Environmental Column: In Conversation with Chris Saltmarsh – ‘Burnt by Capitalism’

The environment with Melissa Evatt.

Burnt; Fighting for Climate Justice – A review, and an interview with its author, the incredible Chris Saltmarsh.  

“How do we build a movement that is capable of winning?”  

Chris Saltmarsh: environmental activist, writer, socialist, Co-Founder of Labour for a green new deal and the author of Burnt; Fighting for Climate Justice, speaks of his first book which was published September 20th.  

It goes without saying that hundreds of books are published every year, many of them with the same agenda in mind: to advocate for the environment and to point the blame towards us, our peers, our diets, and our livelihoods. I for one was exceptionally nervous about this year in particular; after what was possibly one of the worst years for all of humankind, and the chaos that is still ensuing, I was skeptical when I found out there was to be yet another book preaching to us about the Climate Crisis and how, for the millionth time, recycling and doing our bit will save the polar bears.  

What I find with some (not all, but most I have encountered) climate emergency books are that after reading these I get a sudden burst of overwhelming emotions, that I can single-handedly change the world. Of course, these feelings begin to die down when the realisation hits that I cannot do much on my own, hype dies, and I am over the book in the two weeks it took to read it. From then on, the search is back on for the book that changes my attitude.  

Chris Saltmarsh’s Burnt; Fighting for Climate Justice is a book that I quite frankly believe that everyone should read at some point in their lives. The truth is, if you care about the environment, there is no better book.

Let us start with the title, in particular, the first word: Burnt. In our interview, Chris explains that “Burnt conjures up the imagery/role of capitalism, I have been burnt by my experiences.” Fighting for Climate Justice is the self-explanatory part. What struck me during this interview and my time talking to Chris was his enthusiasm and understanding of the environment, not as an expert such as a politician looking from the outside in, but as an activist, a socialist, an environmentalist whose time has been dedicated towards making the planet greater and working to achieve environmental wins across the UK.  

“From a movement/political standpoint, people want success, an end game. We need to identify what we need to win.” Having been an activist for over 7 years, Chris has experience in what it means to take action, as he stated “no one is an activist on their own” and the “commitment people bring to movements” is what drives the vehicle of change. Chris’ first book looks to do just that: drive change and motivate the masses into action.  

Touching on the imminent, and inevitable climate emergency we’re facing, Chris believes that “We [the UK], have around 10 years to turn it around.” Take this as a bleak reminder that we have little to no time left in order to undo what has been done or as motivation, as a rallying cry from the parapet.

For now, I believe Burnt is the blueprint; offering a very fine line between environmental activism and the harsh realities of the world we live in and our immediate environment. Touching on the impacts of the BLM protests, COVID-19 and the many environmentally momentous moments of last year, this book offers a critical analysis of the political discourse that has interrupted, disrupted, and dismembered our outlook on environmentalism.  

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