The best environmental policy books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about environmental policy and why they recommend each book.

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After Preservation

By Ben A. Minteer (editor), Stephen J. Pyne (editor),

Book cover of After Preservation: Saving American Nature in the Age of Humans

Rarely has a collection of essays inspired and perplexed me as much as this one. One chapter argues one thing; the next argues its near-opposite. And both are persuasive! After Preservation is designed to raise fundamental questions about nature, wilderness, and the Anthropocene without providing definitive answers. I didn’t close the book with answers, but I did close it knowing more, thinking harder, and questioning what I believed. If we are meant to save nature—or if we are merely meant to understand why that’s a fraught concept—we’ll need to grapple with ideas and practicalities like these authors do. 

Who am I?

When I first started reading about wilderness, I accepted it as an obvious thing—a place without people. That lasted a short time before I realized the enormous historical complexity of such places. Rather than places without people, without history, without politics, “wilderness” became a laboratory of American society. I tried to capture that vibrancy in my book An Open Pit Visible from the Moon where I showed all the claims various people made on one wilderness area in the North Cascades. I'm a writer, historian, and former college professor who now calls the Skagit Valley of Washington home. As much as I enjoy studying wilderness, I prefer walking through it and noticing what it teaches.

I wrote...

An Open Pit Visible from the Moon: The Wilderness Act and the Fight to Protect Miners Ridge and the Public Interest

By Adam M. Sowards,

Book cover of An Open Pit Visible from the Moon: The Wilderness Act and the Fight to Protect Miners Ridge and the Public Interest

What is my book about?

In the mid-1960s, Kennecott Copper Corporation planned to develop an open-pit mine in the middle of a designated wilderness area in the North Cascades—something that was entirely legal. An Open Pit Visible from the Moon tells the story of why that mine does not exist today.

As a compromise, the Wilderness Act of 1964 allowed mining and prospecting in wilderness areas, but the effort to protect Miners Ridge tested to see if that compromise would stand. The book describes the scrappy activists who took on Kennecott—from students and local backpackers to a cabinet secretary and a Supreme Court justice—to insist that this wilderness should not have a big pit dug in its heart.

Uncommon Ground

By William Cronon (editor),

Book cover of Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature

An oldie but a goodie, and a classic. Cronon’s lead essay “The Trouble with Wilderness” roused ‘90s environmentalism like a brilliant party crasher—but don’t miss Richard White’s “Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living,” Giovanna Di Chiro’s “Nature as Community,” and, well, my own “Looking for Nature at the Mall.”

Who am I?

I’m a writer, artist, and historian, and I’ve spent much of my career trying to blow up the powerful American definition of environment as a non-human world “out there”, and to ask how it’s allowed environmentalists, Exxon, and the EPA alike to refuse to take responsibility for how we inhabit environments. Along the way, I’ve written Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America and "Thirteen Ways of Seeing Nature in LA"; co-founded the LA Urban Rangers public art collective; and co-created the “Our Malibu Beaches” phone app. I currently live in St. Louis, where I’m a Research Fellow at the Sam Fox School at Washington University-St. Louis. 

I wrote...

Stop Saving the Planet!: An Environmentalist Manifesto

By Jenny Price,

Book cover of Stop Saving the Planet!: An Environmentalist Manifesto

What is my book about?

We’ve been ​“saving the planet” for decades…and environmental crises just get worse. All this Tesla driving & LEED building & carbon trading seems to accomplish little to nothing—all while low-income communities continue to suffer the most devastating consequences. So why aren’t we cleaning up the toxic messes & rolling back climate change? Also, why do so many Americans hate environmentalists?

Jenny Price says, enough already! — with this short, fun, fierce manifesto for an approach that is hugely more effective, tons fairer, and a great deal less righteous. She challenges you, Exxon, & the EPA alike to think and act completely anew—and to do it now.

Winning the Green New Deal

By Guido Girgenti, Varshini Prakash,

Book cover of Winning the Green New Deal: Why We Must, How We Can

I was one in a world of frustrated and increasingly anxious people back in 2018. Politicians just weren’t talking about the severity of the environmental crisis and the vast actions that we need (and can) undertake to tackle it. And then Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg and Fridays for the Future, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal, and the Sunrise Movement came along. Suddenly everyone was talking about it. This set of essays brings so many of those thinkers and doers together to give us an inspiring road map for getting out of the crisis and realizing a better world in the process. And it shows us that these movements are built on the shoulders of giants, particularly in the global south. 

Who am I?

