The best books for transitioning to a sustainable society

Who am I?

I was originally trained as a physicist, but the shock of discovering that my PhD thesis, on physical conditions in the solar interior, was being used to improve the design of hydrogen bombs, changed the direction of my research. I decided to do science in the public interest, instead of for the military and big business, and broadened into interdisciplinary research. Eventually, I became Professor of Environmental Science and Founding Director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at University of Technology Sydney, Australia. Nowadays, I’m an honorary Associate Professor at UNSW Sydney, researching the energy transition, ecological economics and sustainable development. 


I wrote...

Sustainable Energy Solutions for Climate Change

By Mark Diesendorf,

Book cover of Sustainable Energy Solutions for Climate Change

What is my book about?

The inhabitants of planet Earth are now facing a climate emergency. Mark Diesendorf’s book brings together the science, technology, economics, and policy issues to provide a unique and truly interdisciplinary approach to climate solutions in the energy sector. In clear prose, it explains how we can transition from polluting fossil-fuelled energy systems to ecologically sustainable ones. 

The books I picked & why

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Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World

By Jason Hickel,

Book cover of Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World

Why this book?

Less is More identifies the fundamental driver of both environmental destruction and human poverty as the capitalist economic system. It argues cogently that high-income countries must turn away from the impossible notion of endless economic growth on a finite planet and instead aim for a feasible post-growth future that seeks a high quality of life for all. Its vision emphasizes abundant public affluence, while still seeing a role for a market economy. The book has breadth and depth, and is very readable. The author, Dr. Jason Hickel, is an economic anthropologist, Professor at the Institute for Environmental Science and Technology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Associate Editor of the journal World Development.


The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People's Economy

By Stephanie Kelton,

Book cover of The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People's Economy

Why this book?

Governments frequently claim that they haven’t enough money to protect the environment, provide social housing, fund public education or provide high-quality public health services. The Deficit Myth refutes the notion that a national economy has to be run like a household, with expenditure balanced by revenue. Drawing upon Modern Monetary Theory, economics professor Stephanie Kelton argues cogently that governments with monetary sovereignty – such as the USA, UK, Japan, China, and Australia – can create debt-free money with no constraints apart from ensuring that money retains its value. In particular, they can fund a job guarantee for everyone who wants to work. These insights open up the possibility of transitioning to a better society and economy for all. 


Resilient Cities: Overcoming Fossil Fuel Dependence

By Peter Newman, Timothy Beatley, Heather Boyer

Book cover of Resilient Cities: Overcoming Fossil Fuel Dependence

Why this book?

What does it mean to be a resilient city in the age of a changing climate and growing inequity? As urban populations grow, how do we create efficient transportation systems, access to healthy green space, and lower-carbon buildings for all citizens? Resilient Cities responds to these questions, revealing how resilient city characteristics have been achieved in communities around the world. A resilient city is one that uses renewable and distributed energy; has an efficient and regenerative metabolism; offers inclusive and healthy places; fosters biophilic and naturally adaptive systems; is invested in disaster preparedness; and is designed around efficient urban fabrics that allow for sustainable mobility. 


Energy Democracy: Germany's Energiewende to Renewables

By Craig Morris, Arne Jungjohann,

Book cover of Energy Democracy: Germany's Energiewende to Renewables

Why this book?

Energy Democracy is a history of Germany’s continuing energy transition, its Energiewende. It’s an inspiring case study of how German citizens got their government to support a policy that the public wanted: to transition from fossil fuels and nuclear power to renewable energy. Energy Democracy gives me hope while faced with the situation in my own country, Australia, where the national government is working hand in glove with the fossil fuel industry to slow the transition, against the public wishes as expressed in numerous opinion polls. 


Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life

By Edward O. Wilson,

Book cover of Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life

Why this book?

Alongside climate change, one of the greatest environmental crises is the loss of biodiversity. Not only are the Earth’s plants, animals, and other organisms intrinsically valuable. We humans are totally dependent upon them for the air we breathe, the food we eat and digest, and a climate suitable for human society. Yet we are rapidly destroying our biodiversity. Biologist Edward O. Wilson suggests a radical solution: that we reserve half the Earth to restore its biodiversity.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in sustainable development, environmental degradation, and capitalism?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about sustainable development, environmental degradation, and capitalism.

Sustainable Development Explore 10 books about sustainable development
Environmental Degradation Explore 17 books about environmental degradation
Capitalism Explore 68 books about capitalism

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism, The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Earth, and The Original Green: Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability if you like this list.