Cli-Fi Novel Review – State of Fear by Michael Crichton

29th June 2017

I have debated whether or not to write a review for this book for some time. Prior to reading it, I had no idea that Michael Crichton was a climate change sceptic! So it came as much of a surprise to me to see the supposedly good climate change scientists portrayed as the bad guys as the book progressed.

Whilst it’s cleverly written to convey Crichton’s climate change scepticism, I can’t recommend this book to others, purely because it flies in the face of what I (personally) believe this genre should be trying to achieve. Yet because Crichton’s name is so well know, you’ll find this book in cli-fi displays in bookstores, and on cli-fi reading lists. So this short review is more of a warning to alert other unsuspecting readers – if you don’t want to read a cli-fi novel that’s grounded in climate change scepticism, then avoid this book!

Cli-Fi Novel Review – Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich

5th May 2017

I couldn’t wait to dive into this book, as it’s been hyped up by a lot of reviewers. So it’s with an element of sadness, that I report this novel came across as a book of two halves for me.

We follow Mitchell Zukor, who is a mathematician that calculates the chances of catastrophe occurring from a range of factors including; ecological collapse, natural disasters and global war. Mitchell lives in New York and his life is turned upside down when a storm slams into the city. Ironically, this book was written just before Hurricane Sandy hit New York. The first half of the book leading up to and including the storm, is engaging, informative and reads like a thriller. If the second half of the book had followed in this manner, then this would easily have been one of my favourite books in the cli-fi genre. But quite the opposite happened.

I will try to avoid giving away too many spoilers, but characters underwent unnecessary change and the plot took a turn for the bizarre. I am not sure if the book needed to end the way it did, and I felt disappointed by what had been such a great start. Perhaps I’m one of only a few who feel unhappy with the second half.

Whilst this novel had a great deal of potential, I would say be prepared for an adrenaline-pumping first half, followed by a mediocre second half.

Cli-Fi Novel Review – The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

26th April 2017

The Year of the Flood is the most immersive ‘cli-fi’ book I have read to date. Whilst I am slightly unsure about using the term cli-fi to describe this novel, it does present a dystopian future, whereby human influence has caused mass environmental degradation. Corporations are in charge, and get away with a great deal of corruption and immoral practices, including changing the genetic make-up of animals.

What scares me about this book, is how a lot of things mentioned are not a million miles away from where we are today. If fiction has the power to make us reflect on our current pathway and change direction, then this is a book that policymakers should take notice of. Needless to say the plot was relevant and pacey, apart from the Sermons by Adam One, which drew me away from the action. That being said, these sermons tended to be about different ‘Saint’s Days’. Atwood cleverly uses the Saints Days to educate us about environmental campaigners and activists (after whom the Saint’s Days are named), such as Rachel Carson. The lay reader picking up this novel with little background environmental or cli-fi knowledge, may then be tempted to discover who these ‘Saints’ are and what they did, which is a very subtle and intelligent way of educating people.

The characters in the book are well thought out and believable. I now understand that this book is part of a trilogy; this being the second book (preceded by Oryx and Crake, and followed by MaddAddam). I am interested to see how these books tie together, as many articles discussing cli-fi novels recommend The Year of the Flood, yet few mention the other two books.

Whilst the ending wasn’t exactly what I anticipated or hoped for, this is my favourite cli-fi novel so far and one I’d definitely recommend. I’m hoping the loose ends are tied up in the final book of the trilogy – MaddAddam.

“Cli-Fi” Added to the Oxford Dictionary

13th April 2017

A major milestone has been reached for the cli-fi genre, as “cli-fi” enters the Oxford Dictionary.

A recent blog post on oxforddictionaries.com states: “Cli-fi refers to the genre of fiction exploring issues around climate change and global warming, and is modelled after its hypernym sci-fi.”

The origin of cli-fi is explained here as follows: “Early 21st century: short for climate fiction or climate change fiction, on the pattern of sci-fi.” Furthermore, ‘cli-fi, like the science behind it, often presents bleak visions of the future.’

I would like to offer my congratulations to Dan Bloom who coined the term ‘cli-fi’, and all those writers who have written books in this genre.

Sources

Oxford Dictionaries blog about cli-fi – http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2017/04/oxford-dictionary-new-words/

Definition of cli-fi – https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/cli-fi

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson – Are Pesticides a Source of Cancer?

11th April 2017

Silent Spring is a seminal book by Rachel Carson, which is widely credited for igniting the fires of the environmental movement. Reading this, I am shocked by how little seems to have changed in the intervening 55 years since the book was published.

Carson shows how chemical insecticides and pesticides have gone beyond pest control and resulted in widespread death of fish, birds and larger animals. What we try and control in one part of the food chain has a knock on effect further down, and worryingly, not many people realise that we are also at the end of this food chain. I have often wondered whether rising rates of cancer in humans can be attributed to the chemicals we have sprayed on our foods and which we unwittingly ingest. Think about it, if the pesticides are toxic enough to kill insects, birds and fish – could they not also poison us, as living, breathing creatures as well? Carson makes a strong argument that this is indeed the case:

“Man has put the vast majority of carcinogens into the environment and he can, if he wishes, eliminate many of them. The chemical agents of cancer have become entrenched in our world in two ways: first, and ironically, through man’s search for a better and easier way of life; second, because the manufacture and sale of such chemicals has become an accepted part of our economy and our way of life.”

Furthermore recent scientific studies have shown that pesticides are harmful to our health. An article in the Guardian, available here states that:

  • The idea that pesticides are essential to feed a fast-growing global population is a myth, according to UN food and pollution experts.
  • The report said: “Chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility.” It also highlighted the risk to children from pesticide contamination of food, citing 23 deaths in India in 2013 and 39 in China in 2014.
  • The report says pesticides have “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole”, including an estimated 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning.

In addition, a separate article in the Guardian available here, notes that farms may actually be MORE productive without using pesticides and insecticides:

  • By comparing similar farms using high or low levels of pesticides, the scientists found that 94% of farms would lose no production if they cut pesticides and two-fifths of these would actually produce more.
  • The results were most startling for insecticides: lower levels would result in more production in 86% of farms and no farms at all would lose production.
  • The research also indicated that 78% of farms would be equally or more profitable when using less pesticide of all types.

I think it goes without saying that we need to urgently examine whether we need to be using pesticides and insecticides at all in this day and age. If there is significant evidence that pesticides are causing cancer and a range of other serious illnesses, we need to put a stop to their use. Moreover, we have evidence as shown above that we don’t need to use pesticides and insecticides on our crops. This is yet another case of manipulation by big companies, who are causing unnecessary illness, death and environmental degradation in the name of profits. It’s time to stop this.

Top 5 Pesticide Companies

As a matter of interest, this article from August 2016, lists the top 5 pesticide companies as:

  • Syngenta
  • Bayer
  • Dow and Du Pont
  • BASF
  • Monsanto

Sources

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson – https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Silent-Spring-Penguin-Modern-Classics-Rachel-Carson/0141184949

Deaths caused by pesticides – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/mar/07/un-experts-denounce-myth-pesticides-are-necessary-to-feed-the-world

Farms more productive without insecticides – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/apr/06/farms-could-slash-pesticide-use-without-losses-research-reveals

Top 5 pesticide companies – http://www.investopedia.com/articles/markets-economy/082516/top-5-pesticide-companies-world-syt-dow.asp

The Media

17th March 2017

Declaration

Before I begin, I would just like to declare my position upfront on this subject. I am a founding member of the Guardian and I have participated in the New Internationalist crowdfunding community share offer.

Why the Media Matters

Up until a decade ago, I was very much under a set opinion. I believed that newspapers and news broadcasters could only print and show stories which were factually accurate. I believed that there was a strong regulator in place who would pull up any news organisation who showed unfair bias or failed to show ‘facts’ in their stories, which could be backed up by reliable sources. In truth I therefore believed that regardless of what paper you were reading, or which news channel you watched that you were being presented with facts and that it didn’t really matter where you got your news from – it would be the same story, just presented slightly differently.

I have since realised that I was wrong. Unfortunately, despite being in education for so many years, we aren’t taught a lot of stuff that really matters – like who owns our newspapers and their reasons for doing so. Here are a few interesting statistics:

  • Three companies own 70% of our national newspapers.
  • Two billionaires; Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere own two of the above companies and between them control over 50% of national newspapers sold.
  • In terms of local newspapers, just six companies own 80% of local newspaper titles (for example: the Manchester Evening News, Bristol Post, Liverpool Echo and Nottingham Post are all owned by the Trinity Mirror group. Can we therefore rely on this one organisation to provide local trusted news stories?)
  • Further information on media ownership is available here.

Big deal right – who cares who owns what paper? Did you know that most newspapers make a financial LOSS each year? For example, Rupert Murdoch (mentioned above) owns News Group Newspapers, which are comprised of The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times. News Group Newspapers made a loss of £62.8 million up to July 2016.

