Saturday, 2 April 2022

How should a climate writer be?

I’ve joined two climate crisis writing workshops, as I’m not sure how to address climate in my writing – should it be incorporated into fiction, should I draw on my background in nonfiction and journalism, or should I try to find a hybrid of the two? Creative nonfiction encompasses a huge range of story telling devices and ways to come at a subject. Maybe there's a space I can fill somewhere there? Poetry seems the obvious, most elastic and thoughtful way to write about what’s happening. But I am not a poet.

Who knows how to proceed? Writing seems very slow and sometimes marginal, unless you are well known, and the climate crisis frighteningly urgent, though we proceed as if it was an optional news item most of the time. Maybe we need frivolity, distraction, Twitter wars, in order to preserve our mental health? Those brave enough to confront the crisis head on, full time, risk emotional burnout. An issue which dwarfs the horrors of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is hard to live with, day after day, while the world blasts on, heating up and talking about nothing.

So we did this exercise, which I found useful, and it cheered me up to some extent. There is another issue here, about whether writers write about climate for personal therapy or to communicate a message. As Sheila Heti nearly said, how should a climate writer be?

We were asked to consider five questions about an aspect of the natural world that we love:

1.       What do you love about it?

2.       Why and how is it under threat?

3.       How does that make you feel?

4.       What is the solution?

5.       What’s your vision for a better future, if this solution could be found?

Caveat here – in trying to write anything directly about the climate, it’s become apparent that I know nothing about it. There are piles of books in my room which contain the information that is not inside my head. Nature is outside my window, I walk in it sometimes but don’t know what anything is called. I never garden.

Anyhow, here is my response, slightly edited.

What I love is the thought of the seabed, the deep sea floor, completely mysterious and black, with creatures living there which we haven’t even discovered yet, as well as those we have. Weird *monsters* with crushed and flattened faces, eyeless, pale. They look nightmarish to us, designed to withstand the vast weight of the water. I love the mystery of the unexplored.

It’s under threat because of the threat of deep sea mining, proposed in order to mine for the minerals that are needed for electric cars, an alleged solution to the climate crisis and the end of oil.

I feel horror, a sense of dread, a childish kind of superstition as well as a rational belief that we are risking everything for a temporary fix. The wild places seem sacred, even though I am an atheist.

The solution is to leave the seabed alone, to leave the minerals where they are. It’s brutally simple, but *everyone* will say it’s unrealistic, we must switch to electric cars.

My vision of a better future is one in which the private car is no longer seen as an essential, and the amount of investment in public transport makes this feasible. People would use bicycles, buses, trains, trams, they’d walk in safety. Community spaces would open up where once there were busy roads. Lung disease and cancer rates would fall, so would obesity. Villages, towns and cities would reclaim their outdoor spaces, now lost to endless traffic. Places would be places, not just a passing scene beyond a windscreen. Everywhere would be somewhere.