Top ten books to get educated about climate change!

I love books. Always have done. I genuinely believe that there is nothing in this world that you cannot learn about, or find, in a book. 

With 8 billion humans on this planet, someone has written a book about pretty much everything, from pretty well every perspective and in most of the major languages. That, I think, is quite exciting. I can learn about anything I want – anything in the world (or even beyond!), just by finding the right book.

28/01/2024 | 12 Minutes

By Joshua Domb

I wish I could remember the first book that I read about climate change.  At this point I have a small library of books on different topics in this space. Having used my recent year away travelling to read at least another twenty titles on climate change and related issues, I am starting to feel quite well-read.


At least, I was.


In June last year I spent a week in Dubai. On the top floor of the Dubai Mall is a huge bookshop, one of the most expansive I have ever come across. And as I tend to do these days whenever I walk into a bookshop, I started by finding my way to the books about climate change.


I thought, at that point, that I was familiar with most of the main titles and books that you find under the climate change umbrella.  I had been scouring different reading materials for many months, and as I wandered through the store I felt reasonably confident that I wouldn’t find too much here that I had not seen elsewhere on my travels.


I was wrong.  Wonderfully wrong!



What you can see in the photo above is about half of the titles that were available on the shelves. I couldn’t fit anything more into one photo! There were so many books on so many different topics, the vast majority of which I had never come across. I spent a good thirty minutes leafing through different titles and trying to work out what to take away, before my wife not unreasonably pointed out that I already had three books in my suitcase that I had not yet started.


Sometimes I find it embarrassing that I have no formal qualifications with “Climate Change”, “Sustainability” or some other related term in the title. Whilst they can be helpful, formal qualifications are not everything, and what I do have is a very large body of relevant knowledge to offer, which I have accumulated simply by reading as many books on these topics as I can cram into my brain.


So, by way of assistance to those who are seeking to educate themselves in this space also, here is a quick synopsis of my top ten books on climate change and a brief extract from each, following several years of dedicated reading.



10 – Regeneration – Ending the climate crisis in one generation – By Paul Hawken


If you are just starting to find your way into the complicated world of climate change and are looking for a high-level overview of pretty much every topic which falls under the exceedingly broad umbrella of topics in this space, ‘Regeneration’ is an ideal place to start.


Written in 2021 by Paul Hawken, ‘Regeneration’ is an ambitious attempt to bring together, in a wonderfully succinct and accessible way, all the key topics that we need to discuss, and solutions we need to implement, to begin to bring an end to the climate crisis.


One of the reasons I am so keen on this book is because of its focus on solutions. Climate change is so rife with challenges and complexity that it can be easy to find yourself overcome by the chaos and fear, particularly when you are just getting started.  By keeping the focus on solutions, this book seems less heavy than other books in this space, and as an introduction to climate change as a topic, you can’t do much better.


I keep this handy guide close to my desk, knowing that if I need to brush up on any one of the hundred or so topics that a client might want to discuss quickly before an unexpected call, this excellent book has got me covered.


Superb snippet: “Worried that you are not an expert? Almost no one is. But we understand enough… The situations we find ourselves in differ. Who better to know what to do at this time, in this place, with your knowledge, than you?”



9 – Net positive – By Paul Polman and Andrew Winston


If you want to understand how businesses can thrive whilst at the same time seeking to leave the world a better place, ‘net positive’ is a great place to start.


Written by Paul Polman (the former CEO of Unilever) and Andrew Winston (a leading authority on corporate sustainability), ‘net positive’ is a powerful explanation of how companies which place concepts like sustainability, ESG, climate change and social responsibility at the heart of their business, can drive long term value creation not just for shareholders, but for all stakeholders.


This excellent book is a wonderful guide for those currently trying to operationalise these concepts throughout their own companies and a useful case study for those who are looking to transition into advising on topics in this space.


Superb snippet: “Communication. Respect. Integrity. Excellence. That was the stated list of values at Enron, the energy and commodity trading giant that unleashed one of the greatest frauds in corporate history. Statements are lovely, but if values and behaviours don’t match, and those behaviours are toxic, a company can implode. Enron’s true value was greed, its purpose was to maximise shareholder return no matter what, and the culture was winning at any cost. It was malignant.”



