Environmental book clubs have been on the rise for the past few years. It’s not something I’ve encountered until the last five years or so, although they were by no means non-existent before. But a coalition of circumstances, both disparate and intertwined, paved the way for environmentally-focused book clubs to flourish.
While researching for this article, I had the opportunity to speak with climate journalist Tais Gadea Lara. Gadea Lara, a 2021 Hammarskjöld Fund Fellow and a 2017 International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) Fellow, co-founded the Club de Lectura Climática (Climate Reading Club) in 2020. In conversation with a science journalist Martin de Ambrosiothey came up with the idea of a book club “in which, through literature on climate change, people think and act”.
Gadea Lara identifies the Youth Climate Movement, led by Greta Thunberg, as a turning point in public concern for the environment, particularly climate. Although there was a rich history of climate activism before him, it seemed to make a deep impression on the public. Additionally, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic shortly thereafter, with its lockdowns and social distancing, meant that more people now had time to focus on topics of interest. As Gadea Lara says, “the lockdown due to the pandemic has forced us all to reflect on these essential topics”.
An environmental book club in action
The numbers add up, reflecting growing public interest in the environment, its beauty and the dangers it faces: the virtual environmental book club has 2,387 followers on Instagram (@envirobookclub) and 482 members on Goodreads. In the introductory message board on Goodreads, co-founder Fran Haddock mentions that they “initially thought it would just be a small group of maybe 6-8 of us, but it quickly became apparent that the interest was much greater!
Gadeas Lara and de Ambrosio faced the same situation: their audience interest was much higher than they had anticipated. They eventually had to limit the number of members, as they both agree on the importance of manageable groups to foster discussions – too large a group of people means that a percentage of them will not be heard. And the debate is Point: She mentions that due to the pandemic, “my international trips were canceled, but I needed to speak with others about these concerns.”
It is through discussion that ideas coalesce and action begins to take place. Ultimately, action is the goal of an environmental book club, it is always to inform in order to transform. Gadeas Lara reminds us that each book is a starting point, which it must “inform in order to raise awareness and trigger action”.
The origin stories of these book clubs may look different on the outside, but they all boil down to the same thing: people need to talk about their interest and concern for the environment with others. This is how the Environmental Book Club was formed: “This book club started as an idea of collaboration to create a virtual environmental book club between Fran and Adrienne who met through the eco -Instagram community – even if they live on the other side of the world to each other!”
Do members of environmental book clubs have anything in common? beyond this need ? According to Gadeas Lara, not much: the Club de Lectura Climática has members who practice different professions, who are of different ages and belong to different communities. The only other commonality many of them seem to share is a desire to reconnect with books, to get back into the habit of reading.
What do environmental book clubs read?
The question may seem silly. Environmental books, of course. But what are the criteria for determining which books are read? How are discussions handled? This changes depending on the book club in question: those run by experts, like the Club de Lectura Climática or the Climate Reality Book Club, ensure that science is the common thread. Gadeas Lara points out that “climate science must guide every discussion”. Environmental Book Club co-founders focus on books about “the intersectional issues facing our planet and our people…”
Because that’s what it’s all about: in the end, it’s impossible to read about the environment without at the same time reading about humanity. The two are so intrinsically linked that one must affect and be affected by the other. That is why, although the Club de Lectura Climática apparently deals only with the climate, they read articles on the refugee crisis, on global nutrition, on people. Environmental book clubs may seem like a type of niche book club, but they are not. You could say quite the opposite: it’s the most global type of book club there is.