It was a book that first introduced me to sustainability. I read Earth Odyssey by Mark Hertsgaard when I was in high-school in Northern California. Fast-forward a couple of decades and I can point to reading that book as a pivotal moment in my life. It lit a fire inside me that shaped my academic and professional choices. I didn’t bring many possessions with me when I moved to Washington, DC and eventually to London, but that book has always traveled with me. Touching it reminds me of what it felt like to be 16, thinking I could take on the world and right its wrongs.
As cliche as it might sound, I am in a book club. The members are some of my closest friends in London. They are well-read and have interesting insights on a wide range of topics. We read a lot of nonfiction, but we also mix in a therapeutic piece of fiction from time, just to keep our imaginations alive. The nonfiction works tend to revolve around topics of current significance, such as Rise of the Robots, Red Notice, or War Doctor.
These days, I personally read a lot about decarbonisation. I might get kicked out of my book club if I asked them to mirror my reading list, so I will provide some of my favourite reads here, and you can become my virtual book club for all things sustainability. I would also love to hear from you if there are books that you recommend. In no particular order:
Drawdown: The most comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming
I love solutions. Both real and imagined. All real solutions were just ideas to being with, after all. When scientists say we have about a decade to decarbonise, this book lays out a road map as to how. It fills me with hope. Each solution appears disjoined from the next, but that’s the reality of the complexity of the situation. Each couple of pages is a new approach to tackling climate change. It looks like a coffee table book, but it’s worth reading all the way through. Perhaps in several sittings.
The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells
This book is a horror story. Forget Silence of the Lambs or The Road (which, I think we’re in agreement now, is about climate change). The first half of the book is a tough read, but push through because the second half is excellent. The first half lays out all of the possible impacts of climate change, back to back. They seem almost unimaginable when laid out that way. The second half addresses other issues such as our psychology. The second half had me literally stopping in my tracks to think (I listen to about half of the books I consume, so picture me standing still on a tube platform with my mouth agape).
Factfulness by Hans Rosling
This book is full of great facts about the state of the world today. As opposed to several decades prior, which is more likely to have shaped your perceptions. Hint: there are many ways the world has improved, climate change just isn’t one of them. That said, reading it felt like being in a statistics class that was actually … enjoyable. If you’re going to read Uninhabitable Earth, you have to read Factfulness as well. Partially, because we need to juxtapose the worst case scenario against something that is less dour. Secondly, because we need to think critically about data in the solution-finding processes. It’s absolutely critical that we don’t invest time and energy into ineffective solutions because they instinctually feel like the right answer. Data helps.
Shades of Green by Paul Waddington
A reference guide in the best form. I’ve seen several books with ideas on how to reduce waste or go plastic free. Those books area great for idea generation. This book is great for application. What I want is more help making everyday decisions in a non-ideal world. Sometimes, it’s about picking the least-bad option given constraints. This book helps lay that out in a dark green-green-light green scale, which is extremely useful and practical. We keep it in the kitchen as a household reference guide. This might be the most practical book on the list, and you will get repeat use out of it.
Household Sustainability: Challenges and Dilemmas in Everyday LIfe
This was a recommendation from a friend who was a little concerned I would find it dry when he recommended it to me. Putting this on my list has me a little concerned you will find it dry. For me, it is a page turner, and I am so glad I have it. I absolutely love the non-stop reference to studies. However, if you’re not as keen to dig into things like lifecycle analysis of plastic carrier bags, stick with Shades of Green (No. 4 above). This is a book for people who want details.
Climate of Hope by Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope
Real life stories by two incredible men. I could almost hear their voices in the alternating chapters. I also love how Carl Pope explains climate change in layman’s terms. Or how Michael Bloomberg talks about public transportation and congestion in New York City. Most of all, I loved learning more about the Beyond Coal collaboration with the Sierra Club. Their continued work in shutting down coal fired power stations is both effective and inspiring.
Spark Joy by Mari Kondo
This is a fad. I didn’t read the book; I skimmed chapters. I also watched some of the Netflix series. Her message of being happier with less is great. She’s helping us all put in place some actions that will stunt our voracious appetites to constantly buy new things, and that’s good for the planet and the soul.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, And How to Change by Charles Duhigg
Personal decarbonisation is about changing personal habits. People resist change. There’s an entire field of study dedicated to change management, and you may have met people that specialise in this in your HR department. If we jump in and make changes to our lives, they need to become habits in order to be effective. The more you know about how habits are formed and how you’re hardwired, the easier it will be to make changes.