books climate change

Review: The Climate Book, by Greta Thunberg

The last book with Greta Thunberg’s name on it was a slim volume of speeches that you could read in an hour. She’s a good writer and I’ve been looking forward to something more substantial. Well, this would be it: a 446 page tome with the boldly definitive title The Climate Book.

Thunberg’s message has always been to listen to the science, and this is something she’s put into practice here. “I have decided to use my platform to create a book based on the current best available science – a book that covers the climate, ecological and sustainability crisis holistically,” Thunberg writes. “My hope is that this book might be some kind of go-to source for understanding these different, closely interconnected crises.”

Thunberg plays an editorial role here and directs our attention to scientists, activists, economists and others across a series of short chapters in a straightforward structure:

  • How climate works
  • How our planet is changing
  • How it affects us
  • What we’ve done about it
  • What we must do now

There are 100 or so essays across those five parts, and it’s a proper who’s who of the climate world. Science comes from Johann Rockstromm on tipping points, Zeke Hausfather on methane emissions, Friederike Otto on weather. Michael Mann. Katherine Hayhoe. You want an economics perspective? Here’s Nicholas Stern, Thomas Picketty or Kate Raworth. Some cultural reflection? How about Margaret Atwood and Amitav Ghosh? There are activist takes from Naomi Klein, Erica Chenoweth, George Monbiot. And as always, Thunberg has eye on justice and the global impacts of climate change, so Hindou Oumarou Imbrahim writes from the Sahel, Sunita Narain from India, Sonia Guajajara from the Amazon, and Elin Anna Labba reports from Sweden’s own Sami indigenous people.

Among the 100+ contributors, Thunberg’s own voice provides a through-line of commentary. Her essays introduce sections and link things up, with all of her usual urgency, moral clarity, and take-no-prisoners dismissal of anyone who thinks the world is doing enough.

The book is a lot, it’s fair to say. It’s been on my shelf and on the coffee table since December. It’s partly taken a while to read because it’s too hefty to take it with me and read on the go. This is a hardback book the size of a dictionary or a textbook, which is fair enough for what it’s trying to do.

It’s also a slow read because there’s just so much information. Global experts in their subject get three or four pages to distill a life’s work, and then you turn the page and it’s someone else’s turn. Reading the book in one go is probably not going to get the best out of it. But if you were to read two or three essays a day for two months, you’d have a really solid understanding of where we are and how it all works. You’d understand the science, the consequences of inaction, the impacts and the injustices, and what we might be able to do about it all.

If you want one climate book to summarise them all, this is it. Let’s get it in every school library in the land.


  1. A helpful overview – thank you – and a relief that it’s not best to read it all in one go. I had to reread and think about the carbon cycle for some weeks.
    I’ve had it since December and only read a couple of essays. Is it best read in order or will it make sense dipping in and out of essays?

  2. Best read in order because the book starts with the basic science then the climate effects, then what is being done or not being done and finally the denialism optimism and pessimism and the future challenges

  3. ‘Thunberg’s message has always been to listen to the science’ and yet, when David Bellamy ‘dismissed global warming as “poppycock” and said there is “no actual proof” human activity was causing a rise in temperatures’ he was deplatformed and made to disappear overnight, never to be heard from again till his recent death. That certainly brought everybody into line. Science is not set in stone. It evolves. The moment you come up with a theory, you question it.

    1. Not sure what ‘made to disappear’ refers to here. At the point he started agitating against climate science, he was in his 80s and hadn’t done a TV programme for years. No disrespect to a man whose programmes I enjoyed when I was a child, but he was a botanist and not a climate scientist – and therefore not wholly qualified to determine whether or not it is poppycock.

      1. David Bellamy was 71 when he said ‘there is “no actual proof” human activity was causing a rise in temperatures.’ Not in his eighties.

        From that moment, he ‘really wasn’t welcome at the BBC. They froze me out, because I don’t believe in global warming. My career dried up. I was thrown out of my own conservation groups (that he founded) and I got spat at in London.’ That’s what I call disappearing.

        ‘And the worst thing that ever happened — I got a letter that said, “David Bellamy is a paedophile because he doesn’t believe in global warming and is killing our children.”

        “And it’s just nonsense. (He said in a 2013 interview) For the last 16 years, temperatures have been going down and the carbon dioxide has been going up and the crops have got greener and grow quicker. We’ve done plenty to smash up the planet, but there’s been no global warming caused by man.’

        David Bellamy said: “We have got to get this thing argued out in public properly and not just take one opinion” but we prefer wrecking careers to debating issues. We’ve lost the art. Imagine anyone having the nerve to put their careers on the line after that?

        1. Yes, some horrendous treatment and there’s never any excuse for abuse. But that’s different from being given the platform of a BBC programme. If he was saying in 2013 that temperatures had been falling for 16 years, then I’m not surprised he wasn’t really trusted as a scientist. That’s demonstrably false.

          I’m all for alternative views and arguing it out. As I say, I wouldn’t necessarily look to a botanist for that anyway, so it’s kind of a moot point.

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