Green Initiatives Guide to Top Environmental Books One Must Read

Published on by Green Initiatives

Don’t underestimate the power of reading. Mario Quintana, a Brazilian writer, once said:

In this perspective, let’s use the power of books to address one of our most urgent issues: the environment.

Global warming, environmental pollution, resource depletion, wildlife extinction… You might ask yourself why you should care about these matters. They seem so far away. They don’t seem to impact you. Why would you care for one rhino more or less?

Our planet’s ecological conditions have a universal impact, animals are sentient beings just like us - with feelings and intelligence, what is the role of charities in our modern societies, diet and nutrition. By changing our habits, we can find a solution to a better future.

Together with community group, Books in Shanghai, we have listed out books that talk about various aspects of the social and environmental dilemmas that we find ourselves amidst.

Do pick one and give it a try. It will change you, and in turn you might change the world.


Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by Ernst F. Schumacher

While the current economic model celebrates mass production, profitability, cheap labor and goods, Schumacher advocates that this model is far from sustainable. For one, it does not consider the fact that environmental resources are limited. Furthermore, the dehumanizing working conditions where man is merely an anonymous extension of the machine, leads to depression, anxiety and stress. The value of goods do not reflect their actual cost in terms of environmental degradation, social inequality or working conditions. Despite being written in the 70s, this book is more relevant than ever now that we face a rise in work-related depression and environmental scarcity. This book is important because it reminds us that as long as we don’t change our economic model, we won’t be able to deal with our environmental challenges.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

The book shows us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has done before. Kolbert gives the history of species that have already been extinct, and shows us in a raw way the impacts of today’s human actions. In one case, she describes the extinction of a bat-type, caused by a fungus accidentally imported to the US. In another case, she describes the fertilization of one of the last female rhinos in the world with a male rhino that lives ten thousand miles away. It has become more important than ever to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human, and on what kind of planet we’d like to live. This book is the spark to those questions.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

We tend to think of mankind as the unique and inevitable masters of this Universe. In reality, we were not the only human species that existed on Earth, and most of our progress happened only in the recent past. In “Sapiens”, Yuval Noah Harari gives a detailed account of human history, presenting the facts and myths of how mankind has dominated the planet, the driving forces shaping our lives and how we can think about our impact on Earth and our collective future.

The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming by Masanobu Fukuoka

Trained as a scientist, Fukuoka rejected both modern agribusiness and centuries of agricultural practice, deciding instead that the best forms of cultivation mirror nature's own laws. Over the next three decades, he perfected his so-called "do-nothing" technique: commonsense, sustainable practices that all but eliminate the use of pesticides, fertilizer, tillage, and, perhaps, most significantly, wasteful effort. Masanobu Fukuoka's manifesto about farming, eating, and the limits of human knowledge presents a radical challenge to the global systems we rely on for our food. At the same time, it is a spiritual memoir of a man whose innovative system of cultivating the earth reflects a deep faith in the wholeness and balance of the natural world.

Beyond words: What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina

The author gives a balance of personal accounts and scientific interpretations of the lives of 3 wildlife species: elephants, wolves and whales. By following the daily lives of these animals, the reader gets confronted with their unique personalities. We read anecdotes of how they play with their children, how they show care and compassion not just for their own species but also for humans. Being confronted with the similarity in human and nonhuman consciousness, self-awareness, and empathy calls us to re-evaluate how we interact with animals. This is a book that will move you in an emotional way, all the while respecting the animals’ umwelt.


Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Written in the 60s, this book is credited as being the trigger to ecological awareness in the US and Europe. With large scale pesticides used by US corporations for their agriculture, Carson denounced how communities and wildlife surrounding these farms were suffering in terms of health. More than 50 years later, Carson’s warnings around chemicals are still relevant, either through policies that have not yet changed or through the constant build-up of chemicals in the soils. It is an important reminder of the destructive power of humanity on nature, and a reminder of the beauty of nature.

Six Degrees by Mark Lynas

In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a landmark report projecting average global surface temperatures to rise between 1.4 degrees and 5.8 degrees Celsius (roughly 2 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of this century. Author, Mark Lynas outlines degree by degree what to expect from a warming world. At 1 degree Celsius, most coral reefs and many mountain glaciers will be lost. A 3-degree rise would spell the collapse of the Amazon rainforest, disappearance of Greenland's ice sheet, and the creation of deserts across the Midwestern United States and southern Africa. A 6-degree increase would eliminate most life on Earth, including much of humanity. Based on authoritative scientific articles, the latest computer models, and information about past warm events in Earth history, Six Degrees promises to be an eye-opening warning that humanity will ignore at its peril.

