Climate Change Book Clubs: Engaging Citizens of the Anthropocene Through Inquiry and Choice

This is a unit I developed through on-going professional conversations with an NWP friend and colleague. The emphasis here is on enabling students to enter into this issue with as much choice as possible and to foster an inquiry mindset.

Unit Plan: The Obstacles and Opportunities of Climate Change

Climate Change Book Clubs (Choose one text)

Essential Questions on Craft:

What are the environmental, economic, technological, and humanitarian facets of the climate crisis, and how do writers address these facets in rhetorically compelling ways?

Why hasn’t the message of the climate crisis resonated more resoundingly with audiences, given the overwhelming scientific consensus on the issue?

How do writers craft rhetorically effective messages on climate change that do resonate? How do they make the science accessible? How do they address the partisanship that surrounds the issue?

How do particular messengers impact an audience’s reception of the message?

How do writers use narrative, graphics, or charts to convey the dangerous impacts of climate change in rhetorically effective ways?

How do writers address the work that frontline communities are doing in terms of organizing and leading movements in ways that are sensitive to the cultural beliefs of these communities and to the historical mistreatment and discrimination that many of these groups have faced?

Whole-Class Texts on the Rhetoric of Climate Change

“A Life of the Senses:” Nature vs. the Know-It-All State of Mind from The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

The Year in Climate Change: 2018

Fourth National Climate Assessment (2018)

Generation Anthropocene by Robert Macfarlane

David Roberts on the Problem with Individual Personal Actions

Project Drawdown (there’s no one solution to the crisis – it’s complicated)

Recalculating the Climate Math” by Bill McKibben

The Psychology of Climate Change Communication by Yale Center for Research on Environmental Decisions

How Americans Think About Climate Change in Six Maps

Is Nature Stable, Delicate, or Random? Class and Views of Nature (Yale study)

Can You Stay Within the World’s Carbon Budget?

Excerpt from The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable by Amitav Ghosh

Excerpts from George Marshall’s Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change

The Most Important Thing You Can Do To Fight Climate Change: Talk About It by Katharine Hayhoe

What policies, practices, and pathways might we/must we pursue to address the climate crisis?

Because of the scope and severity of climate change, we will need to employ a variety of strategies to address it effectively. As a result, it will be useful for you to have a basic understanding of several key areas of climate debate/discussion. You will also be practicing your synthesis skills here.


  • Select ONE mini-unit topic from Units 1-5 on which you will write a synthesis essay that you will post to your blog by the end of this unit. Use the questions provided, and select one or more that you want your essay to address. Include 4-5 sources from those provided, your book club text, and/or other sources you seek out. Your aim is to 1) bring these sources into conversation with one another to illustrate the scope and complexity of the issue and 2) take a stand on one (or more) of the questions provided. This essay is argumentative (you need to stake out a claim) but it is also analytical in that you need to draw together disparate texts to explain the issue in a sophisticated way and craft your argument effectively. (100 points)
  • Select TWO other mini-units from Units 1-5 to participate in Schoology discussion assignments on. For your post for each discussion, you will need to drawn 3 of the provided sources into conversation with one another. You must also post two responses to peers’ posts. You will respond to one or more of the questions provided. (20 points each)
  • Participate in a Socratic Seminar on the Unit 6 Topic, “Hope, Art, and Humor.” This Seminar will take place at the end of the unit. You should come prepared to discuss three texts of your choosing from this mini-unit. (16 points)

Each week, you will have time in class to read/view content and be working on these assessments. You may need to read/view at home too. I’ve starred pieces that are especially interesting rhetorically, meaning that the writer is doing some impressive things with language, structure/approach, or argument, or that showcase a rhetorically interesting development in the world of climate science, business and government, and/or activism.

You must create slides each week so that I can monitor and assess your progress in terms of your research. See here for directions. Create a slide deck and list your name on the linked doc in the slide deck (slide #2), and then link your slide deck to your name.

