Annotated List of Books on Sustainability/Climate Change March 2020 update
Particularly Recommended Recent Books
Hawken, Paul. (Ed). 2017. Drawdown. Penguin. Outstanding, comprehensive climate change blockbuster. Detailed global analysis of 100 methods of all sorts that can help us avert climate catastrophe, ranked quantitatively in order of likely impact. A don't-miss for anyone who cares in the slightest.
DeMocker, Mary. 2018. The Parents' Guide to Climate Revolution: 100 Ways to Build a Fossil-Free Future, Raise Empowered Kids, and Still Get a Good Night's Sleep. New World. Magnificent! Manages to be upbeat, innovative, and inspiring while fully accepting how little time we have left to confront the climate change challenge. No wonder Yale Climate Connections and the Sierra Club loved it. Whether you have kids or not, this fun-to-read book motivates and informs, with a wide range of wonderful suggestions. And we seem to have read many of the same climate change books. :-) While I have a few small differences, overall, highly recommended. If everyone acted on it, we have a real shot at avoiding catastrophe.
Johnston, Nicholas, & Parzen. 2013. The Guide to Greening Cities. Island Press. Superb, in-depth presentation of what has worked, written by the same people who helped transform Chicago, Vancouver, and many others. Two of the authors helped co-found the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, and the first chapter, detailing the challenges and accomplishments of one of them, is a great start. Lots of concrete examples for every aspect of sustainability, plus most chapters end with case studies. Inspiring but focused on the practical: What elements were critical for success? How were the many barriers to sustainable change overcome? Delves into the details, including not just strategies and social marketing but performance management and the critical area of financing. Shows multiple pathways to a specific outcome. Good psychology throughout: Change can be hard, but emphasizing its positive side (e.g., many cost savings) makes it an easier sell. Metrics were critical. An awesome resource for everyone trying to support greener cities. You will be convinced they can lead the way to a sustainable and equitable future.
Wallace-Wells, David. 2019. The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. Penguin. Deservedly a bestseller: extremely insightful and well done, but also the ultimate in terrifying. Do read this, but maybe in small doses (that's how I managed). Never use Bitcoin, by the way. A quote that hit home: "That climate change demands expertise, and faith in it, at precisely the moment when public confidence in expertise is collapsing, is one of its historical ironies" (p. 160). BUT – if we accept responsibility and move faster, it's not too late. There is some good news, just not enough.
Goodell, Jeff. 2017. The Water Will Come. Little, Brown. Outstanding. Well researched, beautifully written, nuanced. How are developed & developing nations coping with current sea level rise and planning for more? - or not, in some cases, as Goodell devastatingly describes. As usual, follow the money. Europe provides some success stories.
Bourne, Joel. 2015. The End of Plenty: The Race to Feed a Crowded World. Norton. Comprehensive in scope, including the technical side of agricultural research, population demographics, and economics (for example, the role of free trade and Wall Street speculation in food shortages in developing nations). Lots of great international examples, both hopeful (SRI - system of rice intensification) and discouraging. Almost 2 billion are undernourished now, with more predicted, and global warming is already a significant problem. Malthus comes to mind, and Bourne gets him right as a humanitarian who hoped people would be adaptable enough to achieve sustainability. The jury is still out.
Harvey, Hal. 2018. Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy. Island Press. Very thorough: Everything you could want to know about the policy-based solutions to climate change – and policy is the big lever. Look what California has accomplished, and the other nations and states that are leading the way in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Performance standards that continually increase are one of many evidence-based recommendations. Time-tested, with lots of the details that have made the difference between success and failure.
all broken down carefully and specifically by sector. ". . . the grid could run reliably and at the same cost as in 2013 on more than 50 percent wind and solar generation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 2005 levels . . ." (p. 113). A hopeful book, but the policy changes actually need to get made.
Humes, Edward. 2016. Door to Door: Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation. Harper. Really impressive reach - freight, shipping, ports, robotic cars . . . The down side of fast shipping (avoid Amazon Prime). Covers congestion now, the carnage on the streets that we take for granted (pedestrians beware), the gross inadequacy of the US gas tax, all the ins and outs. An American dies in a car accident every 15 minutes . . . Life cycle analyses for transport of everyday items are eye-opening. Also the harm done by SUVs. Lots of interesting facts, and – overall - a hopeful book (NYC is a success story in somr surprising ways). Moving to electric vehicles is absolutely critical. For those interested, UC Davis professor Dan Sperling's more technical and focused Three Revolutions: Automated, Shared, and Electric Vehicles to a Better Future (2018) is great too. Everything you'd want to know about autonomous vehicles, for example. EVs aren't enough; amping up all the forms of ride-sharing is absolutely critical.
