The best books to help understand the causes and implications of climate change

Howard J. Herzog Author Of Carbon Capture
By Howard J. Herzog

Who am I?

I have been consulting and conducting research on climate change for over 30 years as a member of the research staff at MIT. While I originally approached the topic from a technological viewpoint, I quickly understood that that was only one piece of the equation. It was also important to understand the science, the policy, the economics, the politics, and the social aspects of climate change. In selecting my book recommendations, I wanted to cover the many different aspects of climate change.

I wrote...

Carbon Capture

By Howard J. Herzog,

Book cover of Carbon Capture

What is my book about?

I wrote this book for the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series to give a concise guide to carbon capture for the non-specialist.  Carbon capture refers to a suite of technologies that reduce CO2 emissions by “capturing” CO2 before it is released into the atmosphere and then transporting it to where it will be stored or used. These technologies can also remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere. For many years, carbon capture was a promising but often overlooked climate change mitigation pathway. However, the recent increase in urgency to deal with climate change has elevated the interest in carbon capture. 

My book explains the fundamentals of carbon capture, as well as the larger context of climate technology and policy.  

The books I picked & why

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What We Know about Climate Change

By Kerry Emanuel,

Book cover of What We Know about Climate Change

Why this book?

To understand climate change, you need to start with the scientific fundamentals. There is no one better to explain the fundamentals of climate change than Kerry Emanuel. Besides being a world-renowned climate scientist, Kerry is a great communicator. With all the misinformation floating around social media and the internet regarding climate change (and most other topics), this book is for anyone wanting to know the real facts about climate change and its implications for humanity. I have been lucky enough to get to know Kerry (we both work at MIT) and can personally attest that he is one of the most trusted sources for information about what we know and what we don’t know about climate change.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

By Elizabeth Kolbert,

Book cover of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

Why this book?

I read this book because it got a lot of buzz in articles I read and on podcasts I listened to. The buzz was well deserved. This book won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction and chronicles the significant impacts mankind is having on the Earth and its inhabitants. What makes the book so interesting is it also talks about past periods of mass extinctions. However, the sixth extinction is different because it is not caused by a catastrophic event, but by one species, Homo sapiens. It made me think of the collective power our species has and wonder how our species will wield that power going forward. Will we act responsibly and prevent the worst impacts of climate change? 

The Seven Sisters: The great oil companies & the world they shaped

By Anthony Sampson,

Book cover of The Seven Sisters: The great oil companies & the world they shaped

Why this book?

The major source of greenhouse gases that are the root cause of climate change are from our energy use. Therefore, in order to understand how to effectively reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, one must understand our energy systems. I read this book many years ago, but it taught me so much about how the oil and gas industry works. The Seven Sisters refer to the seven major oil companies that dominated the oil industry in the 1960s and 1970s. Even though the industry has changed greatly since then, the story of how oil and gas came to dominate the world’s energy systems is still relevant today.  

The Heat Is On: The Climate Crisis, the Cover-Up, the Prescription

By Ross Gelbspan,

Book cover of The Heat Is On: The Climate Crisis, the Cover-Up, the Prescription

Why this book?

Climate change is difficult enough to address, even if everyone is on the same page. Unfortunately, climate change has become a very divisive issue in the United States. This book, by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, was maybe the first to comprehensively examine the source of this climate skepticism and how it manifested itself into our political system. Even though it was written about 25 years ago, the issues it raises are still with us today. Unless we can rise above them, getting sound climate policy implemented, which is essential to solving the problem, will be nearly impossible.  

Cat's Cradle

By Kurt Vonnegut,

Book cover of Cat's Cradle

Why this book?

This was the first Kurt Vonnegut book that I read (I subsequently read almost all of his works). The first chapter is entitled “The Day the World Ended”.  It is not climate change that is the villain here, but Ice Nine. It tells the story about man’s hubris that can result in making our planet inhospitable to mankind and most other living creatures. Hopefully, climate change will not end this way, but it is a warning to take the issue seriously.  Ice Nine is science fiction, climate change is real.

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