Wherever you are in the world, this collection of the best books on climate change will relate to you in some way. It doesn’t matter if you live in the Arctic Circle in Norway, or the South Island of New Zealand, climate change affects us all.
I first became interested in climate change when I was a child. The idea the planet may become too hot for us to inhabit was fascinating and terrifying.
I didn’t understand the potential impacts of climate change until I spent a year in Australia. Sitting outside a museum in Adelaide in 41-degree heat with sweat pouring down my back, I realised this could become a common occurrence in the future.
Knowledge is power. Understanding more about climate change, what might happen in the future and the attempts to overcome it have led me to appreciate the problem in much greater detail.
I learned a lot from these climate change books. They amazed and terrified me in equal measure. The goal of this list is to give you a wide-ranging look at climate change. The problems it will create and potential solutions.
This is by no means a perfect reading list for climate change. I’m sure I’ve missed some brilliant books about climate change out. But these fourteen books will give you a good insight into the issues surrounding climate change.
Best Books on Climate Change
This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
This Changes Everything is one of the most profound books I’ve read on climate change. Naomi Klein is a fantastic and fearless writer who cuts to the core of the issues in this brilliant book.
This is a little different to other climate change books. Klein’s target is the economic process that got us into this mess. Her argument is the belief the markets will save us, when in fact, they’re responsible for the warming we’re experiencing.
She paints a bleak of the corporate greed and coverup which has led us to this point. This Changes Everything doesn’t make for easy reading when she details how profit came before concern for the environment on multiple occasions.
A brighter point is when Klein looks at the efforts to fight back against climate change. She lists numerous people and organisations who are doing their best to mitigate and overturn the devastation caused by climate change. Those who tried to claim climate change was a hoax are also named and shamed.
The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells
When I read The Uninhabitable Earth it was at the start of the pandemic back in March 2020. This felt like an apt time to read about the planet becoming uninhabitable!
This isn’t the easiest book to read, but it’s one of the important books on global warming to read. The details discussed and the picture it paints of a world in which we could end up living in is stark. For example, should temperatures increase by an average of 5 degrees by 2100, the Earth could become almost unsuitable for human habitation:
“That is the course we are speeding so blithely along — to more than four degrees Celsius of warming by the year 2100. According to some estimates, that would mean that whole regions of Africa and Australia and the United States, parts of South America, north of Patagonia, and Asia south of Siberia would be rendered uninhabitable by direct heat, desertification, and flooding.”
This is a bleak picture, one repeated throughout the book. It may come across as fearmongering to some, but the truth is we’re at the precipice of this change. Wildfires in America and Australia in recent years have surpassed what we’re used to seeing.
While events such as Hurricane Katrina and Sandy have been far more powerful than similar events in the past. The Uninhabitable Earth serves as a warning for what might happen should we neglect the threat of climate change.
To avoid what’s described in the book from becoming reality, it’s imperative we do.
The Limits To Growth by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jørgen Randers and William W. Behrens III
The Limits To Growth is the oldest book on the list but it’s one of the most prescient and far-sighted. Written in 1972, it looks at our obsession with exponential economic growth on a planet with finite resources.
Climate change wasn’t much of an issue fifty years ago. But as the years have passed, this book has taken on more significance. It was one of the first to raise the alarm. Highlighting how it’s impossible to expect industrial output and prosperity to increase at current rates.
At some point, we’ll run out of resources to fuel this never-ending growth. Simply put, there are not enough fossil fuels and rare earth metals to keep progressing as we have.
The authors also make the point that an expanding population puts more pressure on the planet. With more mouths to feed and more pressure on resources, growth cannot continue unchecked. The pressures will cause it to subside.
Books such as Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics highlight how we can adapt our economic system to avoid the constant need to increase GDP. The Limits To Growth was way ahead of its time. Today, we have no choice but to pay heed to its warnings for they are close to becoming reality.
Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert
Under a White Sky is a fascinating look at how geoengineering could tackle climate change. The title of the book refers to one method of geoengineering, which involves spraying reflective particles into the stratosphere to deflect solar heat.
