A green beacon of hope

A green beacon of hope

I hold my manuscript in my hand that will in the not too distant future become a book: I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain (Bloomsbury, 2021), the first of my nature writing trilogy. Over 200 pages of paper and the first time I’ve ever printed it out despite multiple drafts. Touching the paper – after a year of reading and writing mainly digitally - is a sheer delight. Yet I’m reminded too what a precious resource it is – how, after all, books are made out of trees. In this kernel of knowledge lies why the books industry must take urgent steps to tackle green issues, sustainability and the climate crisis, and why these topics are at the heart of my work as a nature writer. 

It’s such topics that I’ll be discussing on an illustrious panel at FutureBook 2020 this afternoon, ‘Greening the book industry: towards a sustainable future’. With a wealth of experience, panellists will tackle the topic from a range of perspectives: Amanda Ridout, founder and c.e.o. of Boldwood Books has written about the sustainability initiatives of the Independent Publishers Guild which aims to help its members do something practical and is focusing on improving the industry’s ‘antiquated’ supply chain; Siena Parker, head of creative responsibility for Penguin Random House brings the perspective of a large publisher and is charged with developing their responsible business and social impact strategy; Vicky Ellis, sales director of Clays brings another vital perspective and is member of the IPG sustainability group; whilst Helen Conford, publisher at Profile Books, has written on the climate emergency.

What is our impact on the environment as a sector and in what ways can it be ameliorated?

What are the problems and what action can be taken? We’ll be discussing every stage of the publishing process in this context, from paper and printers, print-on-demand and digital initiatives, to supply chains, reducing single-use plastics and carbon footprints, as well as how Covid-19 has impacted the industry’s approach to sustainability.

With Biden's victory there is a renewed sense of hope for the planet – that it might actually have a future at all, with the US expected to re-join the Paris agreement which will of course affect all of our lives. After four years of Trump’s climate denial, it is heartening that Biden and Harris centred tackling the climate crisis as a key policy issue: “We are preparing to lead on day one, ensuring the Biden-Harris administration is able to take on the most urgent challenges we face: protecting and preserving our nation's health, renewing our opportunity to succeed, advancing racial equity, and fighting the climate crisis.”

The climate crisis and racial equity are not distinct topics but in fact linked in ways too many fail to understand. The climate catastrophe affects every living being on the planet, though has disproportionately worse affects for those from BAME backgrounds living in highly polluted inner cities where breathing fresh air and having access to abundant trees is not easy (and studies have linked coronavirus to air pollution). That’s why I’m fundraising to establish the I Belong Here foundation to help improve access to nature for all. If every delegate to FutureBook – that’s over 1000 of you, donated even a little bit, this dream could become a reality. After being racially abused on a train, I was offered £150 victim compensation and in the spirit of ‘paying forward’ I’m donating this into the foundation; matches or more or less would be wonderful, though even a tenner would be appreciated – after all, it takes tiny seeds to grow into trees and into a forest. 

Here is my call-to-arms regarding greening the books and opening up access to nature to all backgrounds. Please support this initiative which aims to offer a beacon of hope to those who feel like they don’t belong, to those who find it difficult to breathe: I aim to give workshops to those from marginalised backgrounds, offer mentoring sessions as well as ultimately establishing a storytelling hub in inner-city Manchester. So many nature writers who make it have parents who imbued their love of nature, going on lovely country walks and living in places where nature is abundant, but many others don’t have that. I didn’t. Branching out from this, as someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, I’ve also learned just how vital having access to nature is to the mental health.

Nature writer Robert Macfarlane has said of the foundation: "What an inspiring force for good the I BELONG HERE foundation looks to be. Such hope at its heart - a wish to build community and tolerance and diversity of voice and story from the ground up, from the inside out. At this political moment, to have a project which intends to give people the confidence to say not only 'I am a writer' but also 'I belong here'...and then seeking to bring people from minority communities out into nature, well, this is the real work".   

In my efforts to increase access to nature writing, I’m also giving away two free tickets to my now sold-out virtual Nature Writing Workshop at the Kendal Mountain Literature Festival on 21st November to those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to attend (@ me on @anitasethi to be in for a chance of winning). 

Trees create oxygen which enable us to breathe at all. Books too enable us to breathe. Books have been oxygen and a lifesaver to me. The next generation need to have access to both books and trees, and it will take root and branch reform of unequal systems to get there. Now is not the time for complacency but for action. Please join me in supporting this project and help everyone be able to say: I belong here.

To donate to the I Belong Here foundation, click here.

Anita Sethi is author of a forthcoming trilogy of nature writing books published by Bloomsbury, I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain (2021), Nocturne (2022) and Forces (2024).