I research, write and speak about the global environmental emergency and the policies and politics we need to adequately respond. Drawing on a decade of experience in academia, activism, and policymaking, my work explores the leadership needed to transition to more sustainable and equitable societies while contending with the growing destabilisation resulting from the worsening environmental crisis. I’ve worked at a range of leading policy research organisations and universities and have won awards for my work. I’ve got a BSc in physics and an MPhil in economies from the University of Oxford. 

I wrote...

Planet on Fire: A Manifesto for the Age of Environmental Breakdown

By Laurie Laybourn-Langton, Mathew Lawrence,

Book cover of Planet on Fire: A Manifesto for the Age of Environmental Breakdown

What is my book about?

The political status quo has no answer to the devastating and inequitably distributed consequences of the environmental crisis. We urgently need an alternative to bring about the rapid transformation of our societies and economic systems. As we rebuild our lives in the wake of Covid-19 and face the challenges of ecological disaster, how can we win a world fit for life?

We argue that it is not enough merely to spend our way out of the crisis; we must also rapidly reshape the economy to create a new way of life that can foster a healthy and flourishing environment for all. We offer a clear and practical road map for a future that is democratic and sustainable by design.

The New Climate War

By Michael E. Mann,

Book cover of The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet

Enough science to understand the problem and see that the solution is eminently doable. But it's really about politics, how the fossil fuel industry and its paid lackeys are blocking climate action, but in a new way. The old climate war was straight-up science denial. Since that won't fly anymore, the industry has retreated to its fallback position: acknowledging that climate change is real but finding ways to defer action by deflecting responsibility on consumers or dividing the movement against itself, like vegans vs meat-eaters. Once we know the con, we can avoid it and push for real climate solutions by the government that will keep fossil fuels in the ground and build clean energy capacity as quickly as possible.

Who am I?

Drawing on my own experience as a local elected official and citizen lobbyist at all levels of government, I write books to help get citizens involved in the biggest challenges of our day. As an activist for clean energy, I wanted to write an easy-to-use guide to help ordinary citizens to become effective champions for more solar power in America. The Solar Patriot is my third book and my second on solar power. For two decades I have worked as a communications consultant and advocate for solar power, renewable energy, and climate solutions. Now, I’m writing a call to action for America off of fossil fuels as soon as possible to meet the urgent challenge of the climate crisis.

I wrote...

The Solar Patriot: A Citizen's Guide to Helping America Win Clean Energy Independence

By Erik D. Curren,

Book cover of The Solar Patriot: A Citizen's Guide to Helping America Win Clean Energy Independence

What is my book about?

In the spirit of 1776, The Solar Patriot aims to recruit citizens from Florida to Alaska as champions for homegrown, all-American clean energy. If you think that solar power should become America's top energy source, and you'd like to help make it happen, then this is the book you've been waiting for.

Even if you don't have solar panels on your own roof, The Solar Patriot will give you ideas to join the revolution to free America from the tyranny of fossil fuels and make our nation cleaner, safer, and more prosperous. Enlist now!


By Jared Diamond,

Book cover of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive

A long and highly detailed study of how societies fail and collapse, but a work of non-fiction that I could not put down and eagerly sought each day until I finished the book.

A great non-fiction title for us lay/ordinary readers should process a vast amount of historical research and evidence and specialist knowledge to produce an engaging, even mind-expanding work, that leaves us feeling not just informed but awakened to truths we could previously only guess at. Collapse achieves this expertly by examining the historical and archaeological evidence of why certain societies failed - the Anasazi, Maya, the Vikings in Greenland, Angkor up to Rwanda are included. From freshwater crisis' to soil degradation, overpopulation, the destruction of the natural world, to the needs of the few exceeding the needs of the many, the author takes us through the critical missteps collapsed civilisations embarked upon to ensure their own downfall.…

Who am I?

I'm continually asked why I write horror. But I wonder why every writer isn't writing horror. Not a day passes without me being aghast at the world and my own species, the present, past and future. Though nor do I stop searching for a sense of awe and wonder in the world either. My Dad read ghost stories to me as a kid and my inner tallow candle was lit. The flame still burns. Horror has always been the fiction I have felt compelled to write in order to process the world, experience, observation, my imaginative life. I've been blessed with a good readership and have entered my third decade as a writer of horrors. In that time two of my novels have been adapted into films and the British Fantasy Society has kindly recognised my work with five awards, one for Best Collection and four for Best Novel. I'm in this for the long haul and aim to be creating horror on both page and screen for some time to come.

I wrote...

Lost Girl

By Adam Nevill,

Book cover of Lost Girl

What is my book about?

