The story of 2020 was climate change. The increasingly severe effects of the rise in global temperatures are being felt everywhere, from extreme weather events to natural disasters. Scientific studies warn of the imminent and catastrophic consequences of climate change, raising global awareness of the impending crisis. As we move into 2021, here is our selection of 15 must-read books on climate change and sustainability to enlighten and inspire you this year.
Being the Change: Live Well and Start a Climate Revolution by Peter Kalmus
The first on our list of books about climate change, alarmed by drastic changes occurring in the Earth’s environment, climate scientist and suburban father Peter Kalmus embarked on a journey to change his life and the world. He began by ditching the car and bicycling instead, growing his own food and making other simple, fulfilling changes. Kalmus slashed his climate impact to one tenth of the US average and became happier in the process.
Being the Change (2017) inspires individuals who want take climate action, but are unsure of where to start.
This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs The Climate by Naomi Klein
Rob Nixon from The New York Times called it “the most momentous and contentious environmental book since Silent Spring”. Hard-hitting journalist Naomi Klein uncovers the myths clouding the climate debate, unearthing how powerful and well-financed right wing think tanks and lobby groups are at the source of the climate change denial.
This Changes Everything (2014) challenges the current “free market” ideology, which Klein argues is unable to solve the climate change crisis.
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The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative by Florence Williams
From eucalyptus groves in California, forest trails in Korea, to islands in Finland, Florence Williams investigates the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain. Delving into cutting-edge research, The Nature Fix (2017) exposes the powers of the natural world to improve health, strengthen our relationships and promote reflection and innovation.
Drawdown (2017) gathers the 100 most effective solutions to halt global warming from leading scientists and policymakers, which if adopted, could even reduce the overall greenhouse gasses currently present in the atmosphere . Already firmly anchored in the New York Times bestseller list, Hawken ranks optimal solutions – like moderating the use of air-conditioners and refrigerators, or adopting a plant-rich diet – by the amount of potential greenhouse gases they can avoid or remove.
Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson
Half Earth (2016), written by one of the world’s greatest naturalists and a double Pulitzer Prize winner, proposes an realistic plan to save our imperilled biosphere: devote half the surface of the Earth to nature. In order to stave off the mass extinction of species including our own, we must move swiftly to preserve the biodiversity of our planet, Wilson urges in one of his most impassioned books about climate change to date.
Natural Capital: Valuing the Planet by Dieter Helm
The first real attempt to calibrate, measure and value natural capital from an economic perspective, Natural Capital (2015) shifts the parameters of the current environmental debate. Dieter Helm, Fellow of Economics at the University of Oxford, claims that refusing to place an economic value on nature risks an environmental meltdown. He proceeds to outline a new framework to couple economic growth with respect for our natural endowment without sacrificing the former.
Given the recent buzz about the Green New Deal in American politics, we recommend this brilliant book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author who coined the term, Thomas L. Friedman. Hot, Flat and Crowded (2008) speaks to America’s urgent need to expand national renewables and how climate change presents a unique opportunity for the US – not only to transform its economy, but to lead the world in innovating toward cleaner energy.
Sustainable Nation: Urban Design Patterns for the Future by Douglas Farr
An essential resource for urban designers, planners and architects, Sustainable Nation (2018) is an urgent call to action and a guidebook for change. An architect and urban planner, Douglas Farr details how designing cities and buildings with sustainable criteria can mitigate the humanitarian, population and climate crises.
The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells
If you need to quickly get up to speed with the sheer scale of the climate emergency, journalist David Wallace-Wells’s succinct but brutal portrait of our future lives on earth may be for you. In 200 pages, it unpacks the different dimensions of our forecast future, from heat death to unbreathable air.
As Wallace-Wells puts it in the book’s first line, “it is worse, much worse, than you think.” Even for those who feel they are well-versed on the issue, the endless stream of disasters that have or could be caused by global warming effectively shakes the reader out of any complacency.
While the book does not offer solutions, it does make it clear that we already have all the tools we need to avoid the worst effects. But ultimately The Uninhabitable Earth seeks to make clear the horror of the emergency of the consequences before us. Unless we accept the urgency, how can we expect to get ourselves out of this mess?
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
By 2050, the climate crisis will have driven the extinction of up to half the world’s species, according to this book that is written on the frontlines of environmental breakdown. We are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction event, which is set to be the fastest such event on record.
Kolbert outlines how humans have driven the extinction of biodiversity, or to the brink of extinction, from the Panamanian golden frog nearly completely wiped out in the wild by a fungal disease to the Maui, which is in peril due to deforestation.
