Artists and Climate Change

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An Interview with Scientist/Game Developer Dargan Frierson

This month I have for you a fascinating interview with Dargan Frierson, Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington, and head of the EarthGames group. Frierson and his colleagues recently published a video game for smart phones called Climate Quest. The game follows a narrative arc of collective action: people of various backgrounds come together to help mitigate the worst of the climate crisis. In our interview below, Frierson tells me what inspired the game, what he hopes players take away from the experience of playing it, and his plans for a new video game based on the Green New Deal.

You’re an Associate Professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington. What first drew you to this field?

From an early age I was quite interested in mathematics and computers. As I learned more about the climate crisis, I realized I wanted to apply those mathematical tools to help understand the future of our planet.  

What inspired you to make a video game based on climate change?

We need more ways of talking about the climate crisis that people can actually engage with. This is why I love Cli-Fi and think it’s so important for all kinds of artists to help get the word out. Video games are a great medium in particular for so many reasons. They’re deeply immersive for storytelling experiences. They can visualize invisible or slow processes with ease. And it’s expected in a game that the player will take on difficult challenges but eventually succeed, while learning along the way.  

Climate Quest. Credit: EarthGames/Dargan Frierson

What I love most about Climate Quest is that it focuses on collective action. Scientists, urban planners, and nature and animal lovers alike become the “heroes” of the game by working together. What do you hope players take away from this narrative?

The theme of the game jam we made Climate Quest in was “adaptation to climate change,” which is how we change infrastructure to help prevent harm to built and natural environments. It’s a topic that’s not discussed too much, but can prevent significant harm. We want players to learn about the hazards of climate change, and all the measures we need to be taking to prepare.  

Not everyone is able to adapt to a hotter climate, of course, so we need to be eliminating fossil fuels as quickly as possible, too. Some of our other games attempt to address how to transition to a 100% clean energy world.  

Tell me about the team who helped you build the game.

We made the game primarily in just 48 hours, during a Climate Game Jam sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the White House, and the Smithsonian. We had a University of Washington site for the jam and Zuoming Shi (a computer science grad student) and I worked on Climate Quest during the jam. Ben Peterson (Information School undergraduate) created the art in the weeks following the jam, and the whole EarthGames team helped to test and revise the game in the following months.  

One of the things I love about game design is that it requires so many different talents: art, writing, programming, sound design, and science. It’s fun to make things that none of us could have done individually.  

What has the response been like to the game so far?

The response from players has been terrific! We won first place in the country in the game jam, and Zuoming got to display the game at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. We wrote a teacher’s guide so the game can be easily used in classrooms. That original game jam was a great catalyst for our EarthGames group, which was just forming at that time. We’ve since evolved from a small informal meeting in my office to an official UW class, and have released over 15 games. Your readers might be most interested in A Caribou’s Tale and Life of Pika which combine simple gameplay with a narrative-based approach, or Cascadia and Drop, which involve text-based branching narratives .  

What’s next for you? Anything you’d like my readers to keep an eye out for?

We have a new game about the Green New Deal coming out very soon that we’re quite excited about! It’s an election campaign simulator. We’re also working on a strategy game about the future of the planet with Eric Holthaus, a climate journalist. Finally, we have a very talented student, Andrew McDonald, who’s working on incorporating location-based and augmented reality concepts into mobile games about climate.  

(Top image: Photo by Eric Michelman/More than Scientists)

This article is part of the Climate Art Interviews series. It was originally published in Amy Brady’s “Burning Worlds” newsletter. Subscribe to get Amy’s newsletter delivered straight to your inbox.

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Amy Brady is the Deputy Publisher of Guernica magazine and Senior Editor of the Chicago Review of Books. Her writing about art, culture, and climate has appeared in the Village Voice, the Los Angeles TimesPacific Standard, the New Republic, and other places. She is also the editor of the monthly newsletter “Burning Worlds,” which explores how artists and writers are thinking about climate change. She holds a PHD in English and is the recipient of a CLIR/Mellon Library of Congress Fellowship. Read more of her work at AmyBradyWrites.com and follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Women of the World: Sing the Algonquin Water Song

by Susan Hoffman Fishman

I recently came across a 2018 YouTube video entitled, Sing the Water Song. Its inspiring message and plea for women everywhere to become Keepers of the Water so as to express gratitude for and bring attention to our endangered waters, has prompted me to share the video/song with the readers of this blog.

History of the Algonquin Water Song

In 2002 Grandfather William Commanda, an Algonquin Elder, asked Irene Wawatie Jerome, an Anshinabe/Cree, to create a song that women attending the Circle of All Nations Gathering at Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg near Maniwaki, Quebec could learn and then spread throughout the world. As the history section of the song’s website explains:

Our water is under siege from pollution, climate change, mismanagement and corporate environmental disaster. Without clean water, we cannot live. In Native American, and many other Indigenous cultures, women are the Keepers of the Water, and men are the Keepers of Fire. In recent months, many brave women who are Water Protectors have captured the attention of the world whether at Standing Rock, attempting to stop the pipelines, or Flint, Michigan, demanding clean water for their children, or ever-increasing battlegrounds of environmental disaster. The Elders have understood since the beginning of time that clean water is essential for the survival of all living beings, and they continue to fight for Mother Earth’s most precious resource. Now, they are asking women to join them for one minute a day to sing to the water. It is incumbent for all of us, especially the women, to help them raise awareness and protect the water for future generations.

At the 2004 gathering on the grounds of Grandfather William Commanda’s retreat at the Kitigan Zibi Reserve, Grandmother Louise Wawatie taught The Water Song to Grandmother Nancy Andry and other women from seventeen countries around the world. There, Grandmother Andry was tasked with spreading its message everywhere. And so, for over sixteen years, she has been teaching The Water Song wherever she has traveled.

Of Algonquin and French heritage, Grandmother Nancy is recognized as a Sundancer and Sacred Pipe Carrier, an Elder and a Grandmother. She is also a storyteller who shares Native legends in schools, health centers and at pow wows. In the past, Grandmother Nancy was a facilitator for 17 years of a Native Women’s Circle in a federal prison as well as a member of the staff of the Joined Nations of Connecticut, an organization for young people of Native heritage. Most recently she owned and operated an equestrian business in Connecticut and is now using Horse Medicine at lectures on Native culture.

The Video

Sing the Water Song video

In 2017, as she saw the increase in fracking, the draining of aquifers and more and more destruction of the waters, Grandmother Nancy approached the Elders with the idea of producing a video that could be distributed through social media and reach a much broader audience. With the Elder’s approval as well as permission to use the song from the Wawatie and Commanda families, Grandmother facilitated the creation of the 2018 Sing the Water Song video.

As Grandmother Nancy explained, the women and girls portrayed in the video come from “all four continents” and include June Sun, a Buddhist nun from Japan, a Nigerian woman, a group of Lenni Lenapi 10 year-olds and Grandmother Nancy herself, who is 83. The video also features Grandmother Clara Soaring Hawk, the Deer Clan Chief of the Ramapough-Lenape and her granddaughter as well as Grandmother Margaret Behan, an Arapahoe-Cheyenne, fourth generation of the Sand Creek Massacre.