Even papers like the Guardian reported a loss of £69 million for the last financial year. The first rule of business is to make a profit. News organisations are ultimately businesses as well, so how and why would they sustain such losses?

Let’s take a look at Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers who made a £62.8 million loss. Rupert Murdoch is a billionaire and also owns Fox News in the US, as well as a large shareholding in Sky UK. To put it simply, he doesn’t need his loss-making newspapers, they don’t contribute directly to his wealth. However, they do give him one thing that has served him really well – POWER. The Sun has accurately backed the winning party of each UK general election since 1979.

As such, when parties want to get elected, they often go grovelling to Rupert Murdoch. Tony Blair was a case in point who sought Murdoch’s backing and consequently won the 1997 election (yes, the Sun backed Blair). In return for his support, Murdoch gets unprecedented access directly with the Prime Minister.

This is the primary reason why so many tabloid owners keep their papers going, even though they are making a loss, because it gives them a mouthpiece and it gives them power and influence – after all what government would want to anger the owner of a paper read by a million or more people? Would it surprise you to learn that five of the most read newspapers are owned by four billionaires who don’t live in the UK (Source: War of Words conference)?

This is a crucial topic because newspaper owners have a monopoly and use their papers to influence people’s thoughts and opinions on a wide range of subjects. Some of their owners have close ties to government, and can therefore manipulate people’s opinions either in favour of government policies or against them.

Tabloids are Toxic  

Tabloids tend to pay little attention to things like ‘facts’. Instead they focus on sensationalism, and engaging people’s emotions. What better way to do that than blow a story out of context and show heavy bias to one side, to make people angry? This is an issue because millions of people read tabloid papers every day and the Sun and the Daily Mail have the largest print newspaper circulations in the country.

We are also contending with the advent of ‘fake news’, and I think we need to ask ourselves a question: If tabloids aren’t presenting facts, then what are they presenting? If you think about it in this respect, perhaps tabloids can also be thought of as fake news.

But tabloids have more than that to account for. For example, Rupert Murdoch’s now defunct News of the World were involved with phone hacking (including the phones of innocent dead victims, such as 13 year old Millie Dowler). Is this moral and ethical behaviour? This is the level that tabloids will stoop too. If this story interests you, I would advise checking out the Hacked Off campaign.

I also think that tabloids are similar to gossip magazines in that they glorify unrealistic body images and expectations, which have caused much suffering for both women and men. It’s not right that we are aspiring to photoshopped images. Yet I think you would be hard pushed to find many tabloids that don’t have good-looking or half-naked people somewhere inside. What are the long term benefits of viewing these images? Can’t think of any? Maybe there is a reason for that.

Tabloids have also started spewing hatred and disinformation. It doesn’t surprise me to learn that the Daily Mail once supported Hitler. That paper, like many other tabloids is full of anti-immigrant, anti-kindness intolerance, which again has little factual basis. These papers are shaping people’s views using emotive language and sensationalist stories which skew or completely ignore facts, and that isn’t right.

In order to start fighting back against this tide of hatred and lies, new campaigns such as Stop Funding are trying to encourage companies from advertising in tabloids such as the Daily Mail. I would advise supporting them if you can.

It’s worth looking into who owns which papers you read. For example you may be surprised to learn that the Daily Mail Group owns the Metro newspaper. We can then make judgements about whether we feel it is right to pick up copies of these papers, given what we know about the owners and their bias.

TV Broadcasting

In the UK, BBC News and Sky News are the two biggest broadcasters. We already know that Sky is part-owned by Rupert Murdoch (who coincidentally also owns Fox News in the US – another unreliable broadcaster), so Sky News is worth watching with a pinch of salt and a dose of healthy scepticism.

BBC News is committed to the policy of neutrality. This may sound good – for example we get two sides to every story. However, sometimes there are more sides and sometimes there are less. My biggest frustration with this channel has been in regards to climate change, where time and time again they bring on a climate change denialist or skeptic to argue against a scientist – who is quoting data and facts! Whilst the skeptic has nothing to go on, they are simply there to sow the seed of doubt in people’s minds. It’s long been time for the BBC to drop this stupidity – 97% of climate scientists are in agreement and they have the data which shows that things are only getting worse. After all, scientists once believed the earth was flat, but data has shown us this isn’t the case. If you carry on bringing in climate change denialists, then I think it’s only right that you bring in ‘flat earth’ believers every time you show a google earth image (i.e. any image which shows the earth as a sphere). Wouldn’t that be stupid? It’s also worth noting that broadcasters such as BBC News are subject to ‘churnalism’, where the journalists don’t have much time to get a story together, but still need to churn out news. This means that the stories may not give you much context as the journalists simply don’t have enough time to get everything done.

TV news is still how most people receive their news. So we either need a strong regulator with teeth that will monitor and hold these broadcasters to account. Or the broadcasters need to shape up, which is very unlikely. Also Rupert Murdoch is currently trying to buy Sky outright, so Sky News may get a shake-up for the worse.

Climate Change and the Media

The media has done a terrible job of communicating climate change. Yes it’s a complex subject. But it doesn’t help that newspapers like The Telegraph have employed climate change sceptics like James Delingpole to write for them. Others report on new journal papers, but fail to give background context and as such it creates a lot of uncertainty in people’s minds. Then you’ve got broadcasters like the BBC who pull in sceptics to spout lies and it all becomes very messy and depressing. No paper has been perfect, but the Guardian has done more than most to get the story out there.

What’s the Solution?

No news organisation is perfect. But some are miles better than others. The Guardian is a bit like a beacon of light in a dark world. Unlike other newspapers which hide behind a paywall online, all of the Guardian’s stories are free to read. There are very few topics that their journalists don’t cover, and they even have a ‘Opinion’ section, whereby journalists can write stories on subjects that interest them and give their own views (which may be different to that of the paper).

Importantly, I think the Guardian also has one of the best climate change and environment teams of any news organisation that I’ve come across. This is how I came to start reading the paper, and this is why I am a paying member of the paper. I believe in this day and age, that it’s important to support a paper that seeks to report the truth and expose stories that matter to all of us. No the Guardian is not perfect and there are plenty of articles I disagree with (including those they let Tony Blair write), but in spite of this, I think you would struggle to find another paper of this size who is committed to independent journalism. It’s worth noting that the Guardian is not owned by an individual, but is supported by the Scott Trust, which was set up to sustain the paper into perpetuity. More info here.

If you want to know more about becoming a member, more information is available here.

At the War of Words conference, I also came across a news magazine that was new to me. They are the New Internationalist. I have since become acquainted with their work and they seem similar to the Guardian in terms of their approach, but have a more global outlook. New Internationalist have recently launched a community share offer, whereby members of the public can become a shareholder in the magazine. If this idea appeals to you, more information is available here.

I would encourage you to think long and hard about which newspapers you buy and those that you read online. I think one of the biggest changes we can all make is to stop visiting tabloid websites such as the Daily Mail website, and to stop sharing Daily Mail and Sun videos and links on social media. Their power lies in their readership, and if that diminishes, they have nothing.

Sources

Media Ownership – http://www.mediareform.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Who_owns_the_UK_media-report_plus_appendix1.pdf

News Group Newspapers Losses – https://www.ft.com/content/8ac2bda6-d2ac-11e6-b06b-680c49b4b4c0

Guardian Newspaper Losses – https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jul/27/guardian-losses-members

The Sun and Election Victories – https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2009/oct/05/sun-labour-newspapers-support-elections

Rupert Murdoch access to Prime Ministers – https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/feb/05/rupert-murdoch-access-to-downing-street-theresa-may-david-cameron

Hacked Off Campaign – http://hackinginquiry.org/

Stop Funding Hate – http://stopfundinghate.org.uk/

The Guardian and the Scott Trust – https://www.theguardian.com/membership/2016/oct/24/scott-trust-guardian-owner-journalism-newspaper

Guardian Membership – https://membership.theguardian.com/

New Internationalist Community Share Offer – http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/new-internationalist?utm_medium=ni-www&utm_source=cso-widget-button-link

A Farewell to Ice Review: Watching Our Future Disappear in Front of our Eyes

It’s about time to write something that tries to reach out to the masses, and I can’t think of a better place to start than a review of Peter Wadhams’ book, A Farewell to Ice. I believe this is one of the key books on climate change and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in their own future or that of their children. Whilst this blog post (or essay) might seem emotive, I would encourage you to read the book and see for yourself just how close we are to an irreversible fate.

Peter Wadhams is a name that many students of polar geography will be familiar with. He is a polar scientist with over 47 years of experience in the field and has carried out over 50 expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic. This book explores the impact of rising temperatures on the frozen areas of our planet, with a particular focus on the Arctic, because, “It is in the Arctic that global change appears to be most rapid and drastic” (Pg. 1). There’s never been a more poignant time to read this book as it’s recently been revealed that both the Arctic and Antarctic sea ice levels are at record lows.

