Climate Generation: Awakening to Our Children’s Future. By Lorna Gold. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2019. 172 pp. $14.95.
Review by Lucas Briola
“Can you describe what the world will be like when we are grown up if the adults don’t change what they are doing?” This child’s question provided one of the several “bombshells” for Lorna Gold as she recognized vividly the reality of climate change for her life and, more importantly, the lives of her own children (82). This short book charts “the long journey between understanding and action” (99) that she has taken to this realization, when the “dry facts” of science “suddenly became something else: my own flesh and blood” (44). Gold is an Irish Catholic who works for Trócaire, an overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland. She extols the notion of “ecological conversion” found in Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home,” Laudato si’. Indeed, Climate Generation portrays Gold’s own ecological conversion and invites its readers towards the same.
In the book’s first half, Gold narrates this path by weaving autobiography with the science behind recognizing climate change. Her fascination with science and her desire to help others as a child brought her to environmental advocacy, and she relates the many ways that the birth of her children exponentially amplified the passion of her advocacy.
Along the way, Gold presents scientific findings in a very readable and jargon-free manner. To overcome popular narratives that environmental sustainability and sound economic policy oppose each other, she relates the ever-increasing devastation that climate change wreaks on both national economies and especially the most vulnerable. Gold acknowledges our “need to rapidly relearn the idea of ‘enough’” despite an “economic system… built around generating more and more unnecessary wants” (64). She frequently expresses the angst shared by many of us when not numbed by the sheer busy-ness of life: what can I do?
In the book’s second half, Gold provides some practical ways that ecological conversion might come to shape our lives and, by extension, preserve our children’s future. The impetus for this conversion is clearly spiritual. Gold the activist admits her initial consternation over Pope Francis’s emphasis on praise in Laudato si’ (“Praised be!”): “Like many climate activists, I am more inclined to curse the situation or feverishly organise everything and everyone for the battles ahead” (111-2). On the contrary, “our first and most important task” (113) requires surrendering that idol of doing something and instead silently losing ourselves in grateful and humble dependency to creation and ultimately to its Creator. From that, all else follows.
Proposed personal changes from Gold include more efficient housing (smaller and attached is best), diet (less red meat and more interest in the making of our food), and traveling (avoid unnecessary flying). These personal changes evoke a new cultural story predicated on something else besides infinite progress and insatiable consumption. A new culture enables strengthened community ties that ground a reconfigured economics (borrow a neighbor’s lawnmower instead of buying one) and planetary community movements that catalyze renewed political policies.
Like most books on the topic, hope and despair mingle in Climate Generation. Given the importance that Gold places on one’s own children, this should hardly surprise. Perhaps no stronger argument exists for climate action than the health of our children and grandchildren. May this book inspire our ecological conversion before it is too late.
Lucas Briola is assistant professor of theology at Saint Vincent College (Latrobe, PA) and director of the ecology team for the International Institute for Method in Theology.