Rich, Nathaniel. 2019 Losing Earth: A Recent History. Farrar. During 1979-89 the world almost got international climate action. Covers unfamiliar history as well as brief summaries of well-known incidents like James Hansen's Congressional testimony (& events have shown that he nailed it).
John Sununu emerges as one of the villains, along of course with a fossil fuel industry that almost chose an ethical route rather than its disastrously successful disinformation campaign. Outstanding, short, reads like a novel. A dystopia, sadly. But maybe seeing where we went wrong can help us now?
Helm, Dieter. 2017. Burn-Out: The Endgame for Fossil Fuels. Yale U. Excellent. Good graphs; the global economics of energy in the next 50 years; historically informed. Electricity as the future, with a smart systems basis. Natural gas as the transition fossil fuel, and what this means.
Klinenberg, Eric. 2002/2015. Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (2nd ed). U Chicago. Magnificent. A sociologist’s comprehensive critique of the conditions leading to the 1995 Chicago heat wave tragedy in which hundreds died, often alone. Thorough and detailed, exploring government, politics, media, community, SES, race, gender, economics. Very readable too.
Nuccitelli, Dana. 2015. Climatology versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics. Praeger. Excellent summary of climate change models over the years and how their predictions have held up. Data-based refutations of the contrarians, as the author calls deniers. Also excellent on problems with "false balance" in the media - giving disproportionate attention to contrarians long after their specific claims had been scientifically refuted. Behind-the- scenes in some cases, as Nuccitelli himself was a leading author on one of the high-impact papers reexamining the climate change consensus from climate scientists, and confirming the earlier 97% figure.
Carbon Footprint Basics
Owen, David. 2009. Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability. Excellent. Gets the anti-sprawl message out effectively, highlighting the benefits of high-density cities like New York – which has achieved one of the lowest US per-capita greenhouse gas emissions levels. Recommended.
Berners-Lee, Mike. 2011. How Bad are Bananas: The Carbon Footprint of Everything. Euro-centric and already somewhat outdated, and I question a few of his assessments. That said, this great book does something really important: look at the GHG impact of all sorts of human activities, while recognizing the complexities in trying to generate even ballpark figures. His order of magnitude categorization is useful, as is his understanding of the nuances. A book full of humor despite the content - impressive to pull that one off. Berners-Lee succeeds with the critical point of focusing on behavior changes that have a significant impact, and not dwelling on the small stuff too much for now. For example, boat transport for produce/goods is cheap & CO2 friendly. So local doesn’t always win (even if it's still usually a good idea), and bananas are fine (in case you were wondering!).
Henson, Robert. 2011. Rough Guide to Climate Change (3rd ed.). Comprehensive; makes the technical details understandable. Lots of graphs and charts. Addresses climate change deniers directly in a tactful, nonconfrontational way.
Union of Concerned Scientists. 2012. Cooler & Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-carbon Living. Answers that question, how can I make a difference in my daily life? Thorough and clear, well- written.
Kalmus, Peter. 2017. Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution. A climate scientist with a wife and two children cut his family's carbon footprint drastically in innovative ways, and is loving the change. Some of the recommendations are not for everyone – raising chickens? – but they're inspiring.
Leonard, Annie. 2011. The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet. Already a classic. Life-cycle analyses of consumer goods and the down sides of materialism in developed nations, particularly the US. Eye-opening investigative work, pulled off with a sense of humor as well as urgency.
MacKay, David. 2009. Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air. One of the more technical guides for lay audiences. Provides a helpful analysis of just what's necessary to leave fossil fuels behind. Euro-centered, but lots for North America and the rest of the world too.
Royte, Elizabeth. 2011. Bottlemania: Big Business, Local Springs, and the Battle over America's Drinking Water. You'll never buy bottled water again! An important book. Well documented, yet an engaging read, albeit a frustrating one.
Klein, Naomi. 2015. This Changes Everything. Makes the case for systemic modifications in the Western approach to the economics of climate change, particularly in the US. I had a few issues with parts of it, but overall it's a worthwhile, thought-provoking read.
Klein, Naomi. 2019. On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal.