The Arctic is a crucial part of our climate system, as it helps regulate temperature. The ice plays a crucial role in reflecting radiation and keeping temperatures lower than they would otherwise be through the Albedo effect (white sea ice reflects more than the black ocean beneath). To get an idea of just how big a role the Arctic sea ice plays in regulating temperature, Wadhams explains that once the Arctic melts, “The albedo change from the loss of the last 4 million km2 of ice will have the same warming effect on the Earth as the last twenty-five years of carbon dioxide emissions” (Pg. 4). Take a minute to think about that – it is an incredible figure to get our heads around. Even more concerning is that Wadhams warns that the Arctic may be free of sea ice by around September 2020. This could trigger rapid climate change, as I will discuss later on.

What is the Climate?

The climate is defined as the weather conditions in a region over a period of time (often 30 years). Therefore in order to see a change in climate, you will first see a change in weather patterns. If you happen to read a quality newspaper (i.e. The Guardian or The Independent), you will notice increasing weather extremes taking place around the world – physical evidence of our changing climate.

Carbon Emissions

Not a fan of the science stuff? Don’t worry, I will keep this simple. Scientists estimate the safe limit of carbon dioxide is 350ppm (parts per million). Prior to the industrial revolution, we had 280ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Right now we are at 406ppm and the rate of carbon dioxide we emit into the atmosphere each year is around 3ppm.

Around 65 million years ago there was an asteroid impact which wiped out much of life on earth. Wadhams notes that, “The CO2 rise rate was still an order of magnitude lower than the current rate of 3ppm/year. We are injecting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere far faster than any known natural event, even an extreme one like an asteroid impact” (Pg. 28). Never before have carbon emissions risen so fast. Bear in mind that there is a direct correlation between carbon emissions and global temperature increases. So if we are pumping carbon into the atmosphere at a faster rate than ever before, then we can expect global temperatures to rise faster than ever before.

Impacts on the Arctic

Ice extent is so low in the Arctic that, “By the end of 2015 a total of 238 ships had sailed through it. In September 2012 sea ice covered only 3.4 million square kilometres (km2) of the Arctic Ocean’s surface, down from 8 million km2 in the 1970s (Pg. 2).”

Whilst the melting of the Arctic sea ice won’t raise sea levels, it’s white surface plays a crucial role through the albedo affect. To put this in perspective, we have lost 4,600,000km2 of sea ice in just 42 years. Worryingly the much maligned Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is underestimating Arctic ice warming, as they have failed to update their models with recent data. So we look to Peter Wadhams who has been travelling to the Arctic since the 1970s and has been observing it’s depressing decline. Based on his estimates, the Arctic will be ice free in the summer in around 3 years’ time in 2020 (which is incredibly different to the IPCC’s forecast of between 2050-2080). The problem is that policymakers are basing their decisions on the inaccurate IPCC forecasts and not on reality…

Have you wondered why severe winter weather has hit Europe, North America and parts of Asia in recent years? What we are seeing is a weakening of the jet stream, which would normally confine the cold polar air over the Arctic regions. However, as the jet stream weakens, the polar air is shifting further south. So whilst Europe gets covered in deep snow, the Arctic temperatures actually begin to rise and less ice forms. Wadhams explains further, “In recent years we have seen an increase in the size of the meanders in the jet stream, that is, the north-south range of the meanderings. This drives another energy feedback: the north-bound air masses on the tropical side of the jet stream boundary bring warmer air into the Arctic, while the south-bound air masses on the polar side take colder air out of the Arctic into lower latitudes than in the past. This increased meandering of the jet stream is, therefore, in itself a heat-transfer accelerator from mid-latitudes to higher latitudes” (Pg. 135).

Wadhams notes that “The Greenland ice sheet, with its high latitude and huge elevation of 2-3km, always used to be solidly frozen year-round, except for a small amount of melt around the edges….The biggest melt so far was in 2012, when in the period 1-11 July surface melt spread across 97 percent of the surface of the ice sheet” (Pg. 10). Whilst we hope that a disintegration of the entire Greenland ice sheet won’t happen anytime soon, we should remember that the melting of Greenland’s ice will add 7.2m to global sea levels (whereas the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet could add 60m to global sea levels). Wadhams states, “They have found that the Greenland ice sheet is now losing 300km3 of water equivalent per year, a rate which is increasing and which is already as high as the loss from all other glaciers put together.”

So why does the Arctic matter so much? There is a hidden danger in the Arctic that has the potential to trigger rapid climate change in the coming decades.

Rapid Climate Change

“We are not far from the moment when the feedbacks will themselves be driving the change – that is, we will not need to add more CO2 to the atmosphere at all, but will get the warming anyway. This is a stage called runaway warming” (Pg. 108).

There is a real worry that we will pass tipping points in the near future, after which the climate system will enter a self-perpetuating continuous warming cycle, where the earth will continue to warm up and we won’t be able to stop it. A bit like what happened to Venus. The potential cause of this is explained below.

Methane is a greenhouse gas, which is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat (however, carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for around 100 years, whereas methane only remains for around 10 years). Buried under frozen permafrost on land are methane deposits. Worringly there are also vast quantities of methane buried on the seabed below the Arctic sea ice. This type of methane is referred to as methane clathyrates. When these methane clathyrates melt, they release methane which then bubbles to the surface and is released into our atmosphere, thereby doing 23 times more damage than carbon dioxide, in terms of trapping heat.

Wadhams refers to a potential catastrophe triggered by largescale releases of methane as one of the most immediate risks facing us as a species, “The amount of methane stored in hydrate deposits in the entire ocean bed is estimated to be more than thirteen times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and amounts to 10,400 gigatons” (Pg. 122). Wadhams notes that at least 50Gt of methane could be emitted into the atmosphere through this process in the near future, resulting in additional 0.6°C rise in global temperatures. This may not sound like much, but look at the weather extremes taking place around the world. These have occurred with just 1.2°C warming. But a further 0.6°C rapid rise in temperatures, combined with an ice free Arctic and reduced Albedo effect could cause some major shifts in our climate system, leading to runaway climate change.

To get an idea of a worst case scenario, this informative blog post warns that mass extinction could take place within 9 years. Click here to read the blog.

What about Antarctica?

As mentioned in the introduction, the Antarctic sea ice is also at record low levels. Wadhams says, “The Arctic amplification and greater Arctic feedbacks mean that, whatever the interactions between Antarctic sea ice and temperate oceans, it will always be the case over the next few decades that the Arctic will be determining the rate of global warming more than the Antarctic. In this sense the Arctic is a driver and the Antarctic can be thought of as a passive trailer in the global warming race to oblivion” (Pg. 170).

Refugee Crisis

For every degree of warming in air temperature, “We add something like 7 percent of extra water vapour content to the atmosphere” (Pg. 109), states Wadhams. Not only is water vapour a greenhouse gas that will further increase the rate of warming but even more crucially, excess water vapour in the atmosphere means more potential for extreme and violent rainfall events. You only need to go onto social media sites to see people sharing pictures of unbelievably powerful storms in recent years. Whilst exciting to marvel at, these events will become more widespread and will have a multitude of unwelcome impacts; think crop destruction and increased food prices, increased flooding, mudslides, travel chaos (trains not running, more traffic on roads, planes delayed), more potholes and damaged car tyres, loss of topsoil which is essential for farming, more pollutants from land being washed into rivers and the sea. Conversely, it’s entirely possible that some regions will receive less rainfall and will therefore be dealing with more intense droughts. One major issue that we will have to deal with will be food production – if more regions become susceptible to extreme rainfall events/hail storms, whilst others become too hot and barren – where will we grow food to sustain our growing population of 7.5 billion people (expected to reach over 9 billion people in the next 33 years)?

As more regions become uninhabitable due to crippling droughts or violent precipitation events (e.g. intense hail storms) that will destroy crops, people will naturally seek to move to find areas where they can grow food to sustain themselves and their families. We have already seen something similar happen in Syria, where due to an intense drought, many farmers were unable to grow crops and instead moved to cities to find work. Due to a lack of jobs and government assistance, violence soon flared. This helped ignite the civil war which still has a stranglehold on the country. Click here to read more.

What concerns me is that we are unable to cope with this first wave of refugees and the fallout has seen voters in many countries favour anti-immigrant candidates. As extreme weather leads to more conflict and more uninhabitable regions, we are going to see immigration spike as hundreds of millions of people seek to move from the Middle East, Africa and low lying areas. I envisage this will take place over the next couple of decades. So if we are overwhelmed with several million refugees now, how will we cope with hundreds of millions of refugees in the future? Where will they go? Who will feed them?

