As Climate Writer, as well as my own writing on the subject, I will be consulting with scientists and environmentalists, engaging widely and developing ways of working with other writers, artists, teachers and anyone at all who is interested around how we might approach the subject of Climate Change and Adaptation with imagination, creativity and care.
One of the things I want to produce is a manual for good practice – a manifesto to share widely and stimulate ideas for action. Climate Change is just one strand of multiple ecological challenges, but the only one with a deadline. It is asking us to do things differently and we must pool our resources to learn how to achieve that. If every individual and organisation did its own audit, practical and psychological, great progress could be made. American futurist Alvin Toffler said ‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.’
I’ve only just started in the post but here are some of the ideas I’m bringing into it. I’ve shaped them into five thoughts or words that might form a first-draft circular manifesto – emphatically not just another To Do List. Even though my points may be seen as ‘soft skills’, they require hard work and might help us feel less like we’re jumping from a moving train.
This is the creativity I mentioned earlier – which is a writer’s superpower. It is at the core of Rebecca Solnit and Greta Thunberg’s ‘cathedral thinking’: ‘We must lay the foundations while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.’ (GT) Writers know all about that leap in the dark, having a vision, asking ‘What if?’ This shift also covers the stories we live by: outmoded concepts such as endless growth, competition as strength, success only in terms of profit and change as something to be feared. Our current well-being and the common good require these to be dismantled and re-imagined. To a certain extent that is already happening, but it needs to become the new norm.
- Optimism (even Joy)
This is very much related to imagination and creativity – there is opportunity in this crisis, and liberation. Another word is Hope – but that word only makes sense if it involves Action. Greta Thunberg says that the best medicine for despair and overwhelm is action – harnessing your sense of agency and actually doing something – being a good citizen and working for change. Some writers and artists might choose to incorporate campaigning, community and collaboration into their practice, breaking down old ideas about the solitary genius and turning towards solidarity. This year’s collective Turner Prize winners are a good example.
Climate Change is all about connection and interconnectedness. It is the consequence of our deep disconnection from the natural world we ourselves are part of – seeing it as something ‘out there’ to be used for our own gain – our alienation from ourselves and each other. Change needs volume and numbers, a sense of momentum, to get us past the tipping point of awareness. We need to connect with each other, across difference, to make it happen. ‘Act local, think global.’
One of the ways we can achieve that momentum is by repetition – keeping the Climate Crisis at the forefront of our minds and our lives, influencing our choices and conversations on a daily basis, doing everything we can to shift either the ‘business as usual’ or the ‘waiting for the cavalry’ mindset – our own and other people’s. If that means being a stuck record, so be it. This is what our lives are now – as environmental philosopher Timothy Morton says, ‘the end of the world has already happened’. We must persist and sustain our efforts to create the change that is necessary to bring down carbon emissions to a safe level.
- Kindness & Care
In relation to that, we need to bear in mind words like Care and Kindness. As we know already, this is not an easy process – we have to face the uncomfortable truth and tell our truth in order to transform it. We are carrying lots of difficult emotions – sadness, loss, grief, despair, anxiety, anger, fear, numbness – all of us like patients with a terminal diagnosis who must find ways of acknowledging and articulating how that feels in our bodies, hearts and minds. We need to do some inner work so that we can assimilate it all and ensure we’re big enough to manage it. There’s a subtle negotiation in staying in the moment, at the same time as we are both anticipating our own deaths and building a safe and supportive future for ourselves and our children. We need to stay compassionate and creative, rather than judgmental and reactive.
Which brings the circle round…though it may be more of a spiral-in-progress, with repeating and shifting and breaking cycles. I imagine that will be what my work as Climate Writer looks like too – finding new ways to understand, articulate and share the latest research and my thinking on the subject, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, but keeping on keeping on as time unfolds.