1527783722742-1.jpeg
Grandmother Nancy Andry. Still image from Sing The Water Song video.

The Podcast

Grandmother Nancy was interviewed in 2018 by Judith Dreyer for her podcast The Holistic Nature of UsDreyer has featured a broad range of guests who are “deeply concerned about the environmental issues of our time.” During the interview, Grandmother Nancy explained the purpose of the video and pleaded for action. Here is a sample of her heartfelt and powerful words from the podcast:

So, our only intent with this video is to get that song out for the women to pray every day for the water and to see that when this happens there are actually healings. Not only for the water, but for the women themselves who sing this song every day it’s, you know it’s magical and it’s almost hard to explain it because we are living in an era where we no longer believe in magical powers and they’re out there…

You know the words to the song literally mean, water is the life’s blood of Mother Earth, water is the life’s blood of our own body. And what this song and what so many activists, I mean environmental activists, it’s a call to sacred activism really. And you know people say, oh I’m just one person I can’t do anything. That’s not true because if every one person did something, it would be so amazing. We’re seeing that particularly with the youth’s march, with this young girl from Sweden who is up for a Nobel Peace Prize.

And you know, what we need to fight is the privatization of water. I refuse to buy water in a bottle. I’m very fortunate that I have good drinking water here in my house and I understand that some people don’t and have no choice but to buy bottled water. But can you imagine, I think a bottle of water probably costs $1.25, $1.50 – I don’t know because I don’t buy it. Imagine if that bottle of water was $20 or $30 because if the supply is dwindling and it won’t be accessible, can you imagine the loss of human life?

We’ve already seen it with animal species when dolphins are washing up on the shores of France and what have you. So how can we do this? Well first of all ladies out there please sing the water song. Teach it to your daughters, to your daughter’s friends because we’re stealing from our children. Every time we destroy another piece of Mother Earth we’re stealing from our children. There are species of animals, birds, plants that our grandchildren will never see because they’ve gone. They’re simply gone. It has to stop – the madness has to stop. And we do have to turn to different alternatives, get away from fossil fuels. Wind power, solar power, there are so many options out there, but you see the 1% money-making, greedy people, they are so shortsighted. Don’t they understand that when the water is gone, their money won’t buy them the water either. I mean you wonder where their heads are sometimes and they’re stealing from their grandchildren.

Sing the Algonquin Water Song

So, women of the world, here are the instructions and phonetic lyrics for singing The Algonquin Water Song. Have a go.

Sing four times, each time facing one of the four directions in this order: East, South, West, North.

Nee bee wah bow
En die en
Aah key mis kquee
Nee bee wah bow
Hey ya hey ya hey ya hey
Hey ya hey ya hey ya ho

(Top image, left to right: Grandmothers Nancy Andry, Margaret Behan and Clara Soaring Hawk. Still image from Sing The Water Song video.)

This article is part of Imagining Water, a series on artists of all genres who are making the topic of water a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances, projects and publications that are appearing in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme.

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Susan Hoffman Fishman is a painter, public artist, writer, and educator whose work has been exhibited in numerous museums and galleries throughout the U.S. Her latest bodies of work focus on the threat of rising tides, our new plastic seas and the wars that are predicted to occur in the future over access to clean water. She is also the co-creator of two interactive public art projects: The Wave, which addresses our mutual need for and interdependence on water and Home, which calls attention to homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in our cities and towns.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Democratized Ecosystems

With the advent of modernity, the balance of nature has been disrupted by the lightning speed at which human-engineered technologies have ignited.

In my telescopic paintings and mixed media artwork, I investigate societal constructs and existential narratives of equality, hierarchy in nature, and human interaction within the physical world. I examine the juncture between industry that sustains humans and the condition of the Earth that nurtures all forms. Through the looking glass of my fascination with alternative universes and mystical states of mind, I create ethereal worlds fertilized with dichotomies. Whether tension or coexistence reigns in each of my pieces, all are ripened for renewal. Cultivating conversation about biodiversity, environmental sustainability, planetary stewardship and purposeful progress are territory that I navigate. It is a precipice where I imagine sitting down with Albert Einstein, Martin Buber and Plato. Legs dangle on the edge ready to leap into a science and philosophy mind-meld.

2 He:Sustaining. (2017 National Award, Best in Show.) Oil, acrylic, charcoal on canvas. 84″H x 84″W.

From this viewpoint, I experiment with varied viscosities of acrylic and oil paint, grittiness of sand paper and luminosity of stand oil representing water, air and land. By design or accident, systems of saturated greens, reds, oranges and violets change with intensity and texture. Layers of dripping and oozing abstraction become melting moss and floating fauna.

With the collision of content and materials, I aim to stimulate the experience of movement in my hybridized ecospheres. Constellations of natural imagery and human-made technologies that I pattern, weave in and out of existence like a game of celestial hide and seek. Clouds are the dominant playgrounds in which my deer, bulls, cement plants and water towers orbit. Their anomalies in scale symbolize every Alice who shrinks and expands in an unpredictable wonderland, as she/we navigate environmental dualities of harmony and tension, and political and social control and chaos.

Bonding with nature took root in my youth. The seemingly ordinary became extraordinary and the mundane transformed into mystery. Hidden ecosystems emerged as I became increasingly aware of the beauty of flourishing plant life, rugged rocks and minerals, and cool rippling streams and lakes of upstate New York and western New Hampshire. A bevy of rabbits, turtles, fish, dogs, salamanders and lightning bugs became adopted family and a supplementary classroom teacher as they ceaselessly entertained and enlightened me.

18 Ar:Sustaining. Oil, acrylic, charcoal, graphite on paper. 18″H x 24″W.

At 11 years old, I ritually climbed a 60-70-foot scrub pine in the woods behind our upstate New York home. Covered in the tree’s sticky honey-colored sap, inhaling the tantalizing scent of evergreen, swaying in the wind in the top bough, I created an imaginary world in which I could dance with the white billowing clouds in the baby blue sky. In one meditative moment, I realized that everything in nature was interconnected and all that existed was of equal importance. There was, and is, no hierarchy in our universe.

What did a small 11-year-old do with such a big concept? I dreamed. I dreamed of what could be if other people felt this universal connection to one another and all of nature. Two years later, on April 22, 1970, the birth of the twentieth century environmental movement known as Earth Day emerged in the midst of a tumultuous political and social climate that had cracked open the dangers to democracy and individual rights of United States citizens. Voices of college students decrying an ill-conceived Vietnam War and the sickness of racial and gender discrimination rang across our nation from coast to coast. Advocating for a sustainable planet, people from all walks of life and political persuasions banded together to create a united force. The public health epidemic caused by unregulated pollutants that permeated our nation’s air and water was exposed. The first major victory was the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency at the end of 1970. Environmental protection thus became intertwined in our national consciousness.

