Sunday book review – Children of the Anthropocene by Bella Lack

This is a book written by an 18-year-old environmentalist – and it’s being reviewed here by a 64-year-old environmentalist. Forty-six years ago there weren’t books of this sort written by undergraduates and I’m very glad that I didn’t have one published then because I suspect that it would be an embarrassing read with the benefit of experience and time. But Bella Lack shouldn’t fear looking back on this volume after almost five decades because it is a good book, and it would be a good book if written by anyone of whatever age.

I’ve met Bella a few times and heard her speak in public and chatted to her – but all that was probably back in 2018. Even then, Bella was an impressive person, calm, coherent and considered. She seemed wise beyond her years.

She is an ambassador for Born Free, Save the Asian Elephant, the RSPCA and the Jane Goodall Foundation and has travelled and seen the world, and thought about a wide range of environmental issues. In this book she talks to a range of young people facing the realities of environmental degradation and climate change – the children of the anthropocene. This is a good structure for a book as it turns environmental facts and figures into live issues for real (young) people. You may never get to Bali, the Solomon Islands, remote villages in Kenya or the Ecuadorian Choco so let Bella take you there and illuminate the problems and probably motivate you to do even more than you do at the moment.

Consumerism, water use, what you eat, plastic, rewilding, deforestation, your carbon footprint – all of these and more issues come up, are explained and there are suggestions for personal and government action.

You shouldn’t be impressed by this book because it is written by a young person – you should be impressed by it because it is impressive in its scope and the quality of the writing.

The cover? I liked it and it seemed to fit the contents of the pages. I’d give it 7/10.

Children of the Anthropocene: stories from the young people at the heart of the climate crisis by Bella Lack is published (on 30 June) by Penguin Life.

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4 Replies to “Sunday book review – Children of the Anthropocene by Bella Lack”

  1. I am delighted that the author refers to plastic. If all those worthies from eco pressure groups focused on plastic and its abandonment the world would be a better place. Some of us grew up without it and were not deprived by its absence, although I recognise it has a role in medicine. Ban plastic now! I hate it with a passion.

    She sounds an eminently good person. Might even read the book. But does it say all that has already been said?

    1. If you’ll forgive me, ‘ban plastic’ is a somewhat glib statement that is easily said but far more challenging to achieve. You acknowledge that plastic ‘has a role in medicine’ but the fact is it has a role in virtually all of the technology we depend on nowadays. Ban it and immediately we would not be able to have this discussion on-line, for example.
      Of course there was a time when we did not have plastics but the same is true of many technologies and just because we did not feel deprived by their absence at the time does not mean that they do not contribute to making life safer, healthier or more comfortable. Reversion to the (heavily polluting) technology of the nineteenth century or earlier might seem a nice romantic notion but would likely cause huge problems for us.
      None of this means that there are not serious problems associated with plastic. Clearly there are and I am as distressed as anyone by images of albatross chicks dying with their bellies full of plastic garbage or of seals or dolphins dying entangled in ‘ghost nets’ floating through the oceans. These and other manifestations of plastic pollution are serious problems that we need to get to grips with but they are also complex problems that are not readily solvable by glib slogans but whose solution instead needs complex multi-pronged strategies.
      For some applications this may mean the complete substitution of plastic by other materials if they can perform the same function with less environmental impact (e.g. some – but not all – product packaging). Materials scientists can hopefully develop new materials with the beneficial properties of plastics but not the harmful ones (although we must recognise that the inertness that lies at the heart of the problems caused by plastics is also one of their desirable characteristics in use).
      We can also envisage the elimination of some frivolous uses of plastic. No-one can say they need a helium-filled Micky Mouse balloon to release into the countryside, for example. We might at the same time endeavour to inculcate a greater sense of environmental responsibility into our fellow citizens so that they do not feel entitled to simply chuck their rubbish from the car window as they rush through the countryside.
      In many parts of the world we also need to see vastly improved infrastructure for waste and sewage treatment. Huge amounts of plastic are disgorged into the sea from rivers running through populous countries with poor infrastructure and I would suggest that addressing this would be a good use of some of the development aid provided by wealthy countries.
      There are doubtless many other things we can and should do to address the problems of plastic pollution but, to me at least, simply shouting for a blanket ban on plastic does not seem to offer a viable way forward.

      1. Good points all. And I appreciate your comments. So let me modify… What I should have said is that every producer of plastics should only do so if their usage is totally recyclable. For example, I purchased a foodstuff in a recyclable hard plastic base but the top (soft plastic) was not. Why? Actually the whole could have easily been served by person from a chill-counter and wrapped in grease proof paper, thus employing someone whilst doing away with plastic waste. Those with better minds than mine should think holistically about their business. I have long protested this and never got an honest answer. Hey ho! Nothing new in the corporate world I fear.
        And don’t get me started on water pollution.

      2. Absolutely spot on. After years of neglecting reduce, reuse, recycle in general the reaction towards those terrible images of marine life being killed and maimed in oh so many ways by so very many different pieces of plastic crap was over compensation, near hysterical at times pronouncements all plastic should go ‘its evil!’ Well a few years down the line and not only hasn’t plastic disappeared completely, much of the superfluous plastic crap that could and should have gone is still with us. Sales of bottled water seem as buoyant as ever, the most utterly pointless reason for a plastic (or any other kind) of bottle there’s ever been. There was no actual plan.

        There were calls to return to glass for everything using plastic bottles, which was lunacy. It weighs an absolute ton plus it’s extremely dangerous – a broken glass bottle doesn’t needed to be wielded as a weapon to cause an awful lot of damage to people and property. Those thinking paper and cardboard are a nice ‘natural’ replacement for nasty plastic clearly don’t have a bloody clue about the vast ecological damage and environmental harm caused by the production and processing of pulp. TBF though those pushing for the reduction in use and recycling of paper products haven’t exactly been brilliant in telling others why – a bit like an anti smoking campaign not mentioning lung cancer, emphysema or heart disease, just that ciggies make your clothes smell.

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