This week temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (about 104 degrees Fahrenheit) were recorded in the UK for the first time in history. Across the ocean, more than 100 million Americans were on a heat warning. In May, a brutal heat wave swept through India and Pakistan. The planet is warming and the weather is becoming more unpredictable, and events like this are becoming more frequent and more severe. This knowledge finds its way into every facet of our world, including our literature, says Heather Hansman: Even writings that don’t deal with global warming can’t help but recognize it. Thinking about climate change is now part of life on Earth.
In a recent anthology of essays, The World as We Known It: Dispatches from a Changing Climate, a group of writers take this fact into account, addressing their feelings of grief and responsibility. In their hands, old myths become models for understanding our new world. Their mix of anxiety and optimism recalls the work of marine biologist Rachel Carson. In The sense of wonder, she writes that finding awe and joy in the natural world is an “antidote” to disillusionment and crucial to the success of the environmental movement – though she has emphasized, in her writings and life, that wonder does not not enough; a sense of urgency is also required.
The destruction caused by climate change on the planet does not really have a bright side. But some authors, like Kathleen Jamie and Terry Tempest Williams, have argued that it offers us an opportunity to radically change our societies. The climate crisis is a wake-up call to align us with “what Indigenous communities have always known and are increasingly willing to share – that we are one with the earth, not apart from it” , writes Williams.
And we will have to do it soon. In “A very small animal surrounded entirely by water”, the poet sam sax writes in the past tense: “when the [oceans | fires | droughts] came / when the [rains | bomb | flu] came / when the [weather | weather | weather] has come.” The disaster has already arrived, maintains the speaker, and “we [weathered | welcomed | watered] this.”
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What we read
As the climate changes, so does fiction
“A growing number of writers are weaving climate change into their domestic dramas or comedies of errors as an inescapable part of life now or in the very near future… This new breed of environmental novel can make the issues of choice futures, and their effects on ordinary individuals and scenarios, seem clear: when survival is at stake, books can delve into the basic human question of how we care for each other and ourselves. »
Adam Maida / The Atlantic
What Greek mythology can teach us about the climate crisis
“To write about the connection humans have with climate change requires nurturing two competing anxieties: we are both willing participants and at the mercy of the systems that destroy us. As the authors of this collection share personal stories of global collapse, a tricky question materializes. How do we think about the idea of individual responsibility when its relationship to climate change is so slippery? »
California sea lion hunting sardines in Los Islotes, La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico (Nick Polanszky / Alamy)
What it would take to see the world completely differently
“Is wonder still possible, given our climate crisis? Wonder involves a certain degree of leisure and time; it requires slow, sustained, contemplative attention, a luxury we may no longer be able to afford. Even Carson, when she wrote the new preface to the revised 1961 edition of The sea around us, couldn’t help but issue an urgent warning about the practice of dumping nuclear waste in the ocean. She called the previous assurance that the sea was so big it was inviolable a “naive” belief. Today, as serious emergencies unfold, it seems even harder to rationalize the time spent simply enjoying the natural world.
📚 The sense of wonderby Rachel Carson
Bill Owens / Stock Gallery
Nature writing that sees possibility in climate change
“The U.S. government’s 2018 National Climate Assessment provided a clue, finding that 49.4 million “housing units” are located in riverside communities across the country and that flooding “due to uplift sea level and storm surges are likely to destroy, or render unfit for use, billions of people" dollars of property by the middle of this century. Amidst this destruction, a pair of new books suggests, might lie the secret to surviving it.
📚 Erosionby Terry Tempest Williams
“A very small animal entirely surrounded by water”
“the world was already [young | sick | lost] when we got there
we were busy looking [for | at | through] god
went to the dance and brought our new [shoes | father | flask]borrowed a [shirt | religion | mask] & sat in the bleachers
[music | oil | trash] filled our rivers
stayed up for after [party | life | math]the forests were [protected | sold | ash]wrote [letters | checks | ads] against corruption
blame [science | systems | depression] for our cities
About Us: This week’s newsletter is written by Emma Sarappo. The book she just finished is Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban.
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