The non-fiction catalogue of climate and sustainability books keeps growing every year (I hope to see a day where this genre is a dedicated section in bookstores!). However, there are some books that stand out from the rest. They have shown me a completely new perspective in this field. These are 5 of my favorite sustainability genre books that I like to revisit every now and then because each re-read gives me more value and food for thought.
Empires of Food: Feast, Famine and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations
Not many non-fiction books can be described as “thrillers” or “page turners”. This book certainly can be. Authors Evan Fraser and Andrew Rimas write this book to explore a simple premise: Food is a historical, environmental, social and political force. Every civilization is but a product of the food they grow and the food surpluses they trade. So what happens when this food system — or food empire — breaks down?
The book spans across history and explores this premise with stories from Mayan farmers, the Roman Empire, the Greeks, the colonial powers and their subordinates, all the way to the modern industrial agriculture. In all of these stories, certain elements are common. Elements like how hyper-specialization of agriculture among regions that feed a larger and larger population can break apart because of one or two unforeseen and uncontrollable events. Events like environmental limits in fertility, or climate change. The book is highly relevant today, considering the environmental threats the world’s agriculture and food trade faces.
Don’t Even Think About It: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change
There has been a lot of resistance to climate science and climate action. There are several reasons for this. Climate change is a phenomenon that has the potential to challenge society’s core structures. Such a monumental change is hard for humans to digest. The resistance has come because of many reasons: political, social, economic. Underlying all this is human psychology and how we deal with stresses and changes in our environment. Marshall dives deeper into the human psyche and breaks down why climate change is the “perfect problem” that has all the characteristics to break through the many psychological and evolutionary patterns that has helped humans become the apex species on this planet.
Marshall illustrates, through several anecdotes and examples, how the way we think and feel is so different from the way we ought to approach a threat like climate change. Every single chapter explores and introduces a “bias” that humans have which makes it hard for us to objectively deal with climate change.
I am not someone who makes notes while reading a book, but this book made me reach out for my laptop after every chapter I read. For those of you involved in climate science communication and climate policy, this book is a must-read.
The Winning of the Carbon War: Power and Politics on the front lines of Climate and Clean Energy
Written in a journal entry style, this is an enjoyable read that tugs several emotions throughout the book. Leggett takes you through his journey with Carbon Tracker as they convince the world of the “carbon bubble” and the increasing risk of stranded assets because of climate change and climate responsive policies. There are several jubilant moments as Leggett writes about his team’s many wins, as well as the rapid strides he sees the renewable energy industry takes in the early and mid 2010s. But also be ready to see the dirty side of this energy transition, as the “energy incumbents” — the coal, oil and gas industry — do whatever they can to protect their turf. The book describes the intense tussle of the energy industry through much of the 2010s, giving vivid insights into the politics and lobbying that surrounds the climate movement. No wonder Laggett calls it “a carbon war”.
Zero to One: Notes on Startups and How to Build the Future
This isn’t a climate or environment book; it’s a hardcore business book that explores how technological innovation is the next big thing in human progress. Theil and Masters share their insights on how to innovate and create a business that will become a monopoly.
The book has one chapter that uses the solar industry in the United States between 2008-2013 as a case study to describe what NOT to do when you’re trying to create a revolution and become a market leader. The next decade is going to be the decade for low-carbon innovation. The lessons shared in this book, particularly in that chapter, are something a budding sustainability entrepreneur must keep in mind so that she/he can create a strong business and boost the low-carbon transition.
The Hidden Life of Trees
Plants and trees feel. They can experience pain. They communicate and socialize. They take care of each other share water and nutrients. You remember how awful isolation was during the pandemic? Well, trees feel lonely when isolated too. Plants and trees share an intimate relationship with themselves and the environment they live in. They are shaped, and in turn, shape this environment for better or worse.
The last 20-30 years have been groundbreaking in botanical and forestry research, providing several amazing insights into plant physiology and their social dynamics. In this delightful and heartwarming book, Peter Wohlleben shares this research through simple storytelling, sharing several anecdotes of his rich experiences as a forester in Germany. While educational, the book is light-hearted and does not feel like non-fiction at all! You will never see plant life the same way after reading this book.
Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts on them? What are your favorite climate and sustainability books? I would love some reading recommendations!