This may sound like a novel way of solving the climate crisis, but it’s not that straightforward. Kolbert highlights the potential second-order effects of such an idea, which include, damaging the ozone layer, drought, acid rain, and bleaching all blue from the sky. Not to mention there’s no guarantee it will work.
The best part of Kolbert’s book is when she looks into how other schemes to manipulate the environment have panned out. Spoiler alert! A lot of them backfired and didn’t deliver their original intention. One, in particular, the dredging of a canal, upended the hydrology of two-thirds of America!
As the threat from climate change looms ever closer in the rear-view mirror, grand ideas to save the planet through geoengineering will become more popular. What Kolbert shows us is despite our ingenuity and Promethean feats, we’re fallible.
Our best intentions could end up making the situation worse. Under a White Sky is a timely reminder of how our hubris could get the better of us.
On Fire by Naomi Klein
On Fire is the second of Naomi Klein’s books on my list. It takes a different look at climate change from her previous book. On Fire is a collection of essays Klein wrote throughout the years about climate change.
The essays look at a variety of topics related to climate change, such as geoengineering, the Green New Deal and the role of corporations in getting us to where we are today.
One thing that stuck out to me when I was reading was how much impact fossil fuels have had. For all the talk of reducing your carbon footprint, it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the fossil fuels burnt by companies:
“Fossil fuels aren’t the sole driver of climate change — there is also industrial agriculture and deforestation — but they are the biggest. And the thing about fossil fuels is that they are so inherently dirty and toxic that they require sacrificial people and places: people whose lungs and bodies can be sacrificed to work in the coal mines, people whose lands and water can be sacrificed to open-pit mining and oil spills.”
It’s a striking passage but a powerful one. The casualties of the fossil fuel industry are people as well as the planet. This is one of the lesser mentioned aspects of climate change but an important one.
Burning fossil fuels destroy the planet and those who work with them.
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
The Sixth Extinction is the second of Elizabeth Kolbert’s books on the list and an underappreciated one in regards to climate change. Her argument is, the earth is undergoing a sixth extinction which is the result of the actions of one species, humans.
During the lifespan of the Earth, there have been five great extinction events. The most famous occurred 65 million years ago, when an asteroid, between 10 and 15 kilometres, slammed into the Yucatan peninsula, wiping out the dinosaurs.
Previous extinctions were the result of natural phenomena. Be it asteroids from outer spaces or the release of oxygen into the atmosphere, which led to the Cambrian mass extinction.
Today, our ability to harness energy from beneath the Earth’s surface means we have the capability to alter the planet. This may have been unintentional, but the effects are real.
A 2019 report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, estimates roughly one million species of plants and animals face extinction within decades as a result of human activity.
Kolbert’s book is essential, if uneasy, reading. We’re a remarkable species with the ability to write beautiful literature, produce incredible songs and explore outer space. But we wield this power with impunity at times.
Not only are we endangering ourselves, we’re endangering a large proportion of other lifeforms on the planet too.
How To Avoid A Climate Disaster by Bill Gates
How to Avoid A Climate Disaster is Bill Gates’ book on how to tackle the issue of climate change.
As you can imagine from someone of Gates’ stature, there’s a lot of big thinking in the book and suggestions about the world can ween itself off greenhouse emissions.
The good thing about this book is that Gates breaks down the areas humanity needs to work on to take action on the issue. Areas such as plastics, heating houses, transportation and growing food. Tackling the issue with transportation, for example, will be expensive but it will be worth it in the long run.
There’s no doubt Gates is smart and it’s clear he’s put a lot of thought into his suggestions. You’re not going to find anything revolutionary proposed here but what is proposed will undoubtedly help solve the predicament we face.
The New Climate War by Michael Mann
Michael Mann is one of the most prominent climate scientists in the world and one of the first to recognise the dangerous effects of greenhouse emissions.
In The New Climate War, Mann looks at how the fossil fuel industry has attempted to delay action to tackle climate change by funding various denial and delay campaigns.
The book also looks at the various responses to climate, which ones he considers inadequate and those he views as the best to help tackle the problem.
Mann doesn’t criticise the fossil fuel industry and politicians, he introduces several potential solutions too, such as a price on carbon emissions and a ban on fracking.