Aid agencies will be overwhelmed (many organisations are already stretched with our present global issues – click here for more information), so we can’t rely on them for a solution. I think we will get to a point in the not too distant future where people are kept out of countries by military force, resulting in millions and millions of deaths. Intolerance and violence will come to define our species.

This is what we are heading towards. Is this a world you are happy for your children to inherit?

Current Commitments to Tackle Climate Change

Incredibly insufficient. That’s all you need to know. We should be finding ways of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to try and return from 406ppm to 350ppm as quickly as possible. Sadly we are still increasing our carbon dioxide emissions by 3ppm per year. We are balancing on a cliff precipice preparing ourselves to fall face first towards a rocky death.

To top it all off, we now have climate sceptics running America, who are putting in place policies to go hell for leather to extract and burn as many fossil fuels as possible. They are planning to tear up the one climate agreement that we have (Paris), which to be fair wasn’t strong enough anyway.

Scary Numbers

Supposing by some luck that Trump doesn’t withdraw from the Paris agreement, which commits countries to avoid a 1.5°C rise in temperatures. From an emissions point of view, it means we can only emit 353 gigatons of CO2 to meet this target. There is no guarantee that this will be sufficient to avoid a larger temperature rise, it only gives a 50% chance of avoiding smashing that target (in a bad way). So ideally we need to emit a lot LESS than 353 gigatons of CO2. The problem we have is that all the existing coal mines, oil wells and gas fields which are currently in operation are expected to produce 942 gigatons of CO2.

As you can see, this is three times more than we can burn to try and limit temperature rises to a supposed ‘safe’ limit. So not only can we not afford to open any new coal mines, gas fields or oil wells, but we have to leave much of the existing resources in the ground. Just so you know – our politicians haven’t taken steps to limit fossil fuel extraction – they are happy to let the world burn and destroy your children’s future. Worth remembering that little nugget…

Oh and Trump has done the worst thing imaginable. In Canada, they have the most polluting form of fossil fuel that produces shed loads of carbon emissions when extracted and burnt – called ‘Tar Sands’. Trump has given the go ahead on the Keystone XL pipeline which will transport this filth from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico in the US. The world’s top climate scientist, James Hansen, has said that if the tar sands are extracted and burnt, then it’s “game over for the climate.”

Trump is hammering away at that nail and driving it deeper and deeper into our collective coffin.

Geoengineerng

This really scares me. In my opinion this should be a last resort (or preferably avoided entirely). That being said, I am all for planting more trees – but I class this more as a form of natural carbon removal, as opposed to geoengineering. Wadhams describes geoengineering options in the book and I will let you explore them for yourself.

Why don’t I know about all of this? It sounds pretty serious after all….

Is smoking cigarettes good or bad for you? Believe it or not, there once used to be a time when this was a genuine question. Tobacco companies were exceptionally rich and had an interest in maintaining their sales. The idea that smoking could have adverse health affects, didn’t sit well with their profit forecasts. So they got together and hired think tanks and lobbyists to ‘sow the seeds of doubt’ and question the science as to whether smoking was bad for your health. The lobbyists and think tanks were paid large sums by the tobacco industry to keep up their war on science and question/dispute medical findings, to make it seem to ordinary members of the public that the science wasn’t clear. When in fact the science was crystal clear all along. Those lobbyists and think tanks did a fantastic job and it took many many years for the science to be accepted, and for people to realise that smoking was harmful.

So what’s this got to do with climate change? Well the fossil fuel industry is one of the most powerful industries in the world and oil companies such as Exxon are some of the richest in the world. It has recently emerged that scientists working for those companies realised as early as the 1970s, that burning fossil fuels would result in climate change. Once again, they too realised that their profit forecasts could tumble if the public realised that burning fossil fuels could one day jeopardise the future prospects of their children and grandchildren. And it just so happened that they had a whole bunch of lobbyists and think tanks who were keen to muddy the waters and make the science seem unclear (and in the process get paid incredible sums by oil companies). Wanna guess where the oil industry found these think tanks and lobbyists?? Yup – they poached some from the tobacco industry. If you’re interested to read more about this, I recommend a book called Merchants of Doubt. If you believe that the ‘debate’ about the causes of climate change is unsettled, or that human’s influence is negligible, you can thank the lobbyists and think tanks who poisoned your mind.

Wadhams explains the role these villains have played, “Their aims and methods are exactly the same as those of tobacco industry lobbyists – to sow doubt about the harmfulness of the impacts to the point that ordinary people become confused and are willing to tolerate inaction. They don’t have to persuade people that climate change is not happening – just sow doubt, and since action to save the world involves effort, cost and discomfort, it is always tempting to latch on to a statement that we don’t really need to do anything at all…The denial movement, which is now estimated to be funded…to the tune of $1 billion per year” (Pg. 199).

And to top it all off, Trump appointed Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon as his Secretary of State. That’s right – the guy who led one of the richest companies in the world, which lied about the links between burning fossil fuels and climate change is now America’s Secretary of State. You couldn’t make this up.

Where is Our Resistance? 

In order for evil to prosper, all you need is for good people to sit back and do nothing. Looking at the state of the world, there appears to be a lot of good people sitting back and doing nothing. “Saddest of all is the personal paralysis that one sees in society. In the 1960s the young in the West were united in great crusades – against racism, against the Vietnam War – which showed that they really cared about the state of the world. Now, when the stakes are even higher and the need more urgent, they are passive” (Pg. 173). When our leaders fail to do the right thing, it is up to us to make them do the right thing. Think of the suffragette movement, the civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid movement.

I am astounded by the complete lack of political participation of many of my peers in my age group. Many have openly admitted that putting a cross on a ballot paper every 5 years is all they deem necessary, in terms of democratic participation. Well I’m sorry, but this just isn’t good enough – not in these desperate times! I put climate change above all other issues, but you only need to open up The Guardian website to see a plethora of urgent problems which require action. When our politicians choose to do the wrong thing, we must put them back on the right path. In an ideal world they should serve the people who elected them. In reality, many serve the big corporations who helped finance their electoral victories.

“The young are not listening or being inspired to action, and the old are not leading or teaching” (Pg. 174). We must make a stand. March, protest, sue governments or corporations if you have too. Do something. We need to get out of our selfish isolated technological bubbles.

The Worst Part

If we carry on as we are right now, the climate system will reach a series of tipping points, after which it will be impossible to stop runaway climate change. All we need to do to ensure disaster happens – is to do exactly what we are doing right now. Isn’t that a sobering thought?

As Wadhams sums up, “It is the most important problem the world faces…If we don’t solve it, we are finished” (Pg. 206).

What Can I Do?

A lot of documentaries and articles tend to shy away from advice that can actually make a difference, as it involves uncomfortable truths. We are well beyond ‘replacing lightbulbs’ now. To make a genuine difference, this is a list of things which I believe can make an impact:

  • Protest/march against ALL new fossil fuel developments (see the ‘Scary Numbers’ section above).
  • Reduce our consumption of meat, particularly beef.
  • Drive less, or purchase an electric car (assuming that our grid will move away from fossil fuel generation plants).
  • Fly less.
  • Stop reading tabloids, which present lies as truths and focus on sensationalism as opposed to reality. I can’t emphasise enough the role the media has played in the failure of climate change science communication. Major tabloids to be avoided include The Daily Mail and The Sun. It’s worth noting that The Telegraph has employed climate change sceptics to write columns and I would suggest avoiding this paper too. The BBC has done a really bad job with climate change and I steer away from this source wherever possible.
  • Educate yourself – read this book. I’m happy to recommend more books and documentaries.
  • Hold politicians to account.
  • Hold companies to account.
  • Avoid apathy – try turn your depression into anger, or something of equal usefulness. Apathy will not solve this problem.

Looking at the state of the world and taking into account how dire our predicament is in regards to climate change, I can’t help wonder about whether we deserve saving as a species. But that’s a debate for a seperate blog post.

Links

Arctic and Antarctic sea ice at record lows – http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericmack/2017/02/16/this-is-not-good-sea-ice-at-both-poles-at-record-lows-for-january/#6792cb463404

Methane release leading to mass extinction by 2026 – http://arctic-news.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/warning-of-mass-extinction-of-species-including-humans-within-one-decade.html

Syrian civil war ignited by climate change induced drought – http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/03/150302-syria-war-climate-change-drought/

Aid agencies currently overwhelmed – https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/oct/02/humanitarian-system-stretched-to-its-limits-says-new-research

Scary carbon emissions numbers – http://www.ourfutureisgreen.co.uk/?tag=carbon-bubble

Tar sands are game over for the climate – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/may/19/tar-sands-exploitation-climate-scientist

Merchants of Doubt book – http://www.merchantsofdoubt.org/

Exxon knew about the link between burning fossil fuels and climate change in the 1970s – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/14/exxons-climate-lie-change-global-warming

“Cli-Fi” as a Subgenre of SF Gains Traction Down Under

5th February 2017

I am delighted to share the guest post below, written by Dan Bloom.

