14 Best Climate Change Books You Must Read - Public Goods

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14 Best Climate Change Books You Must Read

We all know climate change is a serious issue — perhaps the most serious issue there is.

But finding well-researched and engaging information about the ensuing environmental crisis can be frustrating. Search for “climate change books” on Amazon and you’ll find that about half of the results are from climate change deniers, and many of the books that are scientifically accurate are just too technical and dry for the average reader interested in learning more about global warming.

red hardcover book with reading glasses

The Best Climate Change Books

Because sustainability and caring for the environment are core parts of Public Goods’ mission, we wanted to share some of our favorite books on the subject of climate change.

Our selection of books won’t bog you down with overly technical information, but will also supply you with the insights you need to fight against global warming. These great climate change books will give you the guidance you need to make a difference and take a stand against the biggest threat facing humanity and our environment today.

1. “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet” by Mark Lynas

six degrees our future on a hotter planet book

In “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet,” journalist and activist Mark Lynas takes us on a harrowing journey through the future, showing us the devastation that will likely occur from global temperature increases that might sound tiny. The chapters of the book correspond to one-degree increments, so you see what will happen when the Earth’s temperature rises by one degree, two degrees, and so on, all the way up to six.

Even at one degree, we’ll start to notice serious changes in the global climate: the Amazon’s ecosystem could collapse, and coral reefs as we know them may no longer exist. Skip ahead to three degrees and you’ll find coastal cities completely flooded from global warming.

The last chapter, which shows what the Earth will look like when it’s six degrees hotter, can only be described with one word: apocalyptic. Mass extinctions. Fires ravaging all corners of the Earth. Polar ice caps completely melted.

Some might write Lynas’s writing off as alarmist, but he backs everything up with solid climate science. This addictive read is informative and terrifying in equal measure.

2. “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Climate Change” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway

merchants of doubt book

“Merchants of Doubt,” by historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, is full of political intrigue. The story shows how a handful of conservative scientists — with help from corporations, think tanks, and politicians — have misled the public for years on issues such as the dangers of tobacco use, pesticides, acid rain and, of course, climate change.

Scientists are normally the people we turn to for answers for questions like these, but what this book shows is that even scientific experts can succumb to corruption and deception. The main scientists profiled in the book — Bill Nierenberg, Fred Seitz, and Fred Singer — chose to push their political agendas rather than inform the public about deadly serious issues. Combining in-depth historical research with gripping prose, “Merchants of Doubt” is a page-turner that sheds light on the back-door plots that led to the current state of our planet.

3. “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” by Elizabeth Kolbert

the sixth extinction book by elizabeth kolbert

Most climate change books are focused on the present or the future. They tell us about the ways in which we’re currently harming the planet and about the consequences we will suffer if we continue down that path. What’s interesting about Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” is that it focuses on the past.

Kolbert adopts a wide view of climate change, telling the story of the five major mass extinctions that have occurred since life on Earth began. The sixth is the extinction caused by climate change, which we are currently in the midst of and which is certain to get much worse. This extinction is predicted to end 20-50% of species this century.

By showing us these past five extinctions, Kolbert presents a challenge: Are we going to be the sixth? And how hard are we willing to work to make sure we aren’t?

4. “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells

the uninhabitable earth book

With chapter titles that read like songs off a metal band’s new album (Heat Death, Dying Oceans, Unbreathable Air) and an opening sentence that tells us things are “worse, much worse, than you think,” Daniel Wallace-Wells’ “The Uninhabitable Earth” is a grim read. But sometimes we really have to confront the truth about our changing climate to know what we are up against.

Wallace-Wells covers a lot of ground in this 320-page book, looking not just at the ecological crisis that lies ahead of us, but also the political and economic crises that will result from unmitigated climate change. The book’s huge scope allows you to see climate change from a number of different perspectives and get a truly holistic view of it.

While the overall mood of the book could best be described as “doom and gloom,” Wallace-Wells point to many ways we can save ourselves from the brink of extinction: “a carbon tax and the political apparatus to aggressively phase out dirty energy; a new approach to agricultural practices and a shift away from beef and dairy in the global diet; and public investment in green energy and carbon capture.” The issue is not whether solutions exist, but whether we have the political will to put them into practice and fight for climate justice.