19 K:Sustaining. Oil, acrylic, charcoal on canvas. 84″H x 84″W.

That momentous movement connected me with a like-minded community. It seeded the activism that had been cultivated in my generation and had germinated in me. As an adult, my environmental voice, along with other political and social issues, were heard and seen predominantly through my art. Nature imagery inspired by my travels to Israel, Europe and in the United States illuminated the beauty and promulgation of ecological diversity worldwide. Other avenues for expression included volunteering in democratic political campaigns and the written word. For example, when living in Scarsdale, NY in the early 1990’s, I wrote about the health dangers to pets and people from spraying harmful pesticides on lawns and trees. Pursuit of perfection and display of economic status in the form of a weed free front and back yard was not a risk that I was willing to accept.

In 2016, I was invited to a month-long artist residency at Sun Peaks Center for Art and Sustainability, Colorado Springs, CO. Focused on environmental issues, this experience was transformative. My artwork grew larger in scale and the concept expanded in scope. Sourcing my Jewish/ Christian/ French/ Armenian/ USA multi-cultural background and trans disciplinary professional and academic experiences, I connected seemingly disparate ideas. Developing iconography from science, architecture, industry, language and religious text with environmental relevance, I layered symbolic narrative threads in the body of work I entitled, Democratized Ecosystems. More recently, borrowed imagery from the urban landscape of New York City and the tropical paradise of southwest Florida, and the Everglades in which I live, has entered my work. Coming full circle, with concepts grounded in my youth, I continue to plant new seeds of thought, grow awareness and cultivate conversation about contemporary clashes concerning climate change that impact the global community today and into the future.

(Top image: 20 Ca:Sustaining. Oil, graphite on canvas. 30″H x 48″W.)

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Renée Rey lives and works in New York City and Naples, Florida. Rey studied painting, art history, performance art, and interior architectural design on the undergraduate level and film and computer art on the graduate level, holding an MBA in Management and an MA in Jewish Education. Awards include Best in Show, Art Encounters National Competition 2017 by Jurors Jade Dellinger, Director, Bob Rauschenberg Gallery and Alejo Benedetti, Curatorial Assistant, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Curators selecting her work for numerous exhibitions include Dr. Julie Sasse, Chief Curator, Tucson Museum of Art and Erin Wright, Curator at LACMA.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Wind Tower as Photo Gallery

by Joan Sullivan

I’ve spent the lion’s share of the past decade photographing wind turbines from every possible vantage point: from the ground looking up, from the top looking down, from inside the towers and nacelles, from helicopters and drones, and even from the front seat of an 18-wheeler truck delivering 60-meter rotor blades up narrow mountainous roads to a wind construction site.

Yet in all those years, it never occurred to me that the blank walls on the inside of a wind turbine tower – thin metal walls that I had climbed past dozens of times on my way up to the nacelle – would one day serve as a gallery for my photographs of the turbines themselves.

Until last year.

In November 2018, two rust-colored metal wind tower sections were delivered to the Reford Gardens – les Jardins de Métis en français – as a donation from a wind tower manufacturer not far from my home in eastern Québec, Canada.

Slightly damaged, these two wind tower sections might otherwise have been discarded as scrap metal. But the director of the Reford Gardens, Alexander Reford, had previously expressed an interest in giving them new life as modern sculpture for a future garden project.

“I was immediately seduced by their simple elegance,” explained Mr. Reford. “I knew we could find a use for them at the gardens.”

The two wind tower sections spent their first winter at the Reford Gardens temporarily stored next to the popular Vertical Line Garden, designed by the US-based Canadian designers Coryn Kemster and Julia Jamrozik. I loved the juxtaposition of these two wind-inspired installations, one playful and ethereal, the other solid and grounded.

It was Mr. Reford’s idea to turn the two wind tower sections into a temporary outdoor photo gallery. I was honored that he asked me to propose a layout of images that would celebrate Quebec’s energy transition. I spent most of the winter thinking about this challenge, knowing that exhibiting photos inside of a curved metal tube is decidedly different – and more difficult! – than exhibiting on a flat gallery wall.

Throughout the winter, I visited the two towers multiple times on my snowshoes, standing inside and gazing upward, trying to visualize my photos spread out over a 180 ft² (16.7 m²) curved rusty surface with several imperfections. To the best of my knowledge, this would be the first photographic installation of its kind in North America, so I wanted to get it right.

By early spring, I had selected 24 photos – 12 for each tower – that would give visitors to the Reford Gardens a sense of entering a wind energy construction site. I gave priority to images of the workers – electricians, mechanics, iron workers – who are building Quebec’s clean energy future with their own hands. Below is the layout for one of the tower sections:

By early May 2019, the two wind tower sections had been moved next to the Maison ERE 132, a certified LEED Platinum building at the Reford Gardens that serves as an interpretive center to raise public awareness about eco-construction adapted to Quebec’s northern climate. The obvious ecological link between the Maison ERE 132 and the two wind tower sections made this a perfect spot for the photo installation.

Installation of the 24 photographs, printed on aluminum panels, started in mid-May. After breaking several standard metal drill bits, we quickly learned that cobalt drill bits are much more reliable for piercing raw metal. But the more important problem we encountered was spatial: after installing the first five photos, we noticed that the tower sections were not straight “tubes” but rather “cones” – a wind tower is larger at the base than it is at the top, so each tower section is slightly (imperceptibly) more narrow at one end than the other. This affected the original layout of my images, and I had to adjust the space and angles between each photo to account for the conical shape of each tower.

François Leblanc installing my wind energy photographs on the inside of two metal wind tower sections at the Reford Gardens, May 2019.
Alexandre Lépine and François Leblanc using a level before installing one of my wind energy construction photographs at the Reford Gardens, May 2019.

The inauguration of Winds of Change, my first solo photographic installation, was June 16, 2019. It will run until October 6, 2019 at the Reford Gardens in Grand-Métis, Quebec, Canada. If I can find supplemental funding for a second year, I hope to add audio recordings of the voices of some of these energy workers to give visitors to the Reford Gardens a more immersive experience of what it is like to enter a wind energy construction site.

Below is the text to Winds of Change, which explains my vision:

How can artists contribute to cultivating a post-carbon vision? This question is at the heart of photographer Joan Sullivan’s ten-year quest to help shift the climate change conversation from apathy to action, from despair to hope.

Resident of Quebec’s Lower Saint Lawrence, Sullivan found her artistic voice on the construction sites of some of Canada’s largest renewable energy projects. Through her lens, an industrial wind turbine becomes a beacon of home, designed by sapiens, powered by nature. Her goal is to seduce, to inspire others to visualize – to imagine – what a post-carbon world will look like.

Sullivan is part of a growing number of artists worldwide committed to “changing the narrative” about climate change by creating positive stories that offer a compelling vision of a post-carbon world we want to live in. As a renewable energy photographer, Sullivan has dedicated her second 50 years to documenting forward-looking stories that focus on solutions. Stories that invite audiences to ask themselves, “How do we get there from here?”

The message from Joan Sullivan’s body of work is consistent and simple: the technical solutions to climate change already exist. What’s missing at this existential moment is the political courage to go to scale. In this vacuum, Sullivan believes it is urgent for artists and architects and all creative souls to take their rightful place at the table alongside scientists, engineers, city planners, politicians and activists. Collectively, we must imagine a future of clean abundance and endless opportunity for all.

We cannot build that which we cannot imagine.