We are driving these species to extinction in many ways: some connected to the climate crisis through rising sea levels rising and deforestation, as well as by spreading disease-carrying species and poaching. By fundamentally altering earth’s delicately balanced ecosystems, we are risking our own future too.
Losing Earth: The Decade We Could Have Stopped Climate Change by Nathaniel Rich
We have known about the perils of climate change for decades and yet very little to nothing was done about it. This book details the decade from 1979 to 1989 when we were starting to have a broad understanding of the causes and dangers of climate change. Focussing mainly on the US’s response to the crisis, the book follows the scientists and activists who tried to sound the alarm, and the Reaganite politicians and businesses who worked to make sure that no meaningful action was taken.
Rich says that the world came close to signing binding international treaties to mitigate the acceleration of global warming. However, by the start of the 90s, what was once regarded as a bipartisan issue came to be seen as a partisan one after the oil industry “descended and bared its fangs.”
Since then, more carbon has been emitted into the atmosphere than in all the preceding years of history of civilisation. Losing Earth is an essential cautionary tale for facing the climate battles ahead.
Net Zero: How We Stop Causing Climate Change by Dieter Helm
Another entry by Helm, Net Zero addresses the action we all need to take, whether personal, local, national or global, if we really want to stop climate change.
This book is a measured, balanced view of how we stop causing climate change by adopting a net zero strategy of reducing carbon emissions and increasing carbon absorption. It is a rational look at why the past 30 years’ efforts have failed and why and how the next 30 years can succeed. Like the other books on this list, it is a vital read for anyone who hears ecological activists fighting against climate change, but wonders what they can actually do.
Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency by Mark Lynas
This book delivers an account of the future of our earth, and our civilisation, if current rates of global warming persist.But how much worse could it get? Are we already past the point of no return? Cataloguing the very latest climate science, Lynas explores the course we have set for Earth over the next century and beyond. Degree by degree, he charts the likely impacts of global heating and the consequent climate catastrophe.
At one degree – the world we are already living in – vast wildfires scorch California and Australia, while monster hurricanes devastate coastal cities. At two degrees the Arctic ice cap melts away, and coral reefs disappear from the tropics. At three, the world begins to run out of food, threatening millions with starvation. At four, large areas of the globe are too hot for human habitation, erasing entire nations and turning billions into climate refugees. At five, the planet is warmer than for 55 million years, while at six degrees a mass extinction of unparalleled proportions sweeps the planet, threatening to end all life on Earth.
These escalating consequences can still be avoided, but time is running out. We must stop burning fossil fuels within a decade. If we fail, then we risk crossing tipping points that could push global climate chaos out of humanity’s control.
On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal by Naomi Klein
This book gathers more than a decade of Klein’s writing, pairing it with new material on the staggeringly high stakes of our immediate political and economic choices.
These long-form essays investigate the climate crisis not only as a political challenge but as a spiritual and imaginative one as well. With reports spanning from the ghostly Great Barrier Reef, the annual smoke-choked skies of the Pacific Northwest, post-hurricane Puerto Rico, to a Vatican attempting an unprecedented “ecological conversion,” Klein makes the case that we will rise to the existential challenge of climate change only if we are willing to transform the systems that produced this crisis.
An expansive, far-ranging exploration that sees the battle for a greener world as indistinguishable from the fight for our lives, On Fire captures the burning urgency of the climate crisis, as well as the fiery energy of a rising political movement demanding a catalytic Green New Deal.
Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet by Noam Chomsky & Robert Pollin
The last on our list of books about climate change, Noam Chomsky, the world’s leading public intellectual, and Robert Pollin, a renowned progressive economist, map out the catastrophic consequences of unchecked climate change and present a realistic blueprint for change: the Green New Deal.
Chomsky and Pollin show the forecasts for a hotter planet: vast stretches of the Earth will become uninhabitable, plagued by extreme weather, drought, rising seas, and crop failure. Arguing against the fear of economic disaster and unemployment arising from the transition to a green economy, they show how this unfounded concern encourages climate denialism.
The authors show how ceasing to burn fossil fuels within the next 30 years is entirely feasible. Climate change is an emergency that cannot be ignored. This book shows how it can be overcome both politically and economically.
These are just some of Earth.Org’s must-read books on climate change. As the issue of rising global temperatures imperils humanity further, it is crucial to consult a variety of impartial sources to get the most accurate information on the state of the planet.