To celebrate summer and 3Degrees’ tenth anniversary, we have asked our employees to share some of their favorite books on environmental topics. The response has been incredible, with a wide range of authors and topics. Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing some of the best.
#9. Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change by Andrew T Guzman
Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change, written by Andrew T Guzman, opens with a thorough debunking of the myths that climate change is not a result of human activity – if you had any itching thoughts that climate change wasn’t our fault, you won’t now.
After laying that groundwork, Guzman builds a picture of how, when and why climate change will hit communities. Even with conservative estimates, (i.e. a rise of 2 degrees celsius) the earth’s rising temperatures will result in more frequent storms, flooding, starvation, drought, massive outbreaks of disease, millions of climate refugees and alarming death counts, impacting our world’s poorest communities first. He then layers on the political realities that accompany the tricky business of resource allocation. As resources shrink, it is the richest countries (and the richest people within those countries) that fare the best, which often still result in massive economic loss and human death – think Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.
Guzman spotlights different areas including Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sub-Saharan Africa – describing consequences resulting from major climate events that will become more extreme over time. The projected impacts of climate change, even with conservative assumptions of temperature increases, leaves the reader contemplating what will happen if temperatures increase above 2 degrees celsius.
So often we hear the conversation around climate change revolve around mountains, trees, lakes and wildlife. When I chose this book, I was looking for a deep dive of the impacts of climate change on people in the US and around the world. While this book largely delivered, I was hoping for more information on how race and skin color impacts the political fight over resources. Overall, while Guzman’s writing style felt repetitive at times and included a copious number of analogies, you will walk away from this book with a deeper understanding of the connection between climate change and the horrific consequences on people and cultures worldwide.
Leslie Wright is an outreach manager at 3Degrees.
#8. Noah’s Garden by Sara Stein
I love to read books about gardening.Truth be told, I love reading them even more than I love gardening. Noah’s Garden literally changed my approach to gardening and gave me a new passion – native plants.
Previously, my gardening focus was entirely on the aesthetics. If it had colorful flowers with long bloom times, I was sold. After reading this book I realized (and I know this sounds basic) that what I plant in my garden has a direct impact on the wildlife in my community. So if I plant only exotics, my local wildlife (including the bugs that feed the birds) will have nothing to eat. Stein had the same realization after transforming a large property into a sterile expanse:
“We had planted trees and shrubs whose sterile blooms produced no berries……We didn’t consider, when we cut down a stand of milkweed, how many butterflies it fed.”
Sara Stein makes the switch to native gardening sound rewarding and fun. And it does not have to come at the expense of a beautiful yard. In fact, she suggests that most suburban yards with their expanse of grass, a single tree and a row of hedge against the house suffer from too few plants and too few varieties. Planting more widely, even on small lots can have significant benefits to our local ecology and environment.
To borrow from Michael Pollan’s food maxim of “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”, Stein’s equivalent could be “Plant more. No invasives. Mostly natives.”
If every yard in the country made room for several natives, we would have a good start in preserving habitats for local birds and butterflies along with less charismatic but no less ecologically important species.
Karen Healey is a director of marketing at 3Degrees.
#7. The Big Pivot by Andrew Winston
Increasingly acute resource constraints across society demand corporate sustainability initiatives aren’t simply bolt-ons to strategy, but at the very center of a company’s strategy. This is the central tenant of The Big Pivot. Focused on the goals of long-term profit maximization and increased business resiliency, Winston argues that “the big pivot” in mindset is prioritizing environmental and social challenges and opportunities to treat them as central to business success or failure, not as philanthropy or niche issues.
But Winston goes beyond this. He concedes that traditional corporate goal setting (for example, reducing waste by 30% or buying 50% renewable energy), which decouples economic growth from resource use, is of course good. However, Winston stretches the reader to consider “Zero and Beyond” citing John Elkington’s concept of Zeronauts “a new breed of innovator, determined to drive problems such as carbon, waste, toxics, and property to zero”. As examples, Winston cites General Motors and Procter & Gamble, which between them have 240 plants today that send no waste to landfills. He cites Alcoa which produces building panels that clean smog. He cites garment companies which upcycle waste plastic into more valuable flip-flops, sneakers, jackets, and fleece vests. Winston argues nature has a brutal way of winnowing out ideas that create waste. He is seeking companies that go beyond the mindset of waste reduction to “close as many loops” as possible and be regenerative in nature, creating net positive social and environmental value, which in turn create economic value.