Text to Winds of Change installation
Reford Gardens, Grant-Métis, Québec, Canada
June-October 2019

Winds of Change photo installation at the Reford Gardens: 24 wind construction photographs installed on the inside of two unpainted metal wind tower sections.

(All images by Joan Sullivan)

This article is part of the Renewable Energy series.

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Joan Sullivan is a Canadian renewable energy photographer. Since 2009, Joan has found her artistic voice on the construction sites of utility-scale wind and solar projects. Her goal is to keep our eyes on the prize – a 100% clean energy economy in our lifetimes. Joan is currently working on a documentary film and book project about Canada’s energy transition. Her renewable energy photographs have been exhibited in group and solo shows in Canada, the UK and Italy. You can find Joan on ElloTwitter and Visura.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Wild Authors: Edan Lepucki

by Mary Woodbury

I was thrilled to chat with Edan Lepucki about her work in the field of climate change and storytelling. She is the author of the novella If You’re Not Yet Like Me and the novels California and Woman No. 17.

California debuted at #3 on the New York Times Best Sellers list and was a #1 Best Seller on the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle Best Sellers lists. California was a Fall 2014 selection of Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers program. Edan and Stephen Colbert are now besties. Woman No. 17 received rave reviews from the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications, and was #3 on Entertainment Weekly’s Must List. People Magazine’s books editor Kim Hubbard selected Woman No. 17 for the Book of the Month Club. It was named a best book of the year by the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, PopSugar, and The Maine Edge. Edan created the popular Instagram Mothers Before, and she will edit a book inspired by the project, to be published by Abrams Press in 2020. She is the co-host, with fellow writer Amelia Morris, of the podcast Mom Rage.

Edan’s newest short story is “There’s No Place Like Home.” In a climate-ravaged future, it’s not easy to grow up. One girl is trying her best in a story about global catastrophe and personal chaos. Thirteen-year-old Vic is of the Youngest Generation, fixed in prepubescence after catastrophic environmental degradation. She’s also her father’s favorite student. But when he takes his own life, the perennially ingenuous Vic wants to understand why. As she sets out on her quest, Vic begins to learn that family isn’t something you’re born with – it’s something you build. Edan’s “There’s No Place Like Home” is part of Warmer, a collection of seven visions of a conceivable tomorrow by today’s most thought-provoking authors. Alarming, inventive, intimate, and frightening, each story can be read, or listened to, in a single breathtaking sitting. This short story, and perhaps even Edan’s novel California, appeal to audiences of all ages but might be particularly relevant to younger audiences worried about climate change.

Your novel California was recognized widely and was a best-selling, post-apocalyptic novel. I’m not sure if you consider it a young adult novel, but the main characters are in their early twenties and eking out a life and trying to get pregnant. Can you talk some about this novel? What impact did you imagine for the book?

I didn’t intend for California to be a young adult novel, though it certainly doesn’t bother me if young adults are drawn to it. I always get excited, and feel grateful, when I hear that the book is on a high school reading list, or that a college class is reading it. What an honor! I suppose it might appeal to younger readers because, yes, the married couple in the book, Frida and Cal, are in their early twenties. Also, due to the state of the world, they were never really given the opportunity to set down the roots of an “adult” life, so to speak. When they decided to leave LA and start a life with just the two of them, it was both out of desperation and hope: they were desperate to leave a ruined Los Angeles where there were zero opportunities; and they also were hopeful that they could forge a new life, remake the world as they wanted to, for themselves. That’s the folly and gift of youthfulness right there, I think.

In general, why do you think the world needs art and literature dealing with our environmental present, past, and future? And what are your thoughts about writing for or about younger audiences in this literature?

I believe it was Ursula Le Guin who said that speculative fiction writers aren’t writing about the future, but the present; that is, they’re holding a mirror up to the world and showing us how we see the world and ourselves in it. That is quite powerful, particularly in a time when we’re facing so many challenges, and we literally are creating the problem. Climate fiction can remind us of the consequences of our actions, and, at the same time, provide us a reason for fighting – moments of beauty in the natural world, for instance, or the resilience of human beings. Younger people will inherit this planet, which is why it makes sense to place them in these stories. I think, too, a young person is seen as having more potential, while also being more vulnerable, powerless – and that can be powerful, to experience as a reader.

I agree. Amazon has a short story collection titled Warmer, which is geared toward a younger audience and imagines a climate-changing world, and you are one of the authors. What sorts of things inspired your world-building and development of  the main character Victoria, who goes by “Vic”?

This story began with the sentence “Daddy died in the sauna” and went from there. Whose Daddy? Why call him that? How did he die?  I had no idea who Vic was until I started writing her, but I leaned into her bravery as well as her innocence, and I loved balancing the spark in her voice with a wariness. She’s tragic because she can’t truly understand her father, or her parents’ marriage, precisely because she is a child – and always will be, due to climate change. I didn’t figure that out until I was writing, though! Most of the time, I’m drawn into a character’s voice – the images they use, the sentence rhythm – and I realize who they are, through that.

In the short story, sentiment is artifact and death is not sacred. “To stop and mourn would have meant disaster.” This is revealed after Vic’s dad unexpectedly dies. We see the keeping of artifacts (from the old world to the new world) in this story and in California. Can you let the reader know what kinds of artifacts are in these stories, and why you chose them?

I didn’t mean to have this motif repeat in both California and “There’s No Place Like Home” – but I’d venture to say these sorts of powerful objects persist in all my work. In my second novel, Woman No. 17, for instance, a photograph becomes a kind of talisman, a signifier of identity. The artifacts in the other two works, though, definitely relate to a major loss, a sense that the world isn’t the same anymore. I love the idea of objects gaining or losing meaning as circumstances change. For Vic, an old sweater signifies a life she can never lead – for her, it’ll never ever be cold enough to wear a sweater. In California, Frida keeps an unused turkey baster; she will never lead a typical domestic life with big dinners. These characters are elegiac for opportunities and experiences they cannot have. I find it more poignant to express loss via the concrete, the literal.

 In the short story, one of Vic’s realization is that she and her friends would remain children until they die that they were in a stuck generation. This particular thought really haunted me. Can you tell us about this idea?

I didn’t realize this was the case until about halfway through the story, when she meets a boy about her age. Before then, I was struck by Vic’s childish use of “Daddy” and thought it might/should lead to something. When I began to write the boy, he too was young-seeming, and the reason dawned on me. This also haunted me!

Are you working on anything now, and will you continue to write fiction about climate change?

I’m currently editing a book based on my Instagram, Mothers Before, which showcases photos of women’s mothers before they became mothers; each photo is accompanied by the daughter’s prose about the photo, her mother, or both. That will be published in 2020 and I’m very excited! I’m also writing a new novel, that is a sort of family saga. It includes one teenager character (who grows into adulthood over the course of the book). For now, I am not writing about climate change, but I don’t think I’m done with the topic for good…

I just love Mothers Before, and I’m looking forward to your upcoming work! Thanks for joining us.

(Top image downloaded from Career Contessa.)

This article is part of our Wild Authors series. It was originally published on Dragonfly.eco.

