Blame former CEO of The Nature Conservancy, Mark Tercek’s recent newsletter for this post. He said he was “anxious to dig in” to Bill Gates’ “much anticipated” How To Avoid A Climate Disaster book. Much anticipated?!
Now, I don’t have anything against Bill Gates. I don’t think he caused the COVID pandemic or is trying to put microchips in our bodies or wants to control us with vaccines. I don’t even think he caused the Texas freeze and electricity catastrophe. In fact, I’m a long-time Microsoft WindowsTM user and have forgiven him for calling open source software “communism”. He’s made considerable contributions to global health and I’m sure he’s a very smart, funny, committed person.
But, why read his book on the climate crisis? He’s a relative newbie on the subject, only interested for the past decade or so. Why would his book be “much anticipated”?
Tercek explains that he likes the writing because Gates is an “admirable thinker” who “approaches the issues like an engineer.” Let’s be honest. There are lots of books by good engineers Mark isn’t going to read. Gates’ book is anticipated because he is rich. Very, very rich. As a culture we listen and look up to rich people.
However, successful wealth hoarding isn’t a great reference for this moment in history. Thinking like an engineer is little better. After all, that’s the mindset that got us into this mess!
For most of us, reading a book is a considerable commitment we choose deliberately. So let’s look for books that help us move beyond the reductionist “engineer” mindset. Books that give insights into the personal work we need to do to shed our obsession with wealth. Books that help us see beyond “climate” into the multiple systems humanity is distorting. Books that help us understand the wisdom of ancestors and our connections with living systems – that help us imagine into a truly regenerative future.
If you really want to read Gates’ book, go for it. But, before you commit, consider some others first. Here are suggestions compiled from members of the Global Regeneration CoLab.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
A word-of-mouth generated New York Times bestseller, this is always my first recommendation for people interested in seeing living systems. Kimmerer weaves together science with the wisdom of her Potawatomi Nation ancestors. Her writing is poetry.
Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World by Tyson Yunkaporta
Combining creative use of language, personal stories, and his art, with his skills at cultural translation, Yunkaporta jars us out of our engineer’s mindset. He helps his reader to see global sustainability issues “using indigneous perspectives and thought processes” wherein knowledge “lies in the processes rather than just the content.” Challenging and enjoyable.
Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, a New Earth by Charles Massy
Massy takes us across the breadth and history of Australia as he retraces his learning about how colonialists’ blindness destroyed the fragile land and how some of them are learning to correct those mistakes and develop what he calls an emergent mindset to replace the “mechanical mind”.
Ancient Futures by Helena Norberg-Hodge
When Helena Norberg-Hodge first arrived in Ladakh, in northern India, she found a pristine environment and a people who exhibited remarkable vitality and joy. But then came economic growth and “development” (in Western tems). Over the last four decades, a whole range of problems—from polluted air and water to unemployment, religious conflict, eating disorders and youth suicide—have begun to appear. Yet this is far from a story of despair. Social and environmental breakdown are the product of political and economic decisions—and those decisions can be changed. In this book, we can learn both from the original ways of life in Ladakh and from a wealth of examples of projects around the world that are pointing the way to human and ecological well-being through economic localization.
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
A big part of understanding regeneration means restoring our relationships with nature, and regaining the ability to look at other living beings under a light of awe, respect and understanding. After reading this amazing book about trees, their relationships, and discovering how they learn, communicate and support each other, you will never look at a forest the same way again.
Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan
This book may not, at first, seem to fit this list. After all, the critique is that agriculture is at the root of (most) evil. However, our modern, deep belief in the goodness of our civilization and progress is also the source of much resistance to regenerative ideas.
The Reindeer Chronicles: And Other Inspiring Stories of Working with Nature to Heal the Earth by Judith D. Schwartz
Schwartz understands that “climate change” is more than just a disrupted carbon cycle. We must also consider water, nutrient, and energy cycles. She takes us to China, the Middle East, New Mexico, a sweat lodge, and beyond to introduce us to projects grappling with this reality.
The Ministry for the Future: A Novel by Kim Stanley Robinson
Sci-fi or cli-fi (climate fiction) can help us imagine what an urgent response to climate change might look like. Robinson makes the threat visceral and then posits changes in multiple dimensions of society from currencies to agriculture to refugee resettlement to terrorism that dramatically transform the climate and the economy. He echoes something we’ve seen in the GRC – “you could literally fill a medium-sized encyclopedia with the good new projects already invented and waiting to scale. There’s no end to the good projects we could fund, if we had the funds.”
Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist by Kate Raworth
Raworth traces the evolution of neoliberal economics from its beginnings, pointing out its fundamental flaws along the way and mapping out its pervasive impacts on culture and thought processes. More importantly, she begins to explore how we can reshape our understanding of economics to be goal-driven, asking, how can we get into and stay within the “safe and just operating space for humanity”. She draws on a fascinating variety of behavioral economics studies and real-world examples. A fairly quick and enjoyable read.
The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World by Peter Senge
This is a little dated (2008) but it helped launch me on a quest to support large-scale collaboration for a sustainable (now, I understand, “regenerative”) world. Looking back at the book I can see that Senge, of Fifth Discipline fame, was on this path well before I grokked the concept of “regeneration.” I underlined his statement “A Core principle of a regenerative society is that life creates conditions for life” and his conclusion “fear cramps imagination.” Still a timely read.
All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, Edited by Katharine Wilkinson & Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
Scientists, poets, policymakers, activists — Wilkinson and Johnson gathered a series of 60 illuminating essays and poems from North American female leaders on climate change. For diverse perspectives on climate action, this book offers inspiration and hope, and dares including arts and emotions – which are rarely represented in the very cerebral world of climate action.
If this list isn’t enough, you can check out the 2021 Wellbeing Economy Reading List, or this longer list curated by Malte Wagenbach. If you’re saturated with books take a break with Brian Hick’s stories about walking across California or Carolina Carvalho’s reviews and observations or dip into Nick Gottlieb’s Sacred Headwaters newsletter or visit David Witzel’s sporadic missives about the rising regeneration wave.
Books were proposed by members of the Global Regeneration CoLab as noted. This post (and any mistakes) are the responsibility of David Witzel.
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