Friday, January 5, 2018

OPED: ''To fight climate change, we must change our vocabulary'' writes Dick Munson

Each fall, Chicago throws a Humanities Festival to promote “the lifelong exploration of what it means to be human,” attracting thoughtful authors and expressive performers. A lecture on a recent Saturday afternoon provided a fresh perspective on how environmentalists combat pollution and envision a healthier planet.

For me, this discussion by Cli-Fi novelist Claire Vaye Watkins (see video below) revealed how we can tap different threads — specifically literature — to make our cases more effectively.

Dick Munson is the director of Midwest clean energy for the Environmental Defense Fund in Chicago.

......... the speaker that Saturday afternoon in Chicago, Claire Vaye Watkins, revealed an important way in which environmentalists need to expand their vocabulary. In this case, the author suggested literature, too, can help defend the planet.

VIDEO ONE HOUR from the lecture series:

Her novel, Gold Fame Citrus, uses a global-warming-induced drought in Southern California to frame her story about hope and cherished relationships.

Hers is a surreal landscape, an ocean of sand that reflects a world broken by environmental disaster. Into this nightmare she describes how families cope, introduces a tender humanity, and conveys a nostalgia for the living world.

Watkins, after her presentation, suggested that environmental advocates can take better advantage of imagination. Humans, she said, love stories and activists must use them to reveal threats and offer hope.

Watkins is not alone in setting novels and short stories where the climate is stressed.

An entire genre, in fact, is developing, what some call climate fiction, or “cli-fi” for short.

It focuses on a dystopian present in contrast to the dystopian futures highlighted in conventional science fiction.

This cli-fi genre serve two key purposes, one for writers and one for environmentalists.

“I think we need a new type of novel to address a new type of reality,” said on NPR in April 2013 Nathaniel Rich, author of Odds Against Tomorrow. “And it’s the novelist’s job to try to understand, what is that doing to us?”

Environmentalists, moreover, need to appreciate that novelists can reach people in ways scientists and political activists cannot, that fiction, in fact, may be the best untapped means to deliver information and messages.

We can also learn from Barbara Kingsolver, winner of the National Humanities Medal and author of Flight Behavior, who asked on the same NPR show in 2013: how is it “possible to begin a conversation across some of these divides, between scientists and nonscientists, between rural and urban, between progressive and conservative—that when it comes to understanding the scientific truths about the world, there must be another way to bring information to people … that’s beyond simply condescending and saying, ‘Well, if only you had the fact. If only you knew what I did, then you would be a smart person.’ That gets you nowhere.”

Environmentalists, in their effort to combat climate change, have turned increasingly toward science and rationality. Those languages, of course, are valuable and necessary. Yet Watkins reveals that we also must embrace stories. To be effective, we need to expand our cultural vocabulary.


Dick Munson is the director of Midwest clean energy for the Environmental Defense Fund.

No comments: