activism books climate change

Book Review: Do Earth, by Tamsin Omond

The first time I ever took part in a climate protest action was with a group called Climate Rush, co-founded by the activist Tamsin Omond. Must have been about 2009. I still have a button badge from the event pinned to the strap of my camera bag, rusting slightly. Years later, spotting Omond’s name on the client list of a literary agency inspired me to approach them with my own project, successfully as it transpired. Entirely unaware, Tamsin Omond has thus been influential on a couple of occasions in my own story, and so I was pleased to see that they had a new book out: Do Earth – Healing strategies for humankind.

It’s the latest from the Do Book Company, who publish short how-to books that I rather like. If you’ve come across them before, you’ll know what to expect – positive, well designed pocket-sized volumes full of practical wisdom from inspiring people. Do Earth fits nicely into the series, and the author describes it as “my gentle encouragement” towards more earth-conscious ways of life.

The book begins with a sense of where we are, and how adequate responses to the climate and ecological crisis have been held back by the belief systems of patriarchy, capitalism and white supremacy. What these three have in common is the assumption that some people get to dominate others, and dominate nature. This sets people against each other in competition, jostling for position in the hierarchy, when better solutions would emerge if we related to each other “with abundance, resourcefulness, service, collaboration and trust.”

Omond looks at what we can do as individuals, and then moves beyond individual action to community. This is really important – it’s when we act together that we make a real difference, and it also makes space for friendship, belonging, and the joy of common purpose. It keeps people in the game, and when you act together the experience itself is worthwhile, not just the sense of ‘winning’ at the end. Community enables long-term action, where you look to the next improvement and not iconic victories. For Omond this was a lesson that emerged on the far side of burnout, and hopefully some busy readers will be able to learn from that and spare themselves a painful experience.

In its intersectional approach, the book owes something to black feminist writers such as adrienne maree brown or bell hooks, but Omond’s own experience and voice shine through too. As far as I’m aware this is the first book on climate change that I’ve read by a queer author, and that brings a distinctive perspective. “People who have been rejected by the status quo find so many creative ways to heal the trauma of not belonging” writes Omond. Knowing that they will not be the ‘winners’ in a world of patriarchy, capitalism and white supremacy, outsiders often re-write the rules in ways that everyone else can learn from. “Black feminists, disabled people and trans people are pathfinders to new worlds because when this world, that dominates the earth to survive, rejected them, they rejected the practice of domination.”

Rejecting the world’s warped sense of victory opens up new forms of activism, based on kindness and trust rather than winning arguments and crushing opponents. That’s an idea with spiritual resonance for me, the kind of thing I’d like to be part of. Or to use Omond’s guiding question – how can I be of service to that vision of community?

Do Earth is not a long book – I read it across two legs of a train journey. It’s nicely presented, with well chosen photos that make you pause and think about them. It’s written with humility and generosity, and a sense of welcome into a movement that needs each of us – “wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, there’s a role for you in this great transformation.”

14 comments

  1. I do laugh at the idea that a world without “patriarchy, capitalism and white supremacy” (boo!) would be kinder and gentler or less obsessed about position in hierarchies given that many of the people who decry “patriarchy, capitalism and white supremacy” are quite vicious to others in trying raise their position in their own hierarchies. You only have to spend a short while on social media to see that. It doesn’t take long to find examples of Black feminists or trans activists who are going all in to dominate others.

    Perhaps without “patriarchy, capitalism and white supremacy” they would suddenly be nicer people but China and Cuba suggest that wouldn’t be the case.

    Not everything is the result of social construction.

    1. Well, on the one hand, we have the breakdown of the climate, and a growth imperative that seems to make it impossible to pause the business models and technologies that are causing it. We have a competitive political ethic that makes it impossible to compromise or cooperate. We have inequality across class, regions and sexes, to the point that one bus full of rich white men has more wealth than the three billion poorest put together. To that we can add legacies of slavery, colonialism and segregation, and the inequal impact of the climate crisis. And finally, the people who benefit from patriarchy, white supremacy and capitalism are often so entrenched in their privilege that their imaginations have shrivelled to tiny pinholes, through which they can see nothing except the status quo, or communism.

