Books to give, read and share over the holidays
It’s that time of year when much of the world shuts down, turns off, and takes a rest. Although climate change isn’t necessarily top of mind during the holiday period, many of us who are concerned try to find some time to catch up on the growing number of books on the topic. From present-day policy and science discussions to future possibilities, the Climate & Capital team offers our favorite books of 2022 and a few classics you might like to read if you haven’t already.
By Bruce Usher
Investors looking for guidance about how and where to direct capital toward climate-related funding will find much value in “Investing in the Era of Climate Change.” Author Bruce Usher clarifies a complex activity in a fast-changing field. After an overview of climate change solutions, he describes various investment strategies (from risk mitigation to impact investing) as well as a range of vehicles and products, from real assets to financial assets, from exchange-traded funds to mutual funds. Best of all, even though academic in format (Usher is a professor of professional practice at Columbia Business School), “Investing” is also informed by real-world experience; Usher has worked as an entrepreneur and in financial services. So, the book includes a practical and actionable road map to investing effectively to address climate change. An excellent guide through an evolving landscape. – John Howell
By Douglas Brinkley
There was a time when activists, scientists, lawyers and even presidents joined forces to push environmental issues to the top of the national agenda. In “Silent Spring Revolution,” Douglas Brinkley chronicles the period from 1960 to 1973 when there was a common belief in the federal government’s ability to enact laws and regulations for the practical purpose of reducing pollution and preserving natural resources. The outcomes were impressive: the creation of 64 new national parks and several endangered species laws, the elimination of DDT and other toxic pesticides, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, among many others. “It was a time when inspiring leaders such as Rachel Carson, author of the foundational blockbuster “Silent Spring,” emerged and were sought as guides to environmental causes. This panoramic history is written in a compelling narrative fashion by noted historian Brinkley, describing a picture of a more optimistic world of collective action based on popular support. But more than nostalgic, “Silent Spring Revolution” reminds us that other, better choices can be made today to address climate change. – John Howell
By Joelle Gregis
Joelle Gregis is an Australian-based scientist and expert author of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the top climate science body advising the United Nations and global climate talks.
Gregis says acknowledging that the world as we know it is coming apart is an act of courage. “If I live to look back at this troubled time, I want to say that I did all that I could, that I was on the right side of history. The question is: do you want to be part of the legacy that restores our faith in humanity?”
Her new book is a call to action in the face of the vast challenge of climate change.
In “Humanity’s Moment,” she takes us through the science in the IPCC report with unflinching honesty. She explains what it means for our future while sharing her personal reflections on bearing witness to the heartbreak of the climate emergency.
But this is not a lament for a lost world. It is an inspiring reminder that human history is an endless battle for positive change and addressing difficult issues. We are all a part of what shapes and can transform our world.
Gregis, along with a growing number of global experts and, in fact, the Climate & Capital Media team, shows us that the solutions to the climate crisis already exist. We just need to work together to create a better world. This book is a climate scientist’s guide to rekindling hope and a call to restore our relationships with each other and our planet. – Blair Palese
By U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse with Jennifer Mueller
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, also a former Rhode Island Attorney General, has written a stark case against the present U.S. Supreme Court. It is “the court that dark money built,” whose sole purpose is to “capture” the judiciary to enable “deep-pocketed, anti-democratic, private forces to rewrite the laws and the Constitution to their private advantage.”
The book outlines a four-decade-long campaign by hidden interests that have funneled $580 million to buy the court by stacking it with supporting conservative Supreme Court justice nominations.
The result “is a disaster for democracy.” It has had a particularly devastating impact on combating climate change. When he joined the Senate in 2007, Whitehouse said climate legislation was surprisingly bi-partisan. That is, until January 2010, when “all bipartisanship stopped” after the Supreme Court’s deeply flawed “Citizens United” decision, which let loose billions in funding by donors who could remain anonymous. The most profligate being the fossil fuel industry that made it clear: Oppose us, and we will spend what it takes to defeat you. – Peter McKillop
By Multiple authors collected by the Club of Rome
Five decades ago, The Limits to Growth by the Club of Rome scared a generation with dire Malthusian predictions of out-of-control population growth. We survived. The climate emergency has some of the same shrill doomsday predictions. This time, however, the Club of Rome learned its lesson. Instead of publishing Nostradamus-like doomsday prophecies, it has pulled together a group of distinguished collaborators that focuses on the art of the possible. The group offers five turnarounds scenarios to achieve prosperity for all within planetary limits in a single generation.
