Existential threats to the planet call for practical solutions — along with heartfelt examinations of how we got here and where we’re going next. Changes we make today will make the planet better for us and future generations. We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of the most important, interesting and thought-provoking books on the environment and sustainability. These environmental books will inspire readers to make changes and save the planet.
- David Attenborough ‘Life On Air: Memoirs of a Broadcaster’
- Jane Goodall ‘Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey’
- Edward O Wilson ‘Naturalist’
- Andrea Wulf ‘The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World’
Nature Obscura: A City’s Hidden Natural World by Kelly Brenner
With many of us currently restricted to our homes or neighborhoods, now’s the perfect time to become a backyard naturalist (as we wrote recently). This magnificent book offers stories about the varied plants and wildlife that lives around us — even in the hearts of big cities — and ideas about how to make our urban ecosystems even wilder.
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Silent Spring, which was published in 1962, is widely considered to be the book that kicked off the modern environmental movement. The book is concise and informative and yet poetic in a way. In it, Carson speaks of ecological systems and the impact of the chemical industry on the planet. Carson, who wrote this book while dying of cancer, was attacked for her work and accused of being a communist, which had serious ramifications during McCarthyist red-scaring.
- Gwynne Dyer ‘Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats’
- Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac ‘The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis’
- Tim Flannery ‘The Weathermakers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change’
- Jeff Goodell ‘The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World’
- Al Gore ‘An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming’
- Paul Hawken ‘Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming’
- James Hansen ‘Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity’
- Naomi Klein ‘This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate’
- Elizabeth Kolbert ‘Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change’
- Mark Lynas ‘Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency’
- Bill McKibben ‘The End of Nature’
- George Monbiot ‘Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning’
- Greta Thunberg ‘No One is Too Small to Make a Difference’
- David Wallace-Wells ‘The Uninhabitable Earth: life after warming’
- Jonathon Porritt ‘Hope in Hell’
Inconspicuous Consumption by Tatiana Schlossberg
Have you ever wondered about the impact of watching Netflix? How about turning on a light bulb? If you want to take a deep dive on the impact of your consumption, big purchases or small, Schlossberg’s book is a great place to start. Its focus is on fashion, fuel, technology, and food. The issues written about in this book are complicated, by Schlossberg does a masterful job of breaking each one down, making it easily digested and actionable.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
The animals of the world are vanishing at an alarming rate, but incredibly, this realization is very new. Before the late 1700s, it was believed that complete extinction of a species wasn’t possible. This denial is now behind us and the world is waking up to the impact of humanity. Kolbert’s book truly is a page turner, easy to be engrossed in. It is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking and informative.
- Rachel Botsman ‘ What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption’
- Oliver James ‘Affluenza: How to be Successful and Stay Sane’
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
Like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, A Sand County Almanac is a classic and a must-read. The book tells the stories of an unspoiled natural world and takes readers on a trek through the seasons and the changes that occur in the land. A Sand County Almanac explains how destructive mankind’s impact on the land has been and what can be done to reverse the damage.
ECONOMICS & SUSTAINABILITY
- Herman Daly ‘Steady State Economics’
- Herman Daly and John Cobb ‘For The Common Good: Redirecting the Economy toward Community, the Environment and a Sustainable Future’
- Thomas L. Friedman ‘Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution’
- Paul Hawken ‘The Ecology of Commerce’
- Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, Hunter Lovins ‘Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution’
- Richard Heinberg ‘The End of Growth: Adapting to our New Economic Reality’
- Richard Heinberg ‘Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines’
- Tim Jackson ‘Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet’
- Bill McKibben ‘Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future’
- Donella H. Meadows ‘The Limits to Growth’
- Jonathon Porritt ‘Capitalism as if the World Matters’
- Kate Raworth ‘Doughnut Economics: 7 Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist’
- Jeffrey Sachs ‘The Age of Sustainable Development’
- Jeffrey Sachs ‘Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet’
- Juliet Schor ‘Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth’
- E.F. Schumacher ‘Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered’
- Nicholas Stern ‘The Economics of Climate Change’
The Eye of the Elephant by Delia and Mark Owens
The Eye of the Elephant: An Epic Adventure in the African Wilderness takes a hard look at the incredible loss of elephants the world has experience since the 1970s. This book details the struggles that Delia and Mark Ownes experienced in trying to save elephants from certain doom. Reading this book is an adventure in and of itself and the incredible stories held within will keep you turning the page.
