10 Best Science Fiction Books About Environmental Sustainability

Think you should learn about climate change, but don’t know where to start? This list will help you out!
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Sustainability is something we hear about a lot these days, but what is it? Well, simply put, sustainability is about working to make sure we don’t take more from the planet than we, or it, can replenish.

Climate change is getting harder and harder to deny, and the tolls that innovation has taken on the environment have not gone unnoticed. It can be difficult to imagine life being different than the way we live it now, but the fact of the matter is that the way we live now is not sustainable at the rate our population is growing.

The change will come, and we should take time to try to understand the impact we have on the world. And what better way to start that journey, than by reading something both fantastic and relevant?

So, I’ve compiled a list of the 10 best science fiction books that deal with issues of environmental sustainability. Pick your favorite from the list and start reading! You’ll have fun and may even gain a new perspective on this planet we call home.

Here are the 10 best science fiction books about environmental sustainability that everyone should read:

1. Dune by Frank Herbert

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Frank Herbert’s Dune is probably the most well-known science fiction book on this list, and for good reason. Dune a science fiction masterpiece. It tells the story of Paul Atreides, a young man who grew up on Caladan, a blue, resource-rich planet, who moves to Arrakis, the desert planet. Throughout the novel, you see Paul and his family attempt to learn from the native people of Arrakis, the Fremen, how to make the most of the limited water available on the planet.

The people of Arrakis have adapted to survive in harsh conditions, everything from their clothing to their homes to their cultural practices is centered around conserving and sparing water. As the story progresses, the Fremen’s plan to terraform the planet comes to light, and you see the intricate processes and hard work they have done to try to make their dream a reality. 

Reading Dune transports you to another world, where science and magic are almost indiscernible, and even then the planet’s problems seem nearly impossible to fix. But, as long as there are people willing to work hard and fight for what they believe in, dreams can become reality.

2. Dies the Fire by S. M. Stirling

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Dies the Fire is the first in a series of novels that analyze what would happen if all technology failed in an instant. The story is centered in the Pacific Northwest and is told from the perspective of three main groups of people, all trying to figure out how to survive in a world that is both new and old.

Dies the Fire begins by showing the world as we know it: then everything changes when all technology, including weapons, fails in a single moment. The chaos that follows is unsettlingly realistic, and you see the survivors struggle to stay alive and find ways to fend for themselves.

It’s a very exciting read: the characters are complex and emotionally driven, the plot is full of both action-packed battle scenes and complex societal issues, and the ways and means people must use for survival are as varied and interesting as the people themselves.

3. Across the Universe by Beth Revis

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Across the Universe takes place on a spaceship traveling from Earth to a new planet that humanity is colonizing. The trip is expected to take hundreds of years, so generations of people live and work on the ship, keeping it running on schedule, and preparing and sustaining plant and animal life for their eventual arrival.

But perhaps the most important job of the ship’s inhabitants is to monitor the hundreds of people who are cryogenically frozen and stored away in the lower decks: the people chosen to be the first colonizers. But when one of these cryogenic chambers malfunctions and a young girl wakes up 150 years before she should, the journey’s meticulous plan goes out the window.

I first read this novel when I was around 12 years old, and it fed into my curiosity about space travel and whether or not humanity will eventually spread to other planets. And with the recent developments at SpaceX, I’ve started to wonder about the possibilities again. Across the Universe is a love story, but it asks deeper questions about the fate of humanity and life on Earth.  If you’re a sucker for romance, I highly recommend this book.

4. Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach

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Ernest Callenbach wrote Ecotopia back in the 1970s, a time when the public was starting to hear about the dangerous consequences of climate change. In the novel, Callenbach examines a green utopia created when Oregon, Washington, and Northern California split away from the United States so they can implement their own laws and regulations to protect their environment. The ideas proposed in the novel are interesting and, at times, challenging. 

Reading Ecotopia opened my eyes to the vastly different perspectives people have about climate change and what actions, if any, need to be taken. It can be difficult for us to imagine making radical changes to counteract something we don’t see affecting us personally, but it’s interesting to see what a green utopia could look like.

5. Nature’s Confession by J. L. Morin

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In Nature’s Confession, two teens set out to save the planet from pollution against all the odds. As the story unfolds, the teens meet up with an android who reveals scientific mysteries of the universe and takes them on a quest through the Big Bang and back again. 

