Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis
Penguin Random House Canada, May 2022
How can you learn to help yourself when the entire planet needs help? Britt Wray explores this question with her book Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis. Wray mainly focuses on the concepts of dread, eco-distress, and eco-anxiety, “a condition that robs sleep from those who, when all is dark and quiet, stir in thoughts of how uninhabitable the Earth will soon become.”
“Dread,” “distress,” and “anxiety” are words that you might expect to hear in a psychologist’s office during a therapy session, but Wray is no psychologist — and that’s the whole point. She holds a PhD in science communication and suffers from eco-anxiety herself, motivating her search for the best path forward as eco-anxiety becomes more prevalent.
With its focus on mental health, you can expect to find Generation Dread in a bookstore’s “self-help” section. Calling it a self-help book isn’t inaccurate, but it doesn’t do the book justice. Wray is sorting through a complex blend of psychological and philosophical ideas grounded in her knowledge of environmental science. When the entire world is staring down a climate crisis that is on track to end life as we know it, the concept of “self” can only feel so important.
Wray is keenly aware of these complex feelings, and she engages with them brilliantly. When discussing the impacts of eco-distress on the individual, Wray says, “Dread is a resource floating freely in the air, and it’s this generation’s job to capture it.” It is challenging to perceive dread with any sense of optimism, but recognizing its ability to inspire positive change is a step in the right direction.
Generation Dread is by no means an easy read. Staring down the implications of the climate crisis isn’t fun, but Wray does her best to make the book accessible. She ends each chapter with a bullet point list of “key takeaways” that make some of the book’s more complex (but bleak) ideas easier to stomach.
Given her academic background, Wray’s writing sometimes feels like it belongs in an academic journal, but she also uses colourful analogies to simplify complex ideas. It takes a skilled writer to compare governmental gaps in COVID-19 policies between countries to “Swiss cheese.”
Almost everybody, particularly in the Western, industrialized world, can learn something from Generation Dread, but finding the motivation to read the entire book could be challenging. A good technique could be to take things one chapter at a time, leaving a day or two in between. This way, you can absorb the key takeaways at the end of each chapter without being overwhelmed by the heavy subject matter.
Generation Dread is about recognizing hard truths about the climate crisis, facing them head-on, and looking for ways to take meaningful action. Reading it will be difficult, but not as difficult as realizing you need to read it in the first place.