As a reoccurring feature on the Sustainability Roundtable blog, we will post reviews of books related to sustainability. Interested in submitting your own review to the blog? Contact August at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Review: Our House is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis by Greta Thunberg, Svante Ernman, Malena Ernman and Beata Ernman
Reviewed by Angele DeNeve, Children’s Librarian at Queens Library at Glen Oaks
How does a 15 year-old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, selective mutism and a severe eating disorder become a world renowned climate activist? Our House is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis offers a raw and honest look at Greta Thurnberg’s family and their personal struggles leading up to the now famous school strike for the climate in August 2018. Readers get a look at the whole family, which sets the scene for their impassioned outrage at the lack of positive change in our planet’s rapidly increasing carbon emissions.
Greta’s mother, famed opera singer Malena Ernman, already an activist in her own right, fought for human rights, equal rights and the humane treatment of refugees. But it wasn’t until Greta saw a film about climate change that she and her family began to change their awareness of climate issues and made the decision to fight for our climate. In their research they learned that Sweden, their home, was one of the worst offenders in carbon emissions responsible for one of the largest ecological footprints in the world. “If everyone in the world were to live like Sweden it would require 4.2 planet earths.” They began to look at their own lives to make changes like buying an electric car, becoming vegan and completely stopping all airline travel after realizing that air travel is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions. They quickly understood while these changes were important, they would not be enough.
In the thirty years since the world was educated about the greenhouse effect and the damage we are collectively doing to our planet, nothing has changed. Our efforts have not reversed, or even slowed down our carbon emissions. In truth, they continue to steadily rise each year. More ice is melting, more forests are disappearing, more species are becoming extinct and oceans are becoming polluted. Sweden, which partially inhabits the arctic circle, provides a concrete example of how rapidly climate change is affecting nature and our planet. After visiting northern Sweden, Greta and her father saw firsthand the impact our carbon emissions are having on nature. The crisis was evidenced by the change in temperature, the shifting geography of the boundaries of forest and ice, and the movement of wildlife to accommodate the changes in temperature and vegetation.
Greta explains to readers that nothing is changing because “we are in a crisis that has never been treated as a crisis”. But that is exactly what it is. A climate crisis. She blames politicians; politicians who say carbon emissions must be reduced but never do anything to reduce them. Greta blames the media, calling them a total failure, for neglecting to put climate issues in the headlines and making the crisis known. Our time to correct the planet’s carbon emissions is running out. Without taking drastic measures the climate crisis will soon become irreversible.
While the story centers around the climate crisis, it also highlights the rise of mental illness in young girls which has directly affected their family with both Greta and her sister Beata being diagnosed with multiple disorders. In Sweden, mental health issues in children 10-17 years old increased over 100 percent in 10 years. While the family sheds light on their personal struggles, they also draw connections between climate change and the rise of mental health issues, climate change and the disparity between wealthy and poor countries, climate change and the tragedies that extreme weather have caused. Suggesting that these connections, which the majority of the population probably don’t think about, be explored further.
After being immersed in this family’s story and their passion for change, readers will undoubtably be educated about the climate crisis and hopefully be inspired to make changes in their own lives. Personally, I learned a great deal about climate change, the science and the politics behind it, and the leaders in the field, but I was mostly impressed by Greta. Her vast knowledge on the subject, her conviction for the health of our planet, and her remarkable ability to overcome personal adversity to fight for something she cares about while rallying others to support her cause are tremendous accomplishments. Greta gives me hope.
- Were you surprised, like me, to hear that in the 30 years since we learned about climate change we have not been able to reduce our carbon emissions at all?
- How much did you know about Greta Thurnberg before reading this? Have you read or listened to any of her speeches? Did you know anything about her personal mental health struggles? (Find Greta’s Ted Talk on Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAmmUIEsN9A )
- Can you think of ways that libraries can bring awareness of this issue to the public right now (virtually) in their communities?