Here are my top ten green books. Some of the choices may seem rather tenuous and they feature in no particular order.
1. Amartya Sen – The Idea of Justice
Sen proposes a fundamental shift in the focus of economics, from the means or material wealth of individuals, to the actual opportunities they possess in order to do things they value. Factors such as age, gender, disability, one’s physical environment and social climate can have an impact on the quality of life or capabilities of individuals and entire communities. The idea that GDP can act as the sole marker of success is finally laid bare.
2. Nassim Nicholas Taleb – The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
For Taleb, Black Swan Events are unforeseeable, they have major, wide reaching repercussions, and after having been recorded, many people attempt to rationalise the event with hindsight. It is the randomness of events, and our inability to predict outcome that animates Taleb the most. Ultimately, he advocates a society that is able to weather such events.
3. James Scott – Seeing Like a State
The ‘high-modernist’ ideology and resulting policies of the previous century were top-down and harmed many of the people they were supposed to help. Scott argues that in order for schemes to improve the human condition to flourish, they must consider local conditions and specialist knowledge, or metis.
4. Rachel Botsman – What’s Mine Is Yours
Botsman has tapped into the times with this book. She describes an explosion in sharing, swapping, trading and renting due to the internet and peer-to-peer technologies. This new way of consuming, according to Botsman, is very similar to how we did things in the days before ultra-consumerism. At last, ‘we’re becoming smart and social again’. Once you’ve finished reading this book, register with the CC website and ‘recycle’ it for others to enjoy.
5. Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged
The Randian hero, personified by the character John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, is I suspect the antithesis of what most environmentalists would aspire to. But it’s important to know your enemy. And better the devil you know etc. Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism completely rejects the idea of altruistic behaviour – ‘rational self-interest’ is king. Frightening stuff.
6. Ryszard Kapuściński – The Soccer War
Kapuscinski takes us to the heart of countless revolutions, coups, civil wars and hotspots across the emerging ‘Third World’ of the 1960s. Many of these conflicts are the result of disputes over who controls what natural resources. Kapuscinski writes a ‘new kind of literature’ – one ‘by foot’. He dismisses the traditional ‘fabricated narrator describing a fabricated reality’ and favours an explicitly personal style. For Kapuscinski, writing is only authentic if it is being lived. I wish there was more of this style of writing from contemporary environmental correspondents.
7. Cormac McCarthy – The Road
The Road affirms belief in the tender pricelessness of the here and now. In creating an exquisite nightmare, it does not add to the cruelty and ugliness of our times; it warns us now how much we have to lose.
8. David MacKay – Sustainable Energy (Without the Hot Air)
Where are we going to get our energy from in the near future? This book probes this question with plenty of numbers and data. An entertaining and informative primer.
9. Jonathon Porritt – Capitalism as if the World Matters
Porritt holds an unashamedly reformist position. If capitalism is still the only economic game in town, then we need to make it work. Our fixation with growth is unhealthy and Porritt offers some compelling solutions to the current free-market approach.
10. Stewart Brand – Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto
Some of the holy cows of environmentalism are demolished in this book. Brand is refreshingly solutions-orientated and therefore offers prescriptions as well as diagnosis to issues. A welcome manifesto that rebukes the glut of pessimistic material that has prevailed in recent years.