There’s probably an entire forest’s worth of books about climate change just written within the last decade… but where to start?
With the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) set to begin this week, we’ve compiled a reading list with something for every need — whether you’re looking for a crash course in all things climate, perspective from activists both on the frontlines of global warming and closer to home, or a rundown of 100 solutions to the crisis that can still fit in a carry-on bag.
David Wallace-Wells: The Uninhabitable Earth
If you’re looking for one book to give you an overview of the climate crisis without bogging you down in technical terms, David Wallace-Wells’s The Uninhabitable Earth is a great starting point. A columnist for New York magazine (where he wrote an article, “The Uninhabitable Earth,” that became the basis for this book and the most-read piece in the magazine’s history), Wallace-Wells breaks down both the stakes of climate change and the myths surrounding the crisis. Wallace-Wells doesn’t sugar-coat the situation, but he also makes an impassioned argument for why we cannot lose hope or ignore the effects that human activities are having on the planet. He’s also written an adaptation of this book for young adult readers.
George Monbiot: How Did We Get Into This Mess?: Politics, Equality, Nature and Regenesis: Feeding the World without Devouring the Planet
If you understand the stakes of the climate crisis and want to know more about how we got to where we are, How Did We Get Into This Mess? does exactly what it says on the tin. Guardian columnist George Monbiot examines the structures of inequality that, combined with a lack of political engagement, have led to… well… this mess. Monbiot also looks at ways that individuals can respond to these circumstances, as well as the culture of fear surrounding global warming.
If you’re specifically interested in the effects that climate change has on hunger — and how current food systems have supported climate change — Monbiot’s Regenesis goes in-depth on this, and offers a vision for improving the global food system to address both challenges.
Amitav Ghosh: The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable
If you’re looking for something more philosophically-charged than Wallace-Wells, novelist Amitav Ghosh fits a lot of ideas into just 176 pages with The Great Derangement. Having seen firsthand the impacts of climate change on his native India, Ghosh writes that the derangement at the heart of his argument is the lack of collective action towards addressing the crisis: “At exactly the time when it has become clear that global warming is in every sense a collective predicament, humanity finds itself in the thrall of a dominant culture in which the idea of the collective has been exiled from politics, economics, and literature alike.”
Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and Thea Riofrancos: A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal
If you’ve heard about the idea of a Green New Deal but are unclear on what that really means, A Planet to Win provides a solid overview. Coauthored by journalist Kate Aronoff (The New Republic), political theorist Alyssa Battistoni (Barnard College), sociologist and director of the Socio-Spatial Climate Collaborative Daniel Aldana Cohen, and political scientist Thea Riofrancos (Providence College), this book gives us the foundations of a Green New Deal, and provides context around the movement in the United States. The authors also look at how an effective Deal would tackle both climate change and inequality at the same time through transforming areas like fossil fuels, renewable energy, climate-friendly work, and no-carbon housing.
Beata Thunberg, Svante Thunberg, Greta Thunberg, Malena Ernman: Our House Is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis
If you want a more personal take on the climate crisis, Our House Is on Fire is co-authored by the Ernman-Thunberg family, tracing their own growing ecological consciousness against the growing existential threat of climate change. Malena Ernman details the changes in her daughter, Greta’s, behavior when she began to learn about the climate crisis and the feelings of despair that came with contemplating her future. “I read about all the burned-out people on a burned-out planet where weather, wind, and everyday struggles intensify with every second of the day,” Ernman writes. “And I think that these are all symptoms of exactly the same disease: a planetary crisis that arose because we have turned our backs on each other. We have turned our backs on nature. We have turned our backs on ourselves.” What began as a family crisis became a global movement with Fridays for Future.
Mary Robinson: Climate Justice
If you want to better understand climate justice, former President and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson gives a comprehensive yet engaging overview of the growing movement in the aptly-titled Climate Justice. (Robinson also contributed to Concern and Welthungerhilfe’s 2019 Global Hunger Index, which focused on the relationship between climate change and hunger.) Currently a professor of climate justice at Trinity College, Robinson traces the effects of the climate crisis from Mississippi to Malawi to Mongolia, and offers a feminist perspective on one of the greatest injustices of climate change: gender inequality. She also approaches the issue with a sense of hope despite the overwhelming circumstances, an optimism that’s both contagious and welcome against the grim realities of our natural world.
Jeremy Williams: Climate Change Is Racist
If you’re specifically interested in climate justice from the perspective of geographic and racial inequality, Jeremy Williams grew up in Madagascar, then a predominantly low-income country that was rich in biodiversity. It is also one of the countries on the frontlines of the climate crisis, though the impacts of climate events are largely underreported. This, Williams argues in Climate Change Is Racist, is a structural issue with a racial dynamic; one that has existed for centuries with majority-white countries in the west exploiting the resources of countries with largely non-white indigenous people. At the same time, that same structural racism often leaves the effects of climate change on the most-affected people and areas (MAPAs) out of the wider conversation. Williams also has published several supplemental materials for the book on his website, The Earthbound Report.
Vanessa Nakate: A Bigger Picture
If you want more on climate justice from a MAPA perspective, you may recognize Vanessa Nakate’s name. The 27-year-old Ugandan activist called attention to the racial imbalances in climate change on a global scale in early 2020, when she was cropped out of an AP photo of climate activists at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos (Nakate was the only woman of color in the photo). This incident, as she reveals in her memoir, A Bigger Picture, is illustrative of the lack of attention given to climate activists from Africa and the Global South, relative to their western counterparts. In a book rich in both insight and experience, Nakate also goes into the greater challenges that activists from many of the most-affected areas face when rallying for the cause. Despite threats of arrest and charges of defamation, however, she also shows how her generation remains committed to both the cause and finding sustainable solutions.
Paul Hawken (ed.): Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming
If you want to know what some of those sustainable solutions to climate change are, Drawdown is, as the subtitle puts it, comprehensive. Edited by Paul Hawken, this compendium collects 100 practical, proven, and impactful solutions, including wind turbines, mass transit, and recycling, but also some unexpected intersectional solutions like girls’ education, family planning, and the work of an 18th-century German scientist.
Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac: The Future We Choose: The Stubborn Optimist’s Guide to the Climate Crisis
If you’re in need of some optimism tempered with real facts, The Future We Choose is coauthored by two of the main architects of the Paris Climate Agreement. “We can no longer afford to assume that addressing climate change is the sole responsibility of national or local governments, or corporations or individuals,” write Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac. “This is an everyone-everywhere mission in which we all must individually and collectively assume responsibility.” As COP28 is poised to remind us, we may be falling short of the Paris Climate Agreement, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore it entirely.