“Cli-Fi” as a Subgenre of SF Gains Traction Down Under

by Dan Bloom

While it’s true that Australia, unlike the U.S. and Europe, has not had a long history in the genre of science fiction,  Australia in 2017 has a thriving SF/Fantasy genre with names recognised around the world. In 2013 a trilogy by Ben Peek fantasy novel and two sequels were acquired by a major SF publisher in Britain, Tor UK.  His first novel in the series, titled Immolation, was published in spring 2014. The trilogy was called “Children” and books two and three were titled Innocence and Incarnation. By the 1950s, just as the SF genre was taking off in dozens of countries in Europe and North America, it took off across Australia in 1952 with the first of many Australian SF conventions.

Today there’s James Bradley and Cat Sparks writing SF, with other writers, including Ian Irvine, Alice Robinson. Joanthan Strahan, Peter Carey and dozens of others following in George Turner’s footsteps.

There is now a new subgenre of SF that’s becoming popular in Australia, and it’s been dubbed Cli-Fi (for ”climate fiction”). It’s not so much as a literary subgenre to compete with other literary genres,  but rather a PR tool,  a media term,  a way for newspapers and websites to signal to readers and book reviewers that climate themes in modern novels deserve a special mention.  The cli-fi expression ws created as a way for literary critics and journalists to talk about novels of the Anthropocene.

Cli-fi was not created for novelists.  They don’t need categories or labels for their works.  Even SF novelists don’t need the SF label.  Genre expressions are just marketing terms, good for selling books. Cli-fi was created for literary critics,  book reviewers,  book editors,  publicity departments,  advertising directors.  It is a “key word,”  a media attention-getter,  to attract eyeballs (and readers).
SF novelists tell stories.  They’ve been doing this for over 100 years and will continue telling stories for another 500 years.

So Cli-Fi novelists in Australia and overseas have now joined the literary circus. Their stories focus  on the possible repercussions of unchecked runaway global warming. It’s a good subgenre of SF and will be for the next 500 years, too.

The short term modelled on the rhyming sounds of sci-fi, has now caught on worldwide, first in English-speaking nations, beginning in  2013 when American radio network NPR aired a five-minute radio segment about ”cli-fi”  novels, interviewing Nathaniel Rich who wrote “Odds Against Tomorrow” and Barbara Kingsolver who wrote “Flight Behavior” .

That radio broadcast was the beginning of this new subgenre term’s global outreach and popularity among academics, literary critics, journalists and headline writers in over a dozen nations, including non-English-speaking nations France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Spain and Brazil as well.

To learn more about how ​SF writers were looking at the popularity of the cli-fi term in literary circles, a few years ago I asked David Brin and Kim Stanley Robinson how they felt about the term. They both told me that they liked the expression but felt that it was best to treat it as a subgenre of ​SF and not as a separate genre.

By promoting the cli-fi term as a subgengre of ​SF, I was able to locate ​SF writers who were already using climate themes in their short stories and novels. From them I learned that cli-fi in SF novels actually had a long history, going back to Jules Verne, Arthur Herzog, J.G. Ballard and George Turner in Australia.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s new novel “New York 2140” (set to be published in March) is a good example of the cli-fi subgenre catching on among writers peering into the future of a global warming world.

What’s the purpose of cli-fi?

We are a world now divided bitterly over climate change issues.
Novels and movies can serve to wake people up in ways that politics and ideology cannot.

And I believe that if the world does not wake up soon about the pressing climate change issues we face now, future generations of humans will be ‘doomed, doomed’ — within 500 years. I can ​”​see​”​ that far ahead. Will ‘cli-fi’ save the planet? No. But at least it might help prepare us for what’s coming in future centuries, just as SF novels have done and will continue to do.

The idea for a subgenre for speculative climate fiction ​as a subgenre of SF ​found some traction ​in 2011 when it was endorsed ​in a tweet ​on Twitter by ​Margaret Atwood, the ​Canadian ​novelist whose ​SF trilogy, ​ending w​ith ​”MaddAddam” dealt with a corrupt anti-environmentalist.

​There ​are examples ​of cli-fi ​in France as far back as Jules Verne, who imagined​ ​—​ ​in the 1860s​ ​—​ ​a future Paris struggling with a ​big drop in temperature​s​. That was a plot point in Verne’s “lost” novel ”Paris in the Twentieth Century,” which actually went unpublished until 1994.

Given the speed with which the phrase “climate change” (which actually dates back at least 50 years) has overtaken the ​global ​environmental discussion in recent years, it’s perhaps not surprising that there’s been a surge in books in the SF subgenre of cli-fi. Among them are Marcel Theroux’s ”Far North,” which the Washington Post called “the first great cautionary fable of climate change” and Ian McEwan’s  ”Solar,”which won a UK literary award for comic fiction.

These are all examples of quality fiction that happen to take climate change as a shared theme.

​A good cli-fi ​story​ ​will have the potential to attract not only climate activists, but also some of the ​climate ​deniers: The whole point is to reach people with emotions, not just preach to the choir.

​The new novel from the Hugo Award-winning ​SF l​egend Robinson submerges Manhattan under the water of globally-rising ​sea ​l​evels​. ​Robinson’s PR team puts it this way:​“Every street became a canal​. ​Every skyscraper an island​. ​How will the city’s residents — the lower and upper classes, quite literally — cope?​”​

So just as SF has helped several generations in the past 100 years cope with technological change and space exploration (and climate change), so too can cli-fi help future generations cope with what’s coming down the road as well.

Cli-fi Story: Beaufort Eight

10th December 2016

Much of the cli-fi out there focuses on dystopian futures. I am trying to ground my writing in the here and now, with the aim of educating people about the impacts of our activities, and what we can do to change.

The idea for the story below came about for several reasons. I wanted to show the danger of transporting fossil fuels. I wanted to highlight the fact that tar sands are the most polluting form of fossil fuels, which if we continue to extract them in line with projections, could mean “game over for the climate,” in the words of Dr James Hansen. It’s worth noting that the UK lobbied for tar sands to be allowed into the EU back in 2011 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/nov/27/canada-oil-sands-uk-backing). We also know that climate change will result in increased storminess and extreme weather. It is in these conditions, in which the story is set.

This is my first proper attempt at cli-fi. Thank you for your patience for this to be uploaded. Apologies about the formatting, WordPress did not like my original formatting at all…

Beaufort Eight

Seafarer’s folklore states that every seventh wave is the largest of a set. These men knew from experience that some myths held true.

“Brace yourselves lads, here comes the seventh!” shouted Skip, straining to be heard above the roar of the gale force winds. Skip was a bear of a man with a dark bushy beard, whose large frame was constrained by the small cabin. The plucky RNLI Guardian rode up the enormous wave and at one point her bow was vertical, her spotlight shining into the driving rain that obscured the heavens, as if searching for respite. For the men, the sensation of cresting these monstrous waves was one of being airborne, followed by a gut-wrenching crash as the vessel succumbed to gravity and dived nose first back into the frothing cauldron of the North Sea. Showers of seawater broke over the wheelhouse, sending the automatic windscreen wipers into overdrive.

“Looks choppy out there,” mused Finny, the second-in-command. Finny was the opposite of Skip in many ways; shorter, more toned with only a hint of stubble around his square jaw.

“Aye, not the best day to go for a swim,” Skip replied as his seat swung from side to side on its shock absorbers. “Do we have visuals on the tanker yet?” Finny raised his binoculars, and took advantage of their elevated position at the peak of a wave to scan the horizon. A mile to the East, clouds of dark smoke rose above the enormous tanker and were being whipped away in gusts of wind and rain. The CC Andromeda was carrying the first batch of Canadian Crude’s refined tar sands oil; 180,000 tonnes of toxic and highly volatile black gold. Despite her heavy cargo, she was fighting against the waves to maintain an upright position.

“Affirmative Skip, she’s a mile to starboard, but she’s run ragged. Plumes of thick smoke above the wheelhouse and she is making a rough time of the weather.” Skip evaluated the information carefully. The distress signal had come from a tanker – common vessels in these waters, but there had been no mention of a fire onboard. He knew that the difficulty and danger of a rescue had increased immeasurably.

Skip negotiated the next wave and waited for the thunderclap of the vessel’s hull slamming back into the tumultuous sea to subside. He reached above his head for the VHF controller and spoke in a deep Scottish accent, “CC Andromeda, this is the RNLI Guardian. Do you copy? Over.” The static crackle of the receiver was drowned out by the howling wind and rain. “CC Andromeda, this is the coastguard aboard RNLI Guardian. We have you in sight. DO-YOU- COPY? Over.” Silence. Skip reasoned that it was implausible that the crew had abandoned ship. Yet the radio silence was an ominous sign.