Klein, Naomi. 2017. No is Not Enough.
Follow-ups to her landmark book This Changes Everything. Excellent, provides updates and in-depth historical comparisons. The criticism of insufficiently-regulated US-style capitalism continues: From On Fire, “There is simply no way to square a belief system that vilifies collective action and venerates total market freedom with a problem that demands collective action on an unprecedented scale and a dramatic reining in of the market forces that created and are deepening the crisis.” (p. 70) During WWII, citizens' Victory Gardens provided over 40% of produce consumed in the US.
Oreskes, Naomi & Erik Conway. 2012. Merchants of Doubt. Masterful investigative report documenting deliberate media campaigns of lies by the tobacco industry and then the fossil fuel industry – casting public doubt on established science even as internal documents show that the science was actually acknowledged by these large corporations. Often using the same legal and marketing teams.
Burt, Justine. 2019. The Great Pivot: Creating Meaningful Work to Build a Sustainable Future. Excellent, with a very practical focus on shifting the US economy. Benefits are emphasized, but downsides, such as job losses in old-economy areas, need to be offset by green jobs and training. A nice summary and handbook, with many useful tables and graphs. Includes costs (e.g., for bike infrastructure) and means of financing. Includes current transportation sustainability apps – I can't keep up with them all! Burt has her own consulting firm and it shows.
Friedman, Thomas. 2009. Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Farrar, Strauss. Excellent, thoughtful; includes economic analyses. Policy decisions with lots of incentives are critical. Recommended.
Berners-Lee, Mike. 2019. There Is No Planet B. Excellent, if not quite the standout as his How Bad Are Bananas. Very broad in scope, including not just food, energy, transport – the usual suspects – but even a discussion of the importance of a more equitable income distribution. A highlight is a statement on what we’re aiming for ultimately with sustainability: a clean environment, and healthy, long lives for everyone, with restored biodiversity, less violence, more trust and collaboration in a global community that respects everyone’s rights.
Solomon, Steven. 2010. Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, & Civilization. Really terrific! Traces the ancient history of human water use to the present; water wars go back to the beginning. Comprehensive, carefully researched. One of the most impressive books I read in 2018. Manages to be a page-turner, too. From my local knowledge, Solomon gets California's water challenges right. Don't miss this one.
Weisman, Alan. 2013. Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? Another standout. Like End of Plenty, addresses the critical 21st century issues of sustainability and global warming, rising food insecurity and population pressure. Also, like Bourne's book, includes reasons for hope. Thorough, evidence-based, lots of international examples, well-written. Recommended.
Balmford, Andrew. 2012. Wild Hope: On the Front Lines of Conservation Success. Inspiring. Like Countdown and End of Plenty, presents lots of international examples, but Balmford focuses on biodiversity conservation. Examining the incentives for all involved parties can lead to win-win solutions for people and animals alike. "You never motivate anybody by just giving them bad news, you have to give them a reason for thinking that things can improve and that their actions can change what might happen." And indeed they can. I cited Balmford's work in my own book.
Turner, Chris. 2012. The Leap: How to Survive and Thrive in the Sustainable Economy. Sustainability hopes examined in depth, good news and bad. "The mainstream of of food production . . . remains committed to a system of industrial monocrops grown in artificially over-fertilized soil, kept alive by petrochemical pesticides, tended, harvested and distributed by an oil addicted processing system, and maintained by a vast web of perverse subsidies. This is a fundamentally unsustainable food production system, a sort of cheap food bubble propped up by low-cost fossil energy" (p. 276). But I emphasize the many causes for hope Turner provides, and we need that. Impressive, thought- provoking.
Hill, Alice & Martinez-Diaz, Leonardo. 2020. Building a Resilient Tomorrow: How to Prepare for the Coming Climate Disruption. Excellent, focus on resilience - and solutions. Includes markets, legal approaches, novel finance & insurance mechanisms, relocation vs in-place resilience, climate refugees & immigration, data accessibility, inequality, national security, and health implications. Practical examples from policy wonks who know how to make change happen.
Helm, Dieter. 2012. The Carbon Crunch: How We’re Getting Climate Change Wrong - & How to Fix It. Oxford economist, rather pessimistic. Critiques European policy in particular. Thorough, excellent.
Smith, Laurence. 2011. The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future. Global warming isn't all bad news . . . Optimistic forecasts (international treaties appear to be working) as well as doom and gloom. Sheds light on some unexpected changes, such as the increased difficulty of land travel in the far north due to thawing "permafrost." Reminds us that we need a whole-planet perspective for something as complex as global warming.
