The best new books on climate change

Not so long ago, anyone in a bookstore looking for something about climate change would go to the science shelves. Things have changed. As a new series of titles shows, climate writers can now be found in all sorts of sections, from economics to sports, philosophy and children’s books.

The hunger for quick, effective political solutions to the climate threat is deep. Fund Manager Eric Lonergan and Sustainability Advisor Corinne Sawers go to great lengths to satisfy this Supercharge Me: Net Zero faster (Agenda Publishing £ 12.99 / $ 16.95). Their short, readable book is a polite reprimand to those economists who have dominated climate policy thinking, especially those who focus on the idea that the best way to correct a negative externality such as carbon pollution is to tax it.

The problem is that carbon taxes are easy to demonize and slow to yield results. Also, carbon prices alone may not change behavior quickly when there are no obvious alternatives to e.g. gasoline-powered cars or beef burgers.

The answer, Lonergan and Sawers say, is to relentlessly prioritize green electrification, which can cut up to 75 percent of emissions, and use carbon taxes to complement what they call EPICs: extreme, positive incentives for change. It is initiatives that “supercharge” behavioral changes, such as fixed-price energy contracts in Germany, that have driven a global solar energy boom. Weak incentives do not suffice: “If a plant-based burger is only priced 3 percent lower than a regular burger, no one will change behavior, but if it’s 30 percent cheaper, who would not try it?”

There is a lot that is epic about motor racing. The speed. The danger. The carbon-heavy fumes. But do not write off its contribution to solving the climate problem, says science author Kit Chapman in Racing Green: How motorsport science can save the world (Bloomsbury £ 20 / $ 21). Motorsport breakthroughs have already spurred progress in areas such as medicine, he reports. Now they are helping to reduce emissions with greener materials, technologies – and car racing like Formula E.

The electric race car championship, which began in 2014, has not only improved the once-strange image of battery-powered vehicles. It has also driven engineering advances in ordinary passenger cars, such as high-voltage components, which car manufacturers hesitated to try until Formula E showed they were safe, he writes.

Chapman’s obvious love for motorsport can turn into exaggeration. He says Formula E “saw electric cars go from an eccentric folly to the undisputed future of the automotive industry”. Elon Musk can quarrel with that. The success of his Tesla electric car company is widely credited for supporting conventional automakers to accelerate their battery-powered car rollout. Still, Chapman writes passionately about the benefits motor racing has brought to a climate problem that requires all hands on the wheel.

Researchers have spent years explaining the need to reduce emissions quickly. In his uncompromising book The Pivotal Generation: Why we have a moral responsibility to slow down climate change right now (Princeton University Press £ 22 / $ 27.95) Oxford professor and philosopher Henry Shue argues for such an action.

The generation of the title is us – the unfortunate people who live today and who must solve a problem they have not quite caused to help save people they will never meet from disasters they can hardly imagine sig. This raises dilemmas unlike other philosophers have faced, Shue writes.

If humans continue to change the climate, there is a risk of passing tipping points that trigger irreversible changes, such as the collapse of massive ice caps. It would mean that future people will face more difficult challenges if nothing is done now. This, Shue argues, requires that the people of today act, especially those in developed countries, who reaped most of the benefits of the industrial revolution and allowed climate damage to spread globally.

The road ahead is daunting, but Shue says it could also be “an exciting privilege” to be part of a generation with the chance to achieve a transition from dirty to clean energy once in civilization. “Members of future generations will be happy that we got up for the occasion,” he writes, “and perhaps remember us proudly.”

Meanwhile, the youngest members of the pivotal generation can start early with The rage that saved the world (North Atlantic Books £ 15.99 / $ 19.95), a climate picture book for children ages 5 to 9.

Climate researcher Michael E Mann and illustrator Megan Herbert have created a new edition of their book, starring Sophia, a girl whose life is interrupted when a polar bear and other climate refugees knock on the door. She decides that something needs to be done, and goes to City Hall to tell officials, “I need an agreement regarding this fauna, which has noticed that our planet is becoming a sauna.” Alas, her complaints are dismissed. Undaunted, Sophia converts her rage into a fit of rage – and launches a climate campaign that no one can ignore.

Herbert and Mann wrote the first crowdfunded edition of their book before Greta Thunberg began sitting outside the Swedish parliament in 2018 to demand stronger climate action. The global youth climate movement that Thunberg helped create makes their title even more relevant today.

Join our online book group on Facebook at FT Bogcafé

Leave a Comment