Today, to mark World Environment Day, we’re looking to the future with a message of hope.
Established by the United Nations in 1974, World Environment Day is celebrated on 5 June every year, to raise awareness and drive action on environmental issues.
This year is particularly poignant, as we collectively consider what it means to build back better and wait with bated breath to see if governments around the world will deliver on promises of a green recovery.
These are big, abstract concepts, which can be hard for adults to grapple with, never mind children. So this year, to mark World Environment Day, best-selling author Tom Rivett-Carnac has written a children’s book to help parents have this difficult but important conversation.
A former Buddhist monk, Tom has spent the last 20 years working on climate change and is credited as one of the architects of the Paris Agreement, the global treaty adopted by 195 countries in 2015.
In 2017, Tom co-founded Global Optimism with Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, with a mission to inspire, champion and catalyse ‘stubborn optimists’.
Tom and Christiana assert that stubborn optimism is the mindset we must all adopt if we’re going to survive the climate crisis, a concept vividly brought to life in their best-selling book, The Future We Choose, a Greenhouse must-read.
Having been asked many times for advice on how to talk to children about climate change, Tom decided to use lockdown as an opportunity to write a story for parents and children about what comes next, titled What Happened When We All Stopped.
Tom explains: “At this time of immense uncertainty, we have an opportunity to talk with our children about how to emerge from the health pandemic to build back better, and to paint a future that is not mired in floods, fires and pandemics, as will be inevitable if we fail to tackle the larger, looming climate crisis.
“As a father of two young children, I know how hard it can be to broach these subjects, which seem so abstract and alarming, but the fundamental message in this poem is one of hope.
“The future is unwritten. What happens next is up to us. We who are here now get to choose how the next chapter of the human story will unfold – and we must choose well.”
Set to beautiful artwork created by Tom’s sister, Bee Rivett-Carnac, a noted illustrator with two decades’ experience, the poem conjures an inspiring vision of the renewed, nature-rich world that’s waiting for us as we emerge from isolation.
The story book, launched this morning to a global audience of millions of children via our friends at Newsround, has also been made into an animated video by the team at TED-Ed.
World famous anthropologist and UN Messenger of Peace, Dr Jane Goodall was so inspired by Tom’s poem that she agreed to provide the voiceover for the video version.
Dr Goodall said: “I’ve often considered it strange that the most intellectual creature ever to walk the earth is destroying its only home. This wonderful story helps parents and their children to overcome the disconnect between our clever brains and our loving, compassionate hearts.
“We must find a way of living in harmony with nature so that both may thrive. I hope this story book inspires people of all ages to play their part in healing the harm we have inflicted so that together we can create a new future.”