It's 2053 and climate change has left billions homeless and starving--easy prey for the pandemics that sweep across the globe, and for the violent gangs and people-smugglers who thrive in the crumbling world where 'King Death' reigns supreme. The father's world went to hell two years ago. His four-year-old daughter was snatched when he should have been watching. The moments before her disappearance play in a perpetual loop in his mind. But the police aren't interested; who cares about one more missing child? It's all down to him to find her, him alone.

On Fire

By Naomi Klein,

Book cover of On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal

Naomi Klein highlights the role of our economy in determining how we adapt to climate change, exploring some of the deep-rooted problems that we face. Again, this book values the importance of grassroots action when it comes to changing our society, despite governments and large corporations being the cause of the problem.

Who am I?

For the publication of our book, Climate Adaptation: Accounts of Resilience, Self-Sufficiency and Systems Change, I have worked closely with activists and academics from around the world, hearing more about the work they do and the unique and individual ways they have made adaptations within their communities. This experience has allowed me to have a deeper understanding of climate adaptation as a topic, both in a scientific and a cultural sense, thus meaning I have been more readily able to recognise the qualities of a great adaptation book!

I managed...

Climate Adaptation: Accounts of Resilience, Self-Sufficiency and Systems Change

By Emily Andrews, Morgan Phillips, Renuka Thakore, Andrew Suggitt

Book cover of Climate Adaptation: Accounts of Resilience, Self-Sufficiency and Systems Change

What is my book about?

Climate Adaptation: Accounts of Resilience, Self-Sufficiency and Systems Change takes a look at real-life examples of communities that have adapted to the challenges presented by our warming world. With governments and large corporations proving ineffective at making significant changes, we must focus on more grassroots initiatives. The current model of extraction and exploitation is unsustainable - socially, economically, and environmentally, so shifts in our entire system must be made to benefit all corners of society.   

Eroding the Commons

By David M. Anderson,

Book cover of Eroding the Commons: The Politics of Ecology in Baringo, Kenya, 1890s-1963

In Colonial Kenya, the famines of the mid-1920s led to claims that the crisis in Baringo was brought on by overcrowding and livestock mismanagement. In response to the alarm over erosion, the state embarked on a program for rehabilitation, conservation, and development. Eroding the Commons examines Baringo's efforts to contend with the problems of erosion and describes how they became a point of reference for similar programs in British Africa, especially as rural development began to encompass goals beyond economic growth and toward an accelerated transformation of African society. It provides an excellent focus for the investigation of the broader evolution of colonial ideologies and practices of development.

Who am I?

Gufu Oba (Professor) has taught Ecology, Pastoralism, and Environmental History at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences for 21 years. He previously worked for UNESCO-MAB on issues of environmental conservation. He has published four books on social and environmental history. His books include Nomads in the shadows of Empires (BRILL, 2013), Climate change adaptations in Africa (Routledge, 2014), Herder Warfare in East Africa: A social and Spatial History (White Horse Press, 2017), and African Environmental Crisis: A History of Science for development (Routledge, 2020).

I wrote...

African Environmental Crisis: A History of Science for Development

By Gufu Oba,

Book cover of African Environmental Crisis: A History of Science for Development

What is my book about?

Using one-and-a-half century’s research literature on peasant agriculture and pastoral rangeland development in East Africa, the book describes myths of environmental changes in terms of soil erosion control, animal husbandry, grazing schemes, large-scale agricultural schemes, social and administrative science research, and vector-disease and pest controls. Drawing on comparative socio-ecological perspectives of African peoples across then colonies and post-independent states, this book refutes the hypothesis that African peoples were responsible for environmental degradation.

The book explores how and why the idea of the African environmental crisis developed and persisted through colonial and post-colonial periods. And why it has been so influential in development discourse. This crisis discourse was dominated by the imposition of imperial scientific knowledge, neglecting indigenous knowledge and experiences.

The Environmental Protection Hustle

By Bernard J. Frieden,

Book cover of The Environmental Protection Hustle

Not to be confused with Bernard Siegan, who wrote approvingly about the absence of zoning in Houston, Bernie Frieden undertook an on-site study of how the San Francisco Bay area became the pioneer in employing new environmental laws to make suburbs even more exclusionary than they were with garden-variety zoning. Unlike many critics of land use regulation, Frieden was an unabashed liberal who simply believed that ordinary people should be able to buy homes in communities as nice as those of the Sierra Club’s directors. Attacked at the time for overstating his case, Frieden now looks prophetic as California wrestles with its housing-cost crisis. 

Who am I?

When I studied urban economics at Princeton in the 1970s, theoretical models of urban form were all the rage. Political barriers to urban development such as zoning were dismissed as irrelevant. But as I read more about it, zoning appeared to be the foremost concern of both developers and community members. My service on the Hanover, New Hampshire zoning board made me appreciate why homeowners are so concerned about what happens in their neighborhood. NIMBYs—neighbors who cry “not in my backyard”—are not evil people; they are worried “homevoters” (owners who vote to protect their homes) who cannot diversify their oversized investment. Zoning reforms won’t succeed without addressing their anxieties. 