Nesbit, Jeff. 2018. This is the Way the World Ends: How Droughts, and Die-Offs, Heat Waves and Hurricanes Are Converging on America. Overall - good. Covers a lot of scary ground, includes interviews.
Owen, David. 2017. Where the Water Goes. Colorado River system under threat. Excellent.
Mann, Michael, & Toles, Tom, cartoonist. 2016. The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy. Short & sweet - an accessible, very nontechnical summary of the problem of climate change denial. Good cartoons.
Stoknes, Per. 2015. What We Think About When We Try Not to Think about Global Warming: Toward a New Psychology of Climate Action. Mixed . . . but good in many ways.
Minter, Adam. 2015. Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade. The recycling side of sustainability. Well done, and global indeed in scope.
Minter, Adam. 2019. Secondhand. Again, really impressive - global reuse markets rather than recycling. Fascinating, with many unexpected twists as Minter digs deep into where used stuff goes. Goodwill is just the beginning, and how. More important for sustainability than recycling, with "reduce" being the prime directive, of course!
Flannery, Tim. 2015. Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to the Climate Crisis. Good, but not as impressive as some of the others. Fairly nontechnical.
Funk, McKenzie. 2014. Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming. Is this good or bad? It depends . . . Fascinating examples. Recommended.
Marshall, George. 2014. Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change. Bloomsbury. Good in many ways, but misses some important elements, such as behavior analysis/basic learning principles and some behavioral economics. Good on reviewing lots of psych/cognitive info and reaching out to conservatives.
Marshall, George. 2007. Carbon Detox: Your Step-by-step Guide to Getting Real about Climate Change. Octopus. A brilliant book, but very Brit-focused, so I've put it here; it's also showing its age in a few places, although most of it is still applicable. I loved the humor, the strikingly effective non- climate change comparisons, the comprehensiveness, the great suggestions, and the consistently positive approach. Good psychology.
McKibben, Bill. 2014. Oil & Honey. Also 2011 Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. The old campaigner, founder of 350.org. Both are worthwhile.
Lappe, Anna. 2010. Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It. Bloomsbury. Excellent! The title may be a bit misleading, as the book mainly covers agricultural and food politics, not individual dietary choices. How can our food supply system achieve sustainability? What powerful ag interests have been preventing progress? Includes inspiring success stories; it’s not all bad news.
Rome, Adam. 2014. The Genius of Earth Day. Rome tracked down a lot of details about that period in 1970 and its aftermath.
Marsa, Linda. 2013. Fevered. Public health implications of climate change.
Nordhaus, William. 2013. Climate Casino. Yale U. From the Nobel Prizewinner, one of the early
climate change leaders. Not as impressive as I'd expected but still worth a look.
Pernick, Ron & Clint Wilder. 2012. Clean Tech Nation: How the U.S. Can Lead in the New Global
Economy. The hopeful side of new technology.
Cullen, Heidi. 2011. The Weather of the Future. Climate models and implications. Good.
Norgaard, Kari. 2011. Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, & Everyday Life. An American sociologist lived in a Norwegian town for a year in 2000-01. Despite understanding climate change, the inhabitants did not change their behavior much. Why not? Lessons for us all.
Gore, Al. 2009. Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis. In-depth, comprehensive, technical details.
Gore, Al. 2017. An Inconvenient Sequel. Excellent – an easy read with lots of graphics, yet covers the basics and inspires with great examples.
Brown, Lester. 2009. Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. Concrete steps.
Andrews, Cecile, & Urbanska, Wanda (Eds.). 2009. Less is More. Voluntary simplicity. Excellent
group of essays!
Lynas, Mark. 2008. Six Degrees. Good layout of the different (& tragic) outcomes resulting from different levels of global warming, from 1 to 6 degrees C. Includes some positive outcomes. A bit dated now.
Pearce, Fred. 2007. When the Rivers Run Dry. One of a number of excellent books tying in water shortages with global warming and sustainability.
Tidwell, M. 2006. The Ravaging Tide: Strange Weather, Future Katrinas, and the Coming Death of America's Coastal Cities. Good. It's starting to come true . . .
Thank you, Susan Schneider for this great list!
There's one more book and web site to add to this list: Susan Schneider's own: The Science of Consequences available through her web site: scienceofconsequences.com