Must Read Books for Every Environmental Activist

by Aoife Robertson

Climate Justice – Mary Robinson
As the first female president of Ireland and a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson uses her experience to write a wonderful book on the women behind the climate change movement. In Climate Justice, she writes the stories of women she met who are facing hardships as a result of climate change. An emotional and inspiring read, it becomes clear that those at the frontline of climate change are often those that are contributing the least to global warming. Mary Robinson expertly shows just how interconnected environmentalism is with feminist and humanitarian causes. With first-hand accounts of the environmental crisis, women from all walks of life tell their stories and detail what they are doing to combat the difficulties faced in their communities. This book puts people at the forefront of the climate catastrophe and creates a sense of urgency to combat climate change – not just for ourselves but for those who need it most.

The Lorax – Dr Seuss
“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.” The Lorax has become an iconic figure in children’s literature and not just because of the humorous rhymes that Dr Seuss weaves into his storytelling. The Lorax is a wonderful little creature who tries to protect the trees and the animals that live amongst them as the Once-ler starts chopping down the forest and polluting the environment so that he can make a quick profit. The Lorax warns the Once-ler that this will all lead to no good, however, the Once-ler does not listen, and soon there are no trees left. This short book ends with the message that “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” This is a great book to introduce children to the importance of looking after the environment or even just as a fun, light read for experienced climate activists!

Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
Silent Spring is often regarded as the starting point of the 1960s environmentalism movement. In this groundbreaking book, Rachel Carson outlines the dangers facing the American public as a result of synthetic pesticide use, in particular, DDT. DDT is now known to have disastrous ecological effects as it trickles up the food chain, accumulating in the fatty tissues of animals, including humans, resulting in genetic defects such as cancer. However, in the 1950s and 60s, DDT was hailed as a miracle pesticide that could clear entire islands of malaria-carrying insects. The release of Silent Spring brought public awareness to the devastation DDT was wrecking on plants, animals and humans alike and can be credited for the eventual banning of DDT in many countries. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in environmentalism in the late 20th century!

No. More. Plastic. – Martin Dorey
No. More. Plastic. is a short, easy read detailing what minor differences we can make to reduce our plastic consumption. This book is excellent for anyone who wants to reduce their plastic use but does not know where to start. Martin Dorey breaks the book into bite-sized chunks that deal with the problems of plastics, why recycling isn’t the solution and differences we can make in our homes, workplace and families. Although this may sound like every environmental self-help book ever written, what is refreshing about Dorey’s take on the subject is that he acknowledges the roles large corporations play in the plastic problem and admits that although one person may not be able to stop climate change, the actions we take in our everyday life can add up to something much bigger. Including sample emails to government members and startling statistics on major plastic polluters, Dorey helps guide the reader towards the beginning steps of environmental activism. This book is definitely recommended for anyone feeling overwhelmed at the beginning of their activist journey!

Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered – E.F. Schumacher
Do you have an interest in sustainable economics? If so, then you should definitely pick up this book! Small is Beautiful critically examines how economics works in a capitalist society and looks at the downfalls that come along with this. Schumacher speaks at length about Buddhist economics and what it would mean to be economically successful in a society that places value on the human costs of globalisation. Mainstream economics works on the assumption that “bigger is better”, but as environmentalists know, bigger can often be much worse! By placing value on nature and creating a measure of sustainability, Schumacher was the first to coin the term “natural capital”. If you want to learn more about how we can be more economically sustainable, this book is for you.

Kings of the Yukon: One Summer Paddling Across the Far North – Adam Weymouth
In Kings of the Yukon, Adam Weymouth goes on a journey along the 2,000 mile long Yukon River in Canada in an attempt to document the salmon migration. This book instantly draws the reader in with wonderfully descriptive text and a story that focuses on the lived experiences of those living alongside the river. Weymouth listens to indigenous voices and documents the struggles they are facing as a result of climate change, along with the impact it has had on salmon populations and river patterns. This is sharply contrasted with stories of giant corporations and their subsequent exploitation of the already declining natural resources. For anyone interested in the importance of lived experiences and indigenous knowledge, this book offers an emotional and gripping narrative of the history, science and people behind the King Salmon of the Yukon.

Rewilding: The Radical New Science of Ecological Recovery – Paul Jepson and Cain Blythe
Rewilding involves the restoration and protection of natural areas with the aim of allowing biological processes to establish themselves. Rewilding is a relatively new and often controversial topic in the world of conservation science, and this book brilliantly breaks down what rewilding is, the benefits it can have, and the various forms it can take. Jepson and Blythe have formatted the text in a really accessible and understandable layout without the overly academic jargon that is often seen in books such as this, making this an easy read for everyone regardless of scientific background. Jepson and Blythe do not assume that the reader is familiar with the topic, and they break down the conversation surrounding rewilding using examples and case studies from around the world. Definitely an excellent read for anyone who wants to look at alternative conservation methods!

Diary of a Young Naturalist – Dara McAnulty
At age 16, Dara McAnulty became the youngest person ever to win a major literary award when he was announced the winner of the 2020 Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing for his first book, Diary of a Young Naturalist. This book is truly a delight to read as Dara takes us through the changing seasons in his Northern Ireland home from his perspective as a young person with autism. Using extraordinarily vivid descriptions, the reader is fully immersed in awe of the natural world, and we cannot help but share the deep connection that Dara feels with his surrounding environment and the concern that he shows for nature in the face of a changing climate. However, the truly magical aspect of this book is that anyone, young or old, can read it. Younger readers may find a piece of themselves in the narrative, while older readers could find this book as an opportunity to regain some of the childlike wonder for nature that they may have lost. As Dara McAnulty himself said, “In sharing this journey my hope is that people of all generations will not only understand autism a little more but also appreciate a child’s eye view on our delicate and changing biosphere.”

Dune – Frank Herbert
One of the only fiction books on this list, Dune is a series that revolves around challenges in the face of a changing environment. It is unlikely that Herbert wrote the series with the intent to shine a light on the climate crisis, however, the plot throughout the books is continually driven by the changing ecology of the planet Arrakis. Originally a hot, arid planet covered almost entirely in desert, the exploitation of natural resources results in the retreat of the sandy dunes and increasing pressures on the local people, Fremen. The Fremen even have an Imperial Planetologist who imagines a planet full of lush greenery and abundant water, although he sometimes expresses concerns for what this would mean for the future of the planet’s wildlife. As well as ecological themes Dune is a story of family and friendships, along with epic battle scenes and mind-blowing technologies. A brilliant read for any sci-fi fan but particularly riveting for those interested in the environment.

No One is Too Small to Make a Difference – Greta Thunberg.
A collection of eleven speeches written and presented by Greta Thunberg, No one is too small to make a difference is a must-read for every environmental activist. Greta Thunberg is possibly the best known environmental activist and has undoubtedly impacted the lens through which we view activism. As one of the founders of the school climate strikes Fridays for Future, Thunberg acts as a role model for many young people who previously felt powerless in the fight for climate action. The speeches selected for this collection were delivered over 2018 and 2019 and were hugely inspiring for those who heard them. This book offers new environmental activists an opportunity to learn what kickstarted the most recent wave of activism and for more experienced activists to revisit what themes and motivations continue to propel environmental activism forwards.

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