We’re at the start of a critical decade that will determine the future of our planet. From the IPCC’s 2021 report calling ‘Code Red for Humanity’ to the phenomenally successful 2021 satirical science fiction film Don’t Look Up (which has prompted climate scientists to come out in droves to say ‘this is exactly how it feels to warn against the end of the world and have it fall on deaf ears’), it’s been largely impossible to avoid coverage of the climate crisis.
I have certainly experienced my fair share of eco-anxiety and apocalyptic dread over the past two years or so, and at times the enormity of the situation has felt crushing.
So, how can we overcome the sense of being overwhelmed? And why is it so important that we do? These are just a couple of the questions addressed in Earthshot: How to Save Our Planet, a book by Colin Butfield and Jonnie Hughes, the creative forces behind the documentary David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet (which, for the record, made me burst into tears through sheer frustration).
Now, this book isn’t an antidote to climate anxiety – that can only be quelled by direct action, governmental policy changes, and tangible results. But its optimistic tone is appealing. And, as the book argues, it’s this almost stubborn optimism that is needed to combat the climate crisis.
In the book’s introduction, Prince William, who alongside The Royal Foundation launched The Earthshot Prize in October 2020, reveals that he has also been affected by “a wave of global pessimism”, something that has become pervasive during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The aim of the Earthshot Prize? To inspire collective action “around our unique ability to innovate, problem solve and ultimately repair our planet”. The book seeks to show how the Earthshots, “a set of unifying, ambitious goals”, could tackle the climate crisis if achieved by 2030. The book is divided into three parts. Part one highlights the urgency of the current climate crisis. It’s not easy reading but I’m glad that the authors haven’t attempted to soften the blow with a sort of toxic positivity. But this is followed by several case studies displaying innovative solutions created by individuals and organisations across the globe, initiatives which are already making an impact. The final section of the book offers advice for ways that we can all make a difference.
With so much noise on the internet – think pieces, TikToks, Instagram reels and Tweets by uber-shouty climate deniers – it can be extremely hard to navigate the sheer wealth of information, and disinformation (but that’s a conversation for another time). In his introduction, Prince William notes that for many people, tackling the climate crisis feels “too complex, too negative, and too overwhelming”, so we slip into a sort of malaise. It’s too daunting, too much, so what’s the point in even trying, right?
We get it, this book seems to sympathise. It’s a scary time to be alive, what with just 10 years left to turn the tide on the environmental crisis plus navigating a global health crisis, but we need to come together with a shared goal – to save the planet. But I can’t help wondering if it’s enough.
Is sheer optimism the thing that could galvanise us to make a change, to petition governments or tend to our own little patch of the planet? Butfield and Hughes reckon so. By working together, taking urgent action, and harnessing this sense of stubborn optimism, they suggest, we might have a chance of solving Earth’s greatest challenges. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather get on board with this train of thought than continue to feel hopeless and despondent about this one and only precious life.
Earthshot offers a glimpse of what life could look like if we harness our collective talents for the greater good of the planet, rather than continuing to mindlessly plunder the Earth for profit. I feel inspired and galvanised by the individuals and organisations that appear in the book. At a time when I’ve been feeling pretty downhearted about our ability, or even our desire, to make the necessary changes to our lives, that’s something worth celebrating.
By Emma Yates-Badley, Literary Editor
Earthshot: How to Save Our Planet by Colin Butfield and Jonnie Hughes is published by John Murray Press and available to buy now.