The best new books on climate change
Not so long ago, anyone in a bookstore looking for something on climate change would head to the science shelves. Things have changed. As a new batch of titles shows, climate writers are now found in all sorts of topics, from economics and sports to philosophy and children’s books.
The thirst for quick and effective political solutions to the climate threat runs deep. Fund manager Eric Lonergan and sustainability advisor Corinne Sawers go a long way in satisfying him by Boost me: Net zero faster (Diary Publishing £12.99/$16.95). Their short, readable book is a polite rebuke to economists who have dominated climate policy thinking, especially those who focus on the idea that the best way to fix a negative externality such as carbon pollution is to tax.
The problem is that carbon taxes are easy to demonize and slow to deliver results. Moreover, carbon pricing alone may not quickly change behaviors when there is no obvious alternative to gas-powered cars or beef burgers, for example.
The answer, Lonergan and Sawers say, is to relentlessly prioritize green electrification, which could reduce emissions by up to 75%, and use carbon taxes to supplement what they call EPICs. : extreme and positive incentives for change. These are measures that “boost” behavior change, such as fixed-price energy contracts in Germany that have led to a global solar energy boom. Weak incentives won’t do: “If a plant-based burger is only 3% cheaper than a regular burger, no one will change their behavior, but if it’s 30% cheaper, who won’t wouldn’t try it?”
There are a lot of epic things about car racing. Speed. The danger. Carbon-laden fumes. But don’t discount his contribution to solving the climate problem, says science writer Kit Chapman in Racing Green: how motorsport science can save the world (Bloomsbury £20/$21). Breakthroughs in motorsport have already spurred progress in areas such as medicine, he reports. Today, they are helping to reduce emissions with greener materials and technologies – and motor racing such as Formula E.
The electric racing car championship that started in 2014 has not only improved the once bizarre image of battery-powered vehicles. It has also driven technical advances in ordinary passenger cars, such as high-voltage components that automakers were hesitant to try until Formula E showed they were safe, he writes.
Chapman’s obvious love of motorsport can be overstated. He says Formula E “has seen electric cars go from quirky madness to the undisputed future of the automotive industry”. Elon Musk could quibble about that. The success of his Tesla electric car business is widely credited with pushing conventional automakers to accelerate the rollout of their battery-powered cars. Yet Chapman writes engagingly about the benefits motor racing has brought to a climate issue that needs all hands on the wheel.
Scientists have spent years explaining the need to reduce emissions quickly. In his uncompromising book The pivotal generation: why we have a moral responsibility to slow climate change now (Princeton University Press £22/$27.95) Oxford professor and philosopher Henry Shue makes a moral case for such action.
The title generation is us – the unlucky humans alive today who must solve a problem they didn’t entirely cause to help save people they will never encounter from disasters they can to hardly imagine. This poses dilemmas unlike other philosophers that have faced, writes Shue.
If humans continue to alter the climate, there is a risk of crossing tipping points that trigger irreversible changes, such as the collapse of massive ice caps. This would mean that future people would face more difficult challenges if no action is taken now. According to Shue, this requires people today to take action, especially those in developed countries who reaped most of the benefits of the industrial revolution and let climate damage spread globally.
The road ahead is daunting, but Shue says it could also be “an exciting privilege” to be part of a generation blessed with a unique transition in a civilization from dirty energy to clean energy. “Members of future generations will be happy that we have risen to the occasion,” he wrote, “and may remember us with pride.”
Meanwhile, younger members of the pivotal generation can start early with The anger that saved the world (North Atlantic Books £15.99/$19.95), a climate picture book for children aged 5-9.
Climatologist Michael E Mann and illustrator Megan Herbert have produced a new edition of their book, which features Sophia, a girl whose life is cut short when a polar bear and other climate refugees knock on her door. Deciding something needs to be done, she goes to City Hall to tell officials, “I need an appointment regarding this wildlife, who have noticed our planet is turning into a sauna.” Alas, his complaints are dismissed. Undeterred, Sophia converts her fury into a fit of anger and launches a climate campaign that no one can ignore.
Herbert and Mann wrote the first crowdfunded edition of their book before Greta Thunberg began sitting in front of the Swedish parliament in 2018 to demand stronger climate action. The global youth climate movement that Thunberg helped create makes their title even more relevant today.
Join our online book group on Facebook at FT Books Coffee