One hour after the initial call out, they had their first close up sighting of the Andromeda. As they approached, their spotlight fell on small figures on the windswept deck of the tanker, distinguishable by their orange high visibility life jackets. One of the figures on the deck threw something overboard, which was lifted away on the wind, before it lashed the side of the vessel. Skip said a silent prayer of thanks; the crew onboard the Andromeda had had the good sense to rig up a rope ladder, which was now swaying violently in the wind. A break in the clouds gave them respite from the rain, but it wouldn’t last; in the distance angry purple clouds were thundering towards them.

The tiny RNLI Guardian paled in comparison to the monstrous Andromeda, which was doggedly following a course through the storm. Skip carefully manoeuvred the RNLI Guardian so that it was parallel to the Andromeda. The sides of the vessels thudded together, jarring the men onboard. Skip turned his thrusters on full to ensure the two vessels maintained contact. The men aboard the RNLI Guardian fished the rope ladder out of the gale and tied it fast to their railings. The fate of all crew aboard both ships was now bound. Finny led one of the rescue team members up the rope ladder; together they would be responsible for setting up a safety rope and harness for each crew member of the Andromeda.

Finny shouted to be heard, “Alright lads, we are going to send you down one at a time. You will each be strapped into a safety harness, but make sure you hold onto the rope ladder at all times.”

The first crew member of the Andromeda made his way down the ladder and was judging the swell of the waves which lifted the smaller RNLI vessel up and down, making the final disembarkation onto the smaller vessel a particularly hazardous undertaking. Two rescue members were standing by to assist him onboard, and unstrap him from the safety harness, which was then pulled up by Finny.

Finny felt the first drops of rain against his face, before the heavens opened in earnest once more. “Skip, the weather is turning foul again. How much longer do you think you can hold the Guardian against the side of the tanker, without being thrown off?”

“This beauty seems to be holding her ground, don’t worry about us Finny! You just get the rest of them off the vessel Matey!” replied Skip.

Skip’s positivity and cheerfulness always had a calming effect on Finny and the other crew members. However, the North Sea was in a foul mood and had other ideas. Behind the vessels, a monster twelve meter wave had reared up. Something inside Skip warned him of approaching danger, but the wave was upon them before he could act.

The RNLI Guardian was lifted high on the wave, crushing a descending crewman’s leg against the reinforced hull of the Andromeda. The RNLI Guardian was dumped on her side and the rope ladder tied to her railings snapped with a loud thwack, catapulting the crewman into the abyss with only his safety harness saving him from certain death below. His right leg hung at an angle as he clung to the rope with all the strength he had. The howling wind drowned out his agonised screams.

The RNLI Guardian’s self-righting mechanism kicked in, giving her the buoyancy she needed to regain an upright position.

“Christ Skip! Are you all okay down there?”

“We took a bit of a tumble Laddie, but we are still in one piece.” Skip replied.

“Skip, we have a casualty on the safety line. Looks like a broken leg from up here. We lost the ladder, so we’ll use the safety harness to lower him down.”

Finny carefully lowered the crewman with the broken leg onboard. With no rope ladder to climb down, the remaining crewman aboard the Andromeda had to be lowered down using the safety harness.

Finny worked methodically and one by one the remaining men were lowered down. “Skip, all men are off the Andromeda. The fire onboard is ferocious. There is no way we are getting anywhere near it without heavy duty firefighting equipment,” said Finny.

Abandoning a stricken vessel carrying a large volume of oil in horrific weather conditions did not sit easily with Skip. Yet he knew they had very few options given that they were not equipped to deal with runaway tanker fires. He was conscious that every second he delayed pushing off the tanker, he was jeopardising all of their lives.

“Aye Finny, let’s make haste and get away from this burning beastie.”  As they pulled away from the Andromeda, the rain hitting the windscreen sounded like rapid machine gun fire and the automatic windscreen wipers responded frenetically. After seeing to the injured crewman, Finny returned to his position beside Skip, accompanied by a tall man with a Mediterranean complexion and dark slicked back hair. He was clearly accustomed to larger vessels which made easier work of large waves, and was clinging to the railing beside Finny’s chair for balance.

“Skip, this is Captain Alfonso Curano from the Andromeda and he wants to speak with you urgently,” said Finny.

“Señor, my men and I would like to thank you for saving our lives,” Skip nodded acknowledgement at Curano’s words. “We were travelling south down the coast of Scotland, when a fires broke out in engine room and spread quickly to the wheelhouse. The fire spread faster than we can contain. We send a distress signal and were forced to seek refuge on deck, preparing our liferafts as final precaution,” Curano explained.

Curano’s eyes fell to his feet, as if he wanted a hole to open up and swallow him down into the seething waters below, “Unfortunately Señor, the ship’s autopilot system was programmed for the final destination and in the rush of the evacuation, I have no opportunity to override this.”

Skip’s confusion was apparent, so Finny interjected loudly to be heard above the din that was taking place all around them, “What Captain Curano is saying Skip, is that the tanker has a satnav system, which it’s programmed to follow. It works the same way as a plane’s autopilot system.”

Skip hesitated; he had a sinking feeling in his stomach, “Where was the ship destined for Captain?”

“The Andromeda”, Curano began, “is bound for Grangie-mouth.” Skip inhaled deeply as the enormity of the words struck home.

Grangemouth was the largest oil refinery port in the UK. Skip went over the route the abandoned vessel would follow in his mind. The conflagrant Andromeda carrying her combustible load would enter the Firth of Forth Estuary close to Edinburgh, before being funnelled along a narrowing channel to the port of Grangemouth. The port would be full of oil and gas tankers waiting out the storm before continuing their journeys. He guessed that half a million people would be in danger in Edinburgh alone from any explosion that occurred. He closed his eyes and tried to expel the sombre thoughts. Outside the cabin a lightning strike lit up the purple sky, accompanied by deep booming thunder which filled the small confines of the cabin. Was this nature’s way of showing what was to come?

Skip’s large paw of a hand tightly gripped the VHF controller. “Grangemouth Port, this is the RNLI Guardian requesting immediate assistance.” Before Skip could replace the controller, an unmistakable voice came blaring out of the receiver.

“Skip, we copy you loud and clear! What is your emergency?” asked John ‘Mac’ Macintyre. Mac had been enjoying a marmite and cheese sandwich, which now lay abandoned on his desk. Mac had met Skip shortly after leaving the Royal Navy half a lifetime ago. He was born in the Cairngorms and his chiselled physique was often compared to a slab of granite from those mountains which he called home.

“It’s good to hear ya voice matey,” replied Skip. “We have a right piece of trouble heading your way…you may want to sit down for this. We have rescued crew from the tanker, C-C-Andromeda.” Skip emphasised the vessel’s name to be sure that Mac could understand.

“The Andromeda!” Mac exclaimed, “What happened to her?”

“They had a fire onboard, which spread to their wheelhouse and they were forced to abandon controls.” There was radio silence from Mac. “Unfortunately that’s only half the bad news. The Andromeda has a built in auto-pilot system, which is programmed with the co-ordinates of your port. She is heading towards you Mac, and she is primed with over 180,000 tonnes of crude oil, ready to blow at any minute.”

The words felt like a physical punch in the chest and Mac’s heart stopped beating.

“God in heaven,” he finally responded. “Skip, we have a dozen other tankers in port waiting out the weather. If that tanker comes anywhere near here…” Mac couldn’t bring himself to say those fateful words.

“Aye Pal, I know. Extinguishing the fire wasn’t an option; it’s spread to the wheelhouse and we don’t have the equipment to deal with that.” said Skip.

“Copy that. By your reckoning, how much time do we have to prepare before she is on us?”

Skip considered the question carefully, “At my reckoning, based on her current speed in this weather, she should be with you in three hours.”

Once the initial panic subsided, Mac’s years of experience in the Navy came into full swing. “Understood. You get those men home Skip and be careful out there.” After Mac replaced the VHF receiver, he picked up the landline and dialled the emergency number that took him through to the office of the First Minister of Scotland. He was answered by a polite female receptionist, “Office of the First Minister, Rozanne speaking, how may I help you?”

“Rozanne – this is John Macintyre, Grangemouth Harbourmaster. I urgently need to speak to the First Minister.”

“Sir, it’s a Sunday and the First Minister prefers not to take calls on the weekend. Could you call back tomo…”

Mac cut in before the receptionist could finish, “Look young lady! This is a dire emergency, there is a burning oil tanker headed for Grangemouth. If there is an explosion, people in cities like Edinburgh could be in danger! We need to order an immediate evacuation of every town and city along the Firth of Forth Estuary.”

There was silence at the end of the line. Finally the receptionist replied, “Please hold Mr Macintyre, I am transferring you through to the First Minister.”

