Smart List - 10/17/22

Books on Sustainability and Climate Change

4 min

By Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman

The Smart List is a monthly list of multi-media recommendations on everything design, curated by Interwoven Design. In this issue we share three great books on sustainability. Being educated about sustainability is now a critical part of being an industrial designer. It helps us understand why our projects need to incorporate sustainable design practices wherever possible. That said, it’s hard to feel educated about it when the topic of sustainability is so overwhelming. The way we talk about it is often too vague to feel real or relevant to our everyday lives. These books, and others like them, tell specific, vivid stories that bring the reality of the need for sustainable design to life. They take a vague idea like “impact” and give it weight and dimension. These compelling stories help connects the dots between theory and practice.

The Smart List: Books on Sustainability & Climate Change

The World Without Us

by Alan Weisman

Many books about the environment catalog case studies of the impacts that our human activities are having on the planet. They are warning signals, threatening impending disaster if we don’t change our ways. In The World Without Us Alan Weisman takes an entirely different and fresh approach in which the human species is eliminated in the opening pages and the remainder of the book is spent painting a picture of how the Earth will adapt and develop without us. 

Weisman works from expert interviews with engineers, zoologists, astrophysicists, and more. He also uses present-day examples of sites that have been abandoned by civilization like Chernobyl as jumping off points for his speculative future. He uses the concept of a loud, conspicuous absence to tell the story of our impact. Our intricate civil infrastructures would collapse and be subsumed into nature, erosion and underground flooding would cause our cities to crumble, and the entire planet would undergo a process of re-wilding. What would remain of human civilization? What would be the most lasting of our contributions to the planet? Weisman answers these questions and many more.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

by Elizabeth Kolbert

Mass extinctions are planetary events wherein diversity of life drops exponentially. There have been five mass extinctions in the last half billion years, and scientists today say we are in the midst of the sixth, predicted to be the worst since an asteroid took out the dinosaurs. Of all the species that have existed, scientists estimate that perhaps 1% remain. The instigating event for this particular mass extinction? Humans. 
In The Sixth Extinction, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert highlights the growing mountain of endangered species, like Panama’s emblematic golden frog, including stories of many that have gone extinct on our watch. She outlines the nature of extinction with historic examples like the American mastadon, giving the reader a foundation for understanding the evolutionary and ecological frameworks around species extinctions. She then narrates her adventures with experts in dozens of fields including botany, biology, and geology. She writes vividly and with compelling clarity to highlight these quiet disappearances happening all around us, all over the world, each a study in human impact, influence, and power.

Silent Spring

by Rachel Carson

Silent Spring was serialized in The New Yorker in the summer of 1962, and published in book form that fall. Rachel Carson’s passionate, ominous warning instigated immediate national debate about the use of chemical pesticides and to what extent science, corporations, and governments were responsible for their effects on the environment. 

Carson’s research outlined how insecticides, weed-eradicating chemicals, and agricultural sprays were leaching into food and water sources, endangering ecosystems and human communities alike. Her revolutionary text kicked off a grass-roots movement to preserve the environment through local and national regulations, and was the cry that brought environmental awareness to the attention of the public. Silent Spring is considered one of the most important books of the twentieth century and, though it is now 60 years old, holds up as a social alarm and a call to action, a critical catalyst for the modern day environmental movement.

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