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben

Drawing on new ground breaking discoveries, Wohlleben presents the science behind the secret and previously unknown life of trees and their communication abilities. Similar to humans they operate in groups supporting their children as they grow, sharing nutrients with the sick or struggling, and creating an ecosystem that mitigates the impact of extremes of heat and cold for the whole group. As a result of such interactions, trees in a family or community are protected and can live to be very old. In contrast, solitary trees, like street kids, have a tough time and in most cases die much earlier than those in a group. He describes how these discoveries have informed his own practices in the forest around him.

Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall

“Most of us recognize that climate change is real yet we do nothing to stop it. What is the psychological mechanism that allows us to know something is true but act as if it is not?”

Marshall tries to answer this question in his book by talking to Nobel Prize-winning psychologists, Texas Tea party activists, and scientists who are both strong activists as well as denouncers of global warming. Besides showing blind spots in our behaviors, he explains why environmentalists have been unable to reach the other side of the spectrum, and explains how we can repack the message in a more effective way. By understanding both parties, Marshall gives us the tools to find common ground, which in turn will help us to solve our global issues together.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

This book describes Frankl’s life in Nazi’s concentration camps and the lessons he learned out of this experience. He developed his theory of logotherapy, arguing that striving for meaning, not pleasure or power, is what keeps us alive. This book is about overcoming despair and keeping our belief in humanity, two lessons that we urgently need in order to work together to overcome our environmental issues.

Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming by Paul Hawken

This book documents the different environmental movements all over the world. Coming in different formats and sizes, from grassroots organizations to NGOs with thousands of people in them, this is one of the largest invisible movements on the planet. The book explores the creative ideas and innovative strategies generated by this movement. If you have a negative outlook on the future of our planet, then this one is a must read. It will restore your hope in humanity’s creative force and its power to work together as a unit.

The Abundance of Less: Lessons in Simple Living from Rural Japan by Andy Couturier

The book documents the life and learnings of 10 individuals in Japan who chose to leave the cities to live in the countryside. They choose a life more in sync with nature and self-sustainability, growing their own food, engaging in manual work without machines, writing their own books, attempting to disconnect from the economic system. An underlying theme of the book is time: how we as modern societies are fighting for time. Our economic systems are so driven by consumption and economic growth that we forget about the internal and spiritual growth of humanity. This book reminds us that when you’re connected with yourself and nature, you realize you don’t need too much to live a good life.

“The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell & Thomas M. Campbell II

Based on a study done in China in the 80s and 90s, the authors show that a plant-based diet is much healthier than animal-based diet. Besides the environmental benefits, it also has many personal benefits: you digest your food faster, you live longer, you are less prone to diseases, etc. The topics discussed in the book are basic and important to know, especially because we do not receive such knowledge in our schooling systems on how to eat and live healthy.

No Impact Man by Colin Beavan

The book narrates the journey of the author and his family in New York City, trying to lead a self-sustainable, zero-carbon emission life for one year. He defines the different phases in order to reach his goal, and explains the difficulties and transitions he underwent with his family. He shows us that this change in lifestyle is not only about environmental impact, but also about internal growth. Beavan shows us that it is absolutely possible to live more sustainably in a city, and that you also become a better person in the process.

Uncharitable by Dan Pallotta 

Where other books on the nonprofit sector suggest ways to optimize performance inside the existing paradigm, Uncharitable suggests that the paradigm itself is the problem and calls into question our fundamental canons about charity. Author Dan Pallotta argues that society's nonprofit ethic acts as a strict regulatory mechanism on the natural economic law. It creates an economic apartheid that denies the nonprofit sector critical tools and permissions that the for-profit sector is allowed to use without restraint. These double standards place the nonprofit sector at extreme disadvantage on every level. While the for-profit sector is permitted to use all the tools of capitalism to advance the sale of consumer goods, the nonprofit sector is prohibited from using any of them to fight hunger or disease.

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

Forget everything you think you know about global warming. The really inconvenient truth is that it’s not about carbon—it’s about capitalism. The convenient truth is that we can seize this existential crisis to transform our failed economic system and build something radically better.
In her most provocative book yet, Naomi Klein, author of the global bestsellers The Shock Doctrine and No Logo, tackles the most profound threat humanity has ever faced: the war our economic model is waging against life on earth.

This was a collaborative article between BOOKS IN SHANGHAI (BIS) and Green Initiatives

BOOKS IN SHANGHAI is a community project to celebrate the love for books, words, and Shanghai. BIS aims to collect information and create events that are useful to the bookish community. They also collect unwated books and give them a new home, proceeds of which they then donate to charity.

Visit their website or follow them on wechat (QR code below) to find out where to buy foreign books, on bookish locations in Shanghai, on sharings and the organization of bookish events. They will try to connect readers with other readers, and make of Shanghai a bookish place.