Climate Matters: Book Notes
Armadillo reviewer Amy Grandvoinet introduces, in this feature, some new literature on climate matters for young people to read this winter ...
I write this short piece a few days following Friday 29th November 2019, a day tagged – across the UK – with two personas: ‘Black Friday’ and one of numerous ‘Fridays for Future’. Both are terms that I almost feel require no explanation, ubiquitous as references to and understandings of today. But just in case any reader has somehow managed to avoid coming into contact with such consumption-related-holidays that have found their addition to our yearly calendars … Black Friday refers to the Friday that follows the fourth Thursday (or Thanksgiving) in November whereby human beings have the chance to buy up products at so-called cut-prices to mark the start of the run up to Christmas. ‘Fridays for Future’ refers to the systematic striking of school students on various Fridays in calling for action on climate justice that have consistently mobilised since Greta Thunberg’s initial demonstration outside the Swedish government in late August 2018. The relationship between these two Friday-personas is no doubt far more complex than this short piece on recommendations of climate-change-related books for young people can stretch to, but it could be safe to say that their simultaneous existence somewhat underlines the tensions between post-industrial global capitalism and the present/future wellbeing of our shared planet.
It is my opinion, as well as many others’, that evolving environmental collapse is one of the most pressing, all-encompassing, and complex challenges we are now facing collectively world-wide. If the science is there both to prove historic, current and impending devastations originating primarily with 19th century developments in Western industry, and also there to provide suggestions for solutions in aiming to, as far as possible, lessen the continuation of runaway destruction and restore/build sustainability, why aren’t we any further yet? The picture is, regrettably, grim (I’ll not go into facts and figures here; please find links to further resources at the end of this brief feature), but to avoid engaging with this vast problem on any level can feel even grimmer. If we can accept the notion that it is something we – dare I say it – should be engaging with indeed, how to do so can present itself as an overwhelming and sometimes debilitating puzzle, particularly considering the central need to adequately nurture and support young people with long lives ahead of them amidst such a gravely troubling scenario.
The following book notes are here in hope to assist that objective, outlining reading for young people that might help in structuring further thought on how to go about interacting with the environmental issues we face at present. At this dark and reflective point in the year, accessing such literature, whether via public library, in school, private purchase and sharing with others, or even perhaps as festive gifts, could help illuminate tools in building for greater hope, love, and peace on Earth entering 2020.
Valentina Camerini, Greta’s Story: The Schoolgirl Who Went on Strike to Save the Planet, pub. Simon & Schuster Children's Books
Greta Thunberg’s visibility is no doubt vivid, and her values surely well-known, but retracing details of how this one highly influential individual came to stand where she now stands, and from what wider contexts her campaign arose, can be tricky to place.
Valentina Camerini’s unofficial biography of Thunberg, first written in Italian and translated here by Moreno Giovannoni into English, elucidates the story of this remarkable and widely-reported-on young person with both intimacy and respect, shading in important personal nuances with an effect of rendering Thunberg’s mass-media-based image far more relatable.
Particularly helpful to young readers might be Camerini’s sensitive addressing of the emotional and interpersonal difficulties Thunberg has worked through in order to carry out her convictions, and the importance of support networks in making this possible. Nine short chapters, each at approximately 15 pages long, are accompanied with images of Thunberg’s activist peers illustrated by Veronica ‘Veci’ Carratello. Further sections follow entitled ‘Explaining Global Warming to Children’ and ‘What Can We Do?’ A glossary and a timeline toward the history of human pollution and global warming come next, before Camerini signposts readers to further resources to continue, if they so wish, carrying on researching Thunberg’s work in relation to wider civil disobedience movements.
Lily Dyu, Earth Heroes: 20 Inspiring Stories of People Saving Our World, pub. Nosy Crow
Lily Dyu brings together a selection of twenty individuals from around the world demonstrating the broad and united global effort to ‘save our world’. It is almost as if Dyu’s book is one sampler: each individual (chapter) is a thread that collectively makes up a woven fabric (book). There could be so many other such samplers demonstrating various climate justice projects worldwide juxtaposed: Dyu includes twenty Earth Heroes – including for example Greta Thunberg in Sweden, Isatou Ceesay in the Gambia, Yin Yuhzen in northern China, Mohammed Rezwan in Bangladesh – no doubt there could be 20,000 more.
Dyu encourages the fabric’s growth, her conclusion entitled ‘You Too Can Change the World’ encourages young readers to stand up for what they believe in and work together. Big names often dominate news headlines; Dyu’s colourfully bound and playfully illustrated book goes some way in diversifying the celebration of change-making individuals, with a non-western-centric visioning for collective heroic ambition over individualistic heroes in competition, packed with rich information and description to educate and inspire.
Jeremy Strong and Jamie Smith, Nellie Choc-Ice and the Plastic Island, pub. Barrington Stoke
Nellie Choc-Ice, the most-famous penguin Arctic explorer, has travelled 12,430 miles from South to North Pole. To get back home, Nellie submarine-hitches with Captain Beardy-Beard, but the crew gets stuck twice: once (in New York harbour) due to Nellie’s misunderstanding of fossil-fuel-engines involving misplaced fishes in fuel tanks, and again (on escape after Nellie’s accidental partial-destruction of the Statue of Liberty) in collision with a big floating clog of various plastic items out at sea. United in struggle to free themselves and others from ‘Plastic Island’, the crew resolve to expose their awful discoveries and hold those responsible to account.
