Your climate crisis reading list: 15 essential reads



We — Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson — are climate experts who focus on solutions, leadership and building community.

We are a natural and a social scientist, a Northerner and a Southerner. We’re also both lifelong inter-disciplinarians in love with words and the cofounders of The All We Can Save Project, in support of women climate leaders.

Our collaboration has led us to read widely and deeply about the climate crisis that’s facing humanity.

Here are 15 of our favorite writings on climate — this eclectic list contains books, essays, a newsletter, a scientific paper, even legislation— and they’re all ones we wholeheartedly recommend:

1. All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis coedited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson

We had the honor of editing this collection of 41 essays, 17 poems, quotes and original illustrations — so naturally we love it! But you don’t have to take our word for it. As Rolling Stone said: “Taken together, the breadth of their voices forms a mosaic that honors the complexity of the climate crisis like few, if any, books on the topic have done yet. … The book is a feast of ideas and perspectives, setting a big table for the climate movement, declaring all are welcome.” All We Can Save nourished, educated and transformed us as we shaped its pages, and we can’t wait for it to do the same for you.

2. Ghost Fishing: An Eco-justice Poetry Anthology edited by Melissa Tuckey

We count ourselves among those who can’t make sense of the climate crisis without the aid of poets, who help us to see more clearly, feel our feelings, catch our breath, and know we’re not alone. This anthology is a magnificent quilt of poems that are made for this moment and all its intersections.

3. “We Don’t Have to Halt Climate Action to Fight Racism” by Mary Annaïse Heglar

“Climate People,” as she likes to call us, should be grateful that Mary Annaïse Heglar decided a few years back to pick up her pen once more as a writer. All of her essays are necessary reading, but this one is especially so, crafted from Mary’s perspective as a “Black Climate Person.” It’s a powerful articulation of the inextricability of a society that values Black lives and a livable planet for all.

4. Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change by Sherri Mitchell — Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset

Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset means “she who brings the light,” and Sherri Mitchell does exactly that in this incredible tapestry of a book, which begins with Penawahpskek Nation creation stories and concludes with guidance on what it means to live in a time of prophecy. It is rare that a book so generously shares wisdom, much less wisdom about how we got to where we are, what needs mending, and what a path forward that’s grounded in ancestral ways of knowing and being might look like.

5. Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown

How lucky are we to be contemporaries of adrienne maree brown? Very. This is a book that we come back to time and time again to ground and enliven our work. We love this line from her about oak trees: “Under the earth, always, they reach for each other, they grow such that their roots are intertwined and create a system of strength that is as resilient on a sunny day as it is in a hurricane.” That’s the kind of community we’re trying to nurture.

6. “Circumstances Affecting the Heat of the Sun’s Rays” by Eunice Newton Foote

Eunice Newton Foote rarely gets the credit she’s due — and she deserves a lot of credit. In fact, we like to think of her as the first climate feminist. In 1856, she connected the dots between carbon dioxide and planetary warming, but science and history forgot (dismissed?) her until recently. This is her original paper, which was published in The American Journal of Science and Arts. Foote was also a signatory to the women’s rights manifesto created at Seneca Falls in 1848, alongside visionaries like Frederick Douglass.

7. The Drawdown Review by Project Drawdown

Full disclosure: Katharine is The Drawdown Review’s editor-in-chief and principal writer. But Ayana fully endorses this recommendation — it’s a valuable resource as we charge ahead toward climate solutions. We all need to know what tools are in the toolbox, and The Drawdown Review is the latest compendium of climate solutions that already exist. This publication is beautifully designed, grounded in research, and you can access it for free.

8. The Green New Deal Resolution by the 116th US Congress

It seems that almost everyone has an opinion about the Green New Deal, but few people have read the actual piece of legislation: House Resolution 109: Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal, which was introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey. The big secret is that it’s only 14 pages! It makes a clear, compelling and concise case for what comprehensive climate policy should look like in the US. We’d love for everyone to read it so we can all have a more grounded discussion about what we might agree and disagree with and chart a course forward.

9. “Think This Pandemic Is Bad? We Have Another Crisis Coming” by Rhiana Gunn-Wright

Speaking of policy … this op-ed, penned by Rhiana Gunn-Wright, who is one of the policy leads for the Green New Deal, makes the connections between climate, justice, COVID-19 and our recession as clear as day. She lays out an ironclad case for the the need to address these issues together, and why. As she writes, “We need to design the stimulus not only to help the US economy recover but to also become more resilient to the climate crisis, the next multitrillion-dollar crisis headed our way.”

