Some of the best environmentally friendly gifts are educational, enlightening and inspiring forms of media like magazine subscriptions, books, children’s books and documentaries. Here are some lists of our favorite environmentally focused media to help spread the love of nature, information about threats to the environment and the importance of protecting our natural world — for ourselves and for our children and grandchildren.
The best environmental magazines
Most environmental magazines are published by environmental charities who use publication as a mode of raising awareness, spreading information and funding operations. There are great environmental magazines for adults and children alike. Here are some of our favorites.
- Nature Conservancy – Through stunning photography and inspiring, world-class writing, Nature Conservancy transports you to the many places the Conservancy works to protect and preserve — from lush rainforests, harsh deserts and the landscapes in-between.
- National Wildlife – Support the National Wildlife Federation and their mission to protect wildlife and habitats and receive a subscription to their magazine, which shares news and helps kids and their parents learn how they can advocate
- National Geographic – Supporting the research and mission of National Geographic by subscribing to their flagship magazine or any of their spin-offs, National Geographic Kids, National Geographic Little Kids, Traveller, or History. They also publish a wide range of children’s books on wildlife and natural science that make great gifts.
- Ranger Rick – A favorite of my own kids is this informative but fun nature magazine is put out by the National Wildlife Federation for children ages 7-12. For younger children, try Ranger Rick Jr. (ages 4-7) and Cub (ages 0-4).
- Sierra – Covering activism, adventure and lifestyle, Sierra covers the latest environmental news while giving readers tips on eco-friendly travel and surviaval tips as well as green buying guides.
- Mother Earth News – This “Original Guide to Wiser Living” covers organic gardening, homesteading, health, food, renewable energy, green homes, nature and the environment and green transportation. This is one of the only stand-alone magazine on this list not affiliated with an environmental non-profit organization.
- Defenders – The magazine of Defenders of Wildlife, Defenders offers engaging stories, spectacular photography and a behind-the-scenes look at what biologists and conservationists are doing to protect imperiled wild animals and plants. It also offers tips on how readers and their families can learn more about native wildlife and join in efforts to save endangered species.
- Audubon – Get the latest news on birds and their habitats through this quarterly magazine, offered alongside a membership at Audubon.org.
- National Parks – The magazine of the National Parks Conservation Association, this publication covers issues like air, energy, history & culture, landscapes, park funding, visitor experience, water and wildlife.
- Natural History – Another stand-alone magazine, this publication covers topics like dinosaurs, evolution, climate change, water, environment, wildlife, society and culture and universe.
- Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – and How It Can Renew America by Thomas L. Friedman – This book by best-selling author Friedman takes a look at a “green revolution” that has hardly begun, the clean-technology breakthroughs we will need to encourage a true revolution, and the reasons why America must lead this revolution.
- This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein – A brilliant explanation of why the climate crisis challenges us to abandon the core “free market” ideology of our time, restructure the global economy, and remake our political systems.
- Climate Change: The Facts by J. Abbot – Leading scientists and commentators from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia consider the climate from every angle – the science, the policy and the politics.
- Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril by Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P. Nelson – This book brings together the testimonies of over 80 visionaries—theologians and religious leaders, scientists, elected officials, business leaders, naturalists, activists and writers “to present a diverse and compelling call to honor our individual and collective moral responsibility to our planet.”
- Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner- This landmark 1986 book by environmental journalist Marc Reisner still applies to water use in the American Southwest. Reisner interviewed hundreds of people about the Southwest, its history and its water infrastructure to easily deduce that more water was being pulled out of the West’s waterways than could be naturally replenished.
- An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore – Inspired by a series of multimedia presentations on global warming that Gore created and delivers to groups around the world, this book brings together leading-edge research from top scientists around the world; photographs, charts, and other illustrations; and personal anecdotes and observations to document the fast pace and wide scope of global warming.
- The Turquoise Ledge by Leslie Marmon Silko – Written like a private journal, author Leslie Marmon Silko draws on her Laguna Pueblo, Cherokee, Mexican, and European ancestry to create this thick, spiritually provocative memoir of desert life and its close bonds with animals, and environmental destruction.
- Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment by David Kirby – We all know that industrial farming creates millions of gallons of animal waste. But this book offers the highly relatable, first-person narratives of three individuals to discover where all that waste goes.
- Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline – A journey through the factories of China to the streets of New York City to understand how the fast fashion industry disrupts not only the fashion industry but the environment.
- The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert – This Pulitzer Prize winning book blends intellectual and natural history with field reporting to give a powerful account of the future of the world and the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes.
- Silent Spring by Rachel Carlson – This book is a call to action for everyday citizens to become civil activists. Written 50 years ago, this book still tops environmental reading lists.
- The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future by Gretchen Bakke Ph.D. – Once an engineering triumph the grid has grown old and is now in dire need of basic repair. Today, as we invest great hope in new energy sources–solar, wind, and other alternatives–the grid is ironically what stands most firmly in the way of a brighter energy future.
- Lab Girl by Hope Jahren – Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she’s studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also so much more.
- The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf – This book uncovers the forgotten life of Alexander von Humboldt, the visionary German naturalist whose ideas changed the way we see the natural world—and in the process created modern environmentalism.
- Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution by Paul Hawken – This groundbreaking book reveals how today’s global businesses can be both environmentally responsible and highly profitable.
