The best books on the political economy of the environment

Why am I passionate about this?

When I started teaching a course on the Political Economy of the Environment at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, little had been written that made the connection between environmental quality and economic inequality. Happily, this has changed over the years. The books recommended here mark the rise of a new environmentalism founded upon recognition that our impact on nature is interwoven closely with the nature of our relationships with each other.


I wrote...

Economics for People and the Planet: Inequality in the Era of Climate Change

By James K. Boyce,

Book cover of Economics for People and the Planet: Inequality in the Era of Climate Change

What is my book about?

Whenever we encounter pollution and natural resource depletion, we can ask three basic questions: Who wins: Who benefits from the activities that are degrading the environment? Who loses: Who suffers from the resulting environmental harms? Who decides: Why are the winners able to impose environmental costs on others?

Thinking about these questions helps us to see that safeguarding the environment is not just about protecting nature from humans. It’s also about protecting the people who bear the costs of environmental abuses from those who benefit from the same abuses. The bottom line: to secure a healthier planet we need to ensure that people have the power to defend their right to a clean and safe environment.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Dumping In Dixie: Race, Class, And Environmental Quality

James K. Boyce Why did I love this book?

Robert Bullard’s book opened many eyes and minds to the stark realities of environmental injustice and environmental racism.

Originally published at the dawn of the new millennium, Dumping in Dixie remains fresh and relevant today.

This book helped give birth to an environmentalism that does not partition the world into sacred groves for the rich and sacrifice zones for the poor, but instead fights for clean air and water in the places where people live, work, and play. 

By Robert Bullard,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Dumping In Dixie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

To be poor, working-class, or a person of colour in the United States often means bearing a disproportionate share of the country's environmental problems. Starting with the premise that all Americans have a basic right to live in a healthy environment, Dumping in Dixie chronicles the efforts of five African American communities, empowered by the civil rights movement, to link environmentalism with issues of social justice. In the third edition, Bullard speaks to us from the front lines of the environmental justice movement about new developments in environmental racism, different organizing strategies, and success stories in the struggle for environmental…


Book cover of A Field of One's Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia

James K. Boyce Why did I love this book?

Gender is a major axis of disparities in power and wealth.

In this pioneering book, Indian economist Bina Agarwal mapped women’s access to land in South Asia, lifting up the key role of rights to natural resources in human well-being.

Her account of the Bodhgaya movement, a struggle by peasant women against inequity and patriarchy in the 1970s and 1980s, has special resonance for me because I Iived there and saw firsthand the cruelties of semi-feudal landlord rule.

By Bina Agarwal,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Field of One's Own as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the first major study of gender and property in South Asia. In a pioneering and comprehensive analysis Bina Agarwal argues that the single most important economic factor affecting women's situation is the gender gap in command over property. In rural South Asia, the most significant form of property is arable land, a critical determinant of economic well-being, social status, and empowerment. But few women own land; fewer control it. Drawing on a vast range of interdisciplinary sources and her own field research, and tracing regional variations across five countries, the author investigates the complex barriers to women's land…


Book cover of Ours: The Case for Universal Property

James K. Boyce Why did I love this book?

Universal property – property that is inalienable, individual, and belongs in equal measure to all – is a game-changing idea whose time is coming.

Introduced alongside conventional (private and state) property, it can serve the twin goals of reducing inequality and protecting the environment.

For example, by treating the biosphere’s limited capacity to recycle carbon emissions as universal property, and charging for use of this resource, we can both protect climate stability and provide universal basic income via climate-protection dividends.

Peter Barnes has been a leading voice for universal property, following in the footsteps of Tom Paine and Henry George. Do yourself a favor: read this thought-provoking book, and share it with your family and friends.

By Peter Barnes,

Why should I read it?

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


Book cover of Alligators in the Arctic and How to Avoid Them: Science, Economics and the Challenge of Catastrophic Climate Change

James K. Boyce Why did I love this book?

Fifty million years ago, alligators lived north of the Arctic Circle.

We humans evolved in a much cooler world. Today Earth’s climate is changing radically, to our own peril, as we spew long-buried carbon into the sky by burning fossil fuels.

In this sophisticated yet readable book, Peter Dorman lays out the political economy of climate change, explaining why to address this unprecedented threat we must redress the inequalities of wealth and power that plague modern society.

The bad news is that this will be hard work; the good news is that it is possible. Dorman’s book is a tour de force, a sobering call to action graced with rays of hope.

By Peter Dorman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Alligators in the Arctic and How to Avoid Them as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Climate change is a matter of extreme urgency. Integrating science and economics, this book demonstrates the need for measures to put a strict lid on cumulative carbon emissions and shows how to implement them. Using the carbon budget framework, it reveals the shortcomings of current policies and the debates around them, such as the popular enthusiasm for individual solutions and the fruitless search for 'optimal' regulation by economists and other specialists. On the political front, it explains why business opposition to the policies we need goes well beyond the fossil fuel industry, requiring a more radical rebalancing of power. This…


Book cover of The New Environmental Economics: Sustainability and Justice

James K. Boyce Why did I love this book?

Economist Eloi Laurent’s book is a long-overdue introduction to the political economy of the environment.

In contrast to standard environmental economics textbooks that disregard interpersonal conflict by analyzing aggregate costs and benefits – disembodied from those who experience them – Laurent embeds our treatment and maltreatment of nature in our treatment and maltreatment of other people.

This book puts sustainability across generations and justice within them at center stage, where they belong.

By Eloi Laurent,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The New Environmental Economics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Too often, economics disassociates humans from nature, the economy from the biosphere that contains it, and sustainability from fairness. When economists do engage with environmental issues, they typically reduce their analysis to a science of efficiency that leaves aside issues of distributional analysis and justice.

The aim of this lucid textbook is to provide a framework that prioritizes human well-being within the limits of the biosphere, and to rethink economic analysis and policy in the light of not just efficiency but equity. Leading economist Eloi Laurent systematically ties together sustainability and justice issues in covering a wide range of topics,…


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Book cover of The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever

Michael Bungay Stanier Author Of The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever

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Why am I passionate about this?

Coaching is a wonderful technology that can help people be a force for change… and is often wrapped up in mystic and woo-woo and privilege that makes it inaccessible and/or unattractive to too many. I want being more coach-like—by which I mean staying curious a little longer, and rushing to action and advice-giving—to be an everyday way of being with one another. Driven by this, I’ve written the best-selling book on coaching this century (The Coaching Habit) and have created training that’s been used around the world by more than a quarter of a million people. I’m on a mission to unweird coaching.

Michael's book list on unexpectedly useful books about coaching

What is my book about?

The coaching book that's for all of us, not just coaches.

It's the best-selling book on coaching this century, with 15k+ online reviews. Brené Brown calls it "a classic". Dan Pink said it was "essential".

It is practical, funny, and short, and "unweirds" coaching. Whether you're a parent, a teacher, a leader, or even a coach, you can stay curious longer.

By Michael Bungay Stanier,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Coaching Habit as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Look for Michael's new book, The Advice Trap, which focuses on taming your Advice Monster so you can stay curious a little longer and change the way you lead forever.

In Michael Bungay Stanier's The Coaching Habit, coaching becomes a regular, informal part of your day so managers and their teams can work less hard and have more impact.

Drawing on years of experience training more than 10,000 busy managers from around the globe in practical, everyday coaching skills, Bungay Stanier reveals how to unlock your peoples' potential. He unpacks seven essential coaching questions to demonstrate how-by saying less and…


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Interested in the political economy, climate change, and sustainable development?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the political economy, climate change, and sustainable development.

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