books climate change

Book review: Tomorrow is too Late, ed Grace Maddrell

I have a lot of time for the youth climate movement. We all know what they do, with the school strikes being the most high profile actions, but I admire them as much for how they do it. It’s a movement with a particular culture, and it’s on display in this inspiring collection of essays, Tomorrow is Too Late.

Edited by Grace Maddrell, the book brings together around 40 young people from around the world. The youngest is 8, the oldest 25, and there are contributors from India, Egypt, China, Kenya, Argentina, the UK and the US and many more. Each gets a page of introduction and a photo, and then they get to tell their story. Over a couple of pages, they say what they’re up to and lessons they have learned, share a message to world leaders, or offer some encouragement.

There are some truly remarkable people included here, and one of the first things that jumped out to me is how different climate activism looks in different places. I know it doesn’t feel like it to those who were manhandled last week, but Britain’s police are among the most accountable in the world. In other contexts, the disruption caused by Extinction Rebellion in London would have been met with horses and dogs, water cannons and rubber bullets – or actual bullets. It is humbling to hear from Arshak Makichyan in Russia, who has been arrested twice for school strikes. Or Ali Khademolhosseini, who writes that “in Iran, you have to always look back over your shoulder.” These are both countries with huge gas reserves and a wilful disregard for climate change. The climate crisis needs their participation, and those making that point domestically are taking huge risks on behalf of all of us.

Global solidarity is a touchstone of the youth climate movement, and its social media streams are full of young people amplifying each other’s voices. This is something the wider movement can learn from. I regularly read books that claim to be about global climate change, but rarely step outside the author’s own country or cite any activists or scientists from outside the US and Europe. Africa is particularly under-represented, and so it’s fantastic to see contributions from seven different African countries in Tomorrow is Too Late. When was the last time you heard a from a climate activist in Burundi or Togo?

This is so important because our perspectives are incomplete, and the book illustrates this too. There are activists in the book who are motivated by caring for nature, some with a concern for justice, and for others it is existential. “Pakistan will be among the first ten countries uninhabitable by 2040” says US/Pakistani activist Ayisha Siddiqa. Or Kristine Marie Sabate, who gives an eyewitness account of Typhoon Haiyan. If we don’t hear those who are at the sharp end of climate change, it can easily be pegged as a problem for the future, or that it is exaggerated. We need everyone’s stories, and I see youth activists doing a better job than most of finding them and giving them space.

This isn’t easy, by the way. Diversity doesn’t source itself. You have to be proactive. (I have a personal target to write about every country in the world on the blog. I’m on 184 so far and it can take days to pull together a compelling story from somewhere unusual.) Having edited a collection of climate essays myself, I also know how hard it can be to work with people who don’t see themselves as writers, may not have English as a first language, who are very busy and don’t have any regard for deadlines. Grace Maddrell has edited this collection aged 15, and that is no mean feat.

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