8 – A Life on Our Planet – By David Attenborough


David Attenborough (or ‘David’ as my wife and I, along with half of the population of the UK affectionately call him) was always going to make this list, and it is only because of the quality of the books that follow that he doesn’t appear somewhere higher.

This is not, specifically, a book about climate change. It is, instead, a brief account of David’s life and work, which paints a wonderful picture of how we, as a species, have come to understand the scale of our impact on the Earth.


As he works through the timeline, David brilliantly links the declining state of the natural world to two things, the loss of ‘wilderness’ (wild places and spaces not interfered with by humans) and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.


‘A Life on Our Planet’ is a poignant account of how humans have placed themselves in this dangerous situation, some of the key moments which helped us to understand this reality, and what we can do about it.


Superb snippet: “Since the 1950s, on average, wild animal populations have more than halved. When I look back at my earlier films now, I realise that, although I felt I was out there in the wild, wandering through a pristine natural world, that was an illusion. Those forests and plains and seas were already emptying… We have forgotten that once there were temperate forests that would take days to traverse, herds of bison that would take four hours to pass, and flocks of birds so vast and dense they darkened the skies. Those things were normal only a few lifetimes ago. Not any more. We have become accustomed to an impoverished planet.”



7 – Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Laws, Regulations and Practices in the Digital Era – By Peter Yeoh


This book is one for lawyers and other academics.  If you don’t fall into that category, skip on down past this entry!


If you do fall into that category and are looking for a hugely detailed explanation of ESG, how it developed, related theories about capitalism, corporate ownership, the evolution of governance and some of the key best practices from organisations around the world, this is a useful resource.


This is not, per se, a textbook on ESG as a discipline, and the majority of the focus is on the evolution and importance of corporate governance. But for those who approach ESG as the latest iteration of governance and view governance as the most important element of the three, this is an excellent, albeit very academic textbook.


Superb snippet: “Rather than as a single framework on its own, ESG as the world knows it today has been the outcome of a series of connected actions of the business community that accelerated subsequent to Milton Friedan’s advocation in 1970 that the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits, whereas others argued, for corporate purpose beyond profit maximization or the shareholder primacy perspective.”



6 – Bright Green Lies – By Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Max Wilbert


I did not enjoy this book. But I am pleased that I read it, and more people should do the same.


‘Bright Green Lies’ is a discussion of where and how the environmental movement has, in the view of the authors, lost its way. Its central premise is that many of the solutions which so-called ‘bright-green environmentalists’ like to extol have a host of downsides which are conveniently ignored, often as a result of commercial drivers.


This book is a revealing insight into some of the drawbacks of solar and wind power in particular, and highlights a series of problems with concepts such as grid scale storage or the concept of ‘green’ cities. One section that I found particularly educational revealed the realities of recycling, which is, of course, a vast, energy-intense industry of its own, generating enormous emissions, creating extraordinary quantities of waste, and, perhaps more worryingly, giving us a false sense of righteousness that when we recycle an item we are becoming part of the solution, rather than just contributing to a different problem.


After some 430 pages of problems, this book only offers a handful of what are considered to be genuinely viable solutions, and sections of this book left me thoroughly depressed.


That having been said, this book still makes my list, which I hope tells you something. The authors offer an important reminder that we need to take a realistic, pragmatic and holistic approach to the transition that we collectively need to achieve. That means being honest about some of the drawbacks of the technologies we are flocking to, recognising the limitations or even absence of others, and reminding ourselves that the green transition has become an industry in its own right; one which is just as fallible to the power of marketing and disinformation as those which have gotten us into this mess.


I will say again. I did not enjoy this book. But it is worth reading.


Superb snippet: “As environmental crises worsen, and as it becomes ever more obvious that industrial civilization is killing the planet, people will search for false solutions to these crises. And it won’t matter how counterfactual these false solutions are: The point is maintaining this way of living, not stopping the destruction.”



