The science and politics of climate change get all the attention – the human face of climate change doesn’t get much of a look in. And although social scientists have made progress documenting the sorts of factors that shape public engagement, the poets and storytellers have so far been relatively quiet.
Facing the Change: Personal Encounters with Global Warming is a new kind of book about climate change, featuring not the usual science and politics but rather an edited collection of literary prose and poetry that explore the personal, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of one of the major crises facing the world today. According to Steve Holmes, the editor of the collection, the book offers new and potentially helpful angles from which to approach climate change, using personal stories to foster personal and political empowerment.
One poet who has taken up the challenge of engaging with climate change – intellectually and physically – is Emily Hinshelwood. Emily walked across Wales asking every single person she met three questions about climate change:
1. What images come to mind when you think of climate change?
2. How often does climate change come up in your conversations?
3. Is there anything you (personally) can do to limit the effects of climate change?
The result, which we re-publish below with kind permission of the author, is a fascinating document of personal mental imagery about what climate change means to ordinary people. To find out more about Emily’s work, visit her website.
A Moment of Your Time
Fog. Fug. Smog
Cough. Smother. Choke
The planet in nasty grey-blue smoke from
factories with chimneys, from scratching out coal;
big lumps of ice falling off the North Pole, so the
sea levels rise,
the polar bear dies
the Houses of Parliament tip, then capsize.
Whole blinkin’ islands wiped off the map
and over here…. the summers are crap
it’s been pissing for weeks now, the drain’s overflowing
and the sparrows don’t know if they’re coming or going
the daffodil blooms – then he shivers with cold
we do our recycling – we do what we’re told
but the haycrop’s all ruined, the riverbank’s burst –
since I’ve recycled, it’s only got worse
hurricanes, tsunamis, the wreck of the land
and everyone everywhere with their heads in the sand –
me on a deckchair – with my head in the sand.
Me – with a bacardi breezer,
suntanned – with my head in the sand
while the desert expands.
Dust. Thirst. Dry
Crops. Wilt. Die
Kids like sticks
African villages starve
but that won’t stop me from driving my car!
There’s so many people – we’ve all got bad habits
and countries where women are breeding like rabbits
and building more factories and digging more coal
and more and more ice falls off the north pole
so the water goes higher and we get more rain
and the desert moves further up into Spain.
But we do our recycling we do what we’re asked
it’s a blue bag for plastics and a green bin for glass
We separate cardboard, we clean out our pots
but how do we know they don’t landfill the lot?
Cos it’s not getting better, the seasons are screwed
the poor little bees just don’t know what to do
there’s Cameron on his bike – bla bla bla
with his briefcase coming after in his diplomatic car.
We know what we’re doing – we can’t seem to stop and
Society says – Don’t think – JUST SHOP!
So we buy more gadgets to plug in the wall
that need more electric that burns more coal
till the last lump of ice falls off the North Pole
and there’s more freak weather
and London’s drowned
and we knock up more houses on much higher ground
and we pour more concrete and we build more roads
and we keep our borders resolutely closed
till food is so dear and there’s nothing to eat
and it’s our grandchildren – like sticks – begging in the street.
Then – maybe then – we’ll stop
park the car
unplug the x-box
we’ll learn a bit of self-control
we’ll stop digging up coal