10. “How Can We Plan for a Future in California?” by Leah Stokes

In the midst of raging fires and continuing pandemic, UC Santa Barbara Professor Leah Stokes, who’s based in Santa Barbara, lays it plain in her piece: “I don’t want to live in a world where we have to decide which mask to wear for which disaster, but this is the world we are making. And we’ve only started to alter the climate. Imagine what it will be like when we’ve doubled or tripled the warming, as we are on track to do.” As she and others have been pointing out, journalists have been failing to make the critical connection: “What’s happening in California has a name: climate change.”

11. HEATED by Emily Atkin

This is the reading rec that keeps on giving, literally — it’s a daily newsletter that brings climate accountability journalism right to your inbox. It’s chock full of smarts, spunk, truth-telling and super timely writing that isn’t hemmed in by media overlords. If you’re pissed off about the climate crisis, Emily Atkin made HEATED just for you.

12. The July 20 2020 Issue of TIME Magazine

This entire issue, titled “One Last Chance”, is dedicated to coverage of climate, and it includes wise words from so many luminaries from politician Stacey Abrams to soil scientist Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, with a lead piece by Time’s climate journalist Justin Worland. Ayana also has a piece in this issue called “We Can’t Solve the Climate Crisis Unless Black Lives Matter.” To see all of this collected in one place — insights on topics from oceans to agriculture to politics to activism — was heartening. We hope there’s much more of this to come, from many magazines.

13. “Wakanda Doesn’t Have Suburbs” by Kendra Pierre Louis

A pop-culture connoisseur and expert storyteller, Kendra Pierre Louis takes up the topic of climate stories in her essay — the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good, she explains, are all too rare, and that’s a big problem because stories are powerful. Black Panther may be our best story of living thoughtfully and well on this planet, not least thanks to an absence of carbon-spewing suburbs. It’s going to take much better narratives, and many more of them, if humans are to, as she puts it, “repair our relationship with the Earth and re-envision our societies in ways that are not just in keeping with our ecosystems but also make our lives better.” !

14. “We Need Courage, Not Hope, to Face Climate Change” by Kate Marvel PhD

This piece by NASA climate scientist Kate Marvel is, as the kids say, a whole mood. Hope is not enough, hope is often passive, and that won’t get us where we need to go. Pretty much everyone who works on climate is constantly being asked what gives us hope — how presumptuous to assume we have it! But what we do have is courage. In spades. As Marvel writes in this poetic piece: “We need courage, not hope. Grief, after all, is the cost of being alive. We are all fated to live lives shot through with sadness, and are not worth less for it. Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending.”

15. Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis

Admittedly, this last recommendation isn’t something to read, but to watch and listen to. This playlist of TED Talks by women climate leaders (who were all contributors to our anthology All We Can Save — read about it above) will inspire you, deepen your understanding, connect the dots and help you find where you might fit into the heaps of climate work that needs doing. It includes poignant talks by Colette Pichon Battle and Christine Nieves Rodriguez, which are respectively about communities in Louisiana and Puerto Rico recovering from hurricanes and rebuilding resilience and which broke our hearts open. We were so moved we invited them to adapt their talks into essays for All We Can Save. Christine’s piece — “Community is Our Best Chance” — is the final essay in the book and the note we want to end on here. It’s not about what each of us can do as individuals to address the climate crisis; it’s about what we can do together. Building community around solutions is the most important thing.

Watch Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s TED Talk here: 


Watch Katharine Wilkinson’s TED Talk here: 



Learn more about the global Countdown initiative, explore the lineup of speakers, and watch the event live on October 10th.


Ayana Elizabeth Johnson PhD is a marine biologist, policy expert and Brooklyn native. She is founder of the nonprofit think tank Urban Ocean Lab, founder and CEO of the consultancy Ocean Collectiv and cocreator and cohost of the Spotify/Gimlet podcast How to Save a Planet. She coedited the anthology All We Can Save and cofounded The All We Can Save Project in support of women climate leaders. Her mission is to build community around climate solutions. Find her @ayanaeliza.

Katharine Wilkinson PhD is an author, strategist, teacher and one of 15 “women who will save the world,” according to Time magazine. Her writings on climate include The Drawdown Review, the New York Times bestseller Drawdown and Between God & Green. She is coeditor of All We Can Save and co founder of The All We Can Save Project, in support of women climate leaders. Wilkinson is a former Rhodes Scholar. Find her @DrKWilkinson.

This piece was adapted for TED-Ed from this Ideas article.