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Can Climate Change Fiction Build Consensus, Empathy?

March 21, 2019 1:35 p.m.


Joey Eschrich, co-editor, “Everything Change, An Anthology of Climate Fiction”

Rebecca Lawton, contributing writer, “Everything Change, An Anthology of Climate Fiction”

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Related Story: Can Climate Change Fiction Build Consensus, Empathy?


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Climate change is real, it's happening and there are real losses to deal with. Animal and plant species are going extinct, people are dying of extreme heat, wildfires, hurricanes and more all made worse by climate change, migrants, flea, drought and famine. How do we mourn? How do we cope? How do we maintain hope? Some answers can be found in fiction, specifically the genre of climate fiction joining me as part of the KPBS climate change desk coverage or Joey ash, Rick and Rebecca Lawton, they are respectively the Co editor and a contributing writer to everything change an anthology of climate fiction. It's a collection of climate theme, short stories available for free online from Arizona State University. Joey as Rick and Rebecca Lot and welcome to midday addition. Thanks very much for having us. Thank you and I wanted to start with you Joey a and the opening of the anthology. You say that stories are the missing link from the climate change debate. Explain what you mean.

Speaker 2: 00:55 In the past several decades, we've developed a suite of technologies and a scientific consensus around climate change and around things like clean energy that allow us to really like meet the challenges of the climate crisis that we're confronting right now. So what's left is the challenge of building political will and building a cultural consensus around the necessity of acting on this and the, and the ways that it can enrich society and enhance equality and democracy. And in order to do that, we need to kind of tell different stories about climate change and we need to, we need to help particularize stories that are specific, uh, that happened in specific locations. I think climate change, because it's a global challenge sometimes feels really abstract. It's measured in these, you know, very complex mathematical models. Often, you know, weather patterns and fluctuations can make it feel like sometimes maybe we can pen the weather and climate change and sometimes we can't. So there's a lot of confusion and abstraction stories help us pin this phenomenon down to specific times, specific places to the, to the lives and experiences of specific people. And that specificity is really important. Um, and climate fiction can help us have empathy with specific people and specific places and help us understand how climate changes transforming their lives and introducing new obstacles for them to overcome.

Speaker 1: 02:16 Okay. And, and this, uh, this collection of a climate fiction stories, it's the end product of a contest and a is the coed or the collection, I want to do a to see what you think the threat is that connects these 10 stories.

Speaker 2: 02:30 One of the things that really stuck out to me is that they're, uh, you know, and we, and we've done two of these I should say, so this is that we would publish one in 2016. And so I, especially in this one, there's a real focus on the effects of climate change and other forms of environmental degradation on women's bodies specifically, which I think maybe reflects a climate where we're becoming more aware of a sort of cultural climate where we're becoming more aware of, of the ways that women's bodies and experiences are impinged upon and, and under threat from a variety of social and cultural forces. So climate is just sort of one of many things that are predatory in some ways on women's bodies. And that's sort of an awakening awareness we have in, in, you know, in, in enduro where, where me too is, is, is becoming a mass movement and entering the mass media conversation.

Speaker 2: 03:16 Um, I think that that adds onto something that we saw in our first anthology as well in 2016 which is this question about the ethics of reproduction and childbearing. So there's this sense that like, you know, life on earth is going to become vastly more difficult. People's opportunities might be quite a bit more limited in day to day life might become more grueling for, for a lot of people in, in, in, in a radically climate change the future. And so you often have characters in these stories wondering like if they should have children, if they should be contributing to that future and putting people in those situations.

