Learning about Climate Change is a Revolutionary Act: Top 5 Books to Educate and Empower

You “know” that climate change exists. But how much do you really know? How current is your information? How deep is your understanding?

Because climate change is terrifying, we have the tendency to purposefully not learn more about it, to avoid new information. I believe it is a moral, and strategic, obligation to fight this tendency.

I highly recommend making learning about climate change a social endeavor. Ask friends or family to read and discuss a few books with you. Start a book group. Ask your current book group to focus on climate for a few books. Read alone, if you must, but be prepared for some sleepless nights.

What to read? Here are the top 5 books to become educated, empowered, and ready to fuel a social movement.

#1:             The Most Important Book on Climate Change:

The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding

Gilding manages a terrific feat: he is grimly realistic about the extent and immediacy of the climate crisis, while being optimistic about the outcome. Gilding’s hope comes from having a plan: the “One Degree War,” a WWII level effort, which requires a full societal mobilization.  This book is approachable yet comprehensive, well-argued and exciting.

I have only one major disagreement with Gilding: he believes humanity will have a great awakening, likely after a major climatic event, when humanity will, almost spontaneously, realize how much danger we are in, and engage a war-like response. Here, Gilding underestimates the power of individual and cultural denial– the forces that hold us back from living in climate truth. Though I believe that such an awakening can occur, it will only occur through a social movement that fights denial while containing anxiety.

You can read the One Degree War plan here, but the book is outstanding.  If you read one book about climate change, make it this one. And then join me in trying to build a social movement that brings the great awakening, and the Climate War about!

#2:             The best book on the societal affects of climate change

Eaarthby Bill McKibben

This book will stop you in your tracks. McKibben is a powerful writer, and he pulls no punches describing the ravages of climate change.

McKibben is particularly effective in discussing how climate change will affect American society. He argues that our new planet, cannot sustain the global capitalism that we have built— that sea level rise, and increasing severe weather and its damage to infrastructure, and other destabilizing forces simply will render it in-feasible: “It you get sucker-punched by one storm after another, you don’t have time to recover; you spend your insurance payout reproofing your house, and then the roof blows off again next year. Maybe your insurance company cancels your policy…after the next storm or two your town starts looking less like America and more like Haiti.” After 200 years of American expansion and grand projects, such as the interstate highways, its time to think about localization, durability, and community. Its time to about battening down the hatches, and weathering the storms, which will just keep getting bigger.

#3            The best Primer on climate change

The Rough Guide to Climate Change (3rd Edition), by Robert Henson

Rough Guide primarily makes travel guides; so they are used to distilling large amounts of information into readable, relatable reference books. The Rough Guide provides an overview of how climate change works (greenhouse gasses, particularly Co2 and Methane, trap heat in the very-thin atmosphere), and the many symptoms that climate change is already causing (heat waves, droughts, floods, glacial melt, sea level rise, damaged ecosystems, and threatened agriculture) resulting from climate change. Further, it discusses how this information is gathered and measured, and explores various controversies around climate change. Reading this book will make you feel climate change competent, empowering you for advocacy!

#4            The best book for understanding the psychology of the climate controversy

 States of Denial by Stanley Cohen

States of Denial is a  dense, academic read, but wow, it is worth it! You should definitely read this book if you have a background in psychology, sociology or other social science. Cohen analyzes the social and psychological processes that allow atrocities to happen; he details the variety of ways that people avert their eyes and ignore the horrors happening around them, and explores ways that deniers can be jolted into facing reality. Reading this book will greatly expand your understanding of climate change denial, even though Cohen doesn’t topic directly (it seems that the author himself was in denial about the scope, immediacy, and moral imperative of climate change!).

#5             The book that best illustrates how the US can mobilize and achieve victory

 No Ordinary Time  By Doris Kearns Goodwin

How is a biography of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt during WWII relevant to climate change? Because this beautifully written book demonstrates what the United States is capable of when united by a common purpose. After Pearl Harbor, there was no denying that the United States had to fight with everything we had. We turned this country into a factory, producing more planes, tanks and ships than had previously been imaginable. Every citizen was involved in the war effort, often turning their lives upside down to go to war, or to go to work for the first time. Citizens also contributed tin and rubber and other necessary materials, accepted rations on gas, meat and sugar, and grew 40% of the Nations produce in “Victory gardens.”  Recommended by climate blogger Joe Romm, this book will raise your spirits, get your patriotic juices pumping, and remind you of what the United States, and humanity, is capable of!



  1. Great list, thank you. You will attract other suggestions, so I might start:

    #0 Possibly the best grounding in climate science is found in a free online textbook “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart http://www.aip.org/history/climate/index.htm I had seen this site recommended numerous times. It is written in a simple, non-technical style as a history of the science. It is plain speaking.

  2. Lennart van der Linde

    Nice list. The first three are on my list as well, the other two I want to read too. Spencer Weart is also very high on my list.

    Ten suggestions from the rest of my list:

    Storms of my Grandchildren, by leading climate scientist Jim Hansen:

    The Last Generation, by science journalist Fred Pearce:

    Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway:

    Earth in the Balance, by Al Gore:

    Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, by Lester Brown:

    Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media, by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky:

    Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, by Donella Meadows, Jurgen Randers and Dennis Meadows:

    The Bridge at the Edge of the World, by Gus Speth:

    Prosperity without Growth, by Tim Jackson:

    Six Degrees, by Mark Lynas:

    Maybe a list of prime climate articles on the internet would also be interesting, but I’ll have to think about that one a little longer.

  3. Margaret Klein

    Yes thank you for providing these, and I do think an article list is a good idea. The webpage Ecobuddism has an extensive compilation of articles, which I have found helpful, especially in addressing issues such as morality and human nature (and I appreciate their adding my work to it!) http://www.ecobuddhism.org/

    I am going to bring this up in my next post, but I wonder if reading together might be a good idea. A kind of blog book-group. We could select a book every few weeks and share thoughts. It can be very nice to have a common intellectual ground. Maybe we could start with States of Denial… very much in my wheelhouse, and I think greatly underutilized as a resource by the greater climate change community…..

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