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Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs Dragonfly.eco, a site that explores ecology in literature, including works about climate change. She writes fiction under pen name Clara Hume. Her novel Back to the Garden has been discussed in Dissent Magazine, Ethnobiology for the Future: Linking Cultural and Ecological Diversity (University of Arizona Press), and Uncertainty and the Philosophy of Climate Change (Routledge). Mary lives in the lower mainland of British Columbia and enjoys hiking, writing, and reading.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Wild Authors: Marissa Slaven

by Mary Woodbury

I talked with Marissa earlier this year after publishing her young adult novel Code Blue (Moon Willow Press, 2018) and thought this novel would be an excellent addition to our focus on spotlighting authors who write global warming fiction for teen and young adult fiction audiences.

We’ve entered an age where the world is exponentially changing – politics, environment, social, and economic issues – and have now recognized climate change, extinction, and the Anthropocene as our new reality. We’ve seen youth begin to take the reins to lead us through our problems, and it is inspiring. But we’ve also seen apathy and hopelessness. Fiction, like all art, can help us dream, imagine, hope, cope, and change. As Marissa said:

I believe that eco-fiction is a vitally important genre given the environmental challenges we are facing. We need all sorts of stories right now, stories of darkness and of light, stories that tell us what to be afraid of and stories that give us hope. I know that I still have so much room to grow as a writer, and so much to learn about the craft.

Code Blue is a young adult speculative thriller mystery set in a not-so-distant future where rising temperatures and sea levels have dramatically reshaped the world in which we live. Young adults and teenagers who worry about our planet will get something from this novel and at the same time relate to it on a personal level as they worry about their immediate futures: can I get into the college I want, and their planet’s present and future: how will global warming change our home, our lives?

The novel opens with sixteen-year-old Atlantic “Tic” Brewer about to take the North Eastern Science Academy entrance exam, the gateway to attending the world-renown school known for fostering the leading scientists fighting climate change. It’s just Tic and her mom at home – before she was born, her dad was tragically killed in a boating accident while he was on a research trip in the North Atlantic. He was a hydrologist, and Tic wants nothing more than to continue her father’s research and help stave off the impending crisis of rising sea levels. That’s where the NESA comes in.

When Tic’s acceptance letter arrives, she’s thrilled and a little anxious. But before she can get settled at the prestigious boarding school, she finds a mysterious note that says “just in case” and a strange sequence of numbers on the back of a photograph her mom sent with her, the last snapshot taken of her dad and mom together before his trip. Did he know something was going to happen to him? Tic enlists the help of her new friends to track down any clues about her father’s research, and while working on her own hydrology project, Tic discovers some startling facts of her own. Life on Earth might be much more precarious than anyone has let on.

The novel combines mystery, romance, and climate change – all these things are what most teens and young adults have on their minds. Diane Donovan, senior reviewer at Midwest Book Review, said of the book:

Rising oceans, a vastly changed environment, and people who struggle to survive in this new world are not unusual; but what is notably different in Code Blue is a survival account of this changed world as seen through the eyes of a teen who lives behind a barbed-wire fence that stretches some 28,000 miles, designed to either protect or barricade those within (she’s not quite sure which applies)…Dystopian fiction comes and goes, and too many assume the trappings of formula productions; but the test of any superior story line lies in its ability to draw readers with powerful characterization and associations that lend to a reader’s emotional connections with events as they unfold. Code Blue holds a special ability to juxtapose both the bigger ecological picture with the microcosm of a young adult’s personal challenges as she moves through this world.

Having worked with Marissa for a couple years, I’ve seen her enthusiasm in action. Marissa is a mother, daughter, sister, palliative care doctor, blogger, podcaster, and author. She says that she has always loved reading and would devour any books she could get her hands on as a teenager. When it came to school though, she was a serious science nerd. As a grown-up, even when she had almost no money, she never denied herself books. She notes on her blog that she was lucky enough to go to Paris a few years ago, but had terrible jet lag and couldn’t sleep. Somehow a story came to her, and she started to write. Before she knew it, she had written a novella. So then she wrote some more, and her writing became her happy place – somewhere she could escape to after the kids were all in bed. Over the next few years she was lucky to have professional help from the wonderful people at Humber College and the undying support of her family, including her daughter Anna, who inspired her first novel Code Blue.

In my interview with Marissa, she said:

I was inspired to write Code Blue for my daughter Anna. She has always loved reading, and she and I were sharing dystopian books with strong female protagonists. I was happy that there were so many examples of girls saving the world. I kept looking for one in the mainstream market who saved the world not because she was brave, or could shoot arrows or jump off trains, but because she was smart. One day I decided that I would try to write one.

Together, Mom and daughter run the weekly Green Girl Talk podcast, which covers topics such as climate change and environmentalism to pop culture and everyday life.

I feel that this novel was refreshing and hopeful, because we have a likeable yet somewhat vulnerable young woman going through similar growing pains as modern day teens/young adults would – such as romantic uncertainty, concerns about family, and worries about the world. And, as in contemporary society, this young woman also faces big worries about global warming – only, in her time, it’s much worse than now. Despite this, she struggles to figure things out in an apocalyptic place surrounding her. The novel maneuvers our biggest environmental crisis into a palpable understanding of the human condition within planetary risk, and does well at that. I see Marissa on Twitter posting the hashtag #climatehope. When I asked Marissa: How important is it to tell these stories in fiction, and, talking more about hope, how do you think people can find hope in the constant despair around us? She said:

I believe Thomas King was right when he said “The truth about stories is, that’s all we are.” Whether the issue is climate change, as it is in Code Blue, or something else altogether, like socio-political issues (1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale), I think that stories connect us to our worries in a deep visceral way. Facts and statistics are important, but so much of what motivates people to action occurs at an emotional level, and I suppose it is this I am trying to connect with. Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything, also talks about the importance of stories as they relate to climate change. She says that since the industrial revolution we have been telling a story of the planet as a machine that we can master and how this story has led to our current crisis. But she also says we are free to tell ourselves a new story about living in harmony with nature, a story where “no one and nothing gets thrown away” – a story of hope. I have so much hope. I know that terrible things will still happen as a result of climate change and that many people in positions of wealth and power are committed to making things worse. I also know that a lot is happening all over the world right now to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change. I know that science and technology, and social movements, are growing exponentially. I know we can’t fix everything, but we can fix some things, or at least I hope we can.

I was curious about how Code Blue appeals to all ages, including to adults like me. I found it to be refreshing and almost like a friend as I read through it. Maybe we all find parts of ourselves in Tic Brewer. I asked Marissa if there is a part of Tic in her and could she talk some about that. She said:

Right away I knew that I wanted Tic to be accessible. I wanted readers to think that the girl saving the world from climate change could be them. I didn’t want her to be a super-genius, and I couldn’t figure out how I could write a character who was smarter than I am. I definitely share some traits and experiences with Tic and am also very different from her in other ways. Tic has an automatic reflex to try to help others, and I think that stems from my own deeply held belief that helping others is what makes my life meaningful. I was able to draw on some of my memories of being a teenager. Like Tic I went to a small high school and often didn’t find myself challenged by the curriculum. I didn’t have lots of friends at school but wasn’t especially concerned with that. I also had three teens of my own while writing the book and found that helpful in terms of trying to keep things real. I think it wasn’t until after I finished writing Code Blue though that I realized that one of Tic’s defining issues is her absent father. My father, for whom I had great respect, was not physically absent as hers is. Nonetheless, I think there is a part of me that was always striving to find him emotionally and to impress him.

