Writing and reading towards climate action

Finding our place amid the crisis

Photo by Rachel Claire from Pexels

Last month, I kicked off a journey I’ve intended to take for a long time: becoming more involved and more active in working towards mitigating the climate crisis.

I did some fundraising for Climate for Change, a great organisation that facilitates conversations around climate change. (Thanks to those who chipped in!) And I completed Climate Reality leadership corps training on my weekend evenings. Climate Reality is a global grassroots organisation started by Al Gore and I thought the training was brilliant – I learnt how to talk more confidently about climate change and its solutions and was able to interact with people all around the world (the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Manila, the US), with ongoing relationships and accountability encouraged. The org’s focus on climate justice and the prominence of Indigenous speakers in the training really elevated it.

Climate and environmental justice is an ethical approach that considers historical responsibilities and urges us to understand and adequately respond to the challenges faced by people, communities and ecologies most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. It is often the countries that have contributed least to the causes of climate change whose citizens are most impacted. For example, in the Pacific region, island communities are facing severe climate effects and this is an injustice because the world’s main emitters, like Australia, are inadequate in their commitments to both reducing emissions and providing aid.

So why am I telling you all this in my newsletter for writers? Because reading and writing were integral in leading me to this point. From the books on whales I devoured as a kid through to Rose Michael and Jane Rawson’s excellent essay on speculative fiction ‘Reading Crises, Writing Crises’ (Reading Like an Australian Writer), and all the books mentioned within that, such as The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean McKay, The Second Cure by Margaret Morgan, Dyschronia by Jennifer Mills and several others – including the works of the authors themselves. And this year we’ve had some incredible books that engage with the topic and its interrelated concerns. They include the novels Echolalia by Briohny Doyle, The Performance by Claire Thomas, Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser, Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy and The Last Woman in the World by Inga Simpson. And nonfiction such as Country: Future Fire, Future Farming by Bill Gammage and Bruce Pascoe in the First Knowledges series from Thames & Hudson, Firestorm by Greg Mullins (mini review here) and Signs and Wonders by Delia Falconer.

And in finding my place among it all, I know the climate crisis will be increasingly addressed in my writing. But I’m also interested in our industry as a whole – how is it moving towards net zero? How can a paper-based business become sustainable? What are the bigger ethical questions we should be asking ourselves? I’m only at the beginning of looking into this, and I’m reaching out to people, groups and organisations who already have research and action underway. As an introvert with anxiety who has just spent months upon months indoors, I’m having to push myself out of my little box. But I’m hoping my position as someone who has worked in pretty much every area of the industry will make me useful.

For the writers reading this, I’m not sure there is even a question around ‘how’ climate change would be integrated into your work. If your book is contemporary set, the impacts will be present in the environment and in the psyche of your characters – in different ways, depending on where they live and who they are. Even denial is a characteristic that speaks to its opposite. If your book is future-set, it depends how far ahead and what you imagine about our ability to deal with this crisis. People will be people: in your eco-hub of the future, all the same personalities will exist, and certain power structures (now I’m thinking of books that do this well: Clade by James Bradley, The Ark by Annabelle Smith, Ian Irvine’s Human Rites trilogy, The Glad Shout by Alice Robinson…) And if your book is set in the past, are you not in some way engaging with the crisis every time you imagine what nature used to be like? Or when you’re looking at the origins of industrialisation? Or when you’re engaging with colonisation? Maybe it’s a strong opinion but I think all literature, written by us as we go through this (and hopefully solve this), will contain at least an undercurrent of this urgent, present state we’re in. Perhaps we can think about how the climate justice position might also be represented.

One of the best books I’ve read in getting to this point is Tyson Yunkaporta’s Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World. The ideas within encouraged me to assess and break down my thinking and not necessarily put it back together but let it span out… It’s hard for me to describe, but it’s an extremely good book, and a necessary one.

So, firstly, I hope you enjoy some of the books mentioned and they help to inspire and awaken your own actions (every small step counts). Secondly, I hope there’s some energy here that will help you think about how your own writing may be working, even subtly, on this. And thirdly, if anyone is already working in this area, let’s be in touch.

Opportunities of the month

This one closes on 8 November, so get in quick: The London Reader is issuing an open call for creative climate writing about the weather, disaster, and perseverance (not sure if this one pays, sorry).

The Dorothy Hewett Award for an unpublished manuscript is open to writers who have completed a manuscript and are seeking publication. It closes on 30 November. The work must be fiction, narrative nonfiction or poetry, inclusive of hybrid genres such as verse novels or memoir. The winner will receive a cash prize of $10,000, courtesy of Copyright Agency, and will be offered a publishing contract by UWA Publishing.


Take care, stay safe, and get in touch if I can help with anything,

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