The best books about environmental degradation

13 authors have picked their favorite books about environmental degradation and why they recommend each book.

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By Edward O. Wilson,

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

EO Wilson died just a few weeks ago, at the age of 92. It was a sad day for me, as he has always been one of my great heroes. “E.O.” was a fantastic scientist, a world authority on ants, and sometimes known as the “father of biodiversity”. In this book, he argues that we have no right to drive millions of species extinct and that our own future depends upon setting aside half the Earth for nature.    

Who am I?

I have loved insects and other wildlife for all of my life. I am now a professor of Biology at the University of Sussex, UK, specializing in bee ecology. I have published more than 400 scientific articles on the ecology and conservation of bumblebees and other insects, plus seven books, including the Sunday Times bestsellers A Sting in the Tale (2013), The Garden Jungle (2019), and Silent Earth (2021). They’ve been translated into 20 languages and sold over half a million copies. I also founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in 2006, a charity that has grown to 12,000 members. 

I wrote...

The Garden Jungle

By Dave Goulson,

Book cover of The Garden Jungle

What is my book about?

The Garden Jungle is a celebration of the wildlife that lives right under our noses, in our gardens and parks, between the gaps in the pavement, and in the soil beneath our feet. Dave Goulson gives us an insight into the fascinating and sometimes weird lives of these creatures, taking us burrowing into the compost heap, digging under the lawn, and diving into the garden pond. He explains how our lives and ultimately the fate of humankind are inextricably intertwined with that of earwigs, bees, lacewings, and hoverflies, unappreciated heroes of the natural world, and how we can all help to encourage biodiversity in our back yard.


By David Brin,

Book cover of Earth

Earth, published in 1990, had me dog-earing many, many pages. A sense of our responsibility to the planet is shot through the book. For me this novel was very much in the spirit of a near – but warped – future that I had so enjoyed early on in books like John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar. When I wrote to Brunner to say that his dystopian view of the future struck me as likely, he replied that he was disappointed, having written it as a warning, to minimize the risk of the future being driven off the rails by over-population. 

Earth, overall, is more optimistic. Another novel on related themes by Brin was The Postman, made into a film starring Kevin Costner. Again, I interviewed David early in 2021 for our new Green Swans Observatory—and a key theme was his inspiration by the Judaic concept of…

Who am I?

I have long been fascinated by history – and by the future. As a Boomer, born in 1949, I have surfed successive environmental, green, and sustainability waves. Since 1978, I have co-founded four businesses in the field, all of which still exist. I am now Chief Pollinator at Volans. I have served on some 80 boards and advisory boards and spoken at nearly 2000 major events worldwide. And I have authored or co-authored 20 books, including the million-selling Green Consumer Guide series from 1988. Science fiction has been a constant inspiration. The books I have picked are generally optimistic, in contrast to dystopias like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Finally, given the richness of this area of fiction, we can be sure that there are many many other green sci-fi shortlists out there waiting to be published, including ones featuring women like Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood.

I wrote...

Green Swans: The Coming Boom in Regenerative Capitalism

By John Elkington,

Book cover of Green Swans: The Coming Boom in Regenerative Capitalism

What is my book about?

Even leading capitalists admit that capitalism is broken. Green Swans is a manifesto for system change designed to serve people, the planet, and prosperity. In his twentieth book, John Elkington—dubbed the “Godfather of Sustainability”—explores new forms of capitalism fit for the twenty-first century.

If Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swans are problems that can take us exponentially toward breakdown, then Green Swans are solutions that take us exponentially toward breakthroughs. The success—and survival—of humanity now depends on how we rein in the first and accelerate the second.

How Beautiful We Were

By Imbolo Mbue,

Book cover of How Beautiful We Were

What does environmental racism look like? Read How Beautiful We Were by Imobolo Mbue for a vital, searing answer. An American oil company is destroying the land and water of the fictional village of Kosawa. Children are dying. The company does this because they can, spouting only empty words about restitution. The novel narrates the village’s fight back, using alternating points of view to electric, pulsing effect.

Who am I?

