Albert Einstein famously said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
And it will be imagination that is called upon to tackle the biggest threat to all life – climate change. Our imaginations are currently working on carbon capture systems, in addition to thousands of tree planting schemes around the globe. They are also working on alternative organic material solutions to replace plastic, drainage features for new housing schemes and pedestrianising our cities so they are carbon-neutral by 2030.
But where do the arts come in to all this, specifically, literature?
Well, this year, having been invited to return to lead a workshop at the Annual Writers’ Festival, I have been asking myself this question once again. You see back in 2007 when I began Hannah and the Hollow Tree the conversation around climate change wasn’t anywhere close to what it is now. But I plugged away writing the story deep in the belief that I had a message to share about the damage we were doing to our planet and that we must act. I thought that by personifying Gaia, the mother of all creation in Greek mythology, that maybe readers would understand the sickness we have inflicted upon her and empathise enough to the point of action.
Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth had raised awareness and questions, but humanity’s inertia remained steadfast. We continued waging a war against nature instead of Iraq all in the pursuit of material happiness. We became selfie-obsessed, watching any move any Kardashian made in order to tweet about it. Films like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 glamourized the breakdown of our climate, but we lapped up the stunning visual effects having little understanding of the truth that exists within them. Not to mention the trope which ‘disaster’ films all begin with: the science being ignored. Oh, the irony!
What humanity forgets is that, “Nature insists on whatever benefits the whole.” – Marcus Aurelius and we so often do not see ourselves as part of that whole.
Despite there being some significant pieces of literature which would now fall into the ‘cli-fi’ category, the human consciousness has yet to really grasp what the reality of this planet’s future is based on the current trajectory.
At this point, I can help but call to mind a famous quote from the Terminator franchise. And no, it’s not that one.
“There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.” – Sarah Connor
I believe, truly believe that there is still time for us, time for literature – we can create stories that show us a new way, or scare us or enlighten us - to be a vehicle to take the climate message to the hearts and minds and into the hands of everyone because literature, music, poetry, art permeates the consciousness of the human race like nothing else; it is born from our instinct to create. We are, however, a species of both creation and destruction. Both as a collective and as individuals, we must choose. For only one path can be taken, one the holds the fate of generations to come.
Jane Browne is a primary teacher and children's author who graduated from Leeds Trinity in 2018 with an MA in Creative Writing. Her children's book trilogy, The Earth Chronicles, raises awareness of climate change through the adventures of 13-year-old Hannah, who is tasked with saving her family as well as Gaia, the mother of all nature, whose demise would destroy worlds and all of humanity with it.
Jane will be delivering a workshop on climate change fiction at the Writers' Festival on Tuesday 17 March.
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