This article is part of our Wild Authors series. It was originally published on Dragonfly.eco.

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Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs Dragonfly.eco, a site that explores ecology in literature, including works about climate change. She writes fiction under pen name Clara Hume. Her novel Back to the Garden has been discussed in Dissent Magazine, Ethnobiology for the Future: Linking Cultural and Ecological Diversity (University of Arizona Press), and Uncertainty and the Philosophy of Climate Change (Routledge). Mary lives in the lower mainland of British Columbia and enjoys hiking, writing, and reading.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Ponderings on Population

by Julia Levine 

In honor of the UN’s World Population Day, I reflect on my relationship to the topic of global population.

My awareness of the concept of global population was sparked in my high school biology class, while covering carrying capacity in an ecological context. This was the same class that prompted my longstanding vegetarianism; the topics I studied in my early teen years really had an impact on me. Then in college, I read Stephen Emmott’s 10 Billion, a lecture-performance by the scientist-author himself, directed by Katie Mitchell in the UK. His strategy does not involve sugar-coating, as manifest even in the trailer:

There is substantive criticism of Emmott’s text and the research behind it, calling the piece “full of exaggeration and weak on basic science.” Emmott’s words are not easy nor fun to read/hear. However, now, media outlets are a-buzz about climate terminology, as prompted by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg:

Just as there are many ways to call our climatic situation, there are many approaches on what to do about it: for example, my beloved Project Drawdown seeks to connect us back with nature by using demilitarized language. Conversely, according to a CNBC article, Emmott uses “everyday facts to exemplify the energy use we take for granted every day…in order to communicate to non-scientific audiences the ‘inter-connected’ nature of ecosystems and our consumption.” From Emmott’s perspective, “we are screwed.” 10 Billion conjures up helpless feelings about the state of our world, and pushes me out of my comfort zone. When I feel the extent of my comfort zone, I consider what it is that strikes a mental-emotional nerve. In the case of population growth, I think about the populations closest to me, my family. I think about parenthood, particularly motherhood. I think about my ability to have kids, to potentially add to the population. I think about my parent’s own decision, their choice to have kids and reproduce, thus adding to the population.

These thoughts are, in part, why I asked an all-female panel of sustainability pioneers about motherhood. I discuss this panel, hosted by Women in Global Affairs, as part of my Climate Week 2018 article. After academic presentations by the panelists, the event transitioned to a Q&A with the audience (of predominantly women). Specific questions arose regarding the power of women in sustainability. This included a question about the fashion industry, and how to wield consumer power to push companies towards less extractive and exploitative practices.

During the Q&A, I asked the panel about their relationship to motherhood, especially in the context of our planet’s carrying capacity. The question of whether or not to have children is one that I have the privilege to ask myself, and I have the tools to make whichever choice I desire. I take this for granted, but I know that not every woman has this privilege. I was curious to hear from the panel of seven women about their perspectives on this personal and politicized topic. Coincidentally, one panelist had to leave at that moment to go home to her newborn baby. Another responded that motherhood was one of the best things she’s done, to bring two people into the world who care and can enact positive change. A third panelist was also proud to be a mother, and recognized the people in her life that support her decision, and help her in balancing family and work. She emphasized her choice to have only one child, in consideration of the number of people already on our planet.

Finally, the fourth panelist Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, who lives in Kenya with her husband and two children, echoed pride in motherhood, and also broke open the conversation. She pointed out that my interpretation of carrying capacity accounts for the planet’s population living at the rate that we do in the West – that the whole world does not live this way, and that it’s not about how many new people are being brought into the world, but about how they are brought up (in the U.S., how they perpetuate a capitalist lifestyle). Wanjiru also took issue with the American mindset in general, one that in some ways sees itself as the creator of sustainability – other cultures have been living sustainable lives for generations, and the reason we are needing to scale up sustainability efforts is a result of Western consumption! As Wanjiru summarized, the individualism that leads to exacerbated climate change is the same mindset that elected Trump, all informed by our country’s genocidal beginnings.

For me, the power of the Women in Sustainability event was in the sheer number of women in one room together. We don’t often discuss topics of population, let alone carrying capacity, at the intersection of arts and climate. But the arts are aptly poised to open up spaces for difficult discussions, whatever form the creative act may take.

The UN’s approach to tackling this topic is to create a day like World Population Day, “which seeks to focus attention on the urgency and importance of population issues.” This year’s theme “calls for global attention to the unfinished business of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development…where 179 governments recognized that reproductive health and gender equality are essential for achieving sustainable development.” Important reminders that the movement for a sustainable planet must come with justice and equity for all people, all over the globe.

This article is part of the Persistent Acts series which looks at the intersection of performance, climate, and politics. How does hope come to fruition, even in the most dire circumstances? What are tangible alternatives to the oppressive status quo? The series considers questions of this nature to motivate conversations and actions on climate issues that reverberate through politics and theatre.

(Top Image: Photo by James Cridland.)

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Julia Levine is a creative collaborator and vegetarian. Originally from St. Louis, Julia is now planted in the New York City downtown theatre realm. As a director, Julia has worked on various projects with companies that consider political and cultural topics, including Theater In Asylum, Honest Accomplice Theatre, and Superhero Clubhouse. She is on the Marketing team at HERE Arts Center and is Artistic Producer of The Arctic Cycle. Julia writes and devises with her performance-based initiative, The UPROOT Series, to bring questions of food, climate, and justice into everyday life.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Wild Authors: Octavia Butler

Mary Woodbury 

Octavia Butler, an African American science fiction writer, was born in 1947 and died in 2006. A Hugo and Nebula award winner, she wrote fairy tales as a young girl. By the time she was a pre-teen she got her first typewriter, ignoring her Aunt Hazel telling her, “Negroes can’t be writers.” (Source: Butler, Octavia Estelle. “Positive Obsession.” Bloodchild and Other Stories. New York, Seven Stories, 2005. 123-126.) Octavia’s series include the Patternist, Xenogenesis, and Parable (also called the Earthseed). In addition, she wrote two stand-alone novels, two short story collections, and several essays and speeches.

It is the Earthseed series on which this spotlight focuses, but her other works are relevant and recommended. Earthseed contains two novels: Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. A third in the series, Parable of the Trickster, was not completed before her death. Sower opens in 2024, which once seemed so futuristic, even in the year 1993 when the book was published. But time marches impossibly on, and for those of us who clearly remember 1993, the vacuum that has sucked out space from then to now seems both eternal and too quick. If you look at a timeline of climate change, you’ll see that global warming had, by and large, become agreed upon by scientific opinion by 1977. And by the early 1990s the first IPCC report stated that warming was likely.