I grew up in Uganda and Kenya, and when I moved to the United States, I felt separated from myself. Learning how to be American was exhausting and so I disappeared into books. I’m now more settled, but I still travel through fiction. These days, I am reading fiction by African women. You should be, too! There is so much stunning literature out there. These five books are just the beginning, but they are novels I can’t stop thinking about.

I wrote...

Wait for God to Notice

By Sari Fordham,

Book cover of Wait for God to Notice

What is my book about?

Wait for God to Notice is a memoir about growing up in Uganda. It is also a memoir about mothers and daughters and about how children both know and don’t know their parents. As teens, Fordham and her sister, Sonja, consider their mother overly cautious. After their mother dies of cancer, the author begins to wonder who her mother really was. As she recalls her childhood in Uganda―the way her mother killed snakes, sweet-talked soldiers, and sold goods on the black market―Fordham understands that the legacy her mother left her daughters is one of courage and capability.


By Charlotte McConaghy,

Book cover of Migrations

Free-spirited Franny Lynch has spent a lifetime wandering away from those she loves — and circling back again and again. A mysterious tragedy prompts her to undertake the biggest journey of all when she joins the crew of the struggling Saghani, one of the last commercial fishing vessels still operating in the midst of the long-predicted global mass extinction of animals on land and in the oceans. Franny convinces the skeptical and superstitious captain to help her track the last migration of Arctic terns to Antarctica, the longest-known bird migration in the world. Franny’s mercurial nature elegantly unfolds over the course of the story, and the devastating ending offers only as much hope as we deserve about our lonely future on this planet.

Who am I?

I’m a science communicator turned fiction writer with a special interest in the impact of environmental crises on small towns and overlooked places. My short fiction has appeared in various journals, including The Fiddlehead, Nimrod, Barren, and Reckon Review. I’m currently writing a novel about hurricane chasers along the Gulf Coast.

I wrote...

Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction

By Angie Dell (editor), Joey Eschrich (editor), Sandra K. Barnidge (contributor)

Book cover of Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction

What is my book about?

Albertine’s Watch is a fictional town on the Gulf Coast that is now permanently underwater thanks to sea-level rise. One family continues to live in the town, despite many logistical and emotional hardships. They survive by giving boat tours of their ruined town to occasional tourists who come to gawk at their way of life, and eventually, the main character is forced to confront an impossible question: when will she finally decide it’s time to leave her beloved but untenable home?

This story is available for free as part of Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction

The Mushroom at the End of the World

By Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing,

Book cover of The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins

This is the epic adventure of the delicious matsutake mushroom, which thrives in the ruins of the clear-cut Oregon ponderosa pine forests. Because it’s prized in Japan and China, it’s a precious trophy for those who hunt it. This delightful, elegant book takes us through its life cycle and complex ecosystem underground, the Hmong villagers and other refugees in America who hunt it, the middlemen who pay them, the shippers, buyers, biologists, foresters, economists, and, yes, the anthropologists who study them. It’s an entertaining, surprisingly enriching read about a global phenomenon that takes place “in Capitalist Ruins.” As an aside, I was particularly taken with her discussion of the pine wilt nematode, a small but important factor in the matsutake’s complex life story. Go figure.

Who am I?

I was an avid reader of science fiction as a teenager and developed a love of science and how elegantly and yet how alive and ever-changing it is as we learn more. It explains the world. I couldn’t settle on any one field: physics, biology, neuroscience, astronomy, geology? So I began a writing career where I could draw on my faithful reading of Science News and popular science books. Scientific inaccuracies in fiction still irritate me (don’t get me started), and to the best of my ability Ι ground stories in what we know with some confidence, though science will always be a moving target. My recent book, Mixed Harvest, embeds fiction in archaeology and anthropology.

I wrote...

Mixed Harvest: Stories from the Human Past

By Rob Swigart,

Book cover of Mixed Harvest: Stories from the Human Past

What is my book about?

These short stories, grounded in prehistory, archaeology, and anthropology, dramatize a possible history of our species’ wandering journey from African hunter-gatherer to global farmer. They cover 60,000 years, ending with the emergence of the first cities in Mesopotamia.

