodigal daughter who left home only to reckon with the pull that home exerts, even after the Yellow House was wiped off the map after Hurricane Katrina. The Yellow House expands the map of New Orleans to include the stories of its lesser known natives, guided deftly by one of its native daughters, to demonstrate how enduring drives of clan, pride, and familial love resist and defy erasure. Located in the gap between the “Big Easy” of tourist guides and the New Orleans in which Broom was raised, The Yellow House is a brilliant memoir of place, class, race, the seeping rot of inequality, and the internalized shame that often follows. It is a transformative, deeply moving story from an unparalleled new voice of startling clarity, authority, and power.
With every passing day, and every record-breaking hurricane, it grows clearer that climate change is neither imagined nor distant―and that rising seas are transforming the coastline of the United States in irrevocable ways. In Rising, Elizabeth Rush guides readers through some of the places where this change has been most dramatic, from the Gulf Coast to Miami, and from New York City to the Bay Area. For many of the plants, animals, and humans in these places, the options are stark: retreat or perish in place.
Weaving firsthand testimonials from those facing this choice―a Staten Islander who lost her father during Sandy, the remaining holdouts of a Native American community on a drowning Isle de Jean Charles, a neighborhood in Pensacola settled by escaped slaves hundreds of years ago―with profiles of wildlife biologists, activists, and other members of these vulnerable communities, Rising privileges the voices of those too often kept at the margins.
Sleepy Valley is a town probably similar in many ways to the one where you live. Things are fine on the surface but no one is thinking about the future. Are you ready for what is about to happen to you and to towns all across the country and around the world?
Marley and Brianne, the main characters in our story, were not. Nor were their parents, their neighbors, or anyone in town. When they woke up on the day after their high school graduation they found their lives turned upside down as a series of climate catastrophes descended on their town. They struggle to find their voices and their purpose for living while attempting to save their family and friends, their town, and civilization as we know it.
The Big Melt engages, informs, and challenges readers of all ages to consider a variety of perspectives on what is rapidly becoming the challenge of the century: Now that our climate is changing, what do we do? This work of contemporary fiction, with a touch of fantasy and hope, will inspire you to care a little more about what might occur in your town in the not-too-distant future.
This book takes the reader through Captain Moore’s initial voyage to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, his subsequent research expeditions, and his fierce work to engage the world in recognizing and taking action on the plastic invasiveness crisis in our oceans. The research expeditions presented in the book are part of a world-wide effort prompting a massive global reassessment of plastic's pervasive presence in the Gyre, raising profound questions regarding the implications of this new remote ‘habitat'. His hard-won credibility and dogged, game-changing efforts to get the world to pay attention to a looming ocean crisis have earned him world-wide respect, igniting participation in The Plastic Pollution Conversation.
The Great Lakes—Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Superior—hold 20 percent of the world’s supply of surface fresh water. They provide sustenance, work, and recreation for tens of millions of Americans. But they are under threat as never before, and their problems are spreading across the continent. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is prize-winning reporter Dan Egan’s compulsively readable portrait of an ecological catastrophe happening right before our eyes, blending the epic story of the lakes with an examination of the perils they face and the ways we can restore and preserve them for generations to come.
There is a growing crisis in our oceans as rates of infectious disease outbreaks are on the rise. Marine epidemics have the potential to cause a mass die-off of wildlife from the bottom to the top of the food chain, impacting the health of ocean ecosystems as well as lives on land. Fueled by sewage dumping, unregulated aquaculture, and drifting plastic in warming seas, ocean outbreaks are sentinels of impending global environmental disaster.
Ocean Outbreak follows renowned scientist Drew Harvell and her colleagues as they investigate how four iconic marine animals—corals, abalone, salmon, and starfish—have been devastated by disease. Based on over twenty years of research, this firsthand account of the sometimes creeping, sometimes exploding impact of disease on our ocean’s biodiversity ends with a hopeful message. Through policy changes and the implementation of innovative solutions from nature, we can reduce major outbreaks, save some ocean ecosystems, and protect our fragile environment.
Prior to discussing Ocean Outbreak you might enjoy watching Dr. Harvell discuss another of her books A Sea of Glass, on Cornell University’s Chats in the Stacks Book Talk
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was first published in three serialized excerpts in the New Yorker in June of 1962. The book appeared in September of that year and the outcry that followed its publication forced the banning of DDT and spurred revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water. Carson’s passionate concern for the future of our planet reverberated powerfully throughout the world, and her eloquent book was instrumental in launching the environmental movement. It is without question one of the landmark books of the twentieth century.
