Two Degrees Card graph
2 degrees Celsius: A critical number for climate change
01:16 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: CNN columnist John D. Sutter is spending the rest of the year reporting on a tiny number – 2 degrees – that may have a huge effect on the future of the planet. He’d like your help. Subscribe to the “2 degrees” newsletter or follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can shape his coverage.

CNN  — 

“Climate change is the canvas on which the history of the 21st century will be painted.”

That’s Mark Lynas, writing in “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet.”

It’s a true if disturbing prediction.

By some accounts, we’ve already entered the Anthropocene, an epoch defined by human degradation of the natural world. We’re causing extinctions, changing the climate. Mother Nature is still powerful, sure. But, as Lynas explains, we humans are so fundamental a force that we are changing the way she works.

I recently asked readers of my “2 degrees” newsletter (sign up here) to suggest “must-read” books on climate change – and Lynas’ important work of nonfiction was among your top recommendations. I’ve been reading it, and I recently interviewed the author. The book takes a degree-by-degree look at the future of our planet as it continues to warm. Two degrees of warming, which the international community is trying to avoid, and which is the focus of my climate change initiative at CNN, sounds bad. But, as Lynas told me, a world that’s 6 degrees warmer than before the industrial revolution, which is possible if we keep burning alarming amounts of fossil fuels and chopping down forests, sounds downright hellish.

You’ll find Lynas’ “Six Degrees” on a list of 12 climate change must-reads below. It includes a Pulitzer Prize winner, Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction,” as well as an illustrated account of an artist’s dive into climate science, titled “Climate Changed.”

You readers suggested all these, and I’ve included some of your comments about them.

Sign up for the “2 degrees” newsletter if you want to join our freewheeling book club.

We’ll tackle “Six Degrees” first, since it’s a great primer. I’ll post an interview with Lynas on Thursday, and then we’ll read his book together over the course of the month.

He’s graciously agreed to take your questions in a few weeks.

Think we missed something? Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments section below.

1. “Six Degrees,” by Mark Lynas

Chapter by chapter, Lynas explores what the world would look like if it warms 1 degree, 2 degrees, 3, degrees Celsius, etc. He’s great at distilling the science and maintaining a sense of optimism amid some very gloomy predictions about the future. Suggested by Lance Olsen.

2. “This Changes Everything,” by Naomi Klein

“Well researched, compelling arguments, hits home for multiple audiences, and is a realistic call to action.” – Laura S. Lynes, from Canmore, Alberta

3. “The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight,” by Thom Hartmann

“It’s all-encompassing – it delves into the various feedback systems in a climate change context, and also the underlying cultural philosophy or stories we tell ourselves that continue to create the situation we’re in. Fascinating stuff!” – Trevor, from Los Angeles

4. “The Age of Sustainable Development,” by Jeffrey D. Sachs

“Comprehensive and positive summary of the steps required for sustainable development with good overviews of the problems causing climate change.” – Dan Fowler, from Austin, Texas

5. “Comfortably Unaware,” by Richard A. Oppenlander

“People don’t realize the devastating impact that our food choices have on the planet. This book explains how animal agriculture is the single biggest cause of global warming.” – Wendy Horowitz, from New Haven, Connecticut

6. “The Sixth Extinction,” by Elizabeth Kolbert

“An amazingly well written narrative on the effect our species has had on the planet. As our population continues to grow and our demand on our very limited resources escalates, the negative impact we have had and continue to have is well explained.” – Sharon Lynch, from Benicia, California

7. “The End of the Long Summer,” by Dianne Dumanoski

“A really thoughtful, wise and balanced appraisal of fact that, going on past changes to the climate, we are likely to reach a sudden tipping point and experience huge climate changes over just a few years, BUT that humans are incredibly resilient and adaptable and rather than go extinct, will likely rise to the challenge.

“This book gave me hope while presenting the facts.” – Persephone Maywald, from Australia

8. “Climate Wars,” by Gwynne Dyer

“Waves of climate refugees. Dozens of failed states. All-out war. From one of the world’s great geopolitical analysts comes a terrifying glimpse of the strategic realities of the near future, when climate change drives the world’s powers towards the cut-throat politics of survival,” the publisher’s description says.

9. “Merchants of Doubt,” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway

Here’s an endorsement from John Horgan, of Scientific American: “The book, which packages rigorous research in fiery rhetoric, inspired a documentary, ‘Merchants of Doubt’ … I highly recommend the book and documentary, which reveal how disturbingly easy it can be for unscrupulous spin-meisters to dupe journalists and the public.” The book was suggested by Aaron Thierry, a reader from Edinburgh, Scotland

10. “Don’t Even Think About It,” by George Marshall

A Twitter user – @timreckmeyer – suggested this one as part of a discussion on whether we at CNN should be leading climate change stories with images of sad polar bears on ice sheets. (He thinks we shouldn’t. You can see from the gallery below that we still are, from time to time.) George Marshall, the book’s author, explores how our brains shape (and warp) perceptions about climate change. I’m hoping this book will help me understand how to better explain this subject – and will settle the polar bear debate.

11. “Climate Changed,” by Philippe Squarzoni

“It’s an amazing book. It’s an illustrated nonfiction book (graphic novel format) that is built on Squarzoni’s interviews with IPCC scientists. The science is well explained, but the power comes from watching Squarzoni absorb the information and struggle to fit it into his life, just like a reader, over the six years it took him to put the book together. So the intangible social aspect of climate, which is probably more important to solutions than climate science itself, is explored with candor.” – Richard Reiss, from New York

12. “The Great Transition,” by Lester Brown

“Right away, book club or no, this book must be read: ‘The Great Transition,’ by Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute,” a reader, Elizabeth McCommon, wrote in an e-mail. A friend “put it in my hands this last weekend, saying it would help me regain optimism about the future,” she said.

Sounds like it worked.

Email questions to: climate [at]

Subscribe to the “2 degrees” newsletter.

Follow the project on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.