The UK has declared a climate emergency. So has Ireland. So have around 500 regional councils around the world.
Declaring a climate emergency is a necessary and urgent call to action that emerges in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that warns that we only have twelve years left to prevent a climate change catastrophe. Twelve years. A truly terrifying thought.
we only have twelve years left to prevent a climate change catastrophe
The phrase climate change no longer does justice to the severity of our situation. By contrast, climate emergency demands our outrage and our action to tackle this unnatural degradation.
If one word can help to foster this shift in perspective, imagine what a novel can do.
Eco-literature and cli-fi (climate fiction) have been steadily increasing in popularity as our climate crisis penetrates mainstream awareness. Literature is uniquely positioned to explore environmental anxieties because it engages the imaginative power of individuals as they investigate the impact of global warming and contextualise it to a personal level.
Literature is uniquely positioned to explore environmental anxieties because it engages the imaginative power of individuals
Saci Lloyd’s The Carbon Diaries: 2015 is just one novel of many that demonstrates how literature fosters greater awareness of our climate emergency. This teen fiction epistolary novel follows Laura Brown and her family’s struggles to adapt to the implementation of extreme carbon rations across the UK. The diary form forces readers to embody this ruined landscape, thereby compelling readers to confront a future that might not be far off. While the dated title does limit the novel somewhat, it is a chilling thought that environmental concerns in 2009, the date of publication, were enough to imagine such extremity in 2015.
What’s worse is that we have these anxieties and don’t do enough to stop them from becoming an irreversible reality
The devastating legacy of our climate emergency is highlighted by the target audience of children and teens. This mirrors current political turmoil generated by young climate activists like Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old who uses her global platform to pressure governments away from detrimental environmental policies. Similarly, the UK Student Climate Network have been striking and marching across the country to raise awareness of the necessity for preventative measures to tackle the climate crisis.
Four main demands are listed on the UKSCN website:
- Declare a climate emergency.
- Make the national curriculum address the climate crisis.
- Make the government inform the public about the severity of the climate crisis.
- Lower the voting age to 16 to give young people a say in environmental concerns.
Lloyd’s dystopian world is predicated on the declaration of a climate emergency and belated governmental attempts to prevent it. This demonstrates major parallels with our current political climate, where we have also declared a climate emergency and have brought the severity of environmental concerns into discussions in parliament.
Through climate crisis, reality and dystopia are beginning to become one
Where literature engages the imagination, art visually manifests that imagination in specific and often bleak ways. The artistic world creates immersive experiences that often demand audiences’ participation to expose the increasingly blurred boundary between fiction/art and reality. For example, Xavier Cortada’s work was recently featured in a New York Times list for his artistic piece Underwater HOA, which was inspired by his fear of flooding in Florida due to melting glaciers. Cortada created yard sale styled signs that residents in the village of Pinecrest were encouraged to display in their front gardens for a week. The signs signalled how much water levels must rise before the property would be subject to flood. With true artistic irony, the sign’s backdrops were watercolour paintings that used water from the melting glaciers that pose the threat the work seeks to expose.
In Cortada’s artistic statement, he described wanting to “make the invisible visible” with an aim to “make the future impact of sea level rise something no longer possible to ignore.” Increased visibility is the art world’s biggest source of ammunition in the fight for awareness of environmental crisis because it allows a confrontation with the issue that political discussions often avoid. At a basic level, increased visibility make environmental concerns harder to dismiss.
allows a confrontation with the issue that political discussions often avoid
However, it is important that literature and art are not the only modes through which people engage with environmental crisis. While the platforms are poignant, the label of fiction or artistic representation enables a layer of mediation that requires wariness. These issues are not, and should not, be limited to a dystopian world or a piece of art.
This climate emergency is a real issue with real consequences.
It is time to move beyond mere awareness of this crisis. Beyond mere observation of change. As Greta Thunberg said in a CNN interview, “We must hold the older generations accountable for the mess they have created . . . We need to get angry and then we need to transform that anger into action.”
Art and literature are just one part of this transformative process towards a better, more sustainable future.