Today we enjoy the benefits of the civilization they bequeathed us; we also confront the unintended consequences of their decisions. We went from hunting and gathering, painting on cave walls, and swapping lies around a fire, to writing our own histories, plowing fields, herding animals, and fighting contagions and our neighbors. Agriculture gave us organized religion, Mozart, international travel, gourmet food, higher education, as well as pollution, inequality, climate change, and war. Hence, the harvest is mixed.

How Did We Get Into This Mess?

By George Monbiot,

Book cover of How Did We Get Into This Mess?: Politics, Equality, Nature

Politics, nature, society, identity, money, work, energy...Monbiot doesn't only touch a whole lot, I almost always agree with him. This selection of his best essays is like a box full of brain candy and one should treat it accordingly: do not swallow it all in one go. In one of his small-group talking rounds right after a big lecture, I witnessed his never appease-able hunger to bounce ideas off, get to the bottom of things, identify flaws in assumptions that most of us didn't even know we had. Monbiot doesn't allow social or political conventions to get in his way. His goal is clear: unpacking the reality of the world of today, no matter how dark this needs to be. 

Who am I?

Walking the rims of remote crater lakes in Uganda to map a tiny piece of terra incognita was a big childhood dream coming true. I then went from a geography master to studies of conflicts, development & journalism. This brought me to the DRC, India, and Nepal, where I covered war, aid, and revolution. Since 2009 I combine professional environmentalism with freelance journalism, publishing books, and giving lectures. With a great global team of researchers and activists I co-created the largest database of environmental conflicts in the world, which doubled as fieldwork for my book Frontlines.

I wrote...

Frontlines: Stories of Global Environmental Justice

By Nick Meynen,

Book cover of Frontlines: Stories of Global Environmental Justice

What is my book about?

Every unpacked frontline is one cutting edge of an economic system and political ideology that is destroying life on earth. Revealing our ecosystems to be under a sustained attack, Nick Meynen finds causes for hope in unconventional places. Frontlines is a journalistic inside story of the global movement for environmental justice and how it is transforming the world. It is a call to action to join the resistance.

Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, said that “This book harnesses the power of lived experience to bring our most urgent, high-stakes policy debates to life, and it deserves a wide international audience.”

Facing the Climate Emergency

By Margaret Klein Salamon, Molly Gage,

Book cover of Facing the Climate Emergency: How to Transform Yourself with Climate Truth

I found this book to be an inspiring and practical self-help book for the 21st century, challenging us to overcome denial about the global climate emergency and honor our grief, fear, and anger, so we can better take part in the urgently needed transformation of our society and economy.

Who am I?

As a teacher, counselor, and author, I aspire to support people’s personal and spiritual unfolding for the benefit of all life. I studied psychosynthesis with its founder, Roberto Assagioli, and explored peace psychology and eco-psychology. During my Masters of Divinity studies in the 1990’s, I began working with Joanna Macy, which led to our co-authoring Coming Back to Life and focused my professional life on the Work That Reconnects. The challenges of climate disruption, systemic racism, and economic inequity and instability require us all to act from our most mature, creative, and loving dimensions, which I believe these books can help engender.

I wrote...

Growing Whole: Self-Realization for the Great Turning

By Molly Young Brown,

Book cover of Growing Whole: Self-Realization for the Great Turning

What is my book about?

Based on the transpersonal psychology of psychosynthesis, Growing Whole guides the reader along a path of personal and spiritual growth in order to participate more fully in the Great Turning toward a just, harmonious, and sustainable future. The book offers numerous psychosynthesis exercises that build the self-awareness, inner strength, and resilience we all need in these challenging times.

Chapter titles include: Self-Awareness; Strengthening Center; Dreams, Vision, and Purpose; Working with Blocks in Our Path; Transforming the Demons Within; Living Will Fully; Challenges of Spiritual Awakening; Relationships—Growing Whole Together; Service: The Practice of Wholeness.