      But apparently some of the people who say this on the internet are mean.

      1. And we have some people who in their desire to gain moral superiority and cushy work catastrophise and then claim that others only disagree because they are scared selfish lesser people. See how easy it is to infer negative intentions on people you disagree with.

        I’d say you believe this nonsense but then I noticed how you carefully avoided using Omond’s pronouns as much as possible so it could all be to avoid getting cancelled by the notably intolerant organisations you work for.

        1. Tamsin uses ‘they/them’, which I have respected here. You’re obviously feeling pleased with yourself for noticing something about this, but I’m not entirely clear what that something is. You’re certainly more concerned about me being cancelled than I am though.

          I’m curious to know who you think I work for, because I honestly have no idea what you’re on about there.

          1. I’m sure David Shor and Maya Forstater didn’t think they’d be cancelled either.

            You think that ignoring the ‘mean’ streak in your movement is fine. The reason its important that some of the people held up as members of these special groups turn out to be just as vicious, domineering and status obsessed as the society they are claimed to be above is that firstly it invalidates the idea we can look to them as a group for wisdom; rather they are individuals with personal experiences and flaws, no better than anyone else. Here is your new world, before one person oppressed another, now it will be the other way round is not one worth anything.

            Secondly that this is waved away as ‘some mean people on the internet’ suggests a blindspot that condones bad behaviour because the greater issue is more important. Moral licence that because you are combating a litany of evils lets your allies off from decent behaviour. A moral outlook that thinks in the fight for justice it is acceptable to make death threats, post pornography on Twitter threads for children and get people fired for disagreement would in power be happy to use the police to stifle dissent or cover up wrong doing by its leaders. Not to be trusted in other words.

            I’m sure you’ll say that isn’t what you are saying or supporting but it is certainly a large part of your wider movement and you seem unaware of it.

  2. What do you mean by ‘your movement’? What movement are we talking about? And why am I answerable for other people’s comments on the internet?

    And again, what are these sinister organisations that I apparently work for?

  3. Well according to your LinkedIn you’ve done work for several NGOs like Oxfam & Tear Fund. These are organisations that are not welcoming to gender critical feminists or those who reject or even just question critical race theory. Unwelcoming to the extent that employees are going to organisations like Counterweight to gain support. A culture of enforced orthodoxy grows from moral license.

    So there is no progressive environmental movement that you are part of? Interesting.

    1. Well, you could point me to where you’ve got your information about The Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund and their policies on gender critical feminists. Or you could admit that you’re just running on assumptions.

      But let’s take stock of where we are here. I’ve reviewed a book, which you haven’t read, which is critical of patriarchy, capitalism and white supremacy. One or more of these – or possibly the word queer or the mention of black feminists, I don’t know – has triggered all your anti-woke dominos. Now we’re away down the line it’s not just my review, or the book, but the people I work for and now the entire environmental movement, which you’re angry about and I’m somehow supposed to take responsibility for.

      Take a breath.

      This website is not a front of the so called culture wars. I don’t know who Counterpoint are. I don’t go around cancelling people or joining Twitter pile-ons. What I do know is that I’m committed to listening to and learning from different perspectives. There is more feminism in the reading pile, but in recent weeks I also reviewed Bill Gates’ book, and one from a gas company CEO. Next week it’s a book on climate change and Buddhism. You don’t have to go with me on all of these, but I’m not going to apologise for my open mind.

      Having mentioned Buddhism, let’s take another breath. They’d like that.

      What I took away from this book, inspired as it is by those movements that you apparently find so hateful, is a call for “new forms of activism, based on kindness and trust rather than winning arguments and crushing opponents.” That’s the conclusion to the review. That’s what I said I wanted to be part of. So, doing me the favour of engaging with what I have written and not what others say on the internet, what is it exactly that you find so offensive?

