New fiction and nonfiction that capture the harsh reality of climate change, possible futures, and the most promising strategies
It’s the holiday season for many around the globe — a time to reflect and, we think, to give and receive books, fodder for reflection. As we close out what will likely be the hottest year for humans on this planet, there is certainly plenty to ponder. So here for the occasion are our Climate & Capital team’s book recommendations — from graphic novels and cli-fi to the latest science and solutions. These picks explore climate in ways that may inspire hope, drive you to protest in the streets, or prompt you to plant a garden, escape into a forest, or dive under the bed to avoid the coming reckoning with nature.
by Stephen Markley
The Deluge, from the author of bestseller Ohio, is a must-read for the climate-minded. As the world heads toward AI and climate-induced calamity, a smorgasbord of characters including a neurodiverse mathematician, a newly-religious actor, a hedge fund manager, an ecoterrorist and, of course, a climate scientist, collectively face what happens when methane releases and water is unleashed. The intensity of Markley’s writing takes you on a wild ride and asks the existential question: What would you do to give humanity a chance to survive? Don’t miss this one.
– Blair Palese
by Eleanor Catton
In this latest work by Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton a philanthropic guerrilla gardening collective in New Zealand moves to inhabit an abandoned town and its sizable farmland to expand their efforts. As their “Birnam Wood” collective struggles to break even, they are introduced to an American billionaire who sees the land as the perfect site for an end-of-days bunker. Although they’re worlds apart politically, the billionaire and the anti-capitalist guerilla commune seem to have enemies in common. As their ideals and ideologies conflict, their alliance is tested and tragedy awaits.
– Ethan Berg
by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, Illustrated by Giovanni Rigano
This graphic novel, from bestselling author Colfer (Illegal), is the tale of two children, Sami and Yuki, facing the effects of climate change — one on the Indian Ocean and the other in the Arctic Circle. As the seas rise and the ice cap melts, the children fight to protect their homes, separated by thousands of miles, but united in their struggle. This book is targeted at middle schoolers, but like so many books for kids and young adults, this beautifully drawn novel would make a nice gift or holiday read for older humans too.
– Kari Huus
by Colly Campbell
This one’s from 2021 but is steadily building a global following, The Capricorn Sky is an Australian cli-fi take. (The author just happens to be the brother of a friend, one who has had a decades-long career in the climate and environment space. Funny, that.) It’s a century in the future and climate impacts are deadly. Big government keeps order in a world awash in climate refugees using a terrifying mix of eugenics, political engineering and an AI-managed watchful eye. How long can the enforced stability last? Not long as playboy Adaman Marko and his girlfriend Flick team up with a motley crew of characters including killers and a guardian angel in the climate-ravaged badlands of Australia’s Cape York Peninsula. A wild ride!
– Blair Palese
edited by Grist
This slim but mind-expanding book offers a collection of tales that imagine more promising futures than what those of us closely focused on climate change may be able to conjure. Its 12 short stories, culled and curated by Grist from hundreds of submissions, inspire hope in the face of depressing climate trends. I’m currently wading into a dystopian/utopian tale where some survivors called Keepers are reconnecting with other creatures, after the rich have fled to other planets, and most other humans are eking out a mean existence in a wasteland. The main character begins as a young woman relying on drug-induced highs to cope with the present, and preparing to leave the planet to work as a servant. But she has second thoughts after a chance encounter with a bee leads her to discover an emerging community on Earth. I’m hoping that at the end of the book I will agree with author Kiese Laymon, who wrote, in her review in The New York Times: “We, as earthlings, will be better to the earth after experiencing this book. That is not hyperbole.”
– Kari Huus
“We’re not doomed yet — we have not yet ensured our extinction”
— climate scientist Michael Mann
by Michael Mann
Hot off the press, this book by renowned U.S. scientist Michael Mann examines four billion years of climate history to conclude that we are in a “fragile moment,” but there is still time to act. I’ve known Michael since one of his early trips to Australia, speaking out about the risks of inaction and the slavish devotion to fossil fuels. In his latest book, Mann, a presidential distinguished professor at the University of Pennsylvania, provides extensive examples of ecological tipping points that have led to collapse. But what makes the current climate change we face different is us — humankind — and our ability to stop it. The onus, Mann says, is on us to decide to step up, take action and overcome the trajectory we are on if we want a liveable future. “We have the technological know-how to decarbonize the global economy, moving away from the harmful burning of fossil fuels toward clean energy and climate-friendly agricultural and land use policies,” Mann writes. “The obstacles here aren’t technological. They are political.” So… what will it be, humankind?
– Blair Palese
by Alison Taylor
As a consultant to multinationals for 25 years, Alison Taylor recalls, “I have made the business case for sustainability to powerful executives all over the world — as their eyes glazed over… Inspiring terms are no match for the disorder of real life.” This is what’s special about Higher Ground and why it stands out from the pack of business books published every year. Taylor brings deep, real-world knowledge of business people, operations, competing demands and “the messy innards of corporate life,” ranging from the mistakes prompted by power itself to the nearly instantaneous, global impact on reputations and sales brought by disgrace or admiration. She offers straight up candor, humor and wisdom. Taylor, a clinical professor at NYU Stern School of Business and executive director at Ethical Systems, captures the connectedness of risks and opportunities in the digital era. After recounting unforgettable stories, Taylor offers actually helpful steps — not the usual platitudes, jargon or moralizing — on how to avoid the pratfalls and reach the “higher ground” of more positive culture, profits and impact.
