For a year from 2007 to 2008, a group of British economists and environmentalists (including the Green MP Caroline Lucas, Larry Elliott of the Guardian and Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation) were pulled together by our convenor, Colin Hines. We met on a regular basis in my London flat and set out to draft a plan for the transformation of the global economy away from its addiction to fossil fuels. We called that plan the Green New Deal (GND) to echo the transformational financial and environmental policies of the 1933-45 Roosevelt administration in the US. It was based on the understanding that the economy and the ecosystem are tightly integrated – and that to protect the ecosystem we need to radically transform today’s rapacious capitalism.
By the time our report was published in 2008, Lehman Brothers had collapsed, and the financial crisis eclipsed our call for the Green New Deal. But in 2018 a group of US Justice Democrats visited Britain and held meetings with various groups aligned with Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign, including those of us who were members of the GND group. On their return to the US they encouraged Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to adopt the GND as the basis of her congressional campaign to challenge a powerful, sitting Wall Street Democrat in New York. Meanwhile, Labour for a Green New Deal was founded in the UK, and encouraged Corbyn to put bold climate policy at the heart of the party’s programme.
In 2019, Verso published The Case for the Green New Deal, a book in which I set out the economic policies needed if progressive forces are to bring about this bold transformation of the capitalist system. While there is a growing consensus around the urgency for the GND, there is still much to do to counter the propaganda of those fuelling the fires of global warming – the fossil fuel lobby and their financiers on Wall Street and in the City of London. That’s why books are so important. The following are some of the best.
1. Steady State Economics by Herman E Daly (1977)
Published more than 40 years ago, this book arrived long before the current conversation around the climate crisis. But Daly made arguments that are vital for understanding our current predicament. He drew a distinction between renewable and non-renewable resources, and made a case for sustainable, decentralised ways of organising society.
2. The Corruption of Capitalism by Guy Standing (2017)
Standing argues that two groups are central to contemporary capitalism. On the one hand, there are the growing ranks of the “precariat”, made up of workers on insecure contracts. And then on the other, there’s the rentier class, who make their money from collecting rent on assets that they control. It’s the business elite who have created and profited from the climate crisis, and this book is a good guide to understanding how the rentier class get rich at the expense of others.
3. The Limits to Growth (1972)
An influential and contentious study, this report for the Club of Rome tried to model different scenarios to see how a sustainable form of living could be achieved by humanity. They took five different aspects into account: world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production and resource depletion. There have been many criticisms of the book, but it remains valuable for thinking about how we can adapt the extractive, destructive system that we still live with.
4. The Money Makers by Eric Rauchway (2015)
Roosevelt’s New Deal was an inspiration for the expansive, state-led investment which I’ve argued for in my work, and Rauchway’s book is an excellent account of how FDR achieved his impressive revival of the US economy. It might be about economics but he makes it interesting for people who aren’t economists. He tells an exciting story about how Roosevelt proved his detractors wrong, and how the British economist John Maynard Keynes provided the ideas that were central to his transformative programme.
5. Localization: A Global Manifesto by Colin Hines (2000)
Tony Blair famously said that “you might as well debate whether autumn should follow summer” rather than try to resist globalisation. But with the growing movement around climate, there is a recognition that globalisation doesn’t benefit ordinary people. Hines’s book shows how you can create local, self-sufficient communities, and argues against the cut-and-paste globalised world that has become ever more pervasive since his book was published in 2000. It doesn’t look brilliant to recommend books by one’s colleagues, but this really is the best book about a really important subject.
6. Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption by Simon Pirani (2018)
Pirani considers the fact that, of all the fossil fuel that we have consumed, more than half has been burned in the past 50 years. When it comes to explaining how this has happened, he dismisses the arguments resting on population growth or consumerism. Instead, he says that it was driven by social and economic systems. An essential tool for understanding fossil fuel consumption in terms of the vested interests who have benefited from it.
7. Losing Earth: The Decade We Could Have Stopped Climate Change by Nathaniel Rich (2019)
It can be shocking to see how long the business and political elite have known about the reality of the climate crisis. Rich tells this shameful story well, showing how the powers that be could have taken action decades ago if they wanted to – but chose not to. A helpful reminder of how essential grassroots pressure is to push governments to take action.
8. A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal (2019)
This is a persuasive and accessible guide to how a GND could be made a reality. While it might be aimed primarily at the US, there are plenty of lessons for the UK on how we can wind down the fossil industry, build an economy based on high quality jobs in green industries, and provide high quality public transport that’s free to use.
9. This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (2014)
In one of the most influential books to be published about the climate crisis, Klein shows that there’s simply no way that the climate crisis can be fixed through deregulated capitalism. And she rightly positions the global south and indigenous communities as the frontline in the battle over climate, calling for the global internationalist solidarity that we must embrace if we’re going to succeed.
10. Planet on Fire by Mathew Lawrence and Laurie Layborne-Langton
This book helps to unpick how the climate crisis relates to the other pressing challenges that we currently face. Framing the situation in terms of the global inequality that fuels extractive global capitalism, and its roots in colonialism, Lawrence and Layborne-Langton put this power imbalance at the heart of their analysis. It enables them to offer some worthwhile answers for how we might solve our interconnected crises.