- The Better World Shopping Guide: Every Dollar Makes a Difference by Ellis Jones – This book was written under the premise that every dollar we spend has the potential to create social and environmental change. Jones helps consumers make impactful spending decisions by rating hundreds of products and services so consumers can quickly tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys” and decide what kinds of companies to support.
- Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter – This charming and often hilarious memoir recounts the author’s experience moving to inner-city Oakland and raising farm animals for food at her home.
- The Responsibility Revolution: How the Next Generation of Businesses Will Win by John Hollender and Bill Breen – This book is a guide on how to create a company that not only sustains, but surpasses-that moves beyond the imperative to be “less bad” and embrace an ethos to be “all good”.
- Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook – Choosing to focus on a single agricultural crop, Estabrook reveals the huge human cost of the $5 billion fresh tomato industry because of its drive for cheap fruit, which has fostered a thriving modern-day slave trade in the United States.
- A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold – Leopold’s classic 1949 collection of essays express the hope that society would develop an “ecological conscience” about leaving nature alone.
Here is a list of great children’s books about environmental issues and nature that are great for teaching children to appreciate and protect nature and to become environmental stewards. You might even learn a thing or two from them.
- The Great Paper Caper by Oliver Jeffers
- The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
- One Well: The Story of Water On Earth by Rochelle Strauss
- The Tree by Dana Lyons
- Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg
- The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
- The Wump World by Bill Peet
- Fancy Nancy: Every Day Is Earth Day by Jane O’Connor
- The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen
- One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul
- Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals
- Olivia’s Birds: Saving the Gulf by Olivia Bouler
- The Water Hole by Graene Base
- Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter
- The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
- Why Should I Recycle? by Jen Green
- Miss Fox’s Class Goes Green by Eileen Spinelli
- What Does It Mean To Be Green? by Rana DiOrio
- Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
Many of these selections were borrowed from EcoHearth’s extensive list of Green Films: The Best Environmental Documentaries. But some are my own picks, old and new, that are worthy of making your shopping list for the holidays.
- Chasing Ice (2013) – Photographer James Balog employs time-lapse photography to graphically illustrate the speed and extent of climate change on Arctic glaciers.
- Blue Gold: World Water Wars (2009) – This award-winning PBS doc is the story of how corporations have been battling to privitize our water supply and the problems created by the privatization and commoditization of water.
- An Inconvenient Truth (2006) – Al Gore’s monumental and informative, Academy Award-winning film about the science of global warming.
- The Cove (2009) – This Academy Award winner depicts the gruesome ritualistic slaughter of bottlenose dolphins in Taiji, Japan. Not recommended for the squeamish.
- Gasland (2010) – A stirring exposé of the widespread water pollution resulting from hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, a process of using high-pressure fluids to crack surrounding rock formations in order to stimulate oil and gas wells.
- Food, Inc. (2008) – Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and others participate in this engaging documentary about the dangerous state of our food supply thanks to unchecked corporate greed.
- Burning the Future: Coal in America (2008) – Appalachian residents battle a coal industry that is poisoning ground water and flattening mountains with the equivalent of a Hiroshima-sized atom bomb every 11-1/2 days—all to extract coal that will contribute 36% of America’s global warming emissions.
- The Last Mountain (2011) – The beautiful Appalachian mountains are the backdrop for this expose of the threat mountain-top-removal coal mining poses to the environment—and our democracy.
- National Geographic: Human Footprint (2008) – Graphically illustrates the environmental impact each of us has on the planet.
- The Future of Food (2005) – Exposes how the food industry uses its political influence to eviscerate the government’s environmental and safely regulations.
- Planet in Peril (2008) – A wide-ranging 3-hour documentary, shot in high definition, that engagingly covers four key environmental issues: climate change, vanishing ecosystems, loss of species and the human population explosion.
- Go Further (2005) – Highly entertaining and humorous film that follows Woody Harrelson as he roams the country in a hemp-powered van touting environmental consciousness
- Earth (2009) – James Earl Jones narrates this Disneynature (an independent Disney film subsidiary) documentary that shows how climate change has negatively impacted species across the planet by following polar bears, African elephants and humpback whales over a one-year period as they try to cope with the results.
- Blue Planet: Seas of Life (2002) – Explores life in the oceans with amazing underwater photography (eight-part BBC series).
- Planet Earth (2007) – A beautifully filmed survey of life as it exists in wide-ranging ecosystems across the globe. Another BBC mini-series.
- Planet Earth II (2016) – Though this year’s acclaimed installment of the mini-series from David Attenborough and BBC is has not yet been released on DVD, it is available for pre-order on Amazon.
What can you do today?
Make a commitment to give greener gifts this holiday season. Check out more Green Giving posts from Everyday Earthiness, like:
- “Green Giving: How To Give Experiences That Help The Planet”
- “Green Giving: 5 Easy Ways To Shop For Great Green Gifts”
- “Green Giving: 4 Ways to Give Nature Gifts That Help the Planet”
Learn about greener options for wrapping, ribbons and cards in our article, “How To Green Up Your Gift Giving”. As always, spread these ideas to others.
Featured film of the day: See the powerful National geographic climate documentary BEFORE THE FLOOD, a film by Academy Award winning filmmaker, Fisher Stevens, and Academy Award winning actor, environmental activist and UN Ambassador of Peace, Leonardo DiCaprio (executive produced by Martin Scorsese). BEFORE THE FLOOD presents a riveting account of the dramatic changes now occurring around the world due to climate change and includes appearances by Elon Musk, Barack Obama, Ban Ki-moon and many others. See the entire movie right here streaming for free from YouTube.
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