From eco documentaries on Netflix to peaceful protests, the climate conversation has never been as public, pertinent, and powerful as it is right now. This also extends to what’s on our reading lists. The environment has become a key topic for novelists and non-fiction writers alike, urging readers from a variety of backgrounds and with differing tastes to think about what’s going on and, hopefully, take action.
In our definitive reading guide, you’ll find everyone from journalists, researchers, and key influencers, such as Bill Gates and Naomi Klein, to authors spanning genres and locales, like Margaret Atwood and Helon Habila. Whether you’re into sci-fi or true science, crime fiction or poetry, we’ve compiled all of the top works for your environmental education needs! (P.S. As well as your local library, we recommend Better World Books for affordable, preloved books. For every book you buy, they donate a book to someone in need via a non-profit organisation around the world and give you the choice to carbon-balance your order.)
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate – Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein is the go-to writer if you want to understand how the relationship between economy and ecology works – or, in fact, doesn’t. In This Changes Everything, Klein informs us that the climate crisis is fundamentally about capitalism and exposes the myths that make it hard to reach climate solutions, even though they’re readily available for the implementing. Once you’ve imbibed this, move on to her most recent environmental dispatch, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, which combines a decade’s worth of long-form essays with new material to cover everything from Puerto Rico’s post-hurricane nightmare to the problem of white supremacy.
The Overstory: A Novel – Richard Powers
As much a non-fiction work as a novel, The Overstory delves into the history, reality, and fate of trees through the lives of everyday American characters. Each story is carefully woven together, many threading through each other, as the characters look to trees to save marriages, understand themselves, bond with late relatives, hold onto family legacies, and stand up for what they believe in. Expect to come away from this beautiful book with a new appreciation for our amazing, ancient friends.
The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Global Warming – David Wallace-Wells
Expanded from his 2017 essay of the same name, The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells is a total game-changer. Tying together all of our fears regarding the future of our planet – shortages, wars, economic demise, displacement, etc – this book looks at the future and specifically what the people living in it will have to face. Undoubtedly a call to immediate action, The Uninhabitable Earth places the responsibility on today’s generation and pinpoints the main arenas that must be changed, including capitalism, technology, and politics.
Oil on Water – Helon Habila
Set in the Niger delta, this work of fiction follows two journalists as they set out to investigate a kidnapping crime and find themselves sucked into the world of corruption in the oil industry. As the journalists fight to tell the truth about the environmental and societal damage these deals are causing, and campaign for their home, their peril becomes ever greater. A gripping story of wealth and corruption, environmental devastation, and what it means to fight for what’s right.
Our House is On Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet – Jeanette Winter
A children’s book – but with much to offer adult readers – Our House is On Fire charts the journey of teen climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, who became a public role model for young activists when she was just 15 years old. This picture book aims to inspire and inform young readers who are starting to learn about the world they live in. Explaining Thunberg’s achievements, including leading a school strike and speaking to world leaders, this read is the perfect introduction to the climate crisis and can be followed by Thunberg’s own book, No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, when children get a little older.
Weather: A Novel – Jenny Offill
This 2020 novel follows librarian and self-appointed therapist Lizzie Benson as she answers post from a variety of podcast listeners on both sides of the political coin about climate change and the demise of civilisation, all while tending to life’s dramas and her own mental health. A funny, honest, empathetic read, Weather looks at the climate disaster from the perspective of ordinary people, influenced by mass media and a litany of opinions, and how it can impact their health and hopes.
Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World – Jason Hickel
Less is More explores the causes of our ecological crisis and offers a single solution to regain balance: degrowth. Hickey argues that fixing our capitalist economy is the key to reversing the climate catastrophe and creating a better, more sustainable future. As well as looking at our current situation, he also explores historic events, different cultures and countries, and a variety of disciplines.
Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson, a marine biologist turned nature author, was one of the first ambassadors for the environment. Carson had been concerned about the dangers of DDT for years before she penned Silent Spring, which details the reality of DDT and its harmful effects to humans and wildlife, but she decided to start writing when she heard that large birds were being killed as a result of DDT sprayings. At the time of publication (1958), Silent Spring was controversial and outrageous, but it soon became (and remains) a seminal work on climate change.
The Age of Islands: In Search of New and Disappearing Islands – Alastair Bonnett
We know that islands are vanishing thanks to rising sea levels, but it’s lesser known that islands are also continually being built, too. Exploring the unprecedented rate at which islands are being created and destroyed, explorer and geographer Alastair Bonnett takes readers all over the world to shine a light on one of our biggest and strangest phenomena – from the creation of artificial isles in China to the disappearance of ancient islands in Central America.
The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood is best known for her works on dystopian worlds that, terrifyingly, don’t feel too distant from the one we live in now. The Year of the Flood follows suit, conjuring natural disasters that obliterate human life and observing attempts at survival. While the specifics are set in the fantasy realm, much of this gripping novel speaks to our reality, including a religion devoted to science, faith, and the preservation of animal life, as well as a spa in which many of the treatments are edible.
