The Joyful Environmentalist – How to practise without preaching by Isabel Losada 

Image copyright Rebecca Osborne – the live graphic record from the Halesworth Climate Action Conference, 30 September 2023. See top left: Hannah’s talk, and top right: Isabel’s talk.  [If you right click the image and select “open in new tab” you can see it in all its full size glory]

Hannah Gray meets the author and reviews The Joyful Environmentalist:

In my role as an A Rocha volunteer speaker, I was invited to speak at an event in Halesworth, Suffolk in September. The Halesworth Climate Action Conference was a 3-day series of talks, workshops, art and eating, jointly hosted by the parish church and the town council. After the usual wobbles with technology (literally, the screen fell over on top of the vicar, and the laptop didn’t work properly) I kicked off the Saturday conference with a talk about how A Rocha is helping churches and Christians to care for the environment. Despite having no slides, the audience seemed engaged, and a graphic recorder transformed my words into beautiful illustrations on a huge board. 

I had some interesting conversations over a delicious vegan lunch with many people who hadn’t heard about A Rocha before. One was with an author who was speaking in the afternoon session. Isabel Losada was giving a short talk about her latest book, The Joyful Environmentalist. I bought the book there and then, because as someone who cares about the environment, I could do with some more joy, AND because the cover artwork was gorgeous, AND because I had to leave before her talk, so I felt mildly guilty about that as she was so complimentary about my talk! 

The conference was not a specifically Christian event, and I think it’s brilliant that churches join up with other organisations to work in partnership on these issues locally. Isabel is not a Christian herself, though she was already convinced of the potential for faith organisations to encourage wider environmental action through their congregations. She’d just been invited by the Bishop of Anglesey to talk about her book to a Churches Together group and is keen to visit more churches. 

This book is not a Christian perspective on environmental issues, and be warned, there are a few expletives. However, if you want a practical and humorous take on individual lifestyle changes that we can make in the UK today, this is a great choice. Her book is endorsed by George Monbiot, Rowan Williams and Joanna Lumley, and was the Independent’s best overall sustainability book for 2022.  

 

Isabel makes no apologies for not explaining the science around the environmental crisis, instead she assumes her readers are already convinced of the need for action, and dives straight into how we can make changes that are better for the world (people and planet). She doesn’t come from a place of condemnation or doom and gloom, she starts from a position of humility, honesty and humour, wanting to be joyful in every planet positive decision she makes. 

Isabel isn’t an expert in climate change or biodiversity collapse – she is a writer and a journalist, who happens to be passionate about our precious planet and wanted to record her journey to living more lightly. She excels in telling hilarious stories of her own adventures in pursuit of this objective and the people she met along the way, for example volunteering to plant trees on a Scottish hillside, canvassing for the Green Party, and trying to buy vegan fat balls for her garden birds. She spends time living off-grid in Lammas ecovillage on a Welsh hillside to see if she could do it long term.  

I love the chapters called ‘Being a little bit activist’ and ‘Arrestable?’ where she attends an Extinction Rebellion meeting for the purposes of research for the book, and ends up being part of the 2019 April Rebellion in the samba band. I remember watching the news and being filled with hope and disappointed I wasn’t part of it, so I enjoyed reading about Isabel’s experience. Her interactions with kind police officers, what it was like listening to Greta Thunberg’s speech, and how wonderful it was to be in the middle of London with no traffic and thousands of like-minded people, in a spirit of love and generosity. 

The longer story chapters are interspersed with shorter blog-style chapters that give quick lists and recommendations on topics like ethical investing, giving up single use plastics, wildlife friendly gardening and sustainable fashion. She’s done the research and tested the options to save us all time. Isabel also landed some eye-opening interviews with high-profile people like Juliet Davenport, the CEO of Good Energy, Guy Singh-Watson, the founder of Riverford Organic Foodboxes, Safia Minney the founder of People Tree clothing, and Isabella Tree, the rewilding pioneer of Knepp Estate. These interviews are woven seamlessly into the topics covered in the book, adding expert opinions and perspectives to Isabel’s own decisions and experiences.  

I highly recommend reading this book and passing it onto an eco-conscious friend – for Christmas perhaps. Each chapter is insightful and funny, and she really does demonstrate how being a green citizen can be a joyful undertaking. Isabel has been on her own journey of environmental awareness and action, which echoes mine and many of yours – the difference is, she’s written down her learning to pass on to others. I’m pleased she did.  

Hannah Gray is a Programme Manager for WaterAid. She is mum to two children and is a member of Light of Life Baptist Church in Norfolk and coordinates the Baptist Union Environment Network in the eastern region. Hannah graduated from the CRES course in 2020.