The Ecological Rift

By Brett Clark, John Bellamy Foster, Richard York

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

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.

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 Uninhabitable Earth

By David Wallace-Wells,

Book cover of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

What I like most about this book is how it projects the present situation about climate change into the future, when weather and climate will be much more extreme than it is today. I have studied the science, and I realize what most of the media do not spend much airtime on—that is, through a process called thermal inertia, the results of today’s greenhouse-gas emissions will not affect us for 50 to 100 years after they occur.   

The Uninhabitable Earth is a clarion call, a no-holds-barred blast that reminds our generation and the next that we are the ones left holding the climatic bag after almost 200 years of gorging on fossil fuels. This is the important message that I get from this book. 

Who am I?

As a professor of Environment, Communication, and Native American Studies, Johansen taught, researched, and wrote at the University of Nebraska at Omaha from 1982 to 2019, retiring to emeritus status as Frederick W. Kayser research professor. He has published 55 books in several fields: history, anthropology, law, the Earth sciences, and others. Johansen’s writing has been published, debated, and reviewed in many academic venues, among them the William and Mary Quarterly, American Historical Review, Current History, and Nature, as well as in many popular newspapers and magazines, such as The New York Times and The National Geographic.

I wrote...

The Global Warming Desk Reference

By Bruce E. Johansen,

Book cover of The Global Warming Desk Reference

What is my book about?

Having written what he calls “a textbook with an attitude,” in Global Warming and the Climate Crisis, Bruce E. Johansen, attempts to balance terrifying prospects with reasonable solutions, and stresses the expiration date on this debate with an urgent plea—ignore the hoaxers, and very quickly. Citizens of all nations must learn that the climate-change clock is ticking, and purge quibbling nationalism to co-operate. This also means to work diligently to develop solutions through internationally shared science. This work is also designed as a textbook, for growing use in schools, but is also a good read for the general public with an interest in a taut, but also level-headed and comprehensive view of the subject. 


By Charles Eisenstein,

Book cover of Climate: A New Story

Eisenstein argues for an environmentalism ultimately of love, in place of the current preoccupation with climate change and carbon emissions and putting down the “deniers”... who might actually have a few good points. The shareable and tender common ground behind all of this is the living and maybe even sentient Earth that so many people, on all sides of today’s bitter contentions, achingly remember – some woods or stream from their youth, some tree they loved and climbed daily, later unceremoniously removed in the name of “progress” – or might allow themselves to love if they themselves did not feel just as trashed just as it is. All of this heartlessness must be – and can be – healed together.

Who am I?

Officially a professional philosopher, author of fifteen books and textbooks on a wide range of subjects including ethics, critical and creative thinking, social change, and teaching. Wikipedia calls them “unconventional”, but honestly I prefer the ad copy for my own modest ecotopian book, which calls me a philosophical provocateur. My green credentials start with growing up in the Wisconsin countryside under the distant influence of both Frank Lloyd Wright and Aldo Leopold; later, long wilderness trips intertwined with edgy environmental philosophizing (you need some real edges for that!); and over the last decade the endlessly consuming project of designing and building Common Ground Ecovillage in the Piedmont of North Carolina.

I wrote...

Mobilizing the Green Imagination: An Exuberant Manifesto

By Anthony Weston,

Book cover of Mobilizing the Green Imagination: An Exuberant Manifesto

What is my book about?

Beyond today’s desperate attempts to “green” the status quo could lie far more inventive and inviting ecological visions. Imagine cities that welcome the rising winds and waters. Imagine ways of building that keep us close to other creatures and the seasons and the stars, rather than cut us off from them. Decentralized work, artful infill and semi-self-sufficient small-scale communities can facilitate life in place – no more massive transportation infrastructure! No more trash, either: instead, many things can be “dematerialized”, others made to keep forever...  or to turn into fertilizer overnight. And why not a green space program? I believe that much of the reason for today’s unwillingness to recognize and respond to the ecological emergency is that many people cannot even begin to envision any kind of appealing or livable alternative world. What opens up if the possibilities turn out to be wonderful?

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