You can read the complete original serialization from the New Yorker Magazine here:Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
So far, humanity hasn’t done very well in addressing the ongoing climate catastrophe. Veteran science educator L. S. Gardiner believes we can learn to do better by understanding how we’ve dealt with other types of environmental risks in the past and why we are dragging our feet in addressing this most urgent emergency. Weaving scientific facts and research together with humor and emotion, Gardiner explores human responses to erosion, earthquakes, fires, invasive species, marine degradation, volcanic eruptions, and floods in order to illuminate why we find it so challenging to deal with climate change. Insight emerges from unexpected places - a mermaid exhibit, a Magic 8 Ball, and midcentury cartoons about a future that never came to be.
Instead of focusing on the economics and geopolitics of the debate over climate change, this book brings large-scale disaster to a human scale, emphasizing the role of the individual. We humans do have the capacity to deal with disasters. When we face threatening changes, we don’t just stand there pretending it isn’t so, we do something. But because we’re human, our responses aren’t always the right ones the first time—yet we can learn to do better. This book is essential reading for all who want to know how we can draw on our strengths to survive the climate catastrophe and forge a new relationship with nature.
In Energy: A Human History. Author Richard Rhodes reveals the fascinating history behind energy transitions over time—wood to coal to oil to electricity and beyond.
Through a cast of characters, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes explains how wood gave way to coal and coal made room for oil, as we now turn to natural gas, nuclear power, and renewable energy. Rhodes looks back on five centuries of progress, through such influential figures as Queen Elizabeth I, King James I, Benjamin Franklin, Herman Melville, John D. Rockefeller, and Henry Ford.
In Energy, Rhodes highlights the successes and failures that led to each breakthrough in energy production; from animal and waterpower to the steam engine, from internal-combustion to the electric motor. He addresses how we learned from such challenges, mastered their transitions, and capitalized on their opportunities. Rhodes also looks at the current energy landscape, with a focus on how wind energy is competing for dominance with cast supplies of coal and natural gas. He also addresses the specter of global warming, and a population hurtling towards ten billion by 2100.
This is a story about climate change for kids... and their adults. What might happen if we could SEEcarbon dioxide in the atmosphere? What if CO2 were, say, pink? In this engaging, funny, and highly timely book, a young boy whose parents named him Wilbur "in honor of that pig in Charlotte's Web" discovers the power of the human imagination and how he can tap that power to see a shade of pink he has never imagined – a pink so astonishing it just might save the Planet. With help from his geeky "dorkasaurus" Dad and a pair of bright green goggles, young Will learns all about carbon and caring, carpooling and climate change, and how learning to see "this particular pink" will help all of us keep our Planet cool.
In this book Pulitzer Prize winning author and world-renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson states that to stave off the mass extinction of species, including our own, we must move swiftly to preserve the biodiversity of our planet. Half-Earth argues that the situation facing us is too large to be solved piecemeal and proposes a solution commensurate with the magnitude of the problem: dedicate fully half the surface of the Earth to nature. Identifying actual regions of the planet that can still be reclaimed―such as the California redwood forest, the Amazon River basin, and grasslands of the Serengeti, among others.
Robin Wall Kimmerer, “a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation,” uses the indigenous cultures’ sacred plant, sweetgrass, as a poetic metaphor to explain the origins of plant, animal, and human life on Mother Earth. Dr. Kimmerer presents this book as a gift of braided stories “meant to heal our relationship with the world” by weaving together the three strands of “indigenous ways of knowing, scientific knowledge, and the story of an Anishinabekwe scientist trying to bring them together in service to what matters most.” She explains the necessity for humankind to be rejoined with its relationships to nature, and to understand the implications of the Earth’s gifts and our responsibility to return these gifts.
The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change by Ingrid Zabel, Don Duggan-Haas and Robert Ross is a comprehensive tool for educators that “focuses on the scientific aspects of climate change: how climate works and why scientists think it’s changing, and the science and engineering behind the steps that would mitigate climate change and enable humans to adapt to climate changes that do occur.” Although the focus is on high school educators, teachers of all ages can find scientifically accurate information and links to highly regarded resources
“The Indigenous communities and their traditional territories are the islands of biocultural diversity in the ever-rising sea of development and urbanization. The Archipelago of Hope takes readers on a journey to explore the inextricable links between Indigenous cultures and their lands, and how they form the foundation for climate change resilience around the world.
Indigenous peoples have a millennia-long track record of maintaining intimate relationships with the natural world, which has nourished their communities and sustained their cultures. This is the track record that they have maintained despite formidable odds, including multiple “izations”—colonization, Christianization, sedentarization, and globalization.