5 – The Age of Sustainable Development – By Jeffrey D. Sachs


It is very hard to separate sustainable development, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), from climate change. Indeed, whilst climate action is SDG 13, climate change has a direct impact on almost all of the 17 SDGs, and any discussion of one tends to incorporate the other at some point.


Floating somewhere messily alongside any discussion of climate change and the SDGs, one inevitably finds the acronym ESG.


Exactly what falls under each of the ESG headings varies depending upon whom you ask, but perhaps the least well-defined is the ‘Social’ component.  Whilst I know many genuine Governance experts, and there is no shortage of Environmental experts these days, the ‘Social’ component can be where those engaging with ESG come a little unstuck (and where much of the criticism aimed at ESG has been targeted, not entirely unfairly in several cases).


Perhaps without intending to be, ‘The Age of Sustainable Development’ is probably the best textbook that I have found on many of the ‘Social’ aspects of ESG (albeit this book also covers Environmental and Governance issues in some detail).  It takes a data driven approach to a range of global challenges, and explains why and how inequalities in relation to topics such as food, income, gender, education, social mobility and access to healthcare came to be so prevalent both within countries and as between countries around the world, before discussing what we can collectively do to try and address these problems.


This book is quite academic, and not having an economics background (which informs and structures the style of the discussion in many places) I had to re-read certain sections or remind myself what some of the terms meant as I went along.  But this excellent book is written in a way that makes these complex topics accessible to everyone, and whilst it is now creeping up on being ten years old, it remains hugely relevant today.


Superb snippet: “Sustainable development is a way to understand the world as a complex interaction of economic, social, environmental and political systems. Yet it is also a normative or ethical view of the world, a way to define the objectives of a well-functioning society, one that delivers wellbeing for its citizens today and for future generations.”



4 – We Are The Weather – By Jonathan Safran Foer


This is a book about the critical role that changing our diets needs to play in rising to the challenge of climate change.  But it is also more than that. So much more.


‘We Are The Weather’ is a wonderful journey of introspection, in which Jonathan Safran Foer beautifully explains what so many of us engaged in this work are thinking.  He opens up about his doubts and demons, and powerfully articulates the fear and guilt that so many of us, who understand what is coming, feel every day – that we are not doing enough to avert the inevitable.


One of the most powerful themes that stuck with me from this book is the distinction between knowing and believing. We all know that climate change is coming. But very few of us truly believe it.


If the world believed that climate change was real, we would be treating it much like we did Covid or World War II, as a global and a national effort which also involves every one of us individually. But we don’t. Not because we don’t know what is coming, but because the realities of truly believing what is coming are just too scary.


Despite these powerful warnings, this wonderful book is empowering and uplifting, and only one of two books on this list that brought a tear to my eye.


I am pleased to recommend it to anyone as a brilliant book in this space.


Superb snippet: “When the planetary crisis matters to us all, it has the quality of a war being fought over there. We are aware of the existential stakes and the urgency, but even when we know that a war for our survival is raging, we don’t feel immersed in it. That distance between awareness and feeling can make it very difficult for even thoughtful and politically engaged people – people who want to act – to act.”



3 – How to avoid a climate disaster – By Bill Gates


From 51 billion to zero.  Each year, humans typically add around 51 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  To get climate change under control, just one of the things we need to achieve is getting that figure down to zero.


Putting to one side the realities of wrapping your head around a figure like 51 billion (which to most of us, me included, is so ridiculously vast as to be utterly incomprehensible), there is another challenge.


How do you even approach thinking about a figure like this?  With so many different sources of emissions, how do you know what falls into which categories, figures or buckets? What solutions address which emissions?


In ‘How to avoid a climate disaster’, Bill Gates very skilfully does what, in my opinion, he does best.  He turns something that is mind-bogglingly complicated, into something that anyone can follow.


Bill Gates offers us a framework to use when thinking about the challenge of net zero, by dividing all carbon emissions into five broad categories:

– Manufacturing (31% of global emissions)

– Electricity (27% of global emissions)

– Food (19% of global emissions)

– Transportation (16% of global emissions)

– Heating and cooling (7% of global emissions)


Within each of these categories, Gates explains where the main challenges lie, the technologies that we already have to get those numbers down, and where innovations are still needed.


