This is the third in a series of three posts about climate fiction. You can find the first here and the second here.
If a citizen living in pre-20th century Britain were to be told that in the future they would be able to travel anywhere in the world in a few hours, to buy any food from anywhere in the world at a local shop throughout the year, have free healthcare, most likely live until their 90s, and hold a device in their hands which could give them any kind of knowledge they asked and permit them to talk to anyone in the world, and to see their faces, they would think the future was some kind of paradise.
Well we live in that age and we know different. We have threatened ourselves with the end of life on earth including our own end, in order to have these unnatural luxuries. We know the cost.
It seems to me that in imagining a future free from climate change we must be careful to imagine what kind of costs that might have. Every decision presents a dilemma. The purpose of governance is damage limitation; minimising the negative consequences of any decision. Unintentional consequences must be thought through.
Climate fiction consciously thinks through these consequences.
Why do we need climate fiction?
Because climate facts alone have not convinced sufficient people to make a difference.
Human beings are fundamentally emotional before being rational. You want to reach our hearts? Don’t rely on facts.
We are also storytellers. It’s how we remember things ever since we learned to walk upright. If I tell you the story of how Uncle Norman went too close to that cliff in the north-east and fell off you will remember to be careful yourself. This works because we have an emotional connection to Uncle Norman.
Stories connect with emotions and we are more emotional creatures then we are factual.
Of course you have to know your facts. You should have researched the science and the solutions. Perhaps you are involved in solutions in your location.
Give them to people.
What is the future of climate fiction?
In a trivial sense, since we are now and henceforth living in a climate changed world, then all fiction will be climate fiction if it’s not set in the past.
Climate fiction is no longer the exclusive province of science fiction and fantasy, if it ever was.
Any genre, including poetry, can take climate change as its theme, and already has.
Personally I am waiting for a climate comedy that will really break out and reach audiences that have not been reached so far.
Here is a poor attempt to use humour to make a serious point: As I’m writing this, energy companies are raking in huge profits. The breaking news is their bosses are making a public announcement: “We are the evil geniuses who caused climate change. Just give us £2000 each and we’ll make it go away.”
This is satire that is also plausible. They can do this too. If Microsoft can promise to offset all the carbon dioxide it ever caused to be emitted, so can the energy companies, by using their vast wealth to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. That should be a condition of their being able to conduct business as usual.
Mass-market soap operas are making a reference to climate change. It’s become a subject impossible to ignore.
Why not write a short story?
I’ve written many short stories about climate change. Some of these are about the unintended consequences of action on climate change, so they serve as cautionary tales.
These stories – At the Crux and For the Greater Good – reflect my interest in ‘one planet’ thinking – the ecological footprint as a measure of sustainability. I asked myself: if the country set itself the same task as one planet development in Wales – of satisfying the needs of inhabitants within the confines of a global fair and equal distribution of environmental impact – what could be the implications for the population? Living like this would demand monitoring of the entire ecological impact of the country and dividing it by the population each year.
School Strike for Baby Hope and Beacon arose from my experience of being in my local Extinction Rebellion group. We had many successful actions in Swansea and joined the national demonstrations in London. School Strike For Baby Hope appeared in Teens Of Tomorrow: Stories of Near and Far-Flung Futures, which explored possible futures through the stories of twelve courageous teens.
In 2015 I was invited to the Free Word Centre in London’s Islington, with fifty-plus other writers. They paired us with climate scientists to instruct us in aspects of climate change, from the history of climate change to the impact of refugees fleeing Africa and other hot spots.
We were then asked to imagine the consequences. The result was a collection of short stories that was published by Cambria Press under the title Weatherfronts: climate change and the stories we tell, and launched at the Hay Festival.
The previous year my cli-fi novel Stormteller was published.
We all feel threatened by climate change. We feel powerless to do anything about it. So I wanted the novel partly to be about giving some degree of optimism. It looks at the question of rewriting the endings of stories: ours – about climate change – and two old legends.
How will your climate fiction empower people?
You are about to write something, aren’t you, or you wouldn’t be reading this.
So tell me. Who are those people in the picture at the top of this page? What do they have to do with climate change? We should be told. I’ll be waiting to hear from you.