***

The First Minister of Scotland had travelled to her crisis room in Edinburgh, which was sparsely furnished apart from a mahogany desk that she was now sat behind. At the opposite end of the country, the Prime Minister was in her lavish office in No.10 Downing Street.

“Prime Minister, this is an unprecedented emergency. We would be incredibly grateful for all the help you can provide,” said the First Minister.

“Let me be absolutely clear that we wholeheartedly stand by you at this difficult time. We will assist as best we can.”

“Thank you Prime Minister, we really appreciate that. Whilst we have some contacts to go too, we could use your links with all the public broadcasters and media outlets to help spread the urgent evacuation orders.”

“I understand your position First Minister, but you have to appreciate that this is a delicate situation for us. We fought hard against the EU to allow oil from the Canadian tar sands to be allowed into Europe. We need to manage the flow of information carefully, to keep the press off our backs. Can you imagine the backlash in public opinion if they hear about this?”

“I’m sorry Prime Minister, I don’t quite follow. What are you suggesting?”

“As you know we have developed a close relationship with Canada, following the agreement of our new post-Brexit trade deal. Canadian Crude is the first company to take advantage of this deal. To publicly broadcast this incident in anyway could irreparably damage this new agreement.” The Prime Minister replied.

The First Minister of Scotland was lost for words. Was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom really suggesting that a trade deal was more important than the lives of her people?

“Prime Minister! There are lives at stake! Lives mean more than some agreement with an oil company! We must act now and order immediate evacuation orders to save as many lives as we can.” The anger in the First Minister’s voice gave way to exasperation.

“No First Minister, I am afraid that simply can’t be allowed to happen. You see there is an unspoken understanding between politicians and corporations. We are co-dependent on each other. One finds it easier to get elected when there is sufficient financial backing from generous companies, and in return they receive favourable policies,” the Prime Minister explained. “No. There certainly won’t be any public broadcasting of any kind and no communication with the press. We will resolve this by tackling the fire onboard the tanker. When this has been done, we will guide her into port where she will unload the first batch of oil and no member of the public will be any wiser about the whole incident.”

“I don’t believe what I’m hearing! Have you gone stark raving made Prime Minister? If we don’t evacuate and are unable to prevent the tanker from reaching Grangemouth, we will have a disaster on our hands like this country has never seen before.” The First Minister could no longer keep her frustration in check.

“I assure you First Minister, should the worst case scenario occur, a joint fund will be put together by Canadian Crude and the British Government to cover any damage that…”

“Damage?!” The First Minister interjected, “Who gives a wee shite about damage! There are lives at stake Prime Minister! Hundreds of thousands of lives! Excuse my curt language Prime Minister, but you are a heartless coward and you represent everything the electorate hates about politics, with your sycophantic pandering to big money. I can assure you Prime Minister, if any lives are lost, the blood of the victims will be on your foul hands!” The First Minister slammed the phone down, and summoned her Chief of Staff into her office.

“Is everything alright First Min…”

“Don’t even go there Hamish,” the First Minister replied, “We have no help coming from England, so we will have to manage this ourselves. I want you to issue an urgent evacuation order for all towns and cities that could be affected. Use whatever means you can to get the word out. Commandeer every form of public transport available and get as many people out as we can. It may already be too late, but we have to try.”

“Right away First Minister!” The chief of Staff turned for the door.

“One final thing – please get John Macintyre, the Skipper of the rescue ship and the Captain of the Andromeda on a conference call,” said the First Minister.

Within one hour, Scottish television and radio stations broadcast the evacuation orders. The police and emergency services were sent to every housing estate with loudhailers, warning people to leave. Every bus and train had been commandeered by the state and all were being used to evacuate the elderly and the vulnerable from Edinburgh, Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy, Livingston and North Berwick.

***

Skip had negotiated his way back through the storm and was now moored up safely in Aberdeen harbour. Finny and a member of the rescue team carried the injured crewman to a waiting ambulance. As the rest of the Andromeda’s crew were escorted off the boat, Skip pulled Captain Curano to one side and headed for his office. Skip had an idea on their return journey about how the Andromeda might be stopped, and he would need to draw on Curano’s knowledge of the vessel for confirmation.

The two men had just taken their seats, when Skip’s phone rang. “Skip speaking,” he answered gruffly.

“Good Afternoon, I am the Chief of Staff for the First Minister of Scotland. You are on a conference call with one other attendee; John Macintyre. Please confirm the whereabouts of the Captain of the Andromeda?”

“Captain Curano is seated beside me,” replied Skip.

“Thank you. Please hold the line, the First Minister will join you shortly,” came the reply.

“Chaps – Nicola here. As you know we have a potential disaster approaching the heart of Scotland and we have limited resources to deal with the issue. As men, who have worked with ships all their lives, I would like to know if you have any solutions in mind for dealing with this issue.”

“Pardon me for asking First Minister, but isn’t this something a special government response team should be looking at? Isn’t this the exact reason that COBRA was set up – to deal with national emergencies?” Mac enquired.

“Unfortunately Mr Macintyre, politics has prevailed in place of common sense. Right now, we are the special response team.”

The feeling that they had been abandoned, was a hard one to swallow.

“First Minister, this is Skip from the RNLI Guardian speaking. I have a wee idea, but I can’t be certain of its feasibility. I was hoping to run it by Captain Curano, however, your call beat me to it.”

“Let’s hear it Skip! You have everyone’s attention now,” she replied.

“My idea involves two tugboats and a small speedboat,” Skip explained. “Tugboats are hardy little beggars which can tow a vessel as large as the Andromeda. I propose we send two tugboats out into the mouth of the estuary with anchors onboard each. When the tugboats are in position behind the Andromeda, they will hook the anchors onto the tanker and put their thrusters in reverse. I’ll be damn near surprised if that doesn’t slow the Andromeda down! The zippy speedboat will then get up close and personal with the tanker’s single propeller, releasing a heffing great big steel chain into its path. The steel chain will wrap itself round the propeller, forcing it to stop rotating and putting an end to the tanker’s forward momentum. The plucky tugs can then tow the Andromeda away from the estuary and the populated areas.”

“Well it’s certainly innovative Skip. Captain Curano and Mr Macintyre, what do you think?”

“This idea to me, it sounds good,” replied Curano.

“I hate to admit it, but I think it’s the best chance we’ve got,” agreed Mac.

“Right that’s settled then. I will ensure that the required boats are made available for use. We just need to identify suitable captains for the vessels.”

“First Minister, if I may? I have decades of experience on a wide range of vessels that have graced God’s blue earth. I would be honoured to be given the opportunity to perform this deed on behalf of wee bonnie Scotland,” replied Skip.

“If that old sea dog is going, you can count me in too,” said Mac.

“I too can go!” chimed in Captain Curano.

“Well gentlemen, I am truly humbled. On behalf of Scotland, I thank you for your courage and bravery. Hundreds of thousands of lives now rest on your shoulders. God speed and please don’t let us down.”

After the conference call ended, the Chief of Staff reappeared with a flustered look on his face. “First Minister, there is an urgent call for you on line two.”

“Who is it?”

“The Prime Minister,” Hamish replied, “and she sounds furious.”

***

“You didn’t think you were going without me did you?”

“Finny, I couldn’t possibly demand this of you. There is every chance the oil tanker could blow, and we would be the first line of casualties…”

“Skip, if there is the remotest chance we can prevent a catastrophe, then I’m in. Besides which, who else is going to skipper the speedboat?”

Tears were building up in Skip’s eyes, “You’re a brave one Finny,” he said, wrapping a plate sized hand around Finny’s shoulder.

A police unit had been given the order to get the men to Grangemouth Harbour as a matter of utmost priority. When Skip and Finny arrived, they found two identical tugboats lined up, next to a smaller speedboat. Skip and Captain Curano made their way into one of the lifeboats, whilst Mac boarded the other on his own. Finny and another volunteer took their seats in the speedboat.

“You know, if we had an economy that ran on clean energy, we wouldn’t be in a situation like this,” Finny suggested over the walkie talkie system.

“Too right Pal,” agreed Skip.

“More wind turbines I say!” replied Mac.

As the men started up their boats, a small crowd had assembled in port to wish them a safe and successful mission. The men took a minute to appreciate the warm wishes that accompanied the applause. Seeing the faces of the men, women and children whose lives rested solely in their hands, brought into stark relief what was at stake.

Climate Fiction (Cli-Fi) Manifesto

10th December 2016

As part of my Masters degree, we were asked to produce a creative writing manifesto. I wrote a cli-fi manifesto, which I hope highlights some of the ways that writing within the genre can help shape our future.

