Rising temperatures, droughts and wildfires — all of them among the visible climate change indicators accepted by scientists — have more than doubled in the last 40 years, according to Carbon Brief, a climate science research organization funded by the nonprofit European Climate Foundation. In the past decade, we’ve seen this play out across the globe: stifling heat waves in Greenland, persistent droughts in the Southwest and devastating wildfires in California. Carbon Brief found that 68 percent of all extreme weather events in the last 20 years were made “more severe by humans” — the 2017 study curated data from 230 studies to determine how human activities like burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, gasoline and natural gas) has made these extreme weather events more likely to occur.
While the statistics may be daunting, climate activists argue that not all hope is lost — and there are still many efforts individuals can take. And one of them can be as simple as picking up a book. By understanding the facts about the state of our planet, they argue that you can make more informed decisions about conservation and care for the earth. “Just when I was out of breath from the enormity of the human impact on our planet, Tom [editor of "Biodiversity and Climate Change"] gave me hope that if we all work together now, not later, there is hope,” said Kathleen Rogers, president of EARTHDAY.ORG, a nonprofit organization that campaigns for environmental protection. Rogers was referencing one of many books that experts recommended to us as worthy reads for anyone this Earth Day and beyond.
Best books on climate change
If you’re interested in learning more about climate change and what you can do on an individual level, picking up a book may be a great way to start. To find out which ones are worth a read, we reached out to 12 climate activists to get their favorites.
1. "Biodiversity and Climate Change: Transforming the Biosphere" edited by Thomas E. Lovejoy and Lee Hannah
Rogers recommended this book that documents increasing climate crises like ocean acidification and extinction rates across the globe. “This book seems more prescient in the age of the global pandemic and the worsening impacts of climate change,” said Rogers, who has worked for more than 20 years as an environmental attorney fighting for international and domestic environmental public policy. By analyzing past statistics and summarizing field observations, the book provides solutions for the future.
2. "Revolutionary Power: An Activist’s Guide to the Energy Transformation" by Shalanda Baker
“I love this book because it breaks down how energy systems are too often centered in white, western and male points of view, and how energy justice is racial justice,” said Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr., president and founder of Hip Hop Caucus, a nonprofit organization that promotes political activism in young adults. Studying Hurricane Maria, author Shalanda Baker found a lesser degree of help directed to Black and brown communities over white communities. In her book, Baker provides advice on how to get to a more equitable, just energy system.
3. "All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis" edited by Ayana Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson
Featuring essays and poetry by 60 leading women climate activists, this collection is a favorite of young climate activist Alexandria Villaseñor. “‘All We Can Save’ shows us the power that women have in creating the solutions we need for the climate crisis,” said Villaseñor, who founded Earth Uprising International. “The presence of women in the climate movement makes our solutions more inclusive and intersectional, and women do this by centering equity and justice."
4. "The Hungry Tide: A Novel" by Amitav Ghosh
EARTHDAY.ORG’s Asia Regional Director Karuna Singh’s recommendation highlights the Sundarbans regions, a lesser known region's climate issue that’s close to her heart. Ghosh’s book studies the region’s sinking mudflats, a result of global warming and rising waters. “The beautifully crafted story compels one to notice the nature around,” Singh elaborated. “I love this aspect of it because I firmly believe that prose works are an excellent way to draw attention to climate-related issues, without being didactic.”
5. "Climate Action Challenge: A Proven Plan for Launching Your Eco-Initiative in 90 Days" by Joan Gregerson
If you’re looking for an outline of steps to help combat climate change, EARTHDAY.ORG’s Africa Regional Director Derrick Mugisha said this book is a great way to get started. Featuring advice from leading climate activists, the book highlights key solutions, including ways to help solve the biodiversity crisis and climate crisis on an individual level. “We are not alone in the struggle for clean, healthy and well-protected environment and through simple individual committed actions, we can make a big impact,” said Mugisha, who was named one of the 100 Young African Conservation Leaders for his work championing forest biodiversity and planting 10,000 trees in the Mpigi District.
