As we come up to World Environment Day on 5 June, I have been wondering what books to recommend to people for a better understanding of the climate crisis. There are a plethora of great books out there, from scientists to journalists to novelists, that offer a clear-eyed view to the greatest challenge facing human beings today. What they all make very clear, to varying degrees, is that climate change is something that touches every sphere of our existence. That said, here are five excellent books that give an excellent overview of the science and politics of climate change, as well as the efforts that are being made to combat it.
The New Climate War: The Fight To Take Back Our Planet by Michael E. Mann
Climatologist Michael E. Mann shot into the limelight last year when it emerged that Leonardo Di Caprio had modelled his character in the film Don’t Look Upafter Mann. However, for anyone who is remotely interested in climate change, Mann has always been a hero. He became famous in the late 1990s, when he co-authored the ‘hockey-stick graph’ that showed how global temperatures have grown sharply since the beginning of the Industrial Age. Since then, Mann has been a tireless advocate for climate action, as well as a voluble voice against climate deniers and misinformation peddlers.
His latest book, 2021’s The New Climate War, presents a cogent view of how polluting firms, nations and their apologists are trying to ensure that the shift away from fossil fuels gets delayed as much as possible. While nobody really denies the fact of climate change anymore, the new focus is on obfuscation, deflection and inaction. Mann identifies such instances for what they are, and calls each out in the book. Mann is an excellent communicator, and his book is also a very good place to find out what the current climate science actually does and does not say. It’s also a great place to gain hope that we can still stop it, because Mann gives equal importance to listing the positive work that is being done to mitigate climate change.
The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story Of The Future by David Wallace-Wells
This is one of the scariest books on climate change that you will read. In 2019’s The Uninhabitable Earth, journalist David Wallace-Wells takes the reader through a harrowing journey of what living in a world of 2 degree Celsius or more would actually mean. It performs an important act of joining the dots of present climate catastrophes and their future forms, because the spectre of such extreme heat can have the effect of shutting down our imagination.
The book has been criticised for an excess of doom-laden scenarios, and some of Wallace-Wells’ more extreme claims have been refuted by climate scientists. However, the reason why the book is so important is that once you read it, you can never really be on the fence when it comes to the urgent need for climate action, now!
The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables For A Planet In Crisis by Amitav Ghosh
Amitav Ghosh’s 2016 book, The Great Derangement: Climate Change And The Unthinkable occupies an important space in my bookshelf. It was this remarkable piece of philosophic meditation on climate change, and humanity’s seeming inability to grasp its true horror, that influenced me in a massive way to learn more about climate science.
And while that book is unmissable, for this list, I’ll recommend Ghosh’s book from last year, The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables For A Planet In Crisis. It’s a really important read for anyone from the global south, in particular, given our national histories of being colonised: Ghosh draws a clear line from the narrative of extraction that underpinned colonialism to the capitalist excesses that have led to the climate crisis.
This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs The Climate by Naomi Klein
Speaking of capitalist excesses, journalist Naomi Klein’s clear, informative, authoritative book from 2015, This Changes Everything, truly changed the way that we look at the climate crisis. It’s amazing to think that, till as late as 2014, the full picture of the reasons that led to global heating, had been largely unknown to the general public.
Klein demolished that veil, welding keen investigative reportage to an approachable, rationalist and welcoming voice. In the process, she laid bare the chimera of narratives of unending consumption and unending growth, and pointed out that a world economy underpinned by big oil and big finance has no incentive to stop climate change.
All We Can Save: Truth, Courage And Solutions For The Climate Crisis Ed. by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson
All We Can Save is a wonderful collection of essays, published in 2020, that highlights the crucial role being played by women in the fight against climate change. The book features essays by 60 women—from journalist Naomi Klein to political activist adrienne maree brown to architect Kate Orff—who delve into their own disciplines and areas to communicate the importance of the climate crisis.
What emerges from this very diverse grouping is that climate change isn’t just about the physics of temperature rise, but it encompasses every aspect of human life. The underlying tone of hope and compassion further enriches these essays, which also focus on ideas and initiatives that could actually turn the tide.