Perhaps you think: ‘I need to get informed so I can understand my concerns and communicate with others better about positive action and my feelings on this, but every time I pick up a book I find myself immediately overwhelmed by just how overwhelming it all is’? This would be entirely fair. These are very valid feelings, and you are absolutely not alone. Here, therefore, are a couple of things I’ve read recently to help get you going….
The Usborne Climate Crisis for Beginners, by Andy Prentice and Eddie Reynolds
Yes, it’s a book for kids/young adults. It’s illustrated and colourful. But also it’s a remarkably in-depth and nuanced guide to the climate crisis, discussing everything from methane production to global economic policy, how to talk to people who aren’t sure about the crisis and how to manage eco-anxiety. If like me you spent a large part of the last few years feeling too overwhelmed and exhausted for more than a graphic novel, then this is an intelligent, informative and accessible place to start.
If you can’t get easy access to a copy of that (mine was from the library e-lending catalogue) then a similar graphic guide is Climate Change and How We’ll Fix It, by Alice Harman. Slightly less in depth and well-done than the Usborne book, it’s still a perfectly decent starting point for young adults – and indeed adults – looking to get their hands on a broad understanding of the complexity of the problem at hand, as well as some solutions.
The Future We Choose, by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac
For an inspiring guide to the climate crisis – and how we get out of it – this is the book to start with. Written by the chief U.N. negotiator on the Paris Climate Accord and monk-turned-negotiator/activist, it doesn’t underplay the danger the climate crisis presents, but offers empowering, uplifting and actionable advice on how you can make a difference while staying sane. It’s a mixture of call to action, guide to zen and deep political savvy invested in the power of grassroots movements and action to make a difference, and a damn good place to start if you’re looking for positive, meaningful advice on how you can get involved.
This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein has been a powerful and important voice of activism for ages, and This Changes Everything is a good representation of her intelligence, knowledge and insight. A little less accessible and a little more terrifying than The Future We Choose, it is never-the-less a vital call to action that addresses how systemic change can not only mitigate the climate crisis, but also help bring about social justice, equality and fairness for us all. If you’re interested in how everything from housing policy to transport intersects in making a better, greener future, then this is the book for you.
The Rough Guide to Green Living, by Duncan Clarke
This was one of the first hits I got when looking at this topic on my local library e-lending catalogue. The first half addresses the nature of the climate crisis, and is unflinching in its brutal assessment. I am not a huge fan of fear as a motivator, but if you need a kick in the backside to take action, then this presents a powerful and important breakdown of facts.
Moreover, if you’re looking for personal action you can take that is less political/activist and more directly about changes in your lifestyle and consumption, then this is an excellent introduction to how you can personally shape your life to live happy, comfortably and within a sustainable carbon budget.
How to Change Minds About Our Changing Climate, by Seth B. Darling and Douglas L. Sisterson
If like me you spend a lot of time banging the drum of urgent climate action, sooner or later you’ll get people pushing back with ‘facts’ about how climate change isn’t real. Often these people are surprisingly well-intentioned, with genuine concerns about climate action affecting them and their loved ones, especially since action is of necessity tied up in bigger questions of policy and economy. However the relentless barrage of ‘no, we’re actually entering an ice age’ or ‘humans didn’t cause this’ or ‘we can’t do anything about it anyway and there’ll be vineyards in Scotland how nice’ is exhausting, because to respond to it honestly you have to go away, and do the research, find the counter-arguments embedded in fact and then present it. Often to be met with ‘well that’s not what I’ve heard’ as a reply, instead of an actual, meaningful debate.
Climate change is way too complicated for every single activist to have at their fingertips a response to every single facet of it, from coral bleaching to glacial melts, and climate denial is fundamentally predicated on the notion that 99.9% of all scientists everywhere are wrong and the global consensus is an error. Constantly having to argue in good-faith with people who refute this is, frankly, exhausting. Enter: Seth B. Darling and Douglas L. Sisterson, who after years of precisely this problem have compiled a book going through essentially every climate-denial argument they’ve ever heard, and breaking down the fallacies behind it, with clean, well-presented science. If you’re actively advocating for action, then this book is a time-saving guide to communicating the facts.
Cli-fi is now a big deal, let us rejoice! There is a huge diversity of books here, more than I can easily cover, but Kim Stanley Robinson has absolutely cornered the largest part of this emerging market with books such as New York 2140 and Ministry for the Future, the latter of which gets away with being a mixture of storytelling and essay on the climate crisis, exploring everything from the human impact of climate disasters through to the power of collective action and the complex (and arguably hugely dangerous) ideas of geoengineering. And for a story of espionage and betrayal set in a future in which humans have sorta found their peace with climate (with some heavy caveats), I’d be a bad writer not to point out the existence of Notes from the Burning Age, what I wrote when a friend pointed out that not every climate book should be a dystopia.
The climate crisis is real. Future generations are gonna pay for it. We can fix it now, and the first step to doing that is understanding it – and the power we have. So let’s get cracking.