This exciting read will teach you about love, loss, and what it means to fight for something you care about, even when it feels like you’re fighting alone. I recommend this book to anyone who feels they’re too small to make a difference in this world.

6. The Martian by Andy Weir

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Andy Weir’s The Martian is a great book to read if you have any interest in the future of space travel. While the story is fictional, the level of research and detail provided within is insanely accurate to what our modern space agencies are capable of doing.

Throughout the novel, you see why becoming an astronaut is one of the most difficult and most dangerous jobs in the world. The main character Mark uses every skill in his toolbelt and the limited supplies available to him to survive alone on a planet that cannot support human life.

I am so glad I read The Martian. It changed the way I think about space travel, but it also changed the way I think about people and made me believe that when equipped with the right tools and knowledge, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish. If you want to feel hopeful about humanity and the future of space exploration, I can’t recommend this novel highly enough.

7. World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler

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World Made by Hand is similar to Dies the Fire in that both novels take a look at how different people attempt to rebuild society after it breaks down. World Made by Hand is set in Union Grove, New York, and looks at the lives of its citizens after the town faces one catastrophic problem after the next.

The novel touches on the issues of the modern suburban system, mainly that our current way of life requires lots of energy and resources to be shipped into us, and doesn’t lend itself to sustainable living.

Reading World Made by Hand was like a wake-up call. Our society is highly dependent on technology and the ease of transportation of resources, and if that infrastructure were to fail, how many of us would have the skills, knowledge, and means to keep ourselves alive, safe, and happy? If you get everything you need to be delivered to your door, you may want to read this novel.

8. Mars Trilogy by Kimberly Stanley Robinson

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In this trilogy of novels, Robinson explores the real challenges of terraforming and placing human settlements on Mars. Robinson looks into not only the technical challenges but the social challenges as well. The first book in the trilogy, Red Mars, covers the process of terraforming and beginning to colonize the red planet.

Some of the problems encountered by the terraformers and colonizers were planned for, but no transition this large can go off without a hitch, and several problems arise throughout the process.

Red Mars is a great introduction to the reality of terraforming our neighboring planet, especially since the younger generation may still be around when humanity makes the leap to interplanetary colonization. I recommend this book to the younger crowd, who will almost certainly face this issue during their lifetime.

9. The Wanderer Rises by John Robertson

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The Wanderer Rises is set in the not-so-distant future. Humanity is making progress in the fight against climate change, specifically in cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions, but people are wondering if our actions are radical enough to save the planet.

While humans debate whether or not to take more radical action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, another problem arises: we’re running out of fresh water. As humanity tries to deal with the mounting problems facing the Earth, a strange object arrives from the outer rim of the solar system.  

Reading The Wanderer Rises made me curious about where we are currently in the fight to correct climate change, and if we are doing enough to counteract the damage we’ve done since the Industrial Revolution. The Wanderer Rises made me wonder: if we aren’t alone in the universe, what would other life forms think of what we do to our planet?

10. The Overstory by Richard Powers

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This book unfolds from a very different perspective. The Overstory is about five trees and the nine Americans whose lives they touch, bringing them together to tell a haunting story about deforestation. The characters in the book are all linked by their observation of the way we reap trees from the ground as if they’ll be back again in a year. Throughout the novel, many of the characters come to realize that trees, as living beings, have a right to be protected and preserved, but their fight against those who simply want to cut them down for profit seems hopeless.

The Overstory made me think about deforestation from a new perspective. I had never thought about trees as social beings before, but reading this novel made me curious, so I picked up a little additional reading: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben.

Unlike the rest of the books on this list, The Hidden Life of Trees wasn’t written as fiction. In this book, Wohlleben talks about real discoveries in the scientific field, showing that trees live in family groups, communicate, and even help each other grow and warn each other of danger. Reading The Overstory and The Hidden Life of Trees will change the way you look at forests for the rest of your life.

Each of these books has the ability to transport you to a world not that different from our own, and give you an opportunity to think about our home planet. We consume resources at a faster rate than we or nature can replace them, and this method of energy and resource consumption is unsustainable.

As time passes, and the effects of climate change become more clear, it is becoming ever more important to focus on trying to find sustainable sources of energy and make an effort to protect this planet we call home or be prepared to leave it. Tackling that issue won’t be easy, but hopefully, these books will teach you a little something while entertaining you beyond belief. Pick your favorite and start reading!

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