The best books on the climate crisis that actually offer hope

David Bergman Author Of Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide
By David Bergman

Who am I?

I’m an architect, ecodesigner, economist, environmentalist, author, and professor. I like making use of all or parts of these to break down silos between fields in order to better understand and communicate sustainability. As a professor who is hoping to entice the next generation to not repeat our environmental mistakes, I try to emphasize carrots rather than sticks. I look to the win-win-win approaches: the symbiotic overlaps between sustainability, health, happiness, and economics. I call this EcoOptimism, and it’s the focus of my blog by the same title. Though it can be harder to remain optimistic amidst the worsening climate crisis and other environmental issues, I still find it one of the most viable routes.


I wrote...

Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide

By David Bergman,

Book cover of Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide

What is my book about?

This is a book about sustainable architecture and interior design, but it’s not only for professionals. Too much of the literature on environmentalism and ecodesign is dense and therefore exclusionary, not to mention unenticing. My response to this is a book on green design that’s written for both professional and lay readers. Wherever possible, I avoided jargon and tried to simplify complex topics, often through straightforward illustrations and photos. It’s not a textbook—you don’t need an engineering degree to understand how to make buildings more energy efficient or how to utilize some of the cool things nature can teach us.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

By Paul Hawken (editor),

Book cover of Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

Why this book?

The “yes, we can” of the climate crisis. If I’m going to start out with the most optimistic book on what we can do, this is the way to go. It’s not pie-in-the-sky stuff. It’s not super expensive. Some of it is common sense and expected: alternative types of energy, LED lighting, composting. Some of it is less expected. There’s a section titled “Women and Girls,” part of which is about simply educating girls. (I first heard of that as a solution to many problems in a great, if slow, movie called Mindwalk that talks about systems thinking. The book it’s drawn from, Fritjof Capra’s Turning Point, could be on an expanded version of my list.)

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

By Paul Hawken (editor),

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Drawdown as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Stuffocation: Why We've Had Enough of Stuff and Need Experience More Than Ever

By James Wallman,

Book cover of Stuffocation: Why We've Had Enough of Stuff and Need Experience More Than Ever

Why this book?

A large part of our environmental issues, including climate change, arises from the massive amount of materials needed for our consumption habits (and the resulting waste when we tire of our things). And we all consume a lot! James Wallman’s thesis is that both we and the environment would be better off if, instead of buying things, we had experiences. Experiences often (though not always, I might add—flying to your experiences is problematic) engender less material consumption and, topping it off, tend to make us happier and stay with us longer.

Stuffocation: Why We've Had Enough of Stuff and Need Experience More Than Ever

By James Wallman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stuffocation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Prosperity Without Growth: Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow

By Tim Jackson,

Book cover of Prosperity Without Growth: Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow

Why this book?

Upon seeing me carrying this book around, a friend of mine looked at me curiously and asked why we wouldn’t want growth and instead want prosperity. I realized she had misinterpreted this book’s title. The author isn’t referring to personal growth (which is, of course, good) but to economic growth and the assumption that bigger economic numbers (GDP) are better. The idea may get a bit geeky, but economic growth tends to not emphasize the things that are important (the unpaid tasks of taking care of elderly parents, for instance) but count the money spent on things that we’d rather not have more of, for example, prisons and war. What we want to measure and encourage are the things that truly make us better people and better societies. Happily, those things also tend to not be as environmentally bad.

Prosperity Without Growth: Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow

By Tim Jackson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Prosperity Without Growth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What can prosperity possibly mean in a world of environmental and social limits?

The publication of Prosperity without Growth was a landmark in the sustainability debate. Tim Jackson's piercing challenge to conventional economics openly questioned the most highly prized goal of politicians and economists alike: the continued pursuit of exponential economic growth. Its findings provoked controversy, inspired debate and led to a new wave of research building on its arguments and conclusions.

This substantially revised and re-written edition updates those arguments and considerably expands upon them. Jackson demonstrates that building a 'post-growth' economy is a precise, definable and meaningful task.…


The Eco-Design Handbook: A Complete Sourcebook for the Home and Office

By Alastair Fuad-Luke,

Book cover of The Eco-Design Handbook: A Complete Sourcebook for the Home and Office

Why this book?

(Disclaimer, some of my own work is included in this book.) The author’s preface says, “This book is intended to stimulate new ways of thinking by illustrating an…approach to design that encourages people to tread more lightly, so that people may inherit a healthy planet.” Even as we are half a century into environmentalism, there is still a perception that “green” design is ugly: all burlap and granola. This book is chock full of examples of furniture, clothing, accessories, kitchen utensils and the like that prove otherwise. And in the decade-plus since it came out, there’s even more like this, more of what I call Transparent Green: designs that don’t shout greenness.

The Eco-Design Handbook: A Complete Sourcebook for the Home and Office

By Alastair Fuad-Luke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Eco-Design Handbook as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Eco-Design Handbook is the first book to present the best-designed objects for every aspect of the home and office, including the most environmentally sound materials and building products. The book contains three essential components. An introduction puts forward the history and latest thinking in green design strategies. Its core comprises two sections devoted to detailed illustrated descriptions of objects for domestic living and products for the office or work-related activities. The third element is a vast reference source, defining available materials, from organic to specially developed eco-sensitive composites and then providing detailed information on manufacturers, design studios, green organizations,…

The Ministry for the Future

By Kim Stanley Robinson,

Book cover of The Ministry for the Future

Why this book?

Unlike the other books in this list, this is fiction and is in a subgenre of SciFi called CliFi. Actually, it’s in two subgenres, the second being solarpunk, which is fiction that envisions an optimistic environmental future, and is how The Ministry for the Future finds its way into this list. Written in 2020, the story starts with a climate disaster in 2025 (bear with me; the book becomes optimistic) that foretold by three years a real-life deadly heat wave in India. Despite its calamitous opening, the book conceives solutions involving economic policy (a “carbon coin”) and geoengineering (which I have mixed feelings about).

Perhaps the most interesting part, and its titular concept, is a UN office that looks out for future generations. The idea is that the people who will inherit the planet from us have no voice in determining what the environment of their planet will be. If that were to change, as the author proposes, governmental policies would have to think beyond our current short-sighted and self-serving goals. It’s fiction, unfortunately, but not entirely utopian in that it’s based on real economics and science.

The Ministry for the Future

By Kim Stanley Robinson,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Ministry for the Future as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in climate change, the United Nations, and quality of life?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about climate change, the United Nations, and quality of life.

Climate Change Explore 17 books about climate change
The United Nations Explore 14 books about the United Nations
Quality Of Life Explore 13 books about quality of life

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, A Cold Welcome, and Braiding Sweetgrass if you like this list.