Talking about the Earthseed series as a very “real” tale should not drown out the story itself. Octavia helped usher in the genre of young adult dystopian fiction. She wrote powerfully, imaginatively, and creatively. The worlds she built were beautiful, harsh, and grim. Her protagonists were stoic and inspiring. Despite tackling multiple issues – politics, environment, segregation, religion, social injustice – her prose was concise. Her stories, powerful and believable.

The number of authors tackling the subject of climate change in fiction has risen in the past few years, but as stated earlier in this series, many authors were writing about it before it became more mainstream. The reasoning may be that today, climate change is more accepted and obvious around the world. And, of course, writers naturally take on what they see around them. But we should never forget adventurous authors like Octavia Butler who were innovative for their time. She went against the odds on many levels: gender, skin color, and story subjects. And she blew us all away.

Though a few terms have been introduced to describe the subject of climate change as a genre in fiction, one phrase that is often ignored is Afrofuturism, which, according to Inverse, is a type of cultural aesthetic that explores the intersection of African culture with technology and futurism. Inverse calls Octavia Butler the “Mother of Afrofuturism” and describes four themes used in her books: critique of modern-day hierarchies, violence, survival, and diversity. The Earthseed series seems to accurately envision the near-future world’s downfalls, brought on by climate change and economic disparity, which have resulted in growing populism and demagoguery around the world. In African Arguments, Bolanle Austen Peters states:

The term Afrofuturism, coined in 1993, seeks to reclaim black identity through art, culture, and political resistance. It is an intersectional lens through which to view possible futures or alternate realities, though it is rooted in chronological fluidity. That’s to say it is as much a reflection of the past as a projection of a brighter future in which black and African culture does not hide in the margins of the white mainstream.

Note that climate change is a historical, present, and future concern. Perhaps this future is something Octavia could envision as a child in a world where a critical dystopia didn’t seem that unimaginable, existed in some form already, and had signs of continuing, though it is reasonable to suggest that in her novels, Octavia created hopeful heroes. Perhaps she imagined herself as one such type of protagonist, and rightly so. Octavia spent her childhood in Pasadena. Her mother worked as a maid and her father a shoe-shiner. According to the New Yorker:

In one of Butler’s first stories, “Flash – Silver Star,” which she wrote at the age of eleven, a young girl is picked up by a U.F.O. from Mars and taken on a tour of the solar system. Butler ignored the received idea that black people belonged in science fiction only if their blackness was crucial to the plot…She later made a habit of explaining, as here to the Times, “I wrote myself in, since I’m me and I’m here and I’m writing. I can write my own stories and I can write myself in.”

In Parable of the Sower, there are signs of climate change, such as drought and rising seas. The main character, who tells her story through journal entries, is a 15-year-old black girl named Lauren Oya Olamina, who, as the New Yorker points out, is wise enough to determine that people have changed the climate of the world. The title of the series, Earthseed, comes from a Darwinian religion that Lauren makes up. She also has hyperempathy, which makes her keenly attuned to the pain that her fellow residents in southern California experience in their impoverished life behind a wall of segregation made of brick and steel. Issues of skin color, violence against those perceived as different, political movements against science, and class divisions growing wide sound all too familiar.

In Parable of the Talents, which opens in 2032, further oppression of women, designer drugs that let people numb out, mutilation of body parts, and slavery are common. Cities are privatized, and literacy is decreasing. The Earthseed series tells of what we have, are, and will continue to experience. Electric Lit points out: “As Gloria Steinem wrote in 2016, in an essay celebrating The Parable of the Sower’s 25th anniversary, ‘If there is one thing scarier than a dystopian novel about the future, it’s one written in the past that has already begun to come true.’”

Indeed, the current political climate in the United States reflects some of what’s going on in this novel, including news briefs (think Twitter), where a bulleted note about war and a comment about Christmas lights might carry the same weight in 25 words or less, but most frightening is:

The Donner Administration has written off science, but a more immediate threat lurks: a violent movement is being whipped up by a new Presidential candidate, Andrew Steele Jarret, a Texas senator and religious zealot who is running on a platform to “make American great again.” —The New Yorker, ibid

According to Wired Magazine, Gerry Canavan, who wrote the biography Octavia E. Butler: An Outsider’s Journey to Literary Acclaim, said that the presidential character was actually inspired by Ronald Reagan, but it reeks of the current president as well – two decades after Talents was published – who uses the exact phrasing of “make America great again.” Maybe what Octavia was concerned about was that we need to make it great someday, but we cannot make anything great by disregarding scientific facts, civil rights, ecological and economical sustainability, forethought, and equality.

Climate change doesn’t really fit in to either reality or fiction in a compartmental sense. It looms over society and is a result of many other root issues, such as greed and capitalism. Octavia Butler recognized this and world-built her stories by looking at what wasn’t, isn’t, or won’t be “great.” Her novels lie on the path of “If we continue this…then.” If society sees a natural resource it can make money off of, capitalism provides a path for that. Eventually, with too many resources taken, not only is the climate itself altered but the same kind of root greed doesn’t disappear, such as in Parable of the Sower, where water is scarce and thus is finally controlled by the government – and is not as available for those behind the wall.

Getting back to Afrofuturism, for a young, black female growing up in America in the 1950s, who had the kind of imagination and wisdom to write various award-winning speculative novels, it seems that the cultural diaspora in which she lived, along with the lack of civil rights and the extreme (then and even now) mistreatment of people, guided her writing to be visionary; she used creativity as a tool for expression and black liberation. The Earthseed series documented and unfolded the uncertainty of the future of the world. If the parables had been reality, we would now be living in “The Pox” (short for apocalyptic), a chaotic time period lasting from 2015-2030, but having roots before 2015. While the first two books in the series cover Lauren’s life, Talents jumps six decades ahead, in the end, where the Earthseeders are carried off planet Earth to escape the Pox. Jerry Caravan, in the LA Review of Books states:

The epilogue sees a very aged [Lauren] Olamina, now world-famous, witnessing the launch of the first Earthseed ship carrying interstellar colonists off the planet as she’d dreamed. Only the name of the spaceship gives us pause: against Olamina’s wishes the ship has been named the Christopher Columbus, suggesting that perhaps the Earthseeders aren’t escaping the nightmare of history at all, but bringing it with them instead.

I leave you with this quote, from Parable of the Talents, by Octavia E. Butler:

Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought.
To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.
To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen.
To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies.
To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.

(Top image downloaded from LA Times.com)

This article is part of our Wild Authors series. It was originally published on Dragonfly.eco.

______________________________

Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs Dragonfly.eco, a site that explores ecology in literature, including works about climate change. She writes fiction under pen name Clara Hume. Her novel Back to the Garden has been discussed in Dissent Magazine, Ethnobiology for the Future: Linking Cultural and Ecological Diversity (University of Arizona Press), and Uncertainty and the Philosophy of Climate Change (Routledge). Mary lives in the lower mainland of British Columbia and enjoys hiking, writing, and reading.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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An Interview with Artist Sabrina Diaz

by Amy Brady

This month I have for you a great interview with Sabrina Diaz, a Miami-based artist who works only with found and donated materials to create her art. (She discusses why in our interview below.) She’s also a member of Fempower, an artist collective led by queer, black, and brown artists whose work focuses on systemic oppression – including the ways in which climate change makes life worse for the world’s most vulnerable.