With a powerful foreword by United Nations climate champion Christiana Figueres, It is an unconventional but compelling road map for continued human survival and prosperity.
That means addressing gross inequality, empowering women, making our food system healthy for people and ecosystems, and transitioning to clean energy systematically. For capital markets, this means a deep rethinking of their role. It also means acknowledging the blindingly obvious: Only governments supported by citizens can provide for the greater good, an especially then major transformation is not only needed but essential to having a future. – Peter McKillop
By Saul Griffith
Like the American version of his book, “Electrify Everything,” “The Big Switch” provides a detailed blueprint – optimistic but feasible – by electrification guru Saul Griffith for fighting climate change while creating millions of new jobs and a healthier environment. Griffith explains what it would take to transform our infrastructure, update our electricity grid and adapt our homes to make a move to renewable-powered electricity possible. Billionaires may contemplate escaping our worn-out planet on a private rocket ship to Mars, but the rest of us, Griffith says, will stay and fight for the future. As one of Griffith’s big supporters in Australia, tech billionaire Mike Cannon Brookes says of the book, “About f-cking time we have an actual plan written down that can be executed and financed. In a decarbonised world, Australia [and America] is a winner. The opportunity now is ours for the taking.” An inspiring, practical plan to transform our energy system and supercharge our response to the climate crisis. Get the American or the Australian version and see how we do it. – Blair Palese
By Cal Flyn
My old friend from J.P. Morgan and one of the world’s great readers Tom Dunn, highly recommend this book by Cal Flyn, an award-winning writer, investigative journalist and exceptional nature writer. She visits the eeriest and most desolate places on Earth that, due to war, disaster, disease or economic decay, have been abandoned by humans. What she finds every time is an “island” of teeming new life: Nature has rushed in to fill the void faster and more thoroughly than even the most hopeful projections of scientists.
Some of the places she chose to visit are obvious — “nuclear winter” in Chornobyl or the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat that suffered a devastating volcano. But for me, the most compelling chapter focuses on the Great Falls of Paterson, New Jersey. I lived just a few blocks from the waterfall when I started my career as a reporter in 1981.
For generations, the vile waste of industrialism from America’s first planned industrial city tumbled over the Great Falls, “a flood of filth, vile inky fluid, terrible, putrid odors, half the river red, half steaming purple,” she writes. It’s now a quiet place populated by a few urban settlers in makeshift encampments – a place for “rewilding of the soul,” she says, quoting George Monbiot.
Paterson is a metaphor for human civilization. The poet William Carlos Willam once declared his hometown the “vilest swill hole in all of Christendom.” Flyn adds a coda: “Maybe it was. Unfortunately, there was worse still to come.”
Flyn’s book is a must-read for those interested in what we are doing to our planet and, therefore ourselves. – Peter McKillop
By Cindy Forde
Read our interview with Cindy Forde.
