I’m Nina Milton, and this blog is all about getting out the laptop or the pen and pad to get writing. My blogposts are focused on advice and suggestions and news for writers, but also on a love reading with plenty of reviews, and a look at my pagan life, plus arts and culture. Get all my posts as they appear by becoming a subscriber. Click below right...

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Writing about the Climate Crisis; Fact or Fiction?

Recently, I've been reading four different books about climate change – two nonfiction and two novels. It made me wonder, what is the best way to get your point across, when you want to talk about a subject you are passionate about?

Nathaniel Rich, who wrote Losing Earth (The Decade we Could have Stopped Climate Change) and Michael E Mann, who wrote The New Climate War (The Fight to Take back our planet), have both taken the route of  writing nonfiction to attract the readers' attention to their subject matter.  But have approached global warming at an angle, looking at one very very specific aspect. This is  an important thing to remember when writing nonfiction about a large, well-covered debate such as this. There are already a lot of books out there, and they already contain all the salient facts on the subject. Unless you have very up-to-date information to newly impart, it is essential that you decide on a 'slant' that can gain you interest in. swamped market. This is what Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola advise in their writing manual for nonfiction writers, Tell it Slant. Both are award-winning authors and using the Emily Dickinson quote,“Tell all the Truth but tell it Slant.” intend to reveal  how to develop your own distinctive and compelling creative nonfiction, showing writers how to move beyond mere facts and, instead, make the most of their own “slant” on the world. 

 Nathaniel Rich takes the 'slant' of retelling the story of the early days of realisation, the 1070s, and how that knowledge was squandered by allowing energy companies and oil firms suppressed the truth of global warming for their own profits. Rich deeply researched his book, demonstrating his arguments conclusively. But he must have known that, handled with the wrong style, this book might have been very dry. He overcomes this problem by approaching each of his stories through the characters (the protagonists and the antagonists), by setting scenes in a dramatic manner and by using a hight percent of dialogue within them. He's telling a story, which feels tense and full of jeopardy, and he reveals it steadily, using the skills of the novelist to keep every read on the page. Rich is a novelist, as well as a writer of nonfiction, and he utilises those skills well. 

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 M Mann also knows exactly what 'slant' he wants to approach in his book. For him, the 'antagonists' are the fossil-fuel industry and their allies, and the story of how they deflected the blame for climate change to the  'protagonist' – that is, the little man in the street, who is instructed to "recycle, fly less, eat less meat", and are made to feel that this is 'all their faults'. Mann is a distinguished  professor of atmospheric sciences, but like Rich, knows how to use novelistic skills to pull his reader into his debate.

To counter these two fact-based books, I've been reading two iconic pieces of climate-fiction. 

Ursula Le Guin is an acclaimed writer of science fiction, who has been at the top of her field for decades. Her early book, The Word for World is Forest (1976), is a slender, but gripping account of a future  Earth, devastated by humanity. The book is set on one of many of the planets we are now mining for assets, leaving each planet in as bad a state as the Earth herself.  In this planet, called Forest,  the inhabitants strike the humans as simple, possibly ape-like. But they are wrong. These are sensitive, intelligent individuals, and they are not happy at the rape of their home. 

The late JG Ballard is also an acclaimed writer of science fiction, but particularly famous for his autobiography, Empire of the Sun. In The Drowned World, a very early novel which helped make his name,  Ballard describes a future world that is hotter than ours is now, and where the rains have fallen with such ferocity that the cities of the world are lost into deep lagoons. We follow a few of the survivors in this desperate attempts to stay alive...without killing each other. 

Very recently published, but reminiscent of The Word for World is Forest,  is the sci-fi novel in verse by Langmead is known for his sci-fi Dark Star, and like that book, this is written as a long-form poem.  It's a saga of colony ships, shattering moons and cataclysmic war in a new Eden.

Rochelle wakes from cryostasis to take up her role as engineer on the colony ark, Calypso. But she finds the ship has transformed into a forest, populated by the original crew's descendants, who revere her like a saint.

She travels the ship with the Calypso's creator, the enigmatic Sigmund, and Catherine, a bioengineered marvel who can commune with the plants, uncovering a new history of humanity forged while she slept.

She discovers a legacy of war between botanists and engineers. A war fought for the right to build a new Earth – a technological paradise, or a new Eden in bloom, untouched by mankind's past.

And Rochelle, the last to wake, holds the balance of power in her hands.

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So I have to ask, which of these books would make me more determined to help reverse the global crisis? The nonfiction states their case and made me feel both angry and more ready to act. But the fiction touched my soul, and gave me the passion needed. 

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