“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” In 1845, freethinker and bankrupt schoolteacher Henry David Thoreau moved from Concord out into the middle of the woods, settling on the banks of Walden Pond on land owned by philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau built himself a small hut—a kind of precursor to the Tiny House movement—and cultivated the land for a living while writing and pondering life in the woods. The result became a classic of American literature: an extended reflection on nature, solitude, water, wildlife, economy, hiking and vegetarianism. Thoreau’s interpretation of life in an ant colony and his observations of pine needles are unforgettable – and alone earn him his place as one of the father figures of nature writing genre. At the same time, his book is a critique of the society he came from.- Maja Lucas.

 

In this searing indictment — that’s also an empowering call to action — award-winning novelist and essayist Amitav Ghosh analyzes modern culture, history and politics to show how popular narratives have failed to wrestle with the reality of our collective climate crisis. The breadth of research is astounding but so too is Ghosh’s ability to diagnose the grave inadequacies of modern culture and offer some pathways forward. A book I return to again and again, The Great Derangement is haunting and harrowing, as Ghosh tells us some hard truths. But it’s also an inspiring challenge to writers, urging us to find new ways to tell the most important story on earth. — Melissa Jean Gismondi

Mark Lynas’ 2008 book Six Degrees soon became a must-read for anyone concerned about the speed and severity of global heating. In its 2020 incarnation, updated to reflect the most recent scientific research and projections, Lynas’ analysis of how the world will change with each degree of warming pulls no punches about what’s at stake. But in leaving space for optimism and hope, the evidence he sets out becomes a powerful call to action as well as a timely and terrifying warning.

 

First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s powerful tale of  greed, corruption and the consequences of intensive farming is a stark reminder that man-made environmental disasters are far from new. The story tells how the beleaguered Joad family, forced to join the great wave of migrants leaving the poverty of Oklahoma’s ruined Dust Bowl, travels in search of the green orchards of California, with its “golden oranges hanging from the trees”. But there’s trouble in paradise…

Imagine two concentric circles, one inside the other: a social foundation to ensure the protection of every human being, and an ecological ceiling to prevent the overshooting of the planet’s boundaries. This is the doughnut: the ecologically safe and socially just sweet spot in which humanity can thrive. Widely hailed as a radically ground-breaking work, Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics identifies the seven critical ways in which mainstream economics has betrayed global society.

Debunking the myth of ‘rational economic man’ and unpicking the argument that economic growth must continue at all costs, Raworth offers an exciting and viable roadmap for bringing humanity into the sweet spot represented by the doughnut. A must-read for anyone interested in transforming the global economic system into a force for good within the means of the planet.

Read more of our Climate Classics: timeless works exploring themes of climate change and biodiversity loss.

 

Ever since its publication in 1962, Rachel Carson’s eloquent, ground-breaking investigation into the devastating effects of pesticides has been recognised as a landmark environmental text. It is also proof that literature can lead to actual change: Silent Spring’s meticulous scientific examination of the widely-used chemical agent DDT and its consequences galvanised activists, the public and policy-makers alike, triggering legislative changes which ultimately led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States.

Carson’s masterpiece is also a reminder that it is through connecting with the natural world that we can find the resources to save it: “Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

Read more of our Climate Classics: timeless works exploring themes of climate change and biodiversity loss.

From its first line – “It is, worse, much worse, than you think” – Wallace-Wells’ urgent, unapologetic wake-up pulls no punches. Published in 2019, it maps out how humankind’s current trajectory will lead to a seismic shift in politics, culture, and history itself unless we dismantle our delusion of invincibility and begin to embrace our own agency and harness the transformative power of collective action. Because as Wallace-Wells reminds us, the stakes could not be higher: “If we emit carbon dioxide at anything like current rates for the next two decades, the game is over.”

Read more of our Climate Classics: timeless works exploring themes of climate change and biodiversity loss.

“The planet, for the first time, has been entirely reconfigured. It is as if there were no nature left.” McKibben’s classic 1989 work, which has had a profound impact on the environmental movement, makes a stirring plea for a fundamental philosophical shift in the way we relate to the non-human world. Emphasising the profound transformation of the planet through anthropogenic climate disruption and environmental devastation, McKibben explores how humans have disassociated from their natural environment, and come to see “nature as construct”. It is only through recognising our interconnectedness with the natural world, he argues, that we can find and implement sustainable solutions.

 

Read more of our Climate Classics: timeless works exploring themes of climate change and biodiversity loss.

When Schumacher’s original eco-bible was published in 1973, it had a profound effect on people who were ready to question mainstream economics and became a global best-seller. “Wisdom demands a new orientation of science towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and the beautiful,” argues Schumacher, whose collection of essays contrasts the efficiency of large-scale industrial systems with the resilience and flexibility of smaller, decentralised models.

In challenging the paradigm of mindless economic consumption, Schumacher advocates for the concept of “enoughness” and argues that economic systems should service communities, not corporations.

Read more of our Climate Classics: timeless works exploring themes of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Jeremy Lent’s iconic work, described by George Monbiot as “the most profound, brilliant and potentially world-changing book I’ve read this century,” dissects the profound ways in which our cultures shape our understanding of the world. With rigour and lyricism, Lent explores the synthesis of cognitive, religious, philosophical, scientific and political systems that make up our civilizational structures, illuminating the intricate connections between language, myth, and belief systems.

 

Read more of our Climate Classics: timeless works exploring themes of climate change and biodiversity loss.