6. "Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret" by Catherine Coleman Flowers
Co-chair of the Durham, NC chapter of The Climate Reality Project, Melinda Lada, MD, recommends one of Smithsonian Magazine’s Ten Best Science Books of 2020. “Flowers takes the reader on a deeply personal journey to Lowndes County, Alabama, as she unveils an unconscionable reality in 21st century America — failed septic systems and raw sewage pooling in people’s yards,” elaborated Lada. “Her investigative nature and penchant for social justice drive her to discover the complexity of the wastewater nightmare that plagues so many; not just in Alabama, but all across the country.”
7. "A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions" by Katharine Hayhoe and Andrew Farley
“Though it is targeted at Evangelical Christians, as a rabbi who’s worked for three decades on getting Jews and other people of faith active on climate change, I deeply appreciate how this book weaves together science and faith, highlights the justice dimensions of climate change and leaves the reader with a sense of hope and a plan for action,” shared Daniel Swartz, the executive director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. Written by an evangelical climate scientist and her husband — an Evangelical pastor — the couple explains the science behind global warming and how fundamental Christian values should play a greater role in the climate fight.
8. "On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal" by Naomi Klein
For those interested in learning more about the Green New Deal, Green the Church CEO Reverend Ambrose Carroll recommends this book by New York Times bestselling author Naomi Klein. Carroll specifically highlights her chapter on faith: “It helps trace how male-centered Western theological practice, which attempted to replace Mother Earth with a Father God, is now engaging with indigenous cosmologies of a ‘living and sacred Earth.’” Using the receding Great Barrier Reef, persistent Pacific Northwest wildfires and hurricanes in Puerto Rico as evidence, Klein makes a case for how the climate crisis is not only a profound political challenge but also a spiritual and cultural one.
9. "New York 2140" by Kim Stanley Robinson
Centering around a group of grieving New Yorkers as they confront rising sea levels, this novel reimagines New York in 100 years. Robinson’s utopian novel is a favorite of Dominique Browning, the director of Moms Clean Air Force, an organization that focuses on air pollution and chemical toxicity to prioritize children’s health. “The story combines a worst-case climate scenario with the hope that the most difficult times can bring out the best in people — a message all-too-relevant today,” said Browning.
10. "Laudato Si': On Care For Our Common Home" by Pope Francis
Pope Francis joins the Church’s social and moral teaching and scientific research to make a case that human choices are the root cause of climate change. Climate Action Task Force Chair David Hales recommends this book because the Pope “makes it clear that changing our behavior is within our power and therefore our moral responsibility.” At the end of each chapter, the book also includes discussion questions that makes it suitable for those interested in individual or group study.
11. "Losing Earth: The Decade We Could Have Stopped Climate Change" by Nathaniel Rich
In 1979, the U.S. government came very close to initiating hard climate action, but ultimately faltered to big business interests. In his book, Rich details this failure and is able to provide more of the context for what did and didn’t happen. By analyzing the past, he offers solutions for the present and how it can benefit our future. “It's an important history lesson for activists in the 2020s and reminds us that we can't trust large corporations or the politicians whose pockets they line to deliver meaningful action on climate change, to win this battle we need huge public pressure on our leaders,” said Joe Brindle, Founder of Teach the Future.
12. "How Much Do We Know About Climate Change" by Centre for Science and Environment (sold out)
Nine-year-old climate activist Licypriya Kangujam recommends this book for children because it “gives lots of basic information and knowledge specifically to children about the global climate crisis along with the solutions.” As the founder of The Child Movement, an organization for young climate activists, Kangujam mostly tackles climate change in India, from curbing India’s high pollution levels to petitioning climate curriculum schools. She added that the book is perfect for young readers interested in the climate movement because “all the Earth’s stories in this book are specially written for young and curious minds.”
Although this option is currently sold out, there are plenty of other options for children. Topping the Goodreads’ list for Best Children’s Books About Climate Change is Lug, Dawn of the Ice Age. Written by climate and animal rights activist David Zeltser, the book follows Lug as tries to survive an impending climate crisis.
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