2023 was the hottest year on global record — and that’s not the only reason this year made climate history.
For instance, countries at the Cop28 climate summit struck a historic deal to fight the climate crisis — though small island nations say they’ve been left behind. The world temporarily surpassed the 2C warming line, going beyond the upper warming limit of the global Paris Agreement.
As we hit these milestones, we have also learned that a warming planet does not affect us equally. The climate crisis has always and will continue to disproportionately affect people who are already facing the consequences of racial, socioeconomic and geopolitical injustices.
Below are some of the best climate books published December 2022 – December 2023, as well as the books to look out for in the new year.
The most important thread that unites these books is their analysis of how the climate crisis interacts with the existing inequities and injustices of our world — and how we can combat them all in tandem.
The Independent’s five best climate books of 2023 (and an honourable mention)
The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet by Jeff Goodell (July 2023)
Jeff Goodell’s seventh book provides a harrowing but sorely needed look at how exactly rising temperatures impact life on Earth.
Mr Goodell tells us how heat stroke melts your insides, killing you from the inside out; why American air-conditioning has created a divide “between the cool and the damned”; the story of a merciful mother polar bear despite hardship “endured from sharing a planet with another animal so hell-bent on melting her world.”
In each chapter of his book — published in July 2023, which we later discovered was the hottest month on global record — Mr Goodell highlights a truth essential to our approach to the climate crisis: “In a world of heat-driven chaos, heat exposes deep fissures of inequity and injustice.”
Our Fragile Moment: How Lessons from the Earth’s Past Can Help Us Survive the Climate Crisis by Michael Mann (September 2023)
For history buffs, aspiring paleoclimatologists or anyone interested in our planet’s past, Michael Mann’s book will make a perfect addition to their bookshelf.
Mr Mann tells his readers he wants to “invert” the discussion of the climate crisis — and he doesn’t disappoint. Instead of just examining the climate crisis as it is now, Mr Mann guides the reader through a history of the global climate and how climate change across the millennia has impacted societies of the past.
Through epic chapters that span tens of thousands of years of ancient history, Mr Mann concludes our moment is, in fact, quite fragile — and even if nothing exacerbates climate change further and we continue with business as usual, we still may be in more trouble than we realize.
“But at that level of warming, we can expect a lot of suffering, species extinction, loss of life, destabilization of societal infrastructure, chaos, and conflict,” he writes.
Mr Mann also sends a dire directive to his readers: cynicism and fear are not the answer, and we must channel those feelings into a “righteous anger” that can help us fight for solutions.
Ignition: Lighting Fires in a Burning World by M.R. O’Connor (October 2023)
The last several years have wrought some of the most devastating wildfires on record — and M.R. O’Connor has set out to help us understand the ecology of fire in the wake of this destruction.
Ms O’Connor, through expert reporting and lyrical prose, focuses on the practice of controlled burning, a tool used by Indigenous communities for millennia to restore the health of forests and protect them from out-of-control wildfires. She teaches us about the “good fire,” its proponents, and its deep importance for our future.
Ms O’Connor understands the contours of fire, how it lives and dies, and she describes it to us in well-researched, beautifully written detail. This book is essential for just about anyone who can be impacted by an improved understanding of fire ecology (that is to say, it is essential for all of us).
“I had a funny feeling, like the fire and I were friends and we might just spend the day together, hanging out,” she writes of one encounter with the flames.
Fighting to Breathe: Race, Toxicity and the Rise of Youth Activism in Baltimore by Nicole Fabricant (December 2022)
Nicole Fabricant’s stunning dive into the Southern Baltimore Peninsula — where industrial toxic emissions are some of the highest in the country — carries a global message about climate crisis activism through its regional story.
“I want [students] to see what can be possible when young people come together to study the problems of their neighborhood…then utilize that data to build movements for systemic change, the kinds of change that will liberate poor Brown and Black folks from historically entrenched racism, classism, and environmental harm,” she writes.
Central to the story is the Free Your Voice student group in Baltimore, who fought to have a say in the development projects that impact their community. Ms Fabricant weaves a narrative that shows us how we can build an agenda that combines racial and environmental justice, as well as how youth of color can and must be at the center of that fight.
“Let us follow their leads,” she writes.
The Earthshot Prize: A Handbook for Dreamers and Thinkers by Jonnie Hughes and Colin Butfield (October 2023)
This book, featuring a foreword by Prince William, will make the perfect gift for the young environmentalists in your life.
Jonnie Hughes and Colin Butfield take their readers on a journey across the world and introduce them to notable climate activists from history and today in this illustrated book. As Ms Fabricant taught us, the next generation is the key to combatting the climate crisis — and what better way to equip them for one of the biggest problems facing our world than to write literature that will empower them?
Reconsidering Reparations by Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò (An Honourable Mention from January 2022)
This list would be incomplete without Mr Táíwò’s second book, even if it was published nearly two years ago.
While primarily a work of philosophy, he presents an undeniable link between the climate crisis and racial injustice. It’s an argument of enduring importance that it is clearer than ever that climate injustice is inextricably linked with racial, socioeconomic, and geopolitical injustices.
“The transformations we succeed or fail to make in the face of the climate crisis will be decisive for the project of racial justice, and vice versa,” Mr Táíwò writes.
Even if you don’t read this entire book — though we highly recommend you do — the chapter “What’s Next: Why Reparations Require Climate Justice” contains the meat of his climate crisis argument. He presents clear “tactics” and “targets,” outlining both specific steps and larger philosophies that will help move us towards climate justice and racial justice in tandem.
As he wraps up his argument, Mr Táíwò says the culmination of these goals are “no less than the reordering of the globe.”
Acknowledging that readers may think such a feat is impossible, Mr Táíwò presents a stunning answer to this hesitation: “The colonizers and conquerors of the world, from the US southern planter aristocracy to the Third Reich, have never been confused about the scale of their ambitions for injustice. It’s time they met their match.”
Books to watch for in 2024
At Every Depth: Our Growing Knowledge of the Changing Oceans by Eric Simons and Tessa Hill (Expected January 2024)
In their book, acience journalist Eric Simons and oceanographer Tessa Hill profile efforts across the world to understand and protect marine environments, according to their publisher.
Following a year when the world set records for the highest monthly sea surface temperature anomaly, this title is one to keep an eye on after the holiday season.
What If We Get It Right?: Visions of Climate Futures by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson (Expected July 2024)
In her upcoming title, Ayana Elizabeth Johnson will explore solutions to the climate crisis with “love for the future,” a summary from Penguin Random House reads. Johnson’s book promises to combine poetry, art and data to answer a question that inspires hope and optimism for our future: what if we get it right?
Before It’s Gone: Stories from the Front Lines of Climate Change in Small Town America by Jonathan Vigliotti (Expected April 2024)
CBS correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti travelled across the nation for this book, publisher Simon and Schuster writes, to tell the story of how the climate crisis is already impacting rural America. If you’re a fan of local stories that can have global meaning — much like Ms Fabricant’s work — this sounds like a title to keep an eye out for this spring.
Lessons from the Climate Anxiety Counseling Booth: How To Live with Care and Purpose in an Endangered World by Kate Schapira (Expected 2024)
For nearly ten years, Kate Schapira has helped hundreds of people at her Climate Anxiety Counseling Booth — and this book tells the tales of those conversations, according to publisher Hachette Books. Ms Schapira work says it meets readers “where they are,” offering strategies that center around community support and emotional honesty to cope with a global crisis that impacts us all.
Pre-order the book here.