With the world waking up to the climate crisis, great authors and activists alike are putting biodegradable pen to recycled paper. But with so many new climate books filling the shelves – and an untouched pile next to your bed that needs attention as it is – which should you read first? Look no further for a priority list of thought-provoking climate books. From Greta and XR to older classics, we’ve compiled a top 10 of the must-read climate books for 2020. But remember to avoid blind consumption: where you can, buy second hand – and always pass on after reading.
1. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Before opening the must-read climate books for 2020, we need to understand how we got here – so we may as well start at the very beginning. Around 35-40,000 years ago, to be precise. Tracing the evolution of our species from pre-history to the present day, this incredible book looks at how humans became custodians of the natural world, examining our huge impact. Bold, wide-ranging and provocative, Sapiens challenges everything we thought we knew about being human: our thoughts, our actions, our power and inevitably, our future.
2. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate and On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal, both by Naomi Klein
We couldn’t choose just one from Naomi Klein. The author, social activist and filmmaker is renowned for her radical political analyses and bold criticism of corporate globalisation. Capitalism plays a major role in the first book. The international bestseller, This Changes Everything, argues that society must fundamentally transform if we are to tackle climate change. It challenges the reader to forget everything you think you know about global warming, as ‘it’s not about carbon – it’s about capitalism’. The good news is that we can seize this crisis to transform our failed economic system and build something radically better.
And that brings us to the second Naomi Klein book (of many) that we recommend. Published five years later, her seventh book, On Fire, outlines how the Green New Deal could not just avoid climate catastrophe, but act as a blueprint for a new, just and thriving society. Reporting from the frontlines of climate breakdown, she makes a clear and compelling case for what we must choose to do next. We can only hope America reads this book.
3. The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac
While we’re on the subject of the choice we now face as a species, this must be the next climate book balanced on the top of your bedside tower. With rave reviews from the likes of Yuval Noah Harari, Naomi Klein, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ban Ki-moon, Jane Goodall and Al Gore, The Future We Choose is written by two of the leading forces behind the Paris Agreement, ex-UN climate chief Christiana Figueres and political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac. Visualising two very different but viable futures, as a reader we get a jolting taste of climate reality. A world of 1.5C rise with dangerous air pollution and widespread food shortages and climate refugees, is compared directly to a world of regenerative culture, clean energy and fairer societies, thanks to rapid and deep emissions cuts. While it may come shrouded in potential doom, it’s a positive book which will leave you brimming with a renewed drive for action.
4. No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference by Greta Thunberg and Our House is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis by Malena Ernman, Greta Thunberg, Beata Ernman and Svante Thunberg
This is the book you end up buying again and again. Because for those tricky birthday recipients who really don’t like second hand gems, it’s a new but small gift with a big impact, much like its young author. A collection of her powerful speeches from around the world, spanning Davos to the UN and beyond, her clear-sighted, simple message resonates around the world. Because real climate action, makes real common sense.
The entire weight of the world on your shoulders is not something any child or teenager should have to bear. Yet this is what we now expect from Greta, as she faces world leaders in her yellow raincoat. Our House is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis is the story of her family, torn apart by their child’s suffering and then rebuilt again by their love for each other – and for the living world. A heartbreaking lesson of hope and determination we can all learn from.
5. Green Swans: The Coming Boom in Regenerative Capitalism by John Elkington
While you catch up on 1-4, you can take a breather, as Green Swans isn’t due to be published until April. John Elkington’s 20th book is part of the Volans Green Swans Campaign, designed to ‘identify, investigate, spotlight, support and scale exponential solutions to the world’s greatest challenges’. Exploring the idea that many current problems display ‘Black Swan’ characteristics, he believes these challenges require solutions with ‘Green Swan‘ characteristics. He says: “It is the tale of the accelerating transformation of capitalism, markets and business — a process I believe will reach a major inflection point in the 2020s. The result will be a world either of Black Swan breakdowns, among them the climate emergency and species extinction, or of breakthrough Green Swan solutions. More likely, of course, it will be a shifting mix of both, challenging us to move the needle from black to green.”
6. We are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast by Jonathan Safran Foer
Enjoy this beautiful take on the importance of rethinking our diets in the face of the climate emergency. If you’re familiar with his distinctive wit, insight and humanity, you will love We are the Weather as much as his other addictive non-fiction and fiction stories. Jonathan Safran Foer presents the most critical – and not often enough raised – debate of our time, in a style that nobody else could. You won’t look at your plate in the same way again.
7. The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future by David Wallace-Wells and Active Hope by Joanna Macy
While some of the spirit cheering books in this list are essential to spurring action, we also need to fully understand the full extent of climate chaos that we face. The Uninhabitable Earth was one of the first texts to do this. Painting a devastating picture of the Anthropocene in all its horror if we continue with business as usual, David Wallace-Wells doesn’t hold back on the coming nightmare we’ll be part of, if we do not act urgently.
The reason we have included Active Hope too, is because after reading something like this, you’ll need it. Joanna Macy’s pivotal book on climate grief has led to a movement based on the ‘Work That Reconnects’ idea presented in the book; a series of transformational practices and workshops that strengthen our ability to act for the wellbeing of life on Earth.
8. This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook
Extinction Rebellion is a global movement of everyday people, demanding that our governments urgently act on the emergency we all face. This book is filled with facts to arm you with, as you speak, act and ultimately, rebel. Because if you read This Is Not A Drill, you can count yourself as an Extinction Rebellion activist. In 2020, the year of action, we are all needed.
9. The Winning of the Carbon War by Jeremy Leggett
Humanity is in a race, a kind of civil war. On the light side, the believers in a sustainable future based on clean energy, fight to save us from climate change. The dark side defends the continuing use of fossil fuels, often careless of the impact it has on the world. Written in the style of a diary from 2013 to 2015, Leggett’s front-line chronicle The Winning of the Carbon War, tells one person’s story of those turnaround years, culminating in dramatic scenes at the Paris climate summit. This fictional prediction wasn’t so far from the actual truth. It is a reminder, as we read new words from climate books in 2020, that we have known the facts for a long time. We should have come a lot further by now, in the race to protect our living planet.
10. Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin
We keep hearing that people need to reconnect with nature. Both for our own mental health, and for greater empathy for – and therefore protection of – our living planet. Roger Deakin’s nature writing classic takes the reader across Europe to Central Asia and Australia, to discover what lies behind our profound connection with woods and trees. Deakin’s final book, finished just four months before he died, is autobiography, history, travel and natural history combined. It will take you into the heart of the woods, where we go ‘to grow, learn and change’. It is a poignant reminder of the beauty and wonder in our natural world. Something we all agree is worth fighting for.
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