Book Review: A doom-free take on climate change is exactly what we need

Alice Rich
Narrative Muse
Published in
4 min readJan 20, 2022

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Uluru and Kata Tjura National Park by Ondrej Machart

We’ve reduced gender disparity in education, halved child mortality, and brought numerous animals and plants back from the brink of extinction, so why can’t we end climate change?

It took me several months to finish Our Sunburnt Country, which says more about my frame of mind at the time than the insight within its pages. Pandemic fatigue had become so great that whenever I came to open the book I’d promptly fall asleep. But isn’t this how we approach climate change anyway — with our eyes closed? Perhaps my page-provoked narcolepsy was the ultimate procrastination, proving our inability to prioritize the really important things.

If that’s the case, then this read is exactly what we’ve been waiting for. The refreshingly hopeful vibe is an unexpected choice for a subject that tends to revolve around our impending doom, but it pays off, making climate change something that can be explored without risking a mental breakdown.

Author Dr. Anika Molesworth is an agroecologist — a farmer focused on food production that makes the best use of nature’s resources without damaging them — in Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia. She holds a Masters of Sustainable Agriculture and a PhD in Agricultural Science, and is also a founding director of Farmers for Climate Action. In 2015 she was awarded “Young Farmer of the Year.”

After several chapters orienting the reader to Dr. Molesworth’s personal journey, we’re taken on an exploration of human psychology. Specifically through the psychological barriers that have nourished climate change until it became the beast it is today. Molesworth notes that it is “the difference between how nature works and the way people think” that tends to give rise to our biggest problems, and she delves into concepts like “shifting baseline syndrome” and “generational amnesia.”

These concepts explain how momentum can be lost and longterm goals deviated from when a new generation simply accepts the conditions they’re born into as normal, instead of being moved to affect change. Funnily enough, space anthropologists are currently exploring the very same concepts, considering questions about if, or when, humans take to living off-Earth in Plan B.

Despite the prospect of lost momentum, Dr. Molesworth doesn’t blame people for falling prey to their despair and remains humanity’s climate cheerleader. Even in acknowledging our capitalist society’s need for financial incentives to prompt change, her tone remains upbeat and ever-practical, suggesting the key could lie in doughnuts (a very appealing concept indeed).

The Doughnut Model is an economic model that focuses on the potential financial abundance that letting go of climate change-feeding habits would create (rather than the scarcity mindset that’s often used as an excuse for inaction).

“We need to understand that there are planetary limits… but we can grow and develop within those limits in a sustainable way.” It describes adjusting food prices to reflect their environmental cost and nutrient composition making locally-produced, nutritious food cost less, and imported, processed foods, which tend to impact the planet more negatively, cost more. While some may argue such an approach is too soft, I received it as an unburdening. Guilt could be a larger anchor to the past (and to inaction) than I’d realized.

With this encouraging book, Dr. Molesworth promotes a reframing of climate change as a human problem which she points out is, by definition, within our power to change. To dispel the usual overwhelm of where to start, she suggests we examine our language, going beyond emissions to “incorporate the language of humanity” and the ethical implications of carrying on as if nothing is wrong.

Dr. Molesworth explains that when we choose to live in ways that continue to actively feed climate change, we’re harming the poorest in our global community by “causally contributing to extreme events such as droughts, hurricanes and heatwaves.” Looking at climate change from this ethical perspective gives it a face, in fact, millions of faces, anchoring it firmly in the present — it’s today’s problem, our problem.

If you’re thinking this is starting to sound a lot like the impending doom I promised wasn’t central to this book, you’d be wrong. Dr. Molesworth is quick to remind us of the seemingly impossible feats humankind has already managed to pull off. We’ve reduced gender disparity in education, halved child mortality, and brought numerous animals and plants back from the brink of extinction, so why can’t we end climate change?

In the same breath, she deals with the familiar anguish of being “just one person,” emphasizing the importance of a single bee to the overall success of a hive — we’ve just got to knuckle down. If you’re looking for easy action to take to end climate change, you won’t find it here. Our Sunburned Country hopes to help you accomplish something much larger, an entire perspective change and a reordering of our emotions.

The book ends on a high note with imagery so vivid it’s impossible to not get excited about a future where we’re free from climate change. A future that, for once, thanks to Dr. Molesworth’s well-researched rhetoric, feels just around the corner.

the review writer’s hand holding a copy of Our Sunburnt Country in front of a beautifully patterned orange and fabric gold background
Our Sunburnt Country by Dr. Anika Molesworth (photo: Alice Rich)

Want more recommendations like this one? Check out the Narrative Muse matchmaker and discover new stories by (and about) intersectional women and gender diverse creators.

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Alice Rich
Narrative Muse

I create bold, sassy, ethical AF website wordistry for people who give a sh*t about the world and everything in it.