Tackling the climate crisis – in five books

Post COP26, this mix of visionary thinking and practical manifestos make up a reading list that takes you beyond the greenwash.

Published 10 Jan 2022, 16:14 GMT
Five approaches to the climate crisis – in five books.

Five approaches to the climate crisis – in five books.

Photograph by Background by Unsplash

IF the COP26 climate conference taught us anything, it's that a united approach to tackling the climate crisis is far from straightforward. Different countries with different needs, economies and attitudes – and varying abilities to both get voices heard, and make meaningful contributions amidst considerable hardship – make fighting the rise in global temperatures a war on many fronts.  

Read National Geographic UK's COP26 coverage here. 

As regards the way ahead, ideas for solutions to the climate crisis come in many forms. From indigenous wisdom to a manifesto for a rethink on consumerism – here are five books that take different, sometimes radical approaches to tackling an emergency faced by all.  

A Bigger Picture by Vanessa Nakate

(Pan Macmillan, 2021)

Confronting the unjust power structures that leave those on the frontlines of the climate crisis vulnerable and voiceless, Nakate has crafted a memoir that goes beyond the personal. The challenges the young Ugandan environmental activist has faced on her journey to bring climate justice to Africa include societal pressures on women, the fear of protesting in a country where strikes are illegal, a lack of funding, and racism and indifference in the Global North. Undeterred, Nakate has gone on to highlight the risks to African ecosystems.

(Read about 26 change makers fighting for the planet.)

The deforestation of the Congo river basin’s rainforest (the ‘second lungs of the earth’), oil pipelines that lead to the resettlement of families and a loss of wildlife habitat, flooding, and famine-inducing drought and locust plagues that drive migration are among the climate emergencies deserving of wider attention.

The picture she paints is bleak, but Nakate is not without hope. Grassroots projects, some of which she has helped to implement, offer solutions: the provision of solar panels for family homes, efficient cooking stoves in schools to reduce the need for firewood and coal, tree planting and the growing of fruit trees. Green jobs too, she says, are crucial if those across the continent are to move away from a reliance on fossil fuels.  

Less is More by Jason Hickel

(Penguin Random House, 2021)

What do we need more of, if the planet is to regenerate? A vision of a future based on reciprocity with living things – the antithesis of mindless growth. It's this Less is More sets out to show is possible. Hickel offers historical context for the rise of capitalism: In the wake of powerful empires and religions that demonised animistic beliefs, came a crushing of egalitarian post-feudal societies.

(Read about 26 big and small ideas for a greener future.) 

Colonisation and slavery followed, and in more recent times the extraction of fossil fuels, minerals and industrial agriculture have fed economic growth and created a climate crisis. This, Hickel makes clear, is a crisis of inequality. For while excess growth in high-income countries has fuelled ecological breakdown, low-income countries need more energy and resources to meet human needs.

The roll-out of clean energy, public healthcare and, regenerative agriculture, alongside a planned reduction of growth in profit-driven sectors offers a solution that meets the needs of both. Care and compassion lie at the heart of this world view – this represents a seismic shift in values at least where many political systems are concerned. Can it happen? It must, says Hickel, if we are to save the planet.

(These 15 ideas were vying for the biggest climate prize in history.) 

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

(Penguin Random House, 2020, after Milkweed Editions, 2013)

Robin Wall Kimmerer, a plant ecologist, professor of environmental science and forestry and a member of the Citizen Potowatomi nation grew up experiencing first-hand the cultural dissonance between modern Western and indigenous ways of viewing nature: the former as a resource for the taking, the latter as a gift that one reciprocates, freely. 

(26 images capture the devastation of climate change – and hope for the future.)

In this collection of essays, she shows how this reciprocity creates a bond between humans and nature – one that makes sense, ecologically speaking. Stories reveal the wisdom of plant teachings, the traditional indigenous practices of resilience, responsible stewardship and regenerative agriculture, and the enlivening language of animacy.

Exploring the crucial role that both scientific knowledge and indigenous wisdom play in environmental management, Kimmerer paves the way for a re-evaluation of our worldview. It is one in which interdependence, gratitude and a deep listening to voices human and wild, are key.  

A Blue New Deal by Chris Armstrong

(Published February 2022, Yale University Press)

The world’s oceans are key to the health of the planet, and yet they have never been at greater risk. In a Blue New Deal, Chris Armstrong dives into the murky waters of ocean politics, and reveals a vast and complex web of inequality and environmental degradation.

What are the many threats facing the ocean? Who has access to the ocean’s resources, how are they being used, and who benefits from them? How are the institutions and laws that are meant to protect the ocean, failing it? What are the key vulnerabilities and threats faced by marine animals and people whose lives and livelihood are entwined with the ocean?

Explore One of the Most Pristine Coral Reefs in the World
This is one of the world's most pristine reefs—and one of the most biodiverse. The Philippine's Tubbataha is host to 600 species of fish, 13 species of whales and dolphins, and 360 species of coral. The reef's isolated location, combined with committed management, has left it in a nearly pristine state.

The challenges may feel overwhelming and urgent, but according to Armstrong, a solution is presented in the form of a New Blue Deal. This is a vision for bio-diversity, citizen-led governance, equality, sustainability and recovery, and the possibility of social and economic benefits for all.

All We Can Save by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Dr. Katherine K. Wilkinson 

(Penguin Random House, 2020)

The need to bring compassion and emotion to any public conversation or climate solution alongside scientific rigour, lies at heart of a book co-edited by a marine biologist and climate leader (Johnson) and an author and teacher (Wilkinson.)

Showcased are sixty women who sit at the forefront of the U.S. climate movement and collectively straddle generations, races, geographical locations and economic backgrounds.

Intersectional activism, the dismantling of extractive capitalism, youth-led social movements, indigenous knowledge, the connected nature of plants and trees (and the implications for forestry and agriculture,) the forging of a Global Green New Deal, and more are addressed in these wide-ranging essays and poems by scientists, journalists, farmers, poets, lawyers, activists and others.

Jini Reddy is an author and journalist based in London. Follow her on Twitter

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