5. “No One is Too Small to Make a Difference” by Greta Thunberg

no one is too small to make a difference by greta thunberg book

Seventeen-year-old Greta Thunberg has made quite a name for herself recently on the global stage, giving powerful speeches in which she calls out people much older and much more powerful than her for their inaction in the face of climate change.

The slim volume of her speeches is an inspirational call to action as well as a good rundown of the basic scientific findings behind climate change. The book would make a great gift for a budding young climate activist you might know. Greta’s clear, direct language and unwavering moral compass are exactly what’s needed for the current generation of young people to rise up and meet this existential threat.

6. “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate” by Naomi Klein

this changes everything book by naomi klein

Naomi Klein’s 2014 book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate” views the ongoing environmental crisis through a more political lens than other books on this list. Instead of focusing on carbon emissions, Klein turns her attention to capitalism and how we need to change our economic system in order to preserve the Earth as we know it.

A New York Times best-seller and winner of the 2014 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-fiction, the book calls for a massive transformation of the “free-market,” addressing the need to constrain corporate power, strengthen local economies, and eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels in favor of more sustainable option. In the book, Klein argues that climate change is a serious wake-up call for humanity, which has already manifested in increasing natural disasters across the world.

Ultimately, Klein has a somber yet sobering message in her book: “So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate.”

7. “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming” edited by Paul Hawken

drawdown edited by paul hawken book

There’s plenty of alarming information out there regarding climate change, but what about potential solutions? The book “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming,” edited by the American environmentalist and activist Paul Hawken, aims to present a path to a brighter future for humanity and the natural world.

Published in 2017, the New York Times best-selling book lists out 100 plans to tackle global warming. Each solution offered in the book is backed by peer-reviewed science and includes the history, carbon impact, cost, and the realistic path to actualizing these plans. Hawken started this ambitious project in 2015, bringing together 65 researchers and 128 experts in the fields of climate, sustainability, business, and academia.

After analyzing 80 environmental solutions, the team discovered that if implemented, they could eliminate 1 trillion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2050, stopping us from reaching the widely accepted climate tipping point. The plans would also produce more jobs and cost less than our current system. The most impactful solutions mentioned in the book include hi-tech refrigeration, onshore wind power, reducing food waste, plant-based diets, and more.

8. “Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future” by Mary Robinson

climate justice, mary robinson, book

Written by Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland and United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, the book “Climate Justice” details how everyday people are fighting against the global climate crisis. Traveling across the world, Robinson found a number of people, namely women, who were making major changes on a local level.

Subjects in the book include Constance Okollet, a Ugandan farmer who transformed her rural community through ingenuity, and Sharon Hanshaw, a Mississippi hair salon owner who eventually spoke at the United Nations. Balancing the widespread concerns regarding climate change, the book also promotes a message of hope through a feminist lens.

Robinson was inspired to write this book while she was holding her first grandchild in 2003, which caused her to think about how the planet would be when the young child turned 50-years-old. That experience translated into a unique book that examines climate change at a local level through the eyes of ordinary people.

9. “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” by Al Gore

an inconvenient sequel book cover

Accompanying the 2017 documentary “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” the companion book “Your Action Handbook to Learn the Science, Find Your Voice, and Help Solve the Climate Crisis” provides a more in-depth analysis. Written by former Vice President and environmental activist Al Gore, the film and book is a sequel to the popular 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”

This time around, Gore is more focused on showing readers how to battle global warming and climate change, while also demonstrating the ongoing human-caused destruction that has damaged the environment since 2006 film was released. The book version of “An Inconvenient Sequel” also covers the global advancements that have been made, including the alternative energy developments. It also dives into climate change deniers and how corporate influence on politics hinders the movement, pressing us to act now before it’s too late.

10. “The Water Knife” by Paolo Bacigalupi

the water knife book by paulo bacigalupi

Unlike the other books on this list, “The Water Knife” is a sci-fi (or cli-fi) book that views climate change through a fictional story. Based in the not-so-distant future, the book centers around the dwindling Colorado River, where the Southwest states are fighting over the scarce resources left from this water source.