I wrote...

Zoning Rules! The Economics of Land Use Regulation

By William A. Fischel,

Book cover of Zoning Rules! The Economics of Land Use Regulation

What is my book about?

Zoning is the division of a city into separate uses such as residential, commercial, and industrial, and the regulation of each building’s size and location. It has been embraced by nearly every urban government for over a century, but Americans still think that it is mean old developers who cause urban sprawl and segregate our cities and suburbs. Zoning Rules! shows that the condition of our cities is very much the product of public land use regulation. My book explains how zoning works, why its politics is dominated by homeowners, and why it has recently pushed up housing costs. The books recommended here demonstrate that local land use regulation has enormous consequences for the environment, inequality, and economic growth. 

The Future We Choose

By Christiana Figueres, Tom Rivett-Carnac,

Book cover of The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis

Written by architects of the 2015 Paris Accord, I expected a long, dull, treatise on policy. But I was wrong. Without whitewashing the dangers we face or the short time we have to make the right decision, the authors lay out the devastating consequences of the wrong choice, and the actions we can and must take to stop climate change and make life more enjoyable. 

Who am I?

I grew up wandering farmers’ fields looking for arrowheads, and I started working in archaeology at 16 – 50 years ago. I ski, snowshoe, run, and play piano, but I sold my soul to the archaeology devil a long time ago. I specialize in hunter-gatherers, and I’ve done fieldwork across the western US, ethnographic work in Madagascar, and lectured in many countries. I’ve learned that history matters, because going back in time helps find answers to humanity’s problems – warfare, inequality, and hate. I’ve sought to convey this in lectures at the University of Wyoming, where I’ve been a professor of anthropology since 1997. 

I wrote...

The Fifth Beginning: What Six Million Years of Human History Can Tell Us about Our Future

By Robert L. Kelly,

Book cover of The Fifth Beginning: What Six Million Years of Human History Can Tell Us about Our Future

What is my book about?

“I have seen yesterday. I know tomorrow.” This inscription in Tutankhamun’s tomb summarizes The Fifth Beginning. In it, we tour human history through four times – beginnings – when the character of human life changed: the emergence of technology, culture, agriculture, and the state. Each is signaled by a radical change in humanity’s archaeological footprint. Using that perspective, I argue that today is a fifth beginning, the result of a 5000-year arms race, capitalism’s ever-expanding reach, and a worldwide communication network. It marks the end of war, capitalism, and maybe the nation-state, and the beginning of global cooperation. It’s the end of life as we know it. But with humanity’s great potential to solve problems, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic. 

What We Think about When We Try Not to Think about Global Warming

By Per Espen Stoknes,

Book cover of What We Think about When We Try Not to Think about Global Warming: Toward a New Psychology of Climate Action

Here’s what Don’t Look Up got horribly right: in the face of one of the greatest catastrophes that humankind has faced, we remain not only apathetic but largely indifferent. Stoknes shows why, and how to overcome this. The book blends the personal and relatable with professional expertise and clear, practical guidance: at once an invaluable primer in climate psychology and a roadmap towards a kind of hope, on the other side of terrible grief. 

Who am I?

I’m a philosopher and former journalist. I’ve been teaching, writing, and thinking about climate justice for nearly two decades. Ever more frustrated by the gulf between what’s morally and scientifically imperative, and what governments are prepared to do, I determined to speak (and listen) to a wider audience than my academic bubble. Climate change is a moral emergency, not just a technical, scientific, economic, or political one. The more people who recognise that, the better. As a writer, I couldn’t have managed without the experiences and wisdom of others, personal, scholarly, or professional. These books, among many others, have moved me and helped me to figure out a way forward.

I wrote...

What Climate Justice Means and Why We Should Care

By Elizabeth Cripps,

Book cover of What Climate Justice Means and Why We Should Care

What is my book about?

We owe it to our fellow humans, and other species, to save them from the catastrophic harm caused by climate change. This book explains why. It uses clear reasoning and poignant examples, starting with irrefutable science and uncontroversial moral rules. It unravels the legacy of colonialism and entrenched racism, and exposes the way we live now as fundamentally unjust. 

Then it asks where we go from here. Who should pay the bill for climate action? Who must have a say? How can we hold multinational companies, organisations—even nations—to account? And what should each of us do now? Recognise climate justice as the fundamental wrong it is, and climate activism is a moral duty, not a political choice.

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