Book Review – The Children of the Anthropocene by Bella Lack

Book cover of 'The Children of the Anthropocene' by Bella LackThe Children of the Anthropocene by Bella Lack Review by Lydia Ayame Hiraide
Greens of Colour, Green Party of England and Wales

The Children of the Anthropocene is a rallying cry for all of us everywhere to carefully consider our relationships with other humans and other life on this planet. How can we live more equitably, more sustainably? With more kindness and more care? These are the questions at the heart of Bella Lack’s new book – and she answers them by centring the voices of those who are often silenced or ignored when it comes to environmental solution building.

Bella Lack’s new book is a moving collection of young people’s climate stories from around the world. Following a foreword from Greta Thunberg, Lack weaves the voices of a wide range of young people from several countries and regions to explore eight key climate-related themes: consumerism and overconsumption; environmental pollution; food security and sustainable agriculture; water use and scarcity; our relationship with the idea of ‘nature’; biodiversity and rewilding; the roles and experiences of women in the climate crisis; and the idea of intersectionality. Written in a touching, conversational style, the book conveys the everyday experiences of young environmentalists who are working towards more positive futures, particularly those on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

All too often, environmentalists can descend into fatalistic discourses which invoke our collective inevitable doom. Given the seriousness of the climate crisis, we can understand why. But Bella Lack moves beyond catastrophic narratives and reaches for a conversation which seeks to inspire hope in the readers of this book – and she does this with great success. As she writes in the book, our faith in ‘huge societal change isn’t a blind hope that ignores the magnitude of our crisis, but a practical one that sees all the ugly facts and decides that we are not going to face the end of the world, but only the end of the world as we know it’ (34). These are wise words which recognise the scale of the climate crisis whilst creating space for the forging of a regenerative politics; one which enables us to imagine and move towards futures which are equitable and positive for everybody everywhere. Indeed, the climate crisis is a global crisis. And the actions we take in one part in the world have concrete effects in others. As Lack reminds us, what we think of as natural resources are not unlimited and cannot be extracted from the earth without serious implications. With this in mind, ‘if someone takes too much in one place, others will be left lacking elsewhere’ (70). We are already seeing the effects of this as communities in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Australasia are already bearing the brunt of the climate crisis whilst wealthy communities in countries such as the UK and the US continue to consume more than ever before. This is a problematic which Bella Lack places front and centre in this book – addressing it explicitly through the telling of young people’s climate stories from all over the world.
The book takes a staunchly global outlook, relaying the environmental stories of young people from places far and wide – from Rajasthan in India to the Ecuadorian Jungle and beyond. In doing so, Lack pays attention to the different ways in which we encounter climate change. Telling the story of Laha, a young person living on the island of Madagascar, for example, the book details how drought sacrifices childhoods to the labour of collecting water and exposure to malnutrition. But by telling these personal stories in an accessible style, Bella Lack brings our attention to the lived realities of climate change as an issue which shapes and will shape our human capacity to live and love on the planet we call home.

As environmentalists all over the world have emphasised repeatedly, social justice and equitability are key components of addressing the climate crisis. Yes, environmentalism is about protecting trees, oceans, mountains, and more. But it is also about protecting people. From this view, a holistic approach to environmental issues ‘advocates for the protection of both people and the planet, and acknowledges the ways that injustices being experienced by both marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected’ (209). In order to advance this approach, Lack mobilises the Black feminist framework of intersectionality. Intersectionality stresses that working for real change which benefits everyone is ‘not about fighting the separate strands of inequality, but rather addressing the very roots of power imbalances, and finding the tool by which those imbalances can be eliminated altogether’ (212).

Drawing on intersectionality, The Children of the Anthropocene thinks not only about the ways in which the harmful impacts of the climate crisis are unequally distributed across the world – but also about the lack of diversity within how environmentalism is represented in the public eye. As Lack writes, ‘the stories being told about environmental activism and activists in the media are largely centred on conservationists, environmentalists and authors who speak from a privileged podium of wealth and whiteness. To understand the vicious and deadly cycle preventing us as a species from taking great leaps forward to protect our planet, we need to talk about how we silence the voices of those most affected’ (203). This has been a key issue for Greens of Colour as a group which has been working to increase space for the needs, concerns, and voices of racialised environmentalists in the UK and beyond.

Using the platform of her book, Lack highlights what a greater attention to the experiences and knowledge of Black, Indigenous, and racialised communities across the world can bring to our collective effort to address the climate crisis. And in this context, diversity is not merely a buzzword. It is a call for environmentalists everywhere to keep working towards building a genuinely inclusive movement – because ‘in the environmental movement, having a range of voices is the only way to break out of this sphere we have created. As always, the answer lies in diversity’ (216). Recognising this, the self-awareness and sensitivity with which Lack approaches each of the stories gifted to us through this book are admirable. She takes care to include and foreground the voices of young people from frontline communities, emphasising how and where their unique knowledge and experiences are key instruments in moving beyond damaging environmental habits and practices.

Whilst the book is geographically diverse, it also addresses environmental inequities and harms closer to home. Specifically, it includes the voices of environmental campaigners, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah and Choked Up, who are fighting against the illegally high levels of air pollution in mostly urban areas of the UK. Currently, in the UK, air pollution causes approximately 40,000 premature deaths per year, and levels of nitrogen dioxide have been illegally high since 2010 in most urban areas. Although the government has lost three court cases over illegal levels of air pollution, authorities are doing little to combat this serious issue. In 2013, young Londoner Ella Kissi-Debrah developed serious asthma from breathing in illegally high levels of air pollution where she lived in Lewisham, London. At just 9 years old, Ella lost her life, with the official cause of her death being air pollution. Since then, Ella’s mother Rosamund Kissi-Debrah and Choked Up (a collective of Black and brown teenagers in London organising around this issue) have been campaigning passionately to highlight the racialised inequities of air pollution in the capital and across the country, fighting for stronger regulation to ensure that what happened to Ella does not happen again.

Ella’s story reminds us that issues relating to climate change and the environment are not abstract notions that will only occur at some distant point in the far future. Rather, they are concrete issues which are affecting our families and communities now. They are affecting people in other parts of the world. But they are also affecting communities (largely of colour) at home – in places like Lewisham, London. Those campaigning tirelessly on this issue stress the importance of being able to play outside without fear of breathing in toxic air. We want the places in which we live, work, and play to be healthy and safe – a message which The Children of the Anthropocene amplifies.

Calling for a radical move to a genuinely circular economy and greater integration of ecological knowledge in our education systems, this book proposes concrete ways of making positive environmental change (without claiming, of course, to have all of the answers). In the spirit of inspiring change, each chapter ends with a manifesto for change that offers us tangible ways of contributing to more sustainable and equitable futures. As Lack puts it so beautifully, the book is built on an ‘abiding belief that another way of living more gently and more wisely on this earth is possible, and when we all commit to searching for that and making it a reality, I imagine this stifling carelessness falling away from us’ (237). In this sense, The Children of the Anthropocene speaks to us in a deeply human – but not anthropocentric – way. It examines and responds to the complexities of the climate crisis and highlights the different yet important roles we can all play in working towards positive climate futures.

The Children of the Anthropocene (£9.99, Penguin Life) is available now


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