The Fragile Earth: Writing from The New Yorker on Climate Change – edited by David Remnick and Henry Finger
The Fragile Earth is a collection of pieces on environmental issues originally published in The New Yorker. It features work from a variety of well-known writers, including Jonathan Franzen and Bill McKibben – the journalist behind 1989 piece The End of Nature, one of the first published works on climate change for a general audience. Spanning the globe and the last thirty years, this collection tells the tale of climate change through science, politics, culture, and personal stories.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants – Robin Wall Kimmerer
Drawing on her own life as an indigenous woman and scientist, Kimmerer’s popular non-fiction book is replete with cultural, scientific, and ecological wisdom. In beautifully written reflections, Kimmerer urges us to listen to other living beings, from salamanders to strawberries, and encourages us to see the reciprocal nature of our relationship with the Earth. She argues that, if we don’t, we’ll never wake up to the ecological disaster that’s happening and take the necessary action.
The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move – Sonia Shah
This book from prize-winning journalist Sonia Shah unravels all of our misconceptions about migration and gives it to us straight. Pulling from history, science, and nature, Shah swiftly quashes the media’s favourite trope – that all migration is disruptive, unnatural, and something to be feared. She explores how migration has allowed for social, cultural, biological, and ecological growth since the 18th century, and how it just might be the solution to climate change.
Clade – James Bradley
Bradley’s sci-fi (or more specifically, cli-fi) novel is initially centred around the journey Adam, a climate scientist, must take to return home from Antarctica where he’s been conducting research. The trip is riddled with danger and impossibility thanks to cataclysmic weather happenings and the collapse of the environment. The novel has a bigger story to tell, though, and that’s one of the generational effects of our actions. The story goes on to observe the next generations of Adam’s family and how the crumbling climate, happening before our eyes yet seemingly unnoticeable to many, has rippling repercussions for the humans yet to be born.
Losing Earth: A Recent History – Nathaniel Rich
A year after his ground-breaking work on climate change from 1979-1989 (‘the decade we almost stopped climate change’) was presented in its entirety in a dedicated issue of The New York Times Magazine, Nathaniel Rich returned to the topic with Losing Earth: A Recent History. The book expands on the research and ideas presented in his original work and carries the narrative to the present day, taking a magnifying glass to ‘climate denialism’ and propaganda and politics, among other areas. Not only does the book chart history, it also looks at how we can move forward.
All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis – edited by Ayanda Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson
The climate conversation has always largely been dominated by men, but thanks to the pioneering voices of women like Naomi Klein and Greta Thurnberg, that’s starting to change. This collection of poems, artworks, and essays hopes to get us a permanent place at the table faster, with contributions from over 50 women of different races, ages, and occupations across America. These works offer a different perspective and represent a whole portion of humans too often left out of the discussion. Uniquely feminist, this collection approaches the climate movement with compassion and connection, as well as creativity and solid solutions.
Salvage the Bones – Jesmyn Ward
Before her 2017 bestseller Sing, Unburied, Sing was published, Jesmyn Ward won the National Book Award for Salvage the Bones, a novel about a family facing Hurricane Katrina. The protagonist, 14-year-old Esch, is pregnant and, alongside her poor, dysfunctional family, is trying to prepare for all of the disasters that loom. A meditation on personal tragedy, sacrifice, and familial love as much as the climate tragedy and the dark reality of our changing planet, Salvage the Bones contemplates the vulnerability of humans in the prelude and aftermath of disaster.
Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene – edited by Matthew Schneider-Mayerson
Published in Singapore, Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene is an anthology of young, passionate voices examining the relationship between daily life in Singapore and the natural world that surrounds it. The essays tackle everything from Tiger Beer to, of course, chilli crab and how these familiar, everyday items and ways of life are affecting our planet. As urgent as it is informative, this collection prompts readers to look a little more closely at how they live and, with candour and verve, makes a case for the planet – and Singapore itself.
There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years – Mike Berners-Lee
For a super practical approach to the climate crisis, try There Is No Planet B. The guide answers some of the biggest, and oft side-stepped, questions surrounding the climate crisis, such as ‘how can we fly in a low-carbon world?’ and ‘should we frack?’. Combining research, facts, and actual solutions, this book provides a wider perspective on the issues that undermine our planet and promotes inclusivity when it comes to being in the know and taking action.
We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast – Jonathan Safran Foer
From the author of Eating Animals – a philosophical, personal take on our consumption of animals – comes We Are the Weather, a book centred more on our personal beliefs about climate change than climate change itself. Foer asks: if we truly believe what we know about climate change, why aren’t we acting on it? Delving into what we know and believe, why collective action is imperative, and how we can start to change our lives in response (hint: it can all start with breakfast), We Are the Weather approaches the climate crisis from a personal, philosophical perspective.
How to Avoid A Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need – Bill Gates
Emitting zero greenhouse gases is the aim of this book by Bill Gates, and even though it focuses a lot on techno-fixes, hopefully, this book was able to bring new audiences into the conversation. Having spent a decade investigating climate change and meeting experts from a variety of fields, from finance to chemistry, the philanthropist has come to conclusions about why we need to strive toward zero emissions before it’s too late. Not just a book of research but one of solutions too, Gates outlines how we can reach zero emissions with practical, accessible ideas.
What other books on climate change have you read?
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