The best new environmental books

The best new environmental books

Are you an investor looking to profit from the clean energy shift? Or do you want to launch your own green start-up? Maybe you have no interest in business and just want to know how to make a difference in the face of a worsening global climate crisis.

There’s an answer for everyone in a pleasantly diverse new list of climate change books, but first a word on which one you’re likely to see first in a bookstore: The climate book “created” by Greta Thunberg (Allen Lane, £25).

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The Swedish activist did not write this beautifully presented book herself. Instead, she persuaded Margaret Atwood, Naomi Klein and Thomas Piketty to join a team of more than 100 writers, activists and researchers who each wrote an essay on climate change.

Some are more successful than others, and the whole thing is unlikely to reveal much that anyone serious about the subject doesn’t already know. But it’s an attractive Christmas present for anyone looking for an overview of the problem and how some thinkers would deal with it.

Many Thunberg contributors view business, and indeed 21st century capitalism, as more a cause than a response to global warming.

But Columbia University professor Bruce Usher, who has been investing in climate solutions since 2002, makes the opposite case in his book, Investing in the Age of Climate Change (Columbia University Press, $27.95/£22.00).

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Usher has been investing in climate change-related companies since 2002, when green investment opportunities were much less attractive than they are today. He argues that the falling costs and growing competitiveness of wind power, solar farms and other clean energy sources is good news for capitalists and the climate.

More than half of all emissions can be eliminated through renewable energy, energy storage and electric vehicles, he says. And there is plenty of evidence that countries can decarbonize and sustain economic growth.

For those already running a business, or hoping to do so, Brit Juliet Davenport wrote The green start-up: Make your business better for the planet (Heligo Books, £16.99).

Cover of 'The Green Start-up'

Davenport knows what she’s talking about. She founded Good Energy, a pioneering renewable electricity provider, over 20 years ago and became that rare thing: a female CEO of an energy company. She quit as CEO last year and now chairs a solar power group that is believed to be the first of its kind to list on the London Stock Exchange with an all-female board.

Her book is packed with practical advice for environmentally conscious entrepreneurs, covering everything from the do’s and don’ts of raising start-up funds to dealing with cultural conflicts like the one she faced after taking over a business. business that was largely run by men driven almost entirely by business priorities.

Merging this group with its gender-conscious and climate-engaged staff took a lot of effort and it’s real-life stories like this that make this book an invaluable read.

Another guide to real climate action is coming The big solution: 7 practical steps to save our planet by Hal Harvey and Justin Gillis (Simon & Schuster £20/$28.99).

Cover of 'The Big Fix'

Although written primarily for American readers, its main message applies far beyond American borders: it’s not enough to go vegan or stop stealing. Broader systemic change is needed and by focusing on the key policies needed to achieve this, individual “green citizens” can make a difference.

Finally, the influential American thinker and prolific author, Jeremy Rifkin, has a new book, The Age of Resilience: Reinventing existence on a regenerating Earth (Quick Press, £20).

Rifkin’s early titles — The end of work, The third industrial revolution, The Green New Deal – have attracted fans in ministries and bookstores.

In his new work, he returns to a familiar theme: what he calls “the efficiency imperative,” or the relentless quest to consume and discard natural resources to increase material wealth.

This concept underlies what Rifkin calls the Age of Progress. But now, in an increasingly alarming world of warming temperatures and a global pandemic, he believes humanity is moving into an era of resilience that could transform our relationship with the natural world and with each other.

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How could this unfold? Rifkin sees a future of sweeping economic and social change where productivity gives way to regeneration and gross domestic product to quality of life indicators. Consumerism, corporate conglomerates and globalization are withering away while “eco-stewardship”, high-tech cooperatives and “glocalization” are flourishing.

The book will undoubtedly appeal to many readers, even if it exasperates others. Rarely is it any different for a writer who has spent decades warning of the need to address environmental problems caused by the human species and who are still struggling to resolve them.

Poor Clark is the FT’s business columnist

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