Author and activist Cindy Forde believes that the most effective change we can make is in how we shape the mindset of the next generation and break from old patterns of thinking. Forde, who is also the founder of Planetari, an organization dedicated to worldwide environmental education, has just published a children’s book titled “Bright New World – Building a Better Planet,” with illustrator Bethany Lord, to activate young people to protect the Earth. Forde has worked with leaders across sectors, including the United Nations, governments, NGOs, finance, business, technology and education. She was CEO of the Cambridge Science Centre and managing director of the Blue Marine Foundation, where she headed a global team dedicated to protecting and regenerating the world’s oceans. She argues that we need to educate our children – particularly girls – by giving them the opportunity to see the possible and that this is critical to reversing climate change. Forde says she wants to provide children, families and teachers the tools to build new pathways for humanity. Share the hope through this beautifully artistic vision of what the world could be with the young people you know. – Blair Palese
by Thomas Piketty
The world’s leading economist of inequality presents a brief but sweeping and surprisingly hopeful history of human progress toward equality despite crises, disasters and the inevitable global backsliding. This is an elegant introduction to the ideas developed in his monumental earlier books that might be too daunting for some. We know inequality has increased dramatically in many parts of the world over the past 100 years. In this short work, Piketty shows how we nevertheless have been moving toward greater equality overall. He takes us through the growth of capitalism, revolutions, imperialism, slavery, wars and the building of the welfare state. It’s a history of violence and struggle. But the author shows us how societies have moved fitfully toward the more just distribution of income and assets, reduction of racial and gender inequalities and greater access to health care, education and the rights of citizenship. Picketty says that to keep moving forward, we need to learn and commit to what works: institutional, legal, social, fiscal and educational systems that can make equality a lasting reality. The past shows us how to bring about change, he argues; the future is up to us. – Blair Palese
By Megan Herbert and Prof. Michael Mann
The ever-insightful and inspiring climate scientist Michael Mann has teamed up with illustrator Megan Herbert to create a fantastic environmental picture book for kids ages five to nine about finding your voice, taking collective action and saving the planet. Tantrums are bad – except when they save the world! Sophia’s minding her own business when a polar bear appears at her door. He has things to say. His ice cap is melting. Where is he supposed to go? Soon, more visitors arrive: A dispirited sea turtle and farmers whose lands have gone dry are joined by confused bees, more climate refugees and a grumpy Bengal tiger. Sophia is frustrated and confused. She doesn’t understand why they showed up, nor what any of this has to do with her. But as she hears their stories, she learns that this is her fight, too, and discovers the power of collective action, the strength of her own voice and how all of us are stronger together. This is a great one for the children on your gift list. – Blair Palese
By Richard Powers
In his latest book, author Richard Powers again carves out a space of wonder at the intersection of human innovation and the genius of the natural world. The novelist, who in 2019 won the Pulitzer Prize for The Overstory — a stunning novel about trees — and who has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (aka Genius Grant), is now on the shortlist for a National Book Award for “Bewilderment.” This book is the story of an astrobiologist trying to raise his son — a bright but difficult-to-manage boy who is “on the spectrum” — while still grieving the death of his wife. Their tale traverses the cutting edge of neuroscience, using biophysical feedback to help her son connect with humans (and avoid medication), as well as astrophysics and modeling to scour the universe for other planets that could support life. But the true focus is the magic of life on Earth through the eyes of a child who desperately wants his fellow humans to see the importance of every creature, big and small. A bittersweet and beautiful read. – Kari Huus
By Paul Hawken
“Regeneration” is another outstanding Paul Hawken book, this one about what he calls a radical new approach to the climate crisis, one that weaves justice, climate, biodiversity and human dignity into a seamless tapestry of action, policy and transformation. If the world were to follow the path set out in “Regeneration,” Hawken says that together we could end the climate crisis in one generation. Now that’s the kind of hope and ambition you want to read about over the holidays! The book showcases the burgeoning regeneration movement growing rapidly around the world and – here’s why I love the book – does so with two pages per topic of the problem and innovative solutions in a way that makes understanding how it all works easy, straightforward and optimistic. The book puts life at the center of all of the recommended actions to protect grasslands, farms, insects, forests, fish, wetlands, coastlands and oceans.
It’s literally a big book about climate and how we solve the crisis – excellent to have around the house if you have family worried about climate change. This is another beautiful contribution from Hawken, one of the gurus of how we solve the massive challenges of our modern world. – Blair Palese
By Karen Bakker
This new book by Canadian author Karen Bakker explores recent revelations about plant and animal communication at a critical time as the world faces the continued extinction of species.
Unaided, we humans have extremely limited hearing — like a single band on a broad radio spectrum — and go about our business unaware of the constant symphony of sound the natural world is making to communicate. Bakker’s extensive reporting covers the ways researchers and conservationists are now using digital technology to “hear” non-human languages — and even begin to decipher them. Their tools provide access to sounds in frequencies too low or high for our ears, as well as echolocation and bio–location, and give us a new view into the rich lives of everything from whales and peacocks to bees and coral polyps.