This book is somewhat light on solutions which can leave the reader feeling a little hopeless at times, but that is not the point of the book.  To solve a problem, you first have to understand it.  And when it comes to understanding the challenge of net zero, this is one of the best books out there.


Superb snippet: “We need to accomplish something gigantic we have never done before, much faster than we have ever done anything similar. To do it, we need lots of breakthroughs in science and engineering. We need to build a consensus that doesn’t exist and create public policies to push a transition that would not happen otherwise. We need the energy system to stop doing all the things we don’t like and keep doing all the things we do like – in other words, to change completely and also stay the same. But don’t despair. We can do this.”



2 – How to be a climate optimist – By Chris Turner


It wasn’t too long ago that I would lie awake at night worrying about climate change.


I worried about the unthinkable scale of the challenge and the unimaginable consequences of getting it wrong or even falling short. I panicked about why politicians didn’t seem to be able to do anything sensible about it and wondered what hope I could have of making a difference in the face of these unfathomable odds.


I still worry. And sometimes I struggle to quiet my mind when I try to settle down in the evenings. But this book genuinely helped me to sleep at night, and I immediately recommend it to anyone who tells me that they are struggling with climate anxiety like I once did.


This brilliant book turned me firmly into a climate optimist. And it can do the same for you.


Superb snippet: “Even just ten years ago, it was commonplace on the climate-solutions beat to hear the expert voices in many industries proclaim the inevitability of a continued status quo… A decade later, the question hanging over most of these industries is not if they will change forever in response to the climate crisis but when and how they will change. That’s real progress, and it will provide an enormous motive force to help accelerate the pace of change in the years to come.”



1 – Braiding Sweetgrass – By Robin Wall Kimmerer


Don’t think of ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ as a book. Think of it as a poem.


A glorious, 384 page poem, about the incredible Robin Wall Kimmerer, her amazing love of the natural world and her hope for future generations.


This beautiful book is stuffed full of incredible stories from Kimmerer’s life and oozes wisdom from indigenous peoples throughout the Americas and beyond. Braiding Sweetgrass also offers a deeply personal insight into some of Kimmerer’s fears, including her struggles against academic prejudice, bigoted thinking, and some of the challenges she has faced as a mother, a teacher and an activist.


This book moved me to tears on multiple occasions and changed the way I think about and interact with the natural world.  It was this book which made me realise that Gen-R Law, and its dedicated mission to fight climate change, would not be complete without a specific focus on incorporating lessons and wisdom from indigenous peoples into the way we conduct ourselves and advise our clients wherever possible.


I am proud to share this exquisite book at the top of my list, knowing with absolute certainty that anyone who picks it up will enjoy it as much as I did.


Superb snippet: “Even before I arrived at school, I had all of my answers prepared for the freshman intake interview… The advisor peered at me over his glasses and said, “So, why do you want to major in botany?” His pencil was poised over the Registrar’s form.


How could I answer, how could I tell him that I was born a botanist, that I had shoeboxes of seeds and piles of pressed leaves under my bed, that I’d stop my bike along the road to identify a new species, that plants coloured my dreams, that the plants had chosen me… I told him that I chose botany because I wanted to learn about why asters and goldenrod looked so beautiful together.


He laid down his pencil as if there was no need to record what I had said. “Miss Wall,” he said, fixing me with a disappointed smile, “I must tell you that that is not science. That is not at all the sort of thing with which botanists concern themselves.” But he promised to put me right. “I’ll enrol you in General Botany so you can learn what it is.” And so it began.”





If, like me, you have no formal qualifications in relation to the myriad of topics which fall under the umbrella of climate change, don’t despair.


Whilst formal qualifications are helpful, there are literally hundreds of wonderful books out there that you can study and enjoy at your leisure.


These books are ready to arm all of us with the knowledge and insights that we need to become part of the climate solution.


So – get reading. And if you are not sure where to start, I hope that this list might be useful.


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