The best environmental books of all time

Who am I?

I’m a wilderness guide, community organizer, and writer focused on stopping the destruction of the planet. My work, which has appeared in The New York Times and been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, has taken me to the Siberian Arctic to document climate change research, to the Philippines to work with grassroots communities defending tropical rainforests, and to Nevada where I began a protest movement against an open-pit lithium mine.


I wrote...

Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do about It

By Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, Max Wilbert

Book cover of Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do about It

What is my book about?

Bright Green Lies argues that solar and wind energy, electric cars, efficiency programs, and green cities are failing to protect the planet, because these techno-fixes are designed to sustain industrial civilization — the way of life that is killing the planet — and protect it from the effects of peak oil and ecological collapse.

When we find ourselves no longer listening to and retelling bright green lies,” the authors write, “we will find ourselves where we should have been all along, in alignment with the earth and with the powerful, wonderful, beautiful, creative processes that have made life on this planet what it is.”

The books I picked & why

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Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wetiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism

By Jack D. Forbes,

Book cover of Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wetiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism

Why this book?

Why do people harm each other and the planet? Why do the rich continue to accumulate more and more wealth, when they already have all they need? When is enough, enough?

Those questions can be answered by social psychologists, environmental economists, historians, and other academics. But Jack D. Forbes’ book is perhaps the best explanation I have ever read. Drawing on the history of the colonization of North America, Forbes (Renape/Lenape) argues that modern civilization is based around “a spiritual sickness with a physical vector.” He calls it the wetiko disease: the desire to consume other beings, with no possibility of satiation. Forbes’ exploration from his indigenous perspective is one of the most important books I’ve ever read.


Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism

By Ozzie Zehner,

Book cover of Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism

Why this book?

Most environmentalists today believe that wind turbines, solar panels, and electric cars represent our path to a sustainable future. In Green Illusions, engineer Ozzie Zehner blows this thesis out of the water.

Green technologies, Zehner explains, require fossil fuels at every step in their production, maintenance, and disposal. But he is not advocating for continuing to use fossil fuels. Rather, Zehner argues that we have a consumption crisis, and that building more industrial products in factories will not solve the issue. He concludes by offering straightforward, common-sense solutions that actually move us in the right direction.


Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change

By William R. Catton,

Book cover of Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change

Why this book?

The basic laws of ecology should be taught to every child in the world. Food webs, watersheds, the hydrological and carbon cycles, population dynamics, and sustainable harvest are fundamental to our survival. 

Catton’s book explores population ecology and applies these lessons to human beings. He rejects racist historical tropes and misinformation alike, laying out the reality of human overshoot of the planet’s carrying capacity. This book is sobering, and should be required reading for every person in any position of leadership in the world today.


The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability

By Lierre Keith,

Book cover of The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability

Why this book?

The importance of this book is less about human diets, and more about the food system itself. Keith explains in great detail that agriculture — the growing of annual monocrops — is the single most destructive activity humans have ever undertaken. Much of the planet’s surface, formerly teeming with wildlife, has now been cleared, drained, plowed, fertilized, and dedicated to one species: humans.

This doesn’t mean all food production is destructive; Keith distinguishes between agriculture and other methods of growing food, like horticulture, wild-tending, and pastoralism. But the conclusion is simple. We’re in overshoot, and agriculture is a big part of the problem.


Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet

By Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, Aric McBay

Book cover of Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet

Why this book?

The first four books on this list provide a grounding in the how and why of environmentalism. Deep Green Resistance is focused purely on what we can do to save the world. 

The book explores the history of environmental and political movements in detail, as well as strategy and tactics. By learning from the past and innovating based on current global politics and economics, the authors argue we can build an effective resistance movement to dismantle the global industrial system that is destroying the planet. The conclusions are controversial, but the importance of these topics cannot be ignored. Anyone who is serious about sustainability should buy this book and read it.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in environmentalism, agriculture, and explorers?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about environmentalism, agriculture, and explorers.

Environmentalism Explore 93 books about environmentalism
Agriculture Explore 28 books about agriculture
Explorers Explore 66 books about explorers

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, Consulting the Genius of the Place: An Ecological Approach to a New Agriculture, and Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We're in Without Going Crazy if you like this list.