Writing a Sustainable Future
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By Denise Baden, Professor of Sustainable Practice, University of Southampton
I run the Green Stories project and our aim is to move beyond preaching to the converted to share climate solutions using fiction. A key goal is to encourage writers to create positive visions of what a sustainable society might look like and how we might get there, and we run regular competitions which are free to enter.
While I’d published widely in the academic realm, I was keen to reach a wider audience so turned to fiction myself as a way to engage more people. My first work of fiction was Habitat Man, published Sept 2021. This was based on a local green garden consultant who gave up his job in IT to help people make their gardens more wildlife friendly. I threw in a body in the garden and a love story to keep readers entertained and smuggled in lots of other information to sneakily educate on nature-friendly practices. I focussed on things that readers were unlikely to know, such as how pet flea/worming treatments also damage insect life. Research with the University of Southampton and University of Utah indicates it worked with over 90% of readers adopting at least one green alternative as a result of reading the book – see https://www.dabaden.com/habitat-man-in-research.
Some lovely reviews on Amazon reassured me this was possible without sacrificing entertainment value.
"A tale of lust, gardening, love and compost: a hilarious page turner" Dave Goulson, author of 'The Garden Jungle: or Gardening to Save the Planet' and the newly released 'Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse.'
"Habitat Man is both great fun (with such an engaging cast of characters) and a delightful reflection on the ways we live - and the ways we die! - at a time when more and more people are grappling with today's environmental challenges." Jonathon Porritt (Forum for the Future)
"A charming romp that makes you think! Mid-life crisis meets environmental awareness in this rom-com for the 21st Century." Michael Jecks, author.
"A natural storyteller" Writing.co.uk
Truly lyrical and a joy to read" Mark Laggatt, author
"Superbly written romance with a lovely touch of humour" Helen Baggott, author
This year we have been working with Herculean Climate Solutions and the Climate Fiction Writer’s League to compile an anthology of climate solutions wrapped in short stories, targeted at COP 27 delegates. Each story links to webpages where more details on the solutions embedded in the narrative are provided. The key goal is to inspire readers to take action and make it as easy as possible for them to do so.
The interesting thing about such a herculean task to put the world to rights via climate fiction is the divisions it reveals among all those who are striving for the same goal but come from different disciplines. The engineers love the big, bold, audacious solutions, the more impossible the better. ‘Glaciers melting? Well let’s just refreeze them! Need to build up seawalls and capture carbon? Just plant mangrove terraces.’ This has outraged the nature lovers and ecologists who say ‘how about we just stop destroying mangroves in the first place? Why spend fortunes replanting in areas where mangroves don’t naturally grow when it would be way more effective just to refuse planning permission to develop on land that has existing mangroves’ (substitute forests, peat, kelp forests, seagrass etc.as needed). The nature lovers abhor the geo-engineering approach while the engineers claim that we’re geo-engineering all the time anyway in the name of development, so why not do it on purpose and more thoughtfully? Nature lovers claim greenwash and the engineers and techies claim green hush. Yes, I just heard of that too!
And then the social scientists pitch in with ‘what’s the point of all these carbon drawdown projects if we’re still consuming as fast as we can in the name of economic growth?’ A fair question - it is indeed like pulling out the plug (carbon drawdown) with the hot tap full on (consumption).
As editor it’s been a challenge reconciling all these viewpoints. Each story was written by a professional writer and then honed by climate experts. The stories I co-wrote myself as a social scientist, with Steve, a chemical engineer and Martin a comedy writer were an amusing but educational wrangle to determine which aspects got priority.
Suck it Up is a story that makes these tensions explicit in a love story between a tree lover and someone who designed artificial trees as a tech based carbon drawdown method. Nature lovers will appreciate The Pitch which talks about costing for nature, wildlife gardening and composting toilets as the ultimate metaphor for the circular economy as well as stories focused on seagrass, coral planting and kelp forests.
Judge for yourselves if we got it right. No More Fairy Tales: Stories to Save our Planet is available to buy direct from the Habitat Press website or on order from bookshops or Amazon. Also we’d love you to complete the survey at the end to further our research on how fiction can make a difference.
‘These tremendous and inspirational stories paint far better pictures of what we need to do to save Planet Earth, than any number of facts, figures and graphs.’ Bill McGuire, Author, Hothouse Earth: an Inhabitant's Guide.
‘The climate emergency can no longer be ignored; it requires urgent and comprehensive action. But there’s so much positivity that can come from that action: clean, green and cheap energy; a thriving natural world; warm homes; well-paid jobs; clean air and water. If we are to build a future fit for the next generation, we must show a positive vision of what that future looks like. And this anthology of compelling, solution-focused climate fiction does exactly that. A better world is possible – and literature like this can help make it happen.’ Caroline Lucas MP
‘Before we can build the resilient zero carbon economy that we have promised future generations, we must first imagine it - a complex, rich, detailed imagining of new ways of doing and being, of new institutions, new laws, new societal goals. All innovation starts with a spark that dares picture a different way - this anthology is full of such sparks, and our task is to immerse ourselves in them and then dare to act boldly to build the future here and now.’ Nigel Topping, High Level Climate Action Champion, UNFCCC COP26.
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