At the COP15 conference on biodiversity this month in Montreal, delegates were once again struggling to forge a plan to prevent the mass extinction of species or an agreement on how to pay for it. Bakker’s work shows how cutting-edge science converges with traditional wisdom on the natural world, and maybe — beyond being a fascinating read — this book can help spark meaningful new efforts to preserve it. – Kari Huus
By Nathaniel Rich
This is another eco-history reminding us that today’s climate change issues aren’t sui generis but have developed from a build-up of denialism by those with a vested interest in pushing back against solutions. Rich’s original report, which is the basis for the book, filled an entire issue of The New York Times Magazine in 2018 about the battle between scientists sounding the alarm in the 1980s and climate deniers, supported by the fossil fuel industry’s concerted effort to silence their concerns. The scope and thoroughness of the facts on the ground, compellingly conveyed by Rich’s skillful narrative recounting, created a tsunami of response. Now expanded into book form and updated, “Losing Earth” outlines how we got to today’s crisis situation – one that toggles between escalating symptoms of planetary distress and equally increasing proposals for solutions, from public policy to technological innovation. Note the “we” in the book’s title: We’re all in this together. That means “you,” so read this one if you need more motivation to take action now. – John Howell
Some of the world’s best future-thinkers have teamed up for this outstanding book about facing our current climate catastrophe – think 65 million climate refugees, global inequality and grid-locked governments – with real hope for global transformation. L. Hunter Lovins of Natural Capitalism Solutions fame and a range of business and sustainability experts suggest that not only does humanity have a future but that it can be reimagined to offer a world that works for everyone. This book brilliantly synthesizes and makes accessible the thinking of John Fullerton, Kate Raworth, Dana Meadows, Paul Krugman and Elizabeth Warren. It provides solid evidence of the global change already underway and an important roadmap for achieving what they call a new, regenerative economy. This is an excellent read for those involved in or following the rollercoaster ride of the emerging climate economy, ESG’s impact on business and how we move from our current destructive, unequal and profit-driven world to a sustainable, circular and better one. – Blair Palese
By Kim Stanley Robinson
From “Cli-Fi’ bestselling author Kim Stanley Robinson (“2040,” “Red Mars Trilogy”), who describes himself as a “utopian science fiction writer,” we are including his outstanding 2020 book on our climate-impacted future and what it may take to survive. As extreme heat and weather begin to devastate the earth and its people, an international task force is established to defend all living creatures, present and future. Led by the former foreign minister of Ireland, Mary Murphy, the Ministry navigates neoliberalism, climate change refugees and a shadowy terrorist network called the “Children of Kali” that will use any tactic to continue carbon emissions.
At the recent VERGE conference in the U.S., Stan, as he is known, said that when he was writing “The Ministry For The Future,” he “…wanted to write about what a successful future looks like in the coming half-century.” He also said his bar for “success” continues to lower. “If we dodge a mass extinction event, that’s a utopian outcome at this point. And I think it can be done. Many of the technical solutions are out there… What occurred to me was we don’t have a good way to pay for them.”
When Robinson went looking for answers to that problem, he came across Australian Dr. Delton Chen’s paper on global carbon rewards, a system of carbon quantitative easing that Stan renamed the carbon coin. This became a major theme in the book. “This is why the novel has been taken up with such enthusiasm – because it suggests that there is a viable plan, that it could be done, that it could be paid for and we could squeak by, and people want that story… there is a hunger for that story.”
If you are at all interested in how we solve the climate crisis, don’t miss this one. – Blair Palese
By Dorris Lessing
“Planet 8” is the story of people in a world that has always had a temperate climate and produced an abundance of food, but now — due to some disturbance in its cosmos — it is gradually moving into an ice age. The residents of the planet build a massive wall to hold back the encroaching ice while they await delivery to safety on another planet, as promised by the Canopeans, their benevolent galactic overlords.
This book is not new at all. It was published in 1982 — and I doubt Lessing was intentionally writing an insanely prescient book on climate change. She was apparently inspired by something quite literal — expeditions to the Antarctic by British explorer Robert Falcon Scott. But I do know that she was a sharp observer of humans in the face of disaster and I cannot help but think of this book, read so long ago, as we stare down the barrel of climate change.
Lessing, a British citizen born in Iran and raised in southern Africa, wrote dozens of novels and short stories as well as poetry, essays, autobiography and memoirs. She ranged across the landscape of science fiction, feminism and politics, winning many awards, including a Nobel Prize for literature in 2007. “Planet 8” is part of her series “Canopus in Argos: Archives” — but is complete entirely on its own. – Kari Huus