Voice of a Generation

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Issue 321
July/August 2020
Recovery Time

Reviews

Voice of a Generation
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issue cover 321

Cover: Buzz, 12" x 12", acrylic on maple panel, 2019 by Tiffany Bozic www.tiffanybozic.com

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Anna Turns relates how one family’s turmoil mirrors that of the planet. Our House Is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis by Malena and Beata Ernman, Svante and Greta Thunberg. Allen Lane, 2020. ISBN: 9780241446737

The narrative of Our House Is on Fire is far from fiction. It’s not a textbook, yet it’s full of robust scientific facts about the climate crisis. And it’s not strictly a memoir, but the chapters tell a powerful personal story. Thanks to her simple, honest and straight-talking voice of reason, 17-year-old Greta Thunberg has become synonymous with youth activism. But before she became a poster girl for the climate justice movement, she experienced severe depression and eating disorders, and for a time she would only speak at home, to her closest family members.

This book is the story of a family in absolute turmoil, desperate for a diagnosis for both Greta and her younger sister, Beata. Their mother, Malena, an opera singer, reveals the angst she and their father, Svante, experienced throughout these testing times and how they found hope in the unlikeliest of places. Eventually, after months of bullying and turmoil, Greta was diagnosed with selective mutism, obsessive compulsive disorder and Asperger syndrome, while Beata was diagnosed with ADHD.

In parallel with this heart-wrenching personal struggle, their eyes also opened to the extent of the environmental crisis and inevitable climate breakdown. And through their realisations, they found strength, as Malena describes: “Once we realised why we were feeling the way we did, we started to feel better.”

Within these pages, Greta and her family have written a message of hope. It is a wake-up call, but it is also full of possibilities – from drastically reducing emissions by enforcing high carbon taxes and sequestering massive amounts of CO2 with huge-scale reforestation, to improved local food production and more collectively owned renewable energy generation. “In a crisis we get superpowers,” Malena says, and “in a crisis we change our habits and our behaviour. In a crisis we are capable of anything.”

Led by Malena’s narrative but with input from all four family members, this is a brave book, but no one is trying to be a hero. By challenging the status quo and presenting such an honest account, the authors urge us to act before it’s too late. Yet there’s no preaching, and no sense of guilt. They, like us, had been trying to carry on living as normal with an everyday routine, until the acute crises in their family and globally triggered a seismic shift in perspective.

Previously silent, Greta found her voice, and it has since proved to be one of the most audible: against all odds, she began speaking calmly and eloquently in front of journalists, crowds of schoolchildren, and eventually millions across the world. But this isn’t the story of her climate activism. It’s the prologue to it, detailing the years leading up to Greta’s Skolstrejk för Klimatet (School Strike for the Climate), which began one Monday morning in August 2018 outside the Swedish parliament. Her energy gradually increased as she began planning her school strike, and her simple, defiant message was symbolic – her emotional unrest reflected planetary health, and her healing came about from the need to urge politicians to take climate action. “We see that she feels good as she draws up her plans – better than she has felt in many years. Better than ever before, in fact,” her parents write.

In the final chapter, her mother states: “We have already solved the climate crisis. What needs to be done is crystal clear. All that’s left to do is make a choice. Economy or ecology?” So now it’s time to act, and I sincerely hope every reader will feel compelled to do just that.

Anna Turns is a freelance journalist.

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