The narrative arc that dominates most stories about the environment today is not difficult to discern, particularly when it comes to the issues central to the two books I discuss here: the ocean and mass extinction. From garbage patches to bleached coral, beached whales, and acidification, from bees to polar bears, the news is uniformly bad. Environmentalist stories tend toward the melancholy arc of decline, drawing, as Ursula K. Heise notes, on tragedy and elegy. Both Heise’s Imagining Extinction and Teresa Shewry’s Hope at Sea affirm the descriptive power of such narratives, for the realities they describe are themselves dire. Nonetheless, both books examine texts that begin to imagine beyond the standard templates, exploring utopian thinking and hope, branching into comedy and the epic, and asking, as Heise provocatively puts it, “whether and how it might be possible to move environmentalism beyond...

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