- Richard Heinberg ‘Afterburn: Society Beyond Fossil Fuels’
- James Howard Kunstler ‘The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century’
- Jeremy Leggett ‘The Energy of Nations’
- David Mackay ‘Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air’
How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell
Your attention is one of your most valuable and sought-after resources according to artist, author, and critic Jenny Odell. In her book, How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, Odell describes just how difficult it is to simply do nothing. In doing nothing, you’re actually paying a new kind of attention. When you liberate yourself from the distractions of the world, you can see more clearly that bold action on the environment is required and discover different paths to happiness. Once you’ve finished, you’ll feel compelled to spend some time doing nothing in particular.
- Bill Mollison ‘Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual’
- Michael Pollan ‘In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto’
- Michael Pollan ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals’
- Jonathan Safran Foer ‘Eating Animals’
- Joel Salatin ‘Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front’
- Eric Schlosser ‘Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal’
- Karl Weber ‘Food Inc.: A Participant Guide: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer-And What You Can Do About It’
Green Meat? Sustaining Eaters, Animals and the Planet edited by Ryan M. Katz-Rosene and Sarah J. Martin
This book tackles some tough questions about meat, examining issues related to production and consumption through a wide and varied set of lenses. Throughout, the book and its contributors invite readers to examine what they eat, where it comes from and how it’s produced. You won’t find easy answers inside, but it’ll give you something to chew on.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
In Walden, Henry David Thoreau reflects on the art of living simply and the nature of the world around us. The book, published in 1854, can be an intense read, covering a broad range of subjects from spiritual discovery to satire to self-reliance. It is another classic that should be on the read list for anyone interested in nature and introspection.
NATURE – CONSERVATION
- Douglas Adams ‘Last Chance to See’
- Elizabeth Kolbert ‘The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History’
- George Monbiot ‘Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea and Human Life’
- Farley Mowat ‘Never Cry Wolf’
- M R O’Connor ‘Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-Extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things’
- David Quammen ‘The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions’
- Edward O Wilson ‘The Diversity of Life’
- Edward O Wilson ‘Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life’
The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard
Stuff. You probably have some stuff and you probably use some of that stuff every day. Is that where the story ends? Not according to The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. The book is an expansion on a documentary of the same name which explores how overconsumption threatens the health of the environment, the global economy, and even us. This book is particularly important because it not only describes the problem but offers concrete solutions to the problems it identifies.
- Bill McKibben ‘American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau’
- George Monbiot ‘Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis’
- Will Potter ‘Green Is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege’
- Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus ‘Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility’
Love Earth Now by Cheryl Leutjen
Have you ever awoken in the morning and wondered what you can do for the planet today? Love Earth Now: The Power of Doing One Thing Every Day is like a self-help book for being conscious of your environmental impact and taking positive steps toward being “eco-mindful.” This book provides you with examples, big and small, of what you can do each day to contribute less to environmental problems and love the Earth.
- Rachel Carson ‘Silent Spring’
- Annie Leonard ‘The Story of Stuff: The Impact of Overconsumption on the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health’
- Lucy Siegle ‘Turning The Tide on Plastic: How Humanity (And You) Can Make Our Globe Clean Again’
Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park by Conor Knighton
We probably shouldn’t personally be visiting national parks during the pandemic, but here’s the next best thing. This thoroughly delightful travelogue (from a CBS Sunday Morning correspondent) brings national parks to you and delivers a deeply personal and revelatory take on what makes America’s natural spaces so important.
The Human Planet: Earth at the Dawn of the Anthropocene by George Steinmetz and Andrew Revkin
Steinmetz is renowned for his aerial photography projects, which often capture the stark reality of climate change, agriculture and sea-level rise. Revkin is a prominent environmental journalist and educator. Together they’ve delivered a beautiful, haunting coffee-table book that provides a powerful portrait of the ways we’re changing the planet.