– Barclay Palmer
by Simon Sharpe
A former civil servant makes a persuasive case for dropping economy-wide emissions targets and focusing on tipping points where green technologies become affordable. Simon Sharpe’s Five Times Faster outlines a radical but realistic plan for scaling up cuts in global emissions of greenhouse gasses so that we reach net zero by 2050. Unlike many authors who tout fixes, Sharpe has witnessed first-hand the painfully slow negotiations between countries at the annual United Nations summits in his role as a senior civil servant in the UK government’s climate and energy departments. He is optimistic about the potential for a new approach to climate diplomacy but he is also realistic enough to acknowledge that it requires a degree of collaboration between governments that can be difficult to build in a world of heightened geopolitical tensions.
– Peter Mckillop
“As individuals, we shouldn’t have a carbon footprint… The only reason we do is …ineffective government action, obfuscation by Big Oil and collusion by corporations over at least four decades.”
– Assaad Razouk
by Assaad Razouk
I’ve been following Assaad Razouk for years and hang out for his “good climate news this week” social posts and excellent podcasts so it’s not surprising that this book makes our list. Assaad, a Lebanese-British investment banker turned clean energy entrepreneur, squarely challenges the notion of climate change responsibility sits with the individual and goes right to the real issue: fossil fuel companies and vested interests. Razouk is a master of much-needed climate hard facts and fine details. Sure you’ve read that we need systems change, not guilty consumers and that stopping fossil fuel subsidies would be the smartest thing we could do right now. But few experts write with the clarity and optimism about our chances for taking on climate change as Razouk. Well worth the read.
– Blair Palese
by Mark Jacobson
Jacobson was one of the first to show that we have all the commercially available, cost-effective renewable-energy technologies we need to run the world without burning fossil fuels. The Stanford professor and well-known climate thought leader shows that moving to 100% solar, wind and hydropower is cheaper, and brings a wealth of benefits: more jobs, greater wealth and far better health. He also shows that investing in this future would pay back in six years. Heck, that’s a 17% annual return. Jacobson, whom I’m privileged to call a friend, has long had one of the best databases proving this on a state-by-state, nation-by-nation basis. If you want to see practical climate solutions in a delightful, easy-to-read format, this book is for you — and anyone else who cares about the future of our home.
– Hunter Lovins
by John Valance
In Fire Weather, journalist John Vaillant makes the case that the catastrophic is inevitable. His focus is an out-of-control wildfire in central Canada, deep in the boreal forest.
The bitter irony of this tale is it is about the devastation of Fort McMurray, a small city built on outsized fossil fuel extraction — Canada’s infamous tar sands. It is, as The New York Times writes, the “physical manifestation of the forces that have led to a warming world.” More than 40% of U.S oil imports come from the city’s giant bitumen mines. But in May 2016 with temperatures soaring and the air as dry as a desert, catastrophe struck. “The Beast” — as the fire became known by locals — devoured the city in flames and smoke. The beast of Fire Weather is an omen of things to come. As the denizens of Maui learned last summer, climate change creates tinderbox conditions in paradise and hell.
– Peter Mckillop
by Sarah Lohman
You’ve probably heard of sassafras, but do you know how to cook with it — or why? Neither did I. Sassafras is used to create the original — and natural — root beers, a spicy seasoning for gumbo, teas for digestion, colds and fevers and even antiseptics and painkillers. It has a unique flavor, uses and history. But you wouldn’t know that from your average grocery store or cook book. As modern culture is homogenized, biodiversity is lost, and agriculture and foods are industrialized, using only the most productive but not necessarily tasty or nutritious varieties, thousands of “delicious and distinctive” foods and their health properties and cultural traditions are being lost. In Endangered Eating, Sarah Lohman shares the extraordinary people, traditions and recipes she discovers while tracking down plants, animals and ingredients that are core to our culture but disappearing, unless you know where to find them, from the special date palms in California’s Coachella Valley to the Texas Longhorn that’s at “critical” risk of extinction because it doesn’t fatten quickly enough and its horns are too long. Lohman’s stories are unforgettable.
– Barclay Palmer
by Emelie Des Plantes
Do you want to provide fresh produce for your family through backyard gardening? Do you wish to build an affordable, sustainable, regenerative, resilient, low-maintenance and abundant garden?
For me, not really as I live on a street in downtown Manhattan with no trees. I am hopelessly addicted to the produce of heavy industrial farming — which is perhaps why the older I get, the less I like the taste of common food — New York City restaurants bring the worst.
But there are those few golden weeks at the end of summer where nature’s fresh-from-the-farm bounty makes me realize there is an alternative to the sad food desert I inhabit.
So if you are seeking better, Think Like an Ecosystem provides a great introduction to permaculture to kick off your journey to a food oasis. It shows how to make the most use of what nature provides by using specific design strategies to maximize the benefits of real food, energy, and shelter.
Think Like an Ecosystem introduces permaculture, the conscious planning that caters to the human needs while also respecting and healing the natural environment. The book is a nine-step journey to build an ecosystem that thrives just like a natural forest, grassland, or any other such ecosystem.
Sadly for me, it was nine steps too far for my fading urban life journey, but that is for me to regret, and hopefully not you.
– Peter McKillop