What makes Indigenous communities indispensible in the search for climate change solutions is that their ancestral territories are the “living laboratories,” where the traditional practices and understanding of nature meet modern technology and scientific insights, generating new knowledge critical for developing relevant climate change responses.” Excerpt from https://orionmagazine.org/2017/11/eight-questions-author-gleb-raygorodetsky-archipelago-hope/
Here's an article by Gleb Raygorodetsky about how Indigenous peoples are disproportionally burdened by climate change and why their traditional knowledge is essential to securing the health of our planet https://www.guernicamag.com/the-archipelago-of-hope/
In Junk Raft: An Ocean Voyage and a Rising Tide of Activities to Fight Plastic Pollution, Marcus Eriksen tells the story of how he, his wife Anna Cummins, and hundreds of volunteers began studying the world’s oceans and found a “plastic smog of microscopic debris that permeates our oceans globally, defying simple clean-up efforts. What’s more, these microplastics and their toxic chemistry have seeped into the food chain, threatening marine life and humans alike.
"Far from being a gloomy treatise on an environmental catastrophe, Junk Raft tells the exciting story of Eriksen and his team’s fight to solve the problem of plastic pollution."
What do you think is the take-away message from this book?
Eriksen discusses gyres and the myth of a giant floating garbage patch and ”smog” of micro-plastics. What do you think can be done as a next step in terms of the science of studying plastics in the world’s oceans? How do ocean gyres affect your local community?
What are some solutions and innovations to address micro-plastics in the oceans problem? What advice can we give our colleagues who want to make a difference?
What are your thoughts and concerns of micro-plastics moving up the food chain?
There is a big discussion of plant-based plastic in the book. In your opinion, are plant-based plastics good or bad for our environment?
Eriksen states that “chemistry, product, process and system are the four intervention points where the utility of plastics needs to be reinvented.’ What are you thoughts on this?
B Corp are corporations with a mission statement that “social or environmental justice is of equal standing with the profit margin.” Eriksen lists a few B Corporations do you know of others?
What is your reaction to his letter to the "Member Corporations of the American Chemical Council?"
Earth Day is but 5-weeks away – how might we use the plastic we collect from our oceans, rivers, streams and land to help educate our community?
In this NOAA Planet Stewards Book Club meeting we'll be discussing Ship Breaker, a 2010 young adult Cli-fi novel by Paolo Bacigalupi set in a post-apocalyptic future. Human civilization is in decline for ecological reasons. The polar ice caps have melted and New Orleans is underwater. In America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota - and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it’s worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life.
How do humans define wealth, could this cause a conflict with ecological awareness and activism?
How much is your world worth?
Dystopian literature is frequently portrayed as a stark and depressing genre that occasionally offers some form of hope. How does Ship Breaker fit into that description, and in what ways (if any) does it break the mold?
How does social class play out in Ship Breaker and are there similar disparities in today’s society? Please elaborate on what this means for equitable societies.
The Patrick Ness review and the Paolo Bacigalupi interview offer up different viewpoints on the purpose of dystopian literature. Ness argues that dystopian lit is popular with YA readers because it represents their lives and the challenges they face. Bacigalupi comments on its ability to give readers an opportunity to think about some of the issues our society faces. Does Ship Breakersucceed at either?
What will our world look like when we run out of nonrenewable resources in a post global climate change age? How do we engage YA in this discussion without the readers feeling defeated?
How does this book address green issues? Are some of these issues already occurring today?
Drastic change in the environment
Corporate consumption of resources
Harvesting body parts
A few key themes included in the story: sea level rise, extreme weather, climate change, segregation of the elite, recycling…How do these concepts play out today as we enter a changing planet ecosystem?
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where climate change has completely altered the processes of civilization. Discuss the importance of the setting to the events of the story.
For additional thought and discussion:
About the Book: In 2011, David Goodrich rides his bike from the coast of Delaware to the coast of Oregon through gas-drilling Pennsylvania, tornado-prone Missouri, drought-ridden Kansas, and wildfire-choked Montana - to tell the story that our planet is in peril. As he pedals from town to town and from state to state, he connects the dots for us on climate change, sharing what he experiences from this ride and a few prior and subsequent treks. He also combines personal reflections with sobering facts, figures, and his own eyewitness account of climate change impacts and other’s perspectives from across much of our nation.
About the Author: Out of college David Goodrich worked briefly on a Gulf Coast drilling rig but then settled down to a scientific career, working for the U.N. Global Climate Observing System in Geneva, Switzerland and at NOAA in Silver Spring, Maryland. There, he served for many years as director of NOAA's Climate Observations and Monitoring Program and from 1998 to 1999 as the head of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Despite his late introduction to cycling, David not only rode the 26 miles round-trip from his home to his work at NOAA for many years, but he set out on a 4,200 mile Trans-america bike trek. On this ride he combined his avocation as a cyclist with his vocation as a scientist to examine climate change.