Blog post

Telling stories about climate change

Oct 29, 2013 by | 2 Comments

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 –

d’you know

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

and then

maybe then

we’ll stop dig­ging up coal


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