After meeting with world leaders at Rio de Janeiro (alluding to Earth Summits 1992 and 2012), a clean up operation is immediately actioned and preventative measures put in place. All enjoy worldwide acclaim in their success, co-reflecting on their journey before finally taking Nellie home to a vigorously hugging and admiring family who are throwing a big party under the aurora australis.
Jeremy Strong’s humour, visualised by Jamie Smith in a lovely sort-of friendly-punkish drawing style, helps bring light to a murky reality, stressing the importance of working together, friendship, maintaining hope amidst difficulty, celebrating achievement, and – crucially – the role of democracy and government in making necessary changes for planetary wellbeing.
David Attenborough, Matt Whyman, Richard Jones, and Colin Butfield, Our Planet: The One Place We All Call Home, pub. HarperCollins
As with most of the books mentioned here, Our Planet seems to make another resounding and collectivising call for action: in the foreword, David Attenborough compels readers (whom he refers to as ‘characters’) to ‘tell the most extraordinary story of all – how human beings in the twenty-first century came to their senses and started to protect Planet Earth and all the other wonderful forms of life with which we share it’.
Next comes image-rich biome-organised sections: ‘Our Frozen Worlds’, ‘Our Jungles’, ‘Our Coastal Seas’, ‘Our Deserts & Grasslands’, ‘Our High Seas’, ‘Our Fresh Water’, ‘Our Forests’ (echoing protest language popularised by Thunberg aforementioned? ‘Who’s streets?’ ‘Our streets!’ ‘Whose Planet?’ ‘Our planet!’ etc.?) in repeating format: ‘All About Our Frozen Worlds’, ‘Stories From Our Frozen Worlds’, ‘Protecting Our Frozen Worlds’, and then ‘All About Our Jungles’, ‘Stories From Our Jungles’, ‘Protecting Our Jungles’ (you get the picture).
A glossary provides explanations for specialist language, and an index encourages nonlinear interaction with each interconnected biome-chapter, visualised on a map at the book’s start. Ending passages ‘One Chance’/‘One Future’ provide a final manifesto for the urgent actioning of necessary changes to slow damage and bring balance.
Lee Bacon, The Last Human, pub. Piccadilly Press
XR_935 is a robot who lives in a posthuman world. Humans messed up: their damage to the planet could no longer be tolerated, and the robots they created felt they had no choice other than to remove their existence from Earth. Things function very well without humanity; war, pollution, and crime are absent. The robots Unplug, leave home with their FamilyUnit, complete the day at their WorkSite, return home, and repeat every day under the direction of the Hive and the PRES1DENT. But on finding a prohibited LifeForm – Emma – XR_935 finds its systems challenged, and can’t find a logic that justifies the extermination of this human toxin that is proving to contradict expected and warned-against threatening characteristics (‘vanity’, ‘illogic’, etc.).
How can XR_935 and Emma co-exist? All is brought into question. Lee Bacon sets up a dichotomy between ‘bad’ humans and ‘good’ robots, playing the two against each other throughout The Last Human and bringing into question all of the things it might mean to be human. Readers might see characteristics of their daily existence in both categories, encouraging critical engagement in thinking about ways of being, and our broader effects therewith. Questioning aspects of civilisation including language, emotion, behaviour, communication, empathy, justice, and more, Bacon defamiliarizes human experience providing fresh and provocative perspectives on our present interactions in what has been termed ‘anthropocene’.
The Last Human tells a story of Earth continuing without humans: Bacon encourages us to find a way not to save the planet, but to save the human/our humanity.
Dougie Poynter, Plastic Sucks! YOU Can Make a Difference, pub. Macmillan
This green and black comic-look book provides an eclectic and broad brief introduction the plastic scene today, with specific focus on ocean-impact.
Dougie Poynter, most commonly known perhaps as former member of pop band McFly, encourages readers’ love and appreciation for the planet (with significant reverence for David Attenborough) in outlining a short history of plastic, in highlighting key climate change issues, and in collaborating with various professional and non-professional contributors to cover: plastic production and consumption statistics, plastic impact on aquatic food webs, ‘The Attenborough Effect’, single-use plastics, notions of ‘zero-waste lifestyles’, refillables, plastic free parties, plastic free packed lunches, unexpected plastic, plastic alternatives, marine biology, wildlife charities, viral campaigning, templates for writing letters to companies, the importance of bees, plastic pollution solution inventions, clean-up innovations, personal well-being, animal rights, decomposition rates, chemicals, recycling realities, and more.
A glossary at the back helps readers with some specialised vocabulary, and a ‘Meet the Experts’ section provides examples of future roles interested young people might fill.
To find out further up-to-date information on climate matters and related issues, please explore the following links to some of the larger UK-based environmental organisations:
Centre for Alternative Technology, https://www.cat.org.uk/
The Climate Coalition, https://www.theclimatecoalition.org/
Climate and Migration Coalition, http://climatemigration.org.uk/
Forest School Association, https://www.forestschoolassociation.org/
Fossil Free, https://gofossilfree.org/uk/
Friends of the Earth, https://friendsoftheearth.uk/
Global Justice Now, https://www.globaljustice.org.uk/
People & Planet, https://peopleandplanet.org/
Permaculture Association, https://www.permaculture.org.uk/
The Woodland Trust, https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/?gclsrc=aw.ds