Your work incorporates all kinds of materials, both man-made and natural. Do you have a favorite material to work with? Do you have a favorite medium to work in?

I didn’t plan it, but textile and fabrics have revealed themselves as themes in my work. I’ve used clothing, bed sheets, and scrap fabric that were all donated to me to make rope, giant rag dolls, and macramé nets. It really has proven itself to be a mutable material. I always add an earthly element like sand, leaves, or dirt to my pieces as well. Earth acts as a multifaceted symbol, but one message that has remained consistent in every piece – and I hope resonates – is the feeling of shared healing and home.

You don’t purchase any of the materials you use in your work. Why is that?

Many reasons, but the main reason is that I’ve been a student my whole life, have had a minimum of two jobs since I started working and have been paying off debt, mostly medical, and credit cards, since I was 18. Purchasing supplies often means contributing to that debt. That being said, I have to acknowledge that I have one of the more privileged circumstances. As an able-bodied, white-Latina, I’ve always had a job, a place to sleep, and a support system. My position is often seen as a best-case scenario while living in the US, a world powerhouse, but such an equation just doesn’t make sense to me. I’m trying to imagine a world past capitalism, which specifically thrives on exploitation. Making art that I feel stands in opposition of our current system means challenging myself to work outside of its means of control. Most often that means reaching out to my community for resources and skills.

We live in a culture that glamorizes resource hoarding for the ego stroke that is “doing things on your own” but that’s the biggest illusion. I literally wouldn’t have been able to make anything without the support of those who contribute material, ideologies, or skill sets. Our interdependence becomes more apparent through this process. The purchasing of a product or service allows you to be disconnected from the labor that goes into it by real people whose livelihoods are reduced to the value of these items. Connecting with friends and strangers reminds me that our survival will depend on each other, and my art-making allows me to engage with that truth more directly by activating communal skill sharing.

Tensión Palpable is a sculpture made of re-purposed fabric and tree trunk. This piece stands in solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico post-hurricane Maria. More than a year later, the island continues to struggle and overcome. The piece re-imagines the tension between Mother Earth and the people of Puerto Rico, a US occupation. The colors of the fabric create a confusable interplay between the Puerto Rican and American flags. Its torn state reflects the strain of Puerto Rican identity in the midst of crisis. The interlaced fabric propping up the log imitates the people of PR tending to their land and healing communally.” —Sabrina Diaz

What first drew you to the subject of climate disaster, and why do you pursue it in your art?

I’ve lived in Miami my entire life, and we see better than anyone else anywhere in the US the effects of the climate crisis. I became unhealthily obsessed with the life changes I could make as an individual to contribute less to climate disaster and remember losing my mind on social media one day about the water crisis when Niki Franco, Fempower political educator and friend, recommended I read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. That’s when I started to understand that my efforts were futile if I didn’t begin to combat the wealthy people not only contributing to climate disaster on a massive scale but using it as a tool against marginalized communities.

As summers become unbearably hot and sea levels become noticeably higher, the poorest in Miami are affected first through climate gentrification, increased health problems due to longer heat waves, and more powerful hurricanes, which put those living on the street and in less stable houses at higher risks of injury or death. Maintaining a livable environment on Earth sounds like a cause we should all be able to get behind but we have to start speaking truth to the elite that are trying to get rich at our expense. My art ultimately points the finger of climate disaster at the powers that be, those who consistently put profit over people.

Tell us about the art collective you’re a part of. What are their goals, and how does your art connect to the other work they’re creating?

Fempower is a queer, black and brown-led artist collective that fights against systematic oppression by centering the needs of the most vulnerable. Through community education, activism, art, music, healing and shared joy, we are changing Miami’s political landscape. We have free programming like the Femme Fairy garden, which brings people together to tend to the Earth and learn environmentalism, herbalism, and activism through self-sustaining farming practices. Liberation book club provides free education on topics like decolonization, abolition, eroticism, and environmental justice. The knowledge learned in Fempower spaces has strategically been inaccessible by other means because it gives power back to the people: Fempower’s ultimate goal. Much of the book club readings have sparked the concepts behind my work. I attempt to create a visual language that’s as critical as the theory we’re learning and can act as an alternative method of seed-spreading.

What do you hope viewers take away from your art?

I’ve been stunted recently, because I’ve been trying to find ways to send messages of hope. I think hope gets people closer to imagining something new. Until then, I want to leave people feeling uncomfortably burdened. My pieces are bigger in scale and normally heavy for that reason – I want people to feel crushed by the weight of knowing until that weight breaks their apathetic facade. We need people to start deeply caring for each other.

When it comes to climate change, are you hopeful for the future?

Being active in my community keeps me hopeful. I think being unconditionally supported eventually makes you a more supportive person. Over all, I stay grounded knowing that if we do die off, Earth lives on, flourishing – I’ll stay fighting until then.

(Top image: Photo by Joice Gonzalez. Instagram handle: @joicegonz.)

This article is part of the Climate Art Interviews series. It was originally published in Amy Brady’s “Burning Worlds” newsletter. Subscribe to get Amy’s newsletter delivered straight to your inbox.

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Amy Brady is the Deputy Publisher of Guernica magazine and Senior Editor of the Chicago Review of Books. Her writing about art, culture, and climate has appeared in the Village Voice, the Los Angeles TimesPacific Standard, the New Republic, and other places. She is also the editor of the monthly newsletter “Burning Worlds,” which explores how artists and writers are thinking about climate change. She holds a PHD in English and is the recipient of a CLIR/Mellon Library of Congress Fellowship. Read more of her work at AmyBradyWrites.com and follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Using Comedy to Unpack Climate Justice

by Peterson Toscano

Some people in the US believe there is a conflict between their faith and accepting the reality of climate change. They look to the Bible to give them guidance and inspiration. After chatting with Evangelical Christians about the question, What Does The Bible Say About Climate Change? I decided to revisit a popular Bible story and give it a climate twist.

Character Tony Buffusio from the Bronx, NY tells the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Joseph lives in Egypt during a time of temporary regional shifts in the climate. Not only does he predict changes in weather patterns, he develops a plan for how to look after the people. As a Bible scholar, I have a passion for looking after the welfare of people who are affected by extreme weather events.

Coming up next month,  circus artist Eliana Dunlap grapples with how to do circus in a time of climate change. She sees circus with its high stakes and need for cooperation as the perfect metaphor for climate change and climate action.

If you like what you hear, you can listen to full episodes of Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, Podbean, Northern Spirit Radio, Google Play, PlayerFM, and TuneIn Radio. Also, feel free to connect with other listeners, suggest program ideas, and respond to programs in the Citizens’ Climate Radio Facebook group or on Twitter at @CitizensCRadio.

This article is part of The Art House series.

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As host of Citizens’ Climate Radio, Peterson Toscano regularly features artists who address climate change in their work. The Art House section of his program includes singer/songwriters, visual artists, comics, creative writers, and playwrights. Through a collaboration with Artists and Climate Change and Citizens’ Climate Education, each month Peterson reissues The Art House for this blog. If you have an idea for The Art House, contact Peterson: radio @ citizensclimatelobby.org

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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