The best books that will change the way you look at climate change

David Schweickart Author Of After Capitalism
By David Schweickart

Who am I?

I have a certain degree of scientific expertise deriving from the education leading to my Ph.D. in mathematics and a deep interest in ethical issues, which led to my pursuing a second Ph.D. in philosophy. I am passionate about the issue of climate change, because (among other reasons) I have four grandchildren who will be living in the new world that is being created now. As I often said to my students during my last few years of teaching, “You are living at the time when the most momentous event in human history is unfolding. Historians of the future—if there are any remaining—will write extensively about this period, about what happened and why, about what those of us alive today did or did not do.”

I wrote...

After Capitalism

By David Schweickart,

Book cover of After Capitalism

What is my book about?

After Capitalism has offered students and political activists alike a coherent vision of a viable and desirable alternative to capitalism. David Schweickart calls this system Economic Democracy, a successor-system to capitalism which preserves the efficiency strengths of a market economy while extending democracy to the workplace and to the structures of investment finance. In the second edition, Schweickart recognizes that increased globalization of companies has created greater than ever interdependent economies and the debate about the desirability of entrepreneurship is escalating. The new edition includes a new preface, completely updated data, reorganized chapters, and new sections on the economic instability of capitalism, the current economic crisis, and China. Drawing on both theoretical and empirical research, Schweickart shows how and why this model is efficient, dynamic, and applicable in the world today.

The books I picked & why

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This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

By Naomi Klein,

Book cover of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

Why this book?

The book that really changed the way I looked at the issue, a book at once terrifying and hopeful. I was already convinced that climate change was real and serious, but this deeply personal book galvanized me—leading to my own arrest at a protest against the BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana, not far from Chicago, where I was living at the time. Klein talks to people, some of the leading climate-change denialists and leading scientists on the other side; she interviews “the new climate warriors” and participates in some of their actions; she digs deep into the causes of climate-change denial, then ends with a chapter subtitled, “Just Enough Time for the Impossible.”

Klein is a deeply engaging writer. I began assigning this book in both my undergraduate and graduate courses, whenever appropriate—which was often.

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America

By Nancy MacLean,

Book cover of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America

Why this book?

This is a brilliant book by a professor of history holding an endowed chair at Duke University, a scholar who took a year off from her academic duties to tour the country, giving talks about this book. It is the other book that has most affected me since the publication of my last book, After Capitalism. It’s a very readable scholarly study, not explicitly focused on climate change, but which explains more compellingly than any other book I’ve read, as to why, given what we know about the causes of, and solutions to, climate change, we are not doing what needs to be done. This book goes well beyond my own long-held belief that we don’t really live in a democracy, focusing on specific elements I’d never thought about, but which are causally implicated in so much of the systemic disfunction that we observe today in our political and economic institutions.

Small Is Beautiful: Economics as If People Mattered

By E.F. Schumacher,

Book cover of Small Is Beautiful: Economics as If People Mattered

Why this book?

My rekindled interest in climate change took me back to a book that had influenced me significantly decades ago, which now seems more relevant than ever before—a fact attested to by the fact that the most recent edition features a new forward by Bill McKibben. Of course, Schumacher was not discussing climate change in 1973, but he was already calling attention to ethical, economic, and environmental issues associated with economic growth and thinking about solutions. This is a collection of articles by an economist whom John Maynard Keynes once suggested might be his worthy successor. It includes his provocative “Buddhist Economics.”

The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Earth

By Richard York, Brett Clark, John Bellamy Foster

Book cover of The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Earth

Why this book?

I was drawn to this powerful, contemporary, Marxian analysis, which fits so well with After Capitalism. It opens with a section on “Capitalism and Unsustainable Development,” followed by “Ecological Paradoxes,” then “Dialectical Ecology,” (which includes evidence of Marx’s own concern with what we now call “ecology”). It concludes with “Ways Out.” It’s a long read, but well worth the effort.

A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow

By Staffan A. Qvist, Joshua S. Goldstein,

Book cover of A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow

Why this book?

I read this book to stay true to my commitment, inspired by John Stuart Mill, to always make an effort to understand the strongest against your own convictions (a key reason for always including Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom in my political philosophy courses). Like most progressives in the 70s, I was part of the anti-nuclear movement, not just opposition to nuclear weapons, but to nuclear power as well. I did not expect this book to radically shift these commitments—but it did. Not the first one, but the second. I realized on reading this book that I had not thought seriously about these issues in decades. The issue of climate change was not on the table in those days, and I had not paid much attention to the development of nuclear power since then. The issue today is too urgent to ignore. Looking at the evidence presented in this book will likely change the anti-nuclear-power reader’s mind. It certainly did mine, and reading further materials on the topic, pro and con, have reinforced this shift.

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