This is one of the best books about climate change, and as it comes from someone who’s intimately involved in the issues mentioned, it makes The New Climate War even more of an essential read.
Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway
Merchants of Doubt is a fantastic book by American historians of science Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway on the efforts of the fossil fuel industry to sow doubt on the truth about carbon emissions.
If you want a book that tackles this subject head-on, instead of just for a few chapters, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a brilliant, and damning, piece of work on how an industry has manipulated n an issue of utmost importance.
The authors draw parallels with similar campaigns of the past which attempted to protect vested interests in industries such as the controversy over tobacco smoking, and the impacts of widespread use of the pesticide, DDT.
The primary thesis of the book is that keeping the controversy over whether the science s valid or not helped to delay any action being taken. Thus, helping companies in the industry maintain their bottom line.
Merchants of Doubt is a shocking book, but one that has to be read to understand why we’re in the situation we are today.
Regeneration by Paul Hawken
If you’re looking for a book on climate change that proposes radical solutions, then Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation is the one you want to read.
Written by environmentalist Paul Hawken, it offers several proposals that may sound outlandish at first, such as reducing greenhouse emissions by 45 to 50 per cent by 2030.
One such solution is to create 15-minute cities, where someone can go from one end of the city to another in 15 minutes by bike or another form of non-polluting transport. Such a scheme has been undertaken in Paris recently.
The core message of Regeneration is that we shouldn’t be afraid of the challenge we all face, instead, we should be inspired by it. Hawken’s point is that we have the solutions to fix these issues.
What’s needed is the political will and desire on the part of the public for them to happen.
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
New York 2140 is different from the other books on climate change in this list, as it’s fiction rather than non-fiction.
Written by Kim Stanley Robinson, the novel is set in New York in a future ravaged by the effects of climate change. The city has been ravaged by flooding and rising water levels caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
This dystopian future features a city that resembles a Venice of skyscrapers. With most of the city underwater, the rich now live in high rise former office buildings, while the poor are left to rely on organizations that pool resources to survive.
Robinson is highly critical of unregulated financial systems and the lack of action in averting the worst of climate change.
Fiction often shines a light onto the present, even New York 2140 is set in the future. If you want to get an idea for the future that may play out for us, our children and grandchildren, if we don’t take climate change seriously, this novel presents one such potential future.
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Silent Spring is one of the original texts on climate change and the effect human activity was having on the natural world.
It was written in 1962 by Rachel Carson and looks at how the widespread use of pesticides affected the environment of the United States.
While the topic may be 60 years old, it’s still relevant today as the themes translate to climate change. Carson highlighted how the indiscriminate use of pesticides was damaging ecosystems and various species.
The book was met with fierce criticism from chemical companies, who didn’t like or agree with Carson’s findings. Yet, Silent Spring resonated with the American public, and in what should give climate campaigns of today hope, led to some important changes.
One of which was the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a nationwide ban on the use of DDT for agricultural purposes.
The End of Nature by Bill McKibben
The End of Nature by the environmentalist Bill McKibben was one of the first books on climate change to be written for the wider public.
Written back in 1989, it details the developing environmental crisis and what it could mean for life on Earth.
Reading it back now, The End of Nature is still relevant today, as most of the issues raised by McKibben are still far from solved.
Indeed, over 30 years since he first wrote it, hoping that by telling people about the problem they would act, there’s still much that needs to be done.
The Physics of Climate Change by Lawrence Krauss
If you want to understand the science behind climate change and what will happen in the near future, then The Physics of Climate Change by the theoretical physicists Lawrence Krauss is a must-read.
Don’t be fooled by Krauss’ title as a theoretical physicist, the physics detailed in this book is very much real.
Krauss does an excellent job of stripping away the complexity of the issues and presenting you with what will likely happen to the planet should we ignore the threat we face.
Krauss’ book is accessible to all, and he has a fantastic way of explaining complex systems to the reader in an easy to understand manner.
The Physics of Climate Change is an important book to read to not only understand the predictions around climate change but the processes behind them. You’ll be much wiser after reading this book!