While civilization deals with immense poverty and violence, the character Catherine Case, the Queen of the Colorado, hears about an untapped water source in the Phoenix area. She sends her employee Angel Velasquez, known as the water knife, to travel through the apocalyptic region to find it. This sets the reader out on a journey with Velasquez as he encounters enemies, refugees, and an award-winning journalist named Lucy Monroe.

Through this story, author Paolo Bacigalupi addresses how humans engage with and must protect the surrounding environment in order to survive. If you prefer fiction over non-fiction, this book is a must-read if you want a sci-fi story that tackles climate change in a thrilling way.

Reader Recommendations 

You shared your favorite books about climate change in our comment section – and we listened! Here’s a brief list of books recommended by our readers: 

“Building a Better World In Your Backyard Instead of Getting Angry at Bad Guys” by Paul Wheaton

Cover of the book Building a Better World In Your Backyard Instead of Getting Angry at Bad Guys by Paul Wheaton

If you’re tired of feeling stressed and angry about the lack of climate action on a global level, why not take matters into your own hands. Perhaps you can help change the world in your own backyard, at least that’s what author Paul Wheaton claims in his book “Building a Better World in Your Backyard Instead of Getting Angry at Bad Guys.” 

Whether you’re living in a small city apartment or a rural area, this book is stocked with tips on how to make a positive impact on the globe instead of feeling helpless. The advice Wheaton gives in this book includes freeing yourself from the toxic water cycle, cutting the energy footprint in your home, growing your own food and much more.   

“Unstoppable” by Bill Nye

Cover of the book Unstoppable by Bill Nye

We all remember Bill Nye as the eccentric scientist who made science exciting and interesting for an entire generation of kids (and adults, too). In “Unstoppable,” Nye takes a positive and curious approach to overcoming environmental problems. He sees the imminent climate crisis as a chance for humanity to come together and create a better future. The book debunks common myths and misunderstandings about global warming, looking into the reality of the issue through an optimistic lens that will leave readers feeling ready to change the world. 

“The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman 

Cover of the book the world without us by alan weisman

A unique spin on how we are impacting the environment, “The World Without Us” is a non-fiction book that examines what the world would be like if humans vanished from the face of the earth. Written by journalist Alan Weisman, the book looks into how our cities would be overtaken by nature, how long evidence of humanity would exist, and how other animals would evolve without our presence. In “The World Without Us,” you can imagine a world where humans have disappeared, putting your mind in a place that would otherwise seem unfathomable.    

“Comfortably Unaware” by Richard Oppenlander

cover of the book Comfortably Unaware by Richard Oppenlander

Believe it or not, what we choose to eat has a direct impact on the environment. In “Comfortably Aware,” lecturer and author Dr. Richard Oppenlander takes a deep dive into our food choices. 

It’s not only about our own health. What we eat can also lead to depleted resources, destruction of the rainforest and oceans, exacerbate world hunger, and even affect the air we breathe. In the book, Dr. Oppenlander provides a firm understanding of the consequences of our diet and food industry, followed by advice on how to seek out food that is good for us and our surrounding environment.

What Do You Think?

What do you look for when you want to read a book on climate change? Do you like straightforward scientific information? Local stories about the way climate change is impacting a particular part of the world? Inspirational stories of activists fighting back?

Sound off in the comments! We’d also love to get more recommendations –– what are some of your favorite books on the subject? What did we overlook in our list? Sharing resources on climate change is a great way to spread awareness and arm ourselves with the knowledge we need to combat this global crisis.

If you’re looking for more inspiration on your journey to environmental activism, be sure to check out our list of climate change quotes and the best climate change documentaries!

Download Our Free Guide to Sustainable Living.

From reducing waste to recycling and upcycling, our e-book shows simple ways to make choices you can feel good about.

Comments (4)

  • Having read Merchants of Doubt and Inconvenient Sequel, I find neither of them as recommendable as Building a Better World in your Backyard Instead of Getting Angry at Bad Guys by Paul Wheaton.

  • I really liked Bill Nye’s Unstoppable. In true Bill Nye form, it breaks down climate science in an easily to understand way.

  • I love Comfortably Unaware by Richard Oppenlander. It focuses on the impact of our diet on the environment but also expands concerns from climate change to sustainability and resource management.

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