5 New Climate Books to Empower Teens and Help Turn Anxiety into Action

Climate change is happening—and it's scary. But these nonfiction reads prove people all over can come together for a brighter future.
A woman wearing a face mask, black shirt, and a red backpack holds up a cardboard sign that says "Our Planet, Our Future" and the word "planet" is a painting of the Earth.
More than 2,000 students and ​activists participated in the ​Global Climate Strike in New Y​ork City in September 2021​. The march, from City Hall to​ Battery Park, was organized by​ Fridays for Future, a youth-l​ed climate activist group, and​ coincided with Climate Week N​YC. Photo: Erica Lansner/Redux

Bad news about the environment is everywhere—either in headlines, or unfolding in real-time disasters like storms, floods, and fires. It’s nearly impossible to avoid the reality that climate change is shifting the world around us.

That means more and more people, especially young people, are at risk of climate anxiety, depression, and other related mental health issues. Stress, sadness, anger, and grief are a normal part of encountering serious problems. But for the good of our ecosystems and ourselves, it’s important to confront those feelings and learn to cope. Avoiding and suppressing might lead to inaction, and ultimately worsen the state of the planet and our mental health in the long run.

So, what’s a better way? Learning the facts, building community, and working towards solutions. Climate change is big—whole-world big. It can be hard for teens and young people to know where to start to make a difference.

These five books are here to help. Teens can arm themselves with accurate information that avoids doomsday tropes, read about others who have enacted positive change, and come away with real strategies to support themselves, their neighbors, and the Earth. 

The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here (Adapted for Young Adults)

By Hope Jahren

(Delacorte Press/Penguin Random House LLC, 2021; 208 pages; young adults)

The Story of More builds a case that the climate crisis is really a consumption crisis. The author, Hope Jahren, is a geochemist who researches ways to look back in time and track climate change. Just as her scientific work looks to history to understand the present and future, she begins this book at the very origins of life on Earth, human civilization, agriculture, and energy. She has a knack for compelling narrative: Almost every chapter starts with an effective personal anecdote or snappy metaphor that will draw in even environment-agnostic readers.

Full of digestibly presented facts, Jahren's book makes a logical and flowing argument about how people in just a few countries (primarily in the United States, where her target readership resides) could use less without losing out. At points the “story” leaves big questions unanswered (e.g. how to avoid cars if your family lives somewhere with bad or no public transit), and Jahren acknowledges there are limits to the personal responsibility mindset. But the sustainable, alternative future she aims to inspire is based in concrete existing examples. It offers readers both resolve and a dose of hope.

Buy it at Bookshop.org.

When the World Runs Dry: Earth’s Water Crisis

By Nancy F. Castaldo

(Algonquin Young Readers/Workman Publishing, 2022; 208 pages; young adults)

This is the book to read if you want to go from depressed to fired-up and ready for action. Nancy Castaldo, an author with more than 20 years of experience writing about the environment, focuses on water as a necessity for life and a resource in danger. She offers scientific, social, and political explanations of how, why, and where Earth’s water supply is threatened. Climate change is a primary concern in When the World Runs Dry, but Castaldo discusses other pollution, equity, and distribution issues, too.

The book’s target audience is readers ages 10-18, though the explanatory sections at times feel a little too academic to engage younger readers. But Castaldo shines brightest in her abundant, in-depth case studies about the communities fighting for progress from Flint, Michigan, and Hampstead, New Hampshire, to Venice, Italy, and Cape Town, South Africa, where things have gone wrong. These examples, primarily (but not exclusively) focused in the United States, are chock full of lying and incompetent politicians, profit-driven companies, and the suffering they cause. Each diversion into a specific place and group of people hammers home the importance of solidarity and standing up for what’s right—and presents suggested pathways to achieve that.

Buy it at Bookshop.org.

A Bigger Picture: My Fight to Bring a New African Voice to the Climate Crisis

By Vanessa Nakate

(Mariner Books/HarperCollinsPublishers, 2021; 240 pages; young adults)

Activist Vanessa Nakate tells her own story—from college student to global climate leader—in an honest and inspiring narrative that’s both memoir and vision for a better future. With her clear, emotive writing, she brings the disproportionate effects of climate change on the African continent and her home country, Uganda, to the forefront. Throughout, she illustrates how race, gender, and geography intersect to leave the least responsible for climate change with the biggest problems.

A Bigger Picture doesn’t gloss over the challenges Nakate has faced. It includes moments of doubt and depression, which makes the author’s story relatable to all audiences and the label of activist seem attainable. Along with wider reflections and recommendations, Nakate wisely demonstrates that individuals do not act alone—she emphasizes the importance of friends, family, and other support networks in tackling crises. Ultimately, this book humanizes the realities of being a climate activist, and makes it seem like something the reader, too, could do.

Buy it at Bookshop.org. 

How to Change Everything: The Young Human’s Guide to Protecting the Planet and Each Other

By Naomi Klein
Adapted by Rebecca Stefoff

(Atheneum Books For Young Readers/Simon & Schuster, 2021; 336 pages; young adults)

Here, the climate crisis is traced back to its roots. Naomi Klein, a writer, journalist, professor, and activist, connects the issue to every facet of life and shows that its causes run deep. How to Change Everything doesn’t focus on a single contribution to, or outcome of, climate change. Instead, it explores the global economic and societal structures that have been built to maximize profit for a few at the expense of everyone else and the planet. Some of the science is explained, but most of the page space is dedicated to “disaster capitalism”: how we got into a tangle of climate misinformation, why inequality is baked into the system, the importance of environmental justice, and the need for collective action. (Klein originally developed this theory in The Shock Doctrine, a book for grown-ups; this book adapts it for for young readers.)

Klein makes the political personal and vice versa, and offers stories about specific activists and places. Plus, the final third of the book is a thorough guide for how to get involved in transforming our world for the better. Although it may sound like a lot for young readers to absorb, the prose stays readable, clear, and engrossing throughout. How to Change Everything brings a critical perspective that is likely to leave readers equal parts enraged and engaged.

Buy it at Bookshop.org.

A Hot Mess: How the Climate Crisis is Changing Our World

By Jeff Fleischer

(Zest Books™/ Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., 2021; 192 pages; grade 6-12)

For teenagers seeking detailed descriptions of the science behind greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, look no further. Jeff Fleischer, a journalist and author, begins with exactly how humans are the responsible party. Then, chapter by chapter, A Hot Mess gets into the nitty gritty of extreme storms, droughts, heat waves, fires, and sea level rise without any hand-waving. The final chapter also provides a concise, well-balanced summary of what we can (and need to) do to avoid the worst outcomes.

Although lots of relevant examples are thrown in, it’s less narratively driven than other books on the list and more akin to a readable, well-organized textbook. But it could serve as a resource to reference and return to multiple times. A Hot Mess isn’t designed to reduce readers’ climate anxiety, but it provides vital information to understand what’s happening, win debates, and help convince others of the facts. This one is for those who embrace their inner nerd and feel like they can never know quite enough. 

Buy it at Bookshop.org.