When we created 3Degrees, we believed asking a company to integrate new practices because it is the “right” thing to do (what we call shame-based sustainability) was quaint, trite, and incapable of creating long-term, enduring, and significant change. On this point and more, we are fully aligned with Winston’s vision – we want to create a society and generation of business leaders who see more value in solving environmental problems than creating them.
As Sir Richard Branson says, “tackling climate change is one of the biggest wealth creation opportunities of our generation.” We certainly see it this way. What do you think?
Dan Kalafatas is the co-founder and board chairman of 3Degrees.
#6. Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home by Pope Francis
At only 160 pages, the Pope’s encyclical can be can read in a matter of hours – far less time than you will spend thinking about its truth, what it means to you, and most importantly, what you are going to do about it.
I once felt that climate change was insurmountable, something I could neither personally nor professionally tackle. In 2015 I spent a year in London to complete a Masters in Bioethics and Society, and at the last minute pivoted my dissertation to climate change because of the Pope. Pope Francis was going to tackle climate change! He was going to speak to his 1.2 billion followers across the globe, pull people together and bridge the divide! As an atheist, I was intrigued, I even felt smatterings of hope. He did not disappoint.
His encyclical helped me see climate change far more holistically: “a complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” His letter helped guide me to my current work.
I know that many will pass over this book thinking:
- I’m not Catholic, so it won’t resonate with me.
- What more can possibly be said about climate change?
- I am already doing my part for the environment, I don’t need to be convinced.
But this book is relevant for all of us because Pope Francis weaves a compelling moral tale uniting ecology, future generations, consumerism, personal responsibility, politics, global business development and hope. He proves how interconnected we are and how inequality and technology are serving to break ties and create emotional distance between humanity and nature. He paints a holistic picture that allows you to see the current landscape in new ways and to be more aware of the impacts of our first world lifestyle. “Our goal is not to amass information…but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”
I urge you to read it. It will resonate, there is more to be said and there is much we can do.
Kim Fiske is the vice president of strategy and corporate development at 3Degrees.
#5. The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
The Worst Hard Time is a book is about environmental arrogance and its consequences. Specifically, it is about the dust bowl – how it came to be and how it impacted society and government policy. There aren’t many people left that personally experienced “dusters”, as they were known at the time, but plenty of books have been written the phenomenon. Grapes of Wrath is the classic, and it’s a good story but The Worst Hard Time is quite different because it’s non-fiction interspersed with some short biographical information about people that shared their memories.
Notwithstanding book jacket quotes to the contrary, I didn’t find the book “can’t-put-down-history” but it was full of detailed historical points that were interesting enough to keep me coming back to it. For example, I was surprised to learn that as early as the 1930’s, we concluded human activities were almost entirely responsible for the mammoth dust storms. I personally had thought it was a combination of drought and farming. But apparently the drought was not particularly severe, the problem was how we had treated the land – we removed native grasses that had been holding fairly poor soil in place and in less than a decade brought on dust storms unlike anything ever seen before or since.
The book does a great job explaining how federal and state policies intermingled with and supported a gold rush mentality around wheat production. Fortunes were made, hundreds of towns were born, and the United States became the breadbasket to the world before it all came crashing down.
Tragically, but perhaps not surprisingly, Congress was slow to respond to the crisis, in part because the southern plains were so distant, literally and figuratively for most members. On the day of a key hearing, a particularly bad storm blew dust all the way to Washington D.C. This visible evidence helped compel congress to act.
I selected this book because I think it offers some important lessons that should be applied today as we look at our current environmental challenges.
Adam Capage is the vice president of corporate and government affairs at 3Degrees.
#4. The Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned From Patagonia’s First 40 Years by Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley
The Responsible Company, by Yvon Chouinard (the founder of Patagonia) and his nephew, share the steps (and mis-steps) they have taken in running Patagonia as a responsible company. More importantly, it lays out a path for other companies to become responsible to all of their stakeholders, both financially and sustainably. The “older sibling” of Yvon’s first book Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, this book is a road-map to help employees, employers, and businesses identify environmental and social shortcomings and take steps to becoming a successful triple bottom line company.
I was assigned this book for a class in my MBA program and was immediately drawn in by its accessibility. It is a short read, and for those just wanting to boil it down to the main take-aways, there are checklists at the end of the book on what a company should strive to do for its business health, its workers, its customers, its community, and nature. Suggestions range from paying a living wage, to developing lasting partnerships, to toxics reduction and 30 pages more. These suggestions are given weight by the fact that Patagonia is such a successful and financially sound company.