Speaker 1: 03:49 And this is what you're saying there, there's that get at the a anthology title, which is everything change. Where does that

Speaker 2: 03:54 come from? That's drawn from, uh, from Margaret Atwood, the kind of legendary novelist and critic. And she, she wrote a very influential trilogy of, of climate fiction novels. There's, that's together called the Matt Adam Trilogy. Uh, and she gave a lecture, uh, and, and did some interviews here with us at Asu, Arizona State University in 2014. And she told us that, she said, you know, I don't really think climate changes it is, is kind of a big enough or encompassing enough term. It needs to be thought of as everything changed. Because once you start pushing around these levers, uh, on the earth's ecosystems, then you're going to start changing the way we eat. Uh, where we live, our family structures are political systems, how we grow food and how we, you know, uh, we were, uh, that, that we need to think about the crisis and our reaction to it as this very comprehensive, uh, and all encompassing phenomenon, much bigger than just climate change itself.

Speaker 2: 04:48 Precisely. Yeah. And if these stories are good, uh, that what they do is they get it. Some of the things that we don't tend to think about, you know, if we're thinking about temperature increases and floods and droughts, that's important. But it's also important to think about things like labor conditions and gender relations and the political systems and you know, in states and nations and things like that and you know, a good story. What kind of draw in all of that and show how it's related innately to climate without lecturing you, it'll sort of like show you through action.

Speaker 1: 05:15 You're shown up til Rebecca. I wanted to ask you, how would you define what climate fiction as a genre is?

Speaker 3: 05:21 One could say that its ecological fiction taken one step further. I think what I think of when I think of climate fiction is Clive Fi. So fiction with a scientific, a science fiction twist, where you take a scientific concept and you push it a little further out, use your imagination to say, well what if I could fictionalize this? What if I could come up with a concept that we haven't seen before and work it into the story? So I think of it as science fiction, but with a climate element.

Speaker 1: 05:54 Okay. And your piece in the Anthology River days about a condition you're called Hydro Phelia well what is it? What causes that?

Speaker 3: 06:02 Well, I don't feel Leah is a, it's a fictionalized condition. And I thought about hemophilia. How are, how that disease is a, you know, sort of blood gone wrong in the human body and our blood is so much water. We're 97% water. I thought, what if I created a condition, sort of a mutation in our DNA that was a result of our, you know, our love for water sort of pushed over the break.

Speaker 1: 06:30 Okay. And people in your story with this condition, you're called a hydro Phelia. The, these are people who are living under drought conditions, right?

Speaker 3: 06:37 That's correct. And that was kind of inspired by, uh, the drought just a few years ago. It was coming out in the news that some of the baseball players on the local teams were among the biggest, well, I call him drought flowers in the story, but, but people who did not conserve. So that inspired me to create this family that was kind of caught in a dilemma that they couldn't conserve because they had this terrible disease that was inspired by drought.

Speaker 1: 07:05 Well, Julia wanted to wind up with a kind of a summary question here. Why do you think climate fiction as a genre is so important?

Speaker 2: 07:11 So, you know, I think it's, it's necessary for all of us to think in terms of cooperation and concerted action in the face of climate change. There's cities and municipalities and, and countries that are leading and being very active on this issue. And then there are others that aren't doing as much, but you can't go it alone this way. You know, if, um, if a US city or a European country is incredibly active on, on the climate change issue and really does an energy transition and lowers their carbon footprint, that's not going to help them if their neighbors don't do it as well. And so we all have to, we're all in this together. Um, this is truly a global problem and, and we can't just opt out of the community we're in and, and solve it on our own no matter who we are.

Speaker 2: 07:53 And so I think it's a necessary that these stories be told. So we can see that. Like, even though we're dealing with a phenomenon that looks different in every place, it might look like a drought somewhere might look like a migrant crisis somewhere else. It might look like wildfires and another place. It's all the same menace. It's all the same, you know, war we have to wage. And if we don't do it together, then it's not going to be possible to, you know, to meet this challenge. And so I think stories are a way to kind of gather us all together, sort of around a fire and see that we're all the, we're all dealing with the same with the same challenges and that we have different journeys, but they're all part of the same. They're all part of the same story.

Speaker 1: 08:27 Thank you so much Joey and Rebecca, thanks for being with us on mid edition today. Thank you so much.

Speaker 4: 08:37 Yeah.