The Climate Fiction (Cli-Fi) Manifesto

INTRODUCTION

For decades, scientists and environmental groups have warned that we are facing a global ecological crisis. Yet in spite of this, action to address our predicament has been pitiful. It is therefore time for a radical new science communication approach using the arts as a medium, to bring about the changes we so desperately need. There is an emerging genre in the field of writing known as climate fiction, or ‘cli-fi’ for short. Cli-fi is a sub-genre of sci-fi, which is specifically focused on climate change. The main benefit of using this medium to communicate science, is that fiction has a way of reaching a wider audience than non-fiction. Importantly, through cli-fi, we can explore future scenarios in ways which climate models and empirical data simply can’t express. To achieve different results, we need to try different methods. It is time for a green revolution, and cli-fi has a crucial role to play in bringing this about!

 BACKGROUND

Never before has a species knowingly driven itself and all living organisms towards extinction. Yet through our relentless exploitation of the natural world and our reluctance to change our behaviour, we now find ourselves in such a situation. We are entering a new geological period known as the Anthropocene; an age where human activity is regarded as the primary influence on the environment and on our climate. Our land, air and seas have been used as dumping grounds for our pollution. We have driven vast numbers of unique species into extinction. If we do not change our ways soon, we will be left with a planet devoid of much of the unique life which makes earth such an amazing planet to inhabit. Make no mistake that our heinous treatment of the living ecosystems we depend upon will be returned in kind, if we fail to act.

Whilst there are many environmental issues competing for our attention, climate change is regarded as the most important issue that humanity faces. It is not a future threat; we are already seeing climate shocks around the world. However, the extreme weather, migration crises, conflict, melting ice, water stress, drought, wildfires, ocean acidification and coral bleaching are only a small glimpse of the future that awaits us. Should we fail to implement the strict carbon reduction measures proposed, all other issues will become redundant as life struggles to adapt to a violent new world full of unimaginable horrors.

What many people fail to recognise is that numerous modern day problems are inter-connected. We have adopted the neo-liberalism school of thought which has resulted in a consumer culture on steroids. Economic growth is prioritised at all costs. In this aggressive mind set, we lose compassion for our fellow people, for ourselves and for the natural world. Whilst we continue to purchase a wealth of goods and gadgets, our lives haven’t become any more enriched. We do not cherish the belongings which we own, but are addicted to the pleasure associated with purchasing new things.

All around us, landscapes have been utterly decimated to sustain our consumer tendencies. Without realising the extent of our actions, we have contributed to widespread environmental degradation and created massive carbon footprints through our profligate ways. Not to mention the many social implications, such as loneliness, anxiety, depression and mental health issues, which have come about as a result of this misguided policy model. To tackle the root of these problems will require a great deal of introspection, which may not be possible in the timescale we have to tackle climate change.

The good news is that it’s not too late to change course in regards to climate change, but this will require urgent action from our world leaders. In order to embolden our politicians, we need to show them that we care and that we demand immediate action! The first step is to educate the public so that they understand the threats and the solutions. As a community, we are then better positioned to elect politicians with a green agenda, and campaign against those already in power to deliver the sweeping reforms we need. Science communication must be our top priority!

PURPOSE, AIMS AND PRINCIPLES

A good story can engage people on different levels. By interweaving climate change and environmental issues into our stories, either explicitly through dialogue and plot, or implicitly through themes, we can bring these issues to the fore. Cli-fi should strive to achieve one or more of the following:

  1. Reconnect people with the natural world. For many millennia, we evolved with nature and still hold onto fragments of our hunter-gatherer psyche. Today we are further away from the natural world than ever before. If people can take pleasure in the environment, they will be more inclined to fight for its protection. It’s worth remembering the many associated health and therapeutic benefits of spending time outdoors.
  2. To ignite a love of reading about the environment. The earth’s biosphere is home to magnificent flora and fauna, which is unique to this planet. Let us revel in its beauty, so that we may conserve it and prevent a sixth mass extinction from wiping out all we hold dear.
  3. Align your cli-fi message with the interests of the target audience. In order for our messages to be effective, they need to be appropriate and specifically targeted to the readers we have in mind. Would an office worker care that climate change could result in a six degree Celsius global temperature increase by the year 2100? Possibly, but perhaps they would be more interested to know that climate change could considerably drive up the costs of coffee and chocolate as crops begin to fail in the near future. Would a city worker worry that the rapid melting of the Himalayan glaciers is threatening the water supply of millions of people? Conceivably, but they be more interested to learn that extreme weather causing more surface water flooding on roads and railways, thereby causing severe delays on their commute. What about a seven year old child? Well I imagine they would be sad to hear that mass coral bleachings are destroying the habitats of many species including the clownfish, made popular by the Finding Nemo
  4. Fiction and non-fiction literature appeal to different people. Cli-fi can act as a bridge to the knowledge contained within non-fiction sources. Cli-fi can add in the human dimension and encourage empathy and an emotional response.
  5. Great cli-fi can take on a new lease of life. Film rights can be sold and novels can be turned into movies, thereby engaging yet more people with climate change issues in a range of formats. Think about writing the next The Day After Tomorrow, The Road or Interstellar.
  6. To inspire real world action on climate change. What shape should this action take? Are we lobbying politicians to change policies and impose a rising fee on carbon? Or are we limiting our consumption of beef to reduce our individual carbon footprints? Are we organising a demonstration? Or are we installing solar panels on our homes? We can mould the future we want by showing people the steps we need to take to build a more sustainable tomorrow.
  7. Our future can be clean, green and prosperous. All too often authors fall into the trap of writing about an apocalyptic dystopian future. We also need literature that shows what the solutions are and the advantages they can bring. The cli-fi cannon needs to incorporate hope. If we fail to identify solutions, our literature can have the opposite effect and leave our readers in a state of depression and helplessness.
  8. Conversely, without acting on climate change, we could face a new economic crisis coupled with an environmental disaster. A ‘carbon bubble’ comprised of all the fossil fuel reserves that companies have planned to extract, is significantly out of kilter with the scientific consensus and political agreements on what we can burn to avoid catastrophic climate change. Either we stick to government policies and the valuation of fossil fuel company shares plummets dramatically (how many people realise that their pension funds are at risk?) or we go down the business as usual route and commit to a climate system that is out of control, wiping out most of the life that inhabits this tiny blue marble we call home. How can we address this in our work?
  9. To dispel the notion that the science around anthropogenic induced climate change is unsettled. This claim is still churned up by sceptics and denialists, hoping to slow down action on climate change. In reality it is widely acknowledged that over 97% of scientists are in agreement about the causes of climate change. When a climate change sceptic or denialist like Michael Crichton publishes cli-fi, can we reference their novel in our work to set the record straight?
  10. To educate people that we are living in the Anthropocene. What better way to show our impact on the natural world, than through the trail of devastation that is being used to define a new geological era.
  11. There is no ‘Planet B’. We have one earth, and one chance to avoid destroying our climate which has sustained us up until now.
  12. To understand that different media outlets, think tanks and corporations have different agendas. Which organisations are campaigning to help transition to a greener future, and which are dragging their heels and fighting policy changes every step of the way? A myriad of plots can be developed based on this alone! We must also think carefully about how we engage with people who source their information from news organisations which favour sensationalism over science.
  13. To show that those least able to cope with the impacts of climate change, are those that will be first and foremost affected. We can lend our voices to the voiceless who stand to lose everything by inaction on climate change.
  14. To be respectful of people who have spent their careers trying to highlight the impacts of climate change and environmental issues. We have a responsibility and a duty to spread knowledge for the sacrifices they’ve made.
  15. To explore the causes of climate change, so that we may understand how not to fall into the same trap once again. Let’s try and educate future generations about sustainability, so they don’t make the same mistakes we have.

FURTHER COMMENTS

Our task will not be easy. We are trying to educate people against a tide of biased news organisations, which seek to discredit the science around climate change. It will be an uphill struggle to present the current situation to some readers who have predefined views. We are also up against big fossil fuel corporations, who just so happen to be some of the wealthiest and most powerful companies in the world and have a vested interest in preventing meaningful carbon reductions. In certain countries, these companies use their wealth to lobby governments for policies that will work in their favour. We do not have the same resources at our disposal, but we do have the pen, which is said to be mightier than the sword. Let’s prove this to be true!

CONCLUSION

Climate change will come to dominate our lives in the future, and we are ultimately fighting an enemy of our own creation. Our role as cli-fi writers can’t be understated in terms of communicating the science and the solutions. To date, many cli-fi novels have been dystopian in nature, but there is room for a wide variety of plots in this new genre. By reaching out to readers through our writing, we can spur them into action, which may give rise to the bold political leadership we need to help move us out of this situation. We are balancing on a precipice and the recent political earthquakes that have swept the world this year, could tip us over the edge if we fail to hold power to account. So let us unite in our love of the written word and change the world for the better. Let us write as if our lives and those of future generations depend on it, because for all we know this may just be the case.