Chouinard and Stanley argue that we should not just look at how something is produced, but also why we choose to design, produce, and consume some things at all. To defend this stance, Patagonia has taken aggressive steps toward being a post-consumerist company, including asking their customers to buy only what they need and reusing and recycling every product that the company makes.
One of my favorite quotes from the book comes from the author’s’ advice to anyone trying to reduce their environmental impact: “Know your impacts, favor improvement, share what you learn”. I feel fortunate to work at a company that is on this path, teaching other companies about their impacts and sharing our knowledge of emissions reductions strategies.
Julie Kelleher is an associate in our carbon markets group.
#3. Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming Edited by Paul Hawken
There is plenty of reason for concern about the trajectory of global warming trends and recent efforts to pull back United States support for the Paris Accord. But wallowing in despair is far from an empowering (nevermind useful) activity. That’s why I was delighted by this recent book of essays that that creates a blueprint of practices and technologies that are “commonly available, economically viable, and scientifically viable.”
With its focus on exploring 100 ideas through essays and beautiful photography, the book’s format is incredibly enticing. When the book arrived at my home, it immediately captured the attention of my husband, an executive with a data and analytics company. He started thumbing through the book and asked if he could bring it with us to read on our family weekend getaway. And yes, he excitedly ploughed through it during our trip.
The book’s ideas span a range of issues including energy, food, land use, transport, and materials. All of the ideas were reviewed by an advisory board that spanned geologists, engineers, agronomists, politicians, writers, climatologists, biologist, economics, financial analysts, architects and activities. The solutions are ranked in term of their potential to avoid or reduce greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. And each of these ideas is explored through a short essay that is thoughtful, informative and inspiring – making the potentially daunting topic of what to do incredibly accessible.
As temperatures rise this summer, consider adding Drawdown to your packing list – whether for an upcoming business trip or vacation. As Paul Hawken noted in the opening, “We see global warming not as an inevitability but as an invitation to build, innovate and effect change, a pathway that awakens creativity, compassion and genius. This is not a liberal agenda, nor is it a conservative one. This is the human agenda.” So with Drawdown in hand, get ready to become part of the human agenda.
Katie Soroye is the vice president of marketing at 3Degrees.
#2. The Climate Casino–Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World by William Nordhaus
The Climate Casino is an excellent primer on the roles policy and economics play in our ongoing fight against climate change. Written in clear language that is accessible to beginners but also engaging to those familiar with the subject, this book offers a variety of problems and possible solutions from a scientific, economic, and social-justice perspective. The Climate Casino caught my attention while reading it for an environmental economics course at Oregon State University because it is not one-sided. The author’s solutions encompass policy solutions on both sides of the aisle and inspired me to dig deeper for a big-picture understanding of the causes of climate change, the effects, and the motivations surrounding any potential solutions.
Within this book Nordhaus highlights one important issue that stood out to me as a social justice advocate: “The problem is that those who produce the emissions do not pay for that privilege, and those who are harmed are not compensated.”
Anyone interested in diving deeper into the economic and political risks and solutions surrounding the climate change debate should find this book an interesting and compelling read. Although I did not agree with every idea the author presents, it is good fodder for further thought and understanding of different perspectives including one big take-away: We must work together through a variety of solutions to overcome this problem.
Lydia Fraser is an outreach coordinator in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
To start us off, we are recommending a classic. Published 55 years ago, this book deserves a place on every environmentalist’s bookshelf.
#1. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Silent Spring, which chronicles Rachel Carson’s investigation into the horrors of DDT use as a pesticide in the 1940s and 50s, was one of the first books I read as an undergraduate in Wildlife Science at Virginia Tech. This book grabbed me like no book ever had. Silent Spring made me realize the important role that every individual plays in preserving our land, air and water for future generations. Silent Spring changed the way I think about my role on this planet and was influential in leading me toward the career I have today.
As I revisited the book recently I came across a quote by Rachel Carson made during an interview just prior to her death. I find this just as relevant today as it was fifty years ago:
“Man’s attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself. [We are] challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves.”
If your idea of fun this summer includes wandering aimlessly through the forest or just relaxing in the great outdoors, this is a great book to pack along. It is one of the great environmental success stories (if you get a new copy it includes an epilogue) that provides us with hope as we look to address our next great challenge – climate change.
Ryan Link is a director of utility partnerships at 3Degrees.