You will also be meeting with your book club four times throughout the course of this unit. Each time you meet, you will need to bring in four “discussion starters” on post-it notes to guide your discussions in your book club on those days.


Mini-Unit One: Legal Action and Civil Disobedience

Questions: How might we/must we spur action to address climate change? Are court battles helpful/necessary/harmful? What about civil disobedience – is it helpful/necessary/harmful in spurring action? Should we employ a combination of these approaches, one or the other, or neither?

Mini-Unit Two: Business, Markets, Government and Energy

Questions: How does climate change impact the economy? How does it hurt us economically? What economic opportunities does it present for us? What do we do about energy? Switch to all renewables? What about nuclear energy – is it clean or dirty energy, and is it necessary and feasible? Retain fossil fuels? How might we move to cleaner fuels – should businesses and markets drive this shift, or government action? Federal action? State, local?

and Barbara Blumenthal

      – Government Action (large-, medium-, and small-scale)

Mini-Unit Three: Technology, Infrastructure, and Climate Adaptation and Resiliency

Questions: How does geoengineering fit into climate change mitigation? Is it necessary? Dangerous? Both? What kind of adaptations should we/must we make to enhance the resiliency of our infrastructure in the face of climate change? How might our future look? What are the worst- and best-case scenarios for the future, in your view?

Geoengineering, Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS), and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS)

Mini-Unit Four: Managing Earth Systems

Questions: How can we manage land and agriculture in ways that help us mitigate climate change and create healthier ecosystems? What is the nature of the relationship between climate change and the biodiversity crisis? Are there possible pathways for action that address both? What are the benefits and detriments of those actions? Does nature have rights? Is so, what are they? If not, why not?

Kendra Pierre-Louis

Mini-Unit Five: Civilization, Cities, and Development – Looking Toward the Future

Questions: What role do cities play in climate change mitigation? What about suburbs? Farmlands and rural areas? What does good development look like? What is the nature of the relationship between humans and the environment – are we in harmony with nature, in dissonance with nature, totally separate from it, a drain on it, a boon to it, or simply part of it?

“Why Squatter Cities Are a Good Things.” by Stewart Brand (video)

Cities Are Central to Any Serious Plan to Tackle Climate Change by David Roberts

4 Ways Cities Can Be Climate Heroes by David Roberts

Climate Change and Cities: What We Need to Do by University of Houston Energy Fellows

     – To Build the Cities of the Future, We Must Get Out of Our Cars by Robert Kunzig

It’s 2050 and This Is How We Stopped Climate Change by Dan Charles

Sustainable Jersey Green Design Checklist for Development

From ‘Not In My Backyard’ to ‘Yes In My Backyard’ by Alana Semuels

Should We Be Having Kids in the Age of Climate Change? By Jennifer Ludden

-The Trouble with Wilderness by William Cronon (this is a long but excellent piece that challenges traditional Romantic/Transcendental ideas about nature as “unspoiled wilderness”)

The Road by Stephanie Nolan (about a road being built through the Amazon Rainforest. In addition to the journey and the conflicts it explores, it has amazing visuals)

National Geographic documentary based on Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse. (Diamond is also the author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, which you may have read in Social Studies) or Are We On the Road to Civilization Collapse? By Luke Kemp

The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells (this piece got a lot of attention for being especially dark and lacking in hope – be forewarned) or It Is Absolutely Time to Panic About Climate Change by Sean Illing (interview with David Wallace-Wells)

Unit Six: Hope, Art, and Humor

Questions: What are the reasons to be hopeful about the future and our capacities to address the climate crisis? How might we sustain hope and find levity in the face of the climate crisis? What does climate change offer us – spiritually, politically, socially, economically? How might humor play a role in spurring action on climate change? How can humor offer us comfort/hope/community/knowledge? What do art, literature, and poetry offer us? How might they spur action and/or provide comfort/hope/community/knowledge?

  • Hope

The Case for “Conditional Optimism” on Climate Change by David Roberts

Show Up With Hope by Anne Lamott





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