On June 4th, Deborah Hart a Melbourne based activist and member of Quit Coal launched her new book Guarding Eden at Readings in Carlton. It is a unique read that gives an insight into what drives people to give their time, money and sometimes their personal safely and health to challenge the causes of climate change.
Guarding Eden profiles 12 Australian environmental activists, and gives an accessible introduction to current environmental threats. It illustrates the diverse strategies that activists use to to make change happen. For example, Tiffany Harrison seeks to effect change both via work as a research scientist, and via performance art as a Climate Change guardian angel.
Hart traces the unexpected life paths of activists, from Lock The Gate’s Drew Hutton, who found that caring for his own health had to take precedence over his energetic campaigning, to Dean Bridgfoot, who went from vet to renewable energy campaigner. Paul Mahony illustrates the sometimes surprising resistance his family expressed to his activism in the animal rights arena.
Julien Vincent describes the excitement of direct action in his early career, but explains that he moved towards founding divestment non-for-profit Market Forces because of the extra impact he could have:
“If pressuring companies at AGMs, writing reports or mobilising bank accounts is effective, I’ll happily do that as well. I’m just trying to do the most useful thing I can at any given moment.”
The personal narratives of activists are balanced with pithy descriptions of current environmental battlegrounds. Hart outlines the broader context and big ideas in current environment thoughts and movements, including Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, Bill McKibben’s launch of 350.org, Naomi Orrestes’ Merchants of Doubt, and the importance of peer reviewed science research.
The book is pitched at young adult readers, but is interesting and accessible to all (and as with all young adult books, we have to ask, when does the movie come out?!). A useful resource for teachers and curriculum developers, the combination of personal narratives with topic overviews puts a human face on issues which otherwise can appear remote for school kids. It could even form a resource for a teacher looking for an innovative standpoint from which to teach the Industrial Revolution (shout out to the Year 9 History curriculum). Hart wrote a book aimed at young adults – specifically designed for use in schools years 9 & 10 English, and pitched against examples of industry rhetoric – because adolescents are major climate stakeholders, yet are lacking rights to vote, yet are uniquely gifted in challenging grown ups. Discussion questions in the final pages are sure to spark big debates.
Full disclosure: Given that Hart is a member of the Quit Coal collective, unsurprisingly Quit Coal gets considerable playtime in this book, from community organiser Chloe Aldenhoven, to founder Paul Connor, and collective members Julien Vincent and Tiffany Harrison.
Guarding Eden doesn’t give detailed climate research data or scientific analysis, its focus is clearly on telling the stories of the changemakers. It would benefit from more detail of the climate issues (the science of which is troublingly still under significant public debate, despite overwhelming scientific consensus), but Hart fortunately provides a gateway to further research.
Hart supports strategically used non-violent direct action (as does Quit Coal), and in Guarding Eden she demonstrates the thoughtfulness and context put into planning protests. Some of the actions can appear extreme, such as Connor’s hunger strike lasting more than 40 days, however one of the great qualities of the book is putting activism in context: the activists portrayed are extremely well informed on the issues they campaign for, and often use direct action as just one of the several strategies to effect change. Other less controversial strategies include community organising, education, lobbying, and research. There is no silver bullet for environmental activism. If there’s one thing you’ll learn from this book it’s that you need to try several tactics to make change happen on different levels.
Need to get a gift for your favourite surly teen, or feel like it’s time to treat yourself? You can buy the book here and learn more about the book here. All royalties are going to fund climate activism.
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