Like Amitav Ghosh, I’m fascinated by the role of novels in exploring climate change. Though over 100 have now been published, collated here on GoodReads by Karl Friedrich Lenz and by Dan Bloom, Adeline Jons-Putra and Ted Howell and among others, they tend to assume we fail, using a climate-ruined world as a dystopic setting. As literary scholar Howell asks, “where are the utopian visions of the future?” Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior is a notable cli-fi exception, as a contemporary story of hope in the struggle, and I’m on a constant look out for more.
My fascination became an inspiration, so I recklessly centered my debut novel in the heart of the climate storm. As a theme, it proved compelling and rewarding to write about, pitting my characters into everyday dilemmas against an epic backdrop.
Like many young people, my protagonist, Ruby, vents her frustration at climate inaction one weekend. Less commonly, as a Grammy-winner, she has the power of “the mic and a global feed to millions” when she does. Her words inspire a greek chorus of eco-groupies to chase and chivvy her to do more than speak out. Nevertheless, Ruby at first feels powerless to make a difference, as do most of us in our climate-wrecking society.
Responding to climate change, or not, is essentially an inner conflict, generally expressed as an external one. It disrupts our everyday decision making if we choose to let it. If it’s raining, will I walk the 800m to buy a pint of milk or will I take the car? Will I fly or spend an extra day travelling and take the train? Will I buy an imported mandarin because I love their citrus zing or settle for a local apple’s crunch today? Good climate choices can often still be more difficult, inconvenient, or expensive, so dependent are we on fossil fuels.
Climate change isn’t something we can attack; it mostly requires us to exercise restraint in what we buy or what we do. It requires us to relish the heady pleasure of the wind in our hair at 10km/hr on a bicycle rather than 100km/hr in a convertible, to extend Ghosh’s metaphor for cultural desire. It is an daily struggle in our hearts against a threat we can barely imagine, until the local river floods or our rains fail.
Externally, powerful forces, including the oil and coal giants and much of the car industry, are obvious in preferring our dependency. Even as I was making final edits to Ruby and the Blue Sky, my feminist climate change thriller, new evidence of the oil giants’ duplicity was revealed.
Less obviously, our whole economic model, founded on consuming, is pitted against the finite loveliness of Earth. To meet even the Paris climate change targets we’ll need to do more than switch to buying fair trade, organic stuff.
In my business-life, our team support organisations working to be less bad and there is work internationally to shape businesses that benefit society and nature, as well as shareholders. In my political life, I volunteer for a Party striving to move my country onto a footing our land, rivers and oceans can endure, where everyone has enough to eat. I undertake both these roles carrying a silent scream inside me; while everything we are doing is worthy, it is not enough and far, far too slow. Writing my novel let the silent scream become a cathartic, urgent roar.
But I like to entertain and polemic alienates me personally as a reader so, while it’s based on fact and science, you won’t find complex climate explanations in the pages of Ruby and the Blue Sky. You will find a story about the epic struggle for power over our climate future and the sacrifices it asks of all of us.
I found, in the heart of writing it, the potential for humility; a humble remembering that while we have altered the future of our planet, we are just a temporary beast on its surface. Our lair is overheating under the blanket of gases we have made and, like Ruby, each of us must decide how much more hot air we’ll tolerate.