6 Books Every Environmental Activist Should Read in 2021

Post by
Johann Hartmann
6 Books Every Environmental Activist Should Read in 2021

Reasons for environmental activists to read books are manifold. The first is that books carry knowledge, and knowledge leads to action. As Henry David Thoreau said,

A second reason for plunging into books is to develop your personal definition of sustainability. While many definitions exist, reading can help us walk through the highly complex labyrinth of sustainability to find out what kind of greener future inspires us to create change!

So, where to begin? For activists, certain books are indispensable to read because they are at the heart of today's environmental debate. They provide practical information for our global and local campaigns. Let us have a look at some of these works.

Silent Spring

Rachel Carson

The book cover for Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring." The cover is a close up of a green leaf and says, "The classic that launched the environmental movement."

A true classic! If you are officially launching your environmental literature library, this should be one of the first books you get. A marine biologist named Rachel Carson wrote this book to raise awareness about the impact of DDT, a chemical product used as a synthetic insecticide since the 1940s, on natural systems. When published, the book received a very controversial welcome. The author was personally vilified by the chemical industry lobby and spent the remainder of her life defending her conclusions. Carson passed away in 1964 from breast cancer but her legacy lives on through her words. Nowadays, this book is referred to as an igniter of the modern environmental movement.

Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update

Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows

Limit's to Growth: The 30-Year Update book cover. There is a world in the center of a dark background with two lines, one read and one yellow, going from left to right.

A system and its limits. If you are looking for insights on system dynamics, this is your stop. This book, a true goldmine, was originally commissioned by the Club of Rome and was written by international experts from MIT in 1972. Commonly referred to as the "Meadow's Report," the book describes 12 potential world development models and depicts their environmental outcomes from 1900 to 2100. As you may have guessed, the 30-year update of the book published in 2004 does not provide a very glamorous image of our global development. In this book you will find a plethora of insightful data to support your campaign efforts.

Energy and Equity

Ivan Illitch

The book cover for Ivan Illich's "Energy and Equity." There are black cars stacked on top of each other against a gray background.

Thoughts on the energy crisis. Written by an Austrian philosopher and Roman Catholic priest, "Energy and Equity" is one of a kind. Illich provides a stimulating read concerning our dependency on motorized transportations. His comparison between bicycles and cars in terms of productivity is definitely worth the read. Overall, it's highly recommended for philosophical insights about the occidental way of life and global energy crisis.

How Everything Can Collapse

Pablo Servigne

"How Everything Can Collapse" book cover. There are old, abandoned cars in the middle of a field.

The birth of 'Collapsology.' Is our thermo-industrial society on the brink of collapse? If you are an environmental activist, you have probably pondered over this question many times. Lucky for you, some answers can be located in this book. In short, Servigne covers numerous weaknesses of our modern way of life, such as globalization, the great acceleration, and the Anthropocene. He then explains why and how these factors could lead to a global societal collapse. While this book undoubtedly brings with it a share of anxiety, environmental activists will be ready to turn their fears into action for a healthier planet.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Jared Diamond

The book cover for "Collapse" by Jared Diamond. The background photo is a black and white drawing of the ancient Mayan civilization.

Collapses all over again. You should not skip this book if you are a history enthusiast and would like to dig deeper into previous societal collapses. Diamond’s bestseller provides an archeological, ecological, and biogeographic analysis of ancient civilizations' failures, such as the Viking settlements in Greenland and the Mayas. The book is instrumental in demonstrating that societal collapses did happen in the past and could therefore also take place in the potentially near future.

Prosperity Without Growth

Tim Jackson

The book cover for "Prosperity Without Growth." There is a spiral of yellow, orange, pink, and blue around the title of the book.

A different form of prosperity is possible. Economic growth, increased consumption, additional productivity — do you feel uneasy with this vocabulary? Are you convinced that infinite economic growth is impossible on a finite planet? This book is then made for you. Particularly noteworthy, Jackson analyzes the weaknesses of our current economic systems and mainstream definitions of prosperity. The author also proposes fascinating alternatives and tools to make the world a better place. A must-read for economists!

Remember to shop at a #LocalBookstore, or even better, lend these books from a library. Need a place to discuss how you're incorporating these ideas into your activism work? Start a remote bookclub with friends on WeAct 📚