Writing in The Yale Herald, one of the student newspapers at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, third-year undergrad Allegra Brogard weighed in with a terrific oped about the current state of things in this newly-minted ”Anthropocene” Era and her editors headlined it “Climatic Futures.”
Brogard didn’t waste any time getting into the thick of her theme, starting off with her very first lead sentence: “In October 2018, the environmental community fell off its chair.”
That was when the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a special report revealing that humans must limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels in order “to prevent irreversible damage to our ecosystems.”
Already, Brogard warned, the 2 degrees Centigrade target set in the 2015 Paris Agreement seemed incredibly ambitious, adding: “All of a sudden, the task at hand had become even more gargantuan, and the world was not remotely prepared to tackle it’
Although a choir of concerned international voices urged immediate and radical action in light of the report, the world did not pause, Brogard added.
“In fact, global CO2 emissions reached an all-time high in 2018,” she said. “It seemed that the IPCC report, hailed as a breakthrough call to action in environmentalist circles, did not sufficiently mobilize governments, corporations, and citizens into action. In the USA, a March 2018 Yale study found that while an encouraging 70 percent of Americans believe that global warming is happening, only 21 percent feel “very worried” about it. If numbers like those advanced by the IPCC fail to make people worried, we must find new ways to do so.”
Brogard’s brainstorm: “I believe that the emerging literary genre of climate fiction, or “cli-fi,” may be the key to turning climate passivity into climate activity.”
Dystopian literature has long been used to inform readers of impending threats, Brogard wrote, adding that while “dystopian climate literature might scare people into action … it could also prove to be counterproductive.”
When confronted with an existential threat so unfathomably grave as climate change, it is easy to become ”overwhelmed, cynical, pessimistic,” but that’s just the opposite of what needs to occur, she said.
“There is a fine line between a doomsday scenario inspiring action, and a doomsday scenario prompting despondency. Besides, who in their right mind wants to spend their free time reading about climate catastrophes?”
Brogard’s solution is a good one and well worth pondering: “If cli-fi is truly to provoke alarm, I believe that it won’t be through inspiring fear. Rather, it will be through inspiring empathy. The type of cli-fi I’m imagining does not feature sinking cities and crashing buildings; instead, it centers on the narratives of individuals.”
So what if writers started telling stories about characters affected by climate change?
”Through cli-fi, perhaps the readers who think of climate change as abstract and unfathomable would be pushed to rethink it as a threat on individual lives,” Brogard wrote.
Just an aside: I wrote for my campus newspaper at Tufts University in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but back then we had not yet heard about global warming or runaway climate change. Back then we talked about protests against war in far away Vietnam, civil rights marches and protests in America and the rise of feminism. We had never heard about any IPCC reports or cli-fi novels and science fiction movies like “The Day After Tomorrow.”
That was then, this is now. Brogard concludes her timely oped piece:
”The clock is ticking and we must convince 7 billion people to care. For a minute, let us set aside phrases like ‘1.5 degrees Centigrade,’ ‘four foot sea level rise’, and ‘increasing number of extreme heat-days.’ Instead, let us tell stories about a mother struggling to find food in a drought, a fisherman losing his livelihood due to acid rain, or a child whose teddy bear gets swept up by a flood. Writers have always had the power to shape popular consciousness. Today, they face the most urgent of challenges. For the sake of our planet, authors must unleash their imaginations and do what they do best: write some good stories.”
So yes, writers of the world, in all four corners of this warming world, heed the words of Allegra Brogard at Yale and start your inner engines and lay down some good cli-fi stories.
Time is not running out, but at the same time, it might be that it is and we don’t know it.