      1. What I have an issue with (not find offensive, that’s your mischaracterisation of what I said) is the disconnect between a call for “new forms of activism, based on kindness and trust rather than winning arguments and crushing opponents” and the reality of the calling women whom they disagree with hateful. Or criticising someone for making assumptions while making you assumptions about them. You claimed spiritual resonance with the idea of engaging with kindness and your first reply to me called me entrenched in privilege with a shrunken imagination. Are insults kind and trustful or just aimed at winning an argument?

        I accept you may not be interested in the culture war, but the culture war is interested in you. Do you honestly think that if you came out as gender-critical all those organisations who gave you freelance work in the past would carry on doing so? That your books would be as easily published? You would find as many collaborators as you do now? Is that ok? I guess if you stay within the bounds of ever-narrowing acceptable opinions you will never feel limited, but many do and a lot of those doing the limiting will talk of kindness while condoning anything but.

        1. If you’re going to step up to bat for patriarchy, capitalism and white supremacy, you can expect me to be brusque. But if I was into ‘cancelling’ as you seem to think, I’d have just deleted your comment. Much easier and neater. Instead, I’m here being kind enough to give you the time of day and attempt to engage with your arguments.

          Not that it’s getting us anywhere. You seem very determined to push me into an argument about other people on the internet, rather than engaging with what I’m writing myself.

          Also, don’t reply to critical comments about capitalism with ‘but China and Cuba’. If your political imagination runs bigger than than, feel free to prove it the next time the issue comes up. I’m done with this comment thread for now, but please do have the last word if you want.

          (And by the way, if you’ve seen my pile of rejection letters, or the multiple manuscripts that never did find a publisher, you wouldn’t say my books are ‘easily published’ or imply that my work is cushy)

          1. Again you are putting words into my mouth I never said. I never said you were into cancelling. Perhaps this is why you believe in made up stuff like Patriarchy and White Supremacy; you don’t actually make good faith reading of what those who disagree with you say. If all you every tackle is strawmen of your own creation it’s no wonder you’re not very good at debate.

            (Sidebar, I chose China not as an example of the failure of Communism but as a non-White county that was dominates people & nature to show that this stuff can’t be blamed on Europeans, I guess you didn’t catch that).

            Hopefully you’ll never think outside your box so you won’t have to worry about the intolerance amongst your allies. Good luck.

  4. Ah, I wasn’t going to comment again, but we may be getting to the heart of the matter in your last comment there.

    Earlier you suggested I had insulted you by saying you had a shrunken imagination. If you read that comment, you’ll see that I didn’t – which you should have done since you appreciate good faith reading. I said that about “the people who benefit from patriarchy, white supremacy and capitalism”.

    If you don’t even believe in patriarchy or white supremacy, why did you read yourself into that comment and think it was about you?

    Despite what you tell me, and tell yourself, perhaps you instinctively know these things are real and that you are on the benefitting side of them. Something for you to reflect on in your own time.

    1. Be honest, when you wrote “people who benefit from patriarchy, white supremacy and capitalism are often so entrenched in their privilege that their imaginations have shrivelled to tiny pinholes, through which they can see nothing except the status quo, or communism.” you were including me in that weren’t you? It was pretty clear given I had referenced China & Cuba. Pretending otherwise is just disingenuous.

      You think it is some kind of own that because I saw myself as someone who you had just said benefited from patriarchy, white supremacy and capitalism means that I must believe that I do. That’s not how insults work. If someone implies pretty strongly you an idiot and you say “Are you calling me an idiot?”, that doesn’t mean you think you are actually an idiot. It just means you can recognise an insult when you see it.

      That said I certainly do see Capitalism as real and given the huge gains in human welfare in the Great Enrichment since Capitalism became the main economic system of the word I think everyone has benefited from Capitalism. Something for you to reflect on in your own time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: