New Beginnings

As part of Climate Generation’s #TeachClimate Network, we read The End We Start From by Megan Hunter. Betsy Wilkening, Tucson Water Education Coordinator in Arizona, reviewed the book. Important to note is the interdisciplinary nature of this book. It could be used in an ELA, art, science, or social studies class. Also, The End We Start From is featured in our new Climate Change Reading Guide that can be found on our Humanities Curriculum page. The TeachClimate Network is supported by Avangrid Foundation in partnership with Avangrid Renewables. 

What comes to mind when you think of the term “New Beginnings?”

Do you sense optimism in a new beginning, or do you envision an escape from a bad situation? If you Google the term, chances are you will receive websites of organizations that provide assistance in recovering from substance abuse, escaping domestic violence, or surviving cancer. Millennials might relate to new beginnings with the 1998 song Closing Time from the band Semisonic. Megan Hunter titled her book The End We Start From not from the song, but from T.S. Eliot’s prose in Four Quartets.

“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.”

The Four Quartets were written during World War II, 1939–1942, a time of endings, new beginnings, and survival. Dan Wilson of Semisonic wrote Closing Time with a sense of optimism in anticipation of becoming a father. His lyric, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end,” is attributed to Roman Stoic philosopher, Seneca. In The End We Start From, Hunter captures a new beginning for her characters that includes optimism, escape, and survival.

Hunter tells us the story of a new mother who gives birth during a catastrophic rapid sea level rise event in London. It is the end of a normal life, as she simultaneously takes on the roles of climate refugee and new parent. Beginnings and endings are woven throughout the narrative.

The book is written in a simple and poetic prose. Hunter’s narrator describes with a sense of wonder and beauty the first year of her son’s life amongst the background of death, hunger, and loss that is their new reality. The characters in the book are called by their initials and are not given names. Is that so we can picture ourselves in the characters? Or, maybe in the quest for survival those details are just not necessary?

The narrator becomes resilient to each situation that comes her way, adapting and surviving as she raises her infant son.

“Here is the poor relation of there, with facilities so basic we laugh at our previous ignorant luck. Maybe this will be the way it goes, from now. Every few months fresh knowledge of the past, of how good it was compared to the present.” This passage resonated with me as we keep progressing into a hotter world. Are we going to adapt, and just remember how good it used to be, or are we going to mitigate climate change?

Climate change is often slow and insidious. In Tucson, Arizona where I live, it’s getting hotter. We just finished the 10th summer in a row that make up the 10 hottest summers ever. Local, global, and regional climate data can be investigated by students with NOAA visualization tools on the Climate at a Glance webpage. NASA has a nice infographic on sea level rise and Climate Central is a great resource for visualizations and understanding risk associated with sea level rise.

Many people will experience climate change through a catastrophic event such as a hurricane, typhoon, or wildfire that changes their lives in an instant. Climate Central created visualizations of predicted sea level rise in London and across the world. Our narrator experiences catastrophic flooding in London which prevents her from returning home after giving birth in a hospital. She and her husband, R, and baby Z, become instant climate refugees. We hear about refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers in the daily news across the globe and in the United States. There are many ways to engage students in current events and social justice issues with this book around the refugee topic. (Check out Climate Generation’s new humanities content for articles and activities, as well as the cli-fi book Exodus. which as strong refugee themes.)

The baby, Z, becomes the main purpose for our narrator to continue moving forward and remaining strong throughout the book. She talks about mothers developing “hysterical” or superhuman strength to protect their children from danger. She draws on this strength which allows her to deal with adversity throughout the book. This leads me to ask two questions.

The first is, “What is your purpose for combating climate change?” In seeking out your purpose, Climate Generation does an excellent job with helping people define their climate story. Through reflection and sharing stories, people are given the opportunity to voice what they hold dear. This moves people to develop their own “hysterical strength” necessary to combat climate change.

The second question I have is, “What is your superpower?” I believe that teaching is one of the greatest superpowers. Incorporating opportunities in your teaching that allows students to act in ways that benefit their community is the most powerful superpower. Climate Generation’s variety of tools and Project Drawdown (a book we previously read) are some resources that can help.

The last thing that I would encourage teachers to do is to join the #TeachClimate Network.

The narrator found strength, support, and encouragement from fellow climate refugee and new mother, O. The #TeachClimate Network is a welcoming and supportive environment for all educators. Start a new beginning based in optimism for yourself and your students. Join in the discussion of ideas, news, and resources for creating positive change in our communities.

Published in:
Topic tags: