Environmental fiction for adults

Some of us read nonfiction (The Future EatersAn Inconvenient Truth, etc) to learn more about the environment, and that’s good, but we can also read fiction for inspiration and entertainment. Here is a ‘Greenie Adult Fiction’ list which I came across last year.  The books on it which I do know made me think that the books I don’t know ought to be good too. This version of the list was published in Waves, newsletter of Reef HQ Aquarium Volunteers Association, in February 2012 but the original, created and hosted by a US public library, has vanished from the web since then so I can’t simply point you to it.

cover of Cape PerdidoMarcia Muller: Cape Perdido
When a South Carolina company wants to take water from Cape Perdido, the town’s residents protest. Eventually, things get ugly and someone is killed. An ecological thriller by a well-known mystery writer.

Ernest Callenbach: Ecotopia
In this classic eco-fiction novel, Oregon, Washington and Northern California secede to form an ecologically and socially progressive society. Their citizens rely totally upon solar power and other environmentally safe technology.

cover of The Monkey Wrench Gang Edward Abbey: The Monkey Wrench Gang
Four environmentalists resort to guerrilla welfare when legal tactics fail to stop ecological disasters in the desert of southwestern USA. This is classic Edward Abbey and shouldn’t be missed.

Barbara Delinsky: Looking for Peyton Place
Novelist Annie Barnes returns to her hometown upon the early death of her mother to find her sister also suffering medical problems. Annie turns detective when she begins to suspect that her family’s illnesses were caused by mercury poison from the town’s paper mill.

C. J. Box: Savage Run
Game warden Joe Pickett tries to find out who murdered an environmentalist and his wife, and finds himself fighting millionaire ranchers wanting to put more money in their own pockets.

cover of The Stream Brian Clarke: The Stream
This book tells the story of a stream and all the creatures who live in it or near it, and how their world slowly changes when an industrial park moves nearby. This is the first novel ever to win the Natural World Book Prize, Britain’s premier literary environmental award.

Rick Bass: Where the Sea Used to Be
A veteran petroleum geologist clashes with his environmentalist daughter in this novel by a well-known short story writer.

Charles Pellegrino: Dust
A biological thriller with fungus gnats, bugs, and vicious mites eating their way up the food chain in a world gone wild because of human environmental mishandling.

cover of A Friend of the Earth T. Coraghessan Boyle: A Friend of the Earth
In 2025, global warming and the greenhouse effect have altered the environment drastically and the book’s main character commits the rest of his life to being an “Earth Forever” activist.

My main interest a year ago was Young Adult fiction, rather than Adult fiction, with environmental themes. This page lists some of those books.

Give Twice for Christmas

This article has been evolving for a few weeks of every year for several years – as my subject line warns you, it’s seasonal. In 2009 I sent it to family, friends and colleagues in the hope that it would put a little bit more meaning back into the Christmas hoopla. The following year it was published in my local paper and it has appeared in a few other publications since then. If you have read it before, you might like to skip it this time to learn more about (e.g.) a bear sanctuary or the centipede’s dilemma. Otherwise, read on: 

Christmas was originally a time of religious thanksgiving, and for many of us it still is. And for nearly all of us it is a joyful time, bringing happiness by re-affirming bonds of family and friendship whether or not the spiritual aspect is celebrated.

But it is not all good. The religious side of Christmas was being drowned out by the clangour of cash-register bells even when I was a wonderstruck child still willing to believe in Santa. In these days of environmental degradation there is another reason to reject the commercialisation, too: Christmas is becoming a pretext for blatantly wasteful over-consumption.

In itself, giving is always a good thing (receiving can be nice, too!) and Christmas can be a good excuse to acknowledge your friendships in this way. And choosing not to give presents offends and upsets those who believe in tradition, while refusing to accept gifts offends them even more. But what can we do to opt out of Consumas and back in to Christmas?

1. Give according to the recipient’s values. Of course you already try to do that but think outside the conventional range of gifts. If ‘everyone buys their Dad a gadget’, your Dad has probably got a shed-full already. Remember that he is not just a generic older male consumer but has his own particular interests.

2. Give according to your own values. If you care about native birds, giving your friend a kitten may make you feel guilty for years, so find something which you have no doubts about instead – a bird-bath, maybe.

3. Give twice with every gift by finding gifts which benefit as many people as possible, and especially those in need.

  • Buy from charity shops which handle third-world craft products (e.g. World Vision). Some of the money goes back to the maker, and the rest supports the charity’s other projects.
  • Buy Fairtrade goods if you can, rather than the standard commercial equivalents.
  • Make a donation in the recipient’s name to a charity whose aims they support. (If you give them the receipt, they can claim it as tax deduction – nice bonus). Kiva, which Hollows foundation gift cardsprovides micro loans in poor countries with Western help, is worth considering here alongside Red Cross, the Wilderness Society and the rest.
  • Remember that Unicef, CARE and Oxfam sell a range of gift certificates where the purchaser buys school books or a goat or a well for a third-world family. Buy one in the name of the recipient, who will receive a card with details of the donation and what it’s going to be used for.
  • Make or grow something yourself, if you have the skills: a cake, herb sachets, a framed photo, or a pot-plant in flower.
  • Buy gifts from local art galleries to support struggling artists (and believe me, nearly all artists are struggling).
  • Buy cards, calendars, t-shirts, Christmas cakes, etc, from the Heart Foundation, Lions cake labelAustralian Youth Climate Coalition or similar organisations. The goods may be mass produced but at least the profits are doing some good.

4. Ask, suggest or hint that others do the same. Use this article as a starting point if you like, and put it on Facebook or email it to lots of people you know. You don’t have to say, “If you were thinking of giving me something, I would prefer…,” which could be kind of awkward; just say, “I think this is a good way of thinking about Christmas.” You could bring a lot more happiness into the world by doing so – and isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Thanks for reading – and do have a good Christmas, whether you take my ideas on board or not.

Anna Rose: Madlands

Anna Rose: Madlands
Melbourne University Press, 2012

Madlands is the story of the making of ‘Can I Change Your Mind’, the reality TV show I discussed here a little while ago, as told by the younger and more positive of the protagonists.

Anna Rose begins by saying that she embarked on the project in the hope of getting the climate change problem through to a large general audience, despite her fears that she would be manipulated by the producers into untenable, indefensible positions or undermined in the editing of the footage they shot. In the event, her fears were partially realised and this book is, to a certain extent, her means of explaining some strangenesses in the show and presenting segments which were left on the cutting room floor. (There were some good ones, too, such as the great interview with Naomi Oreskes which has since turned up on YouTube.)

Anna visited Townsville recently on the book-promotion tour and we went along to support her (and, incidentally, Mary Who? Bookshop which hosted the event) and see what she is like in real life. I’m happy to say she was as great in person as she seemed on TV – warm, positive and articulate. Now that I have read the book I have some difficulty in separating it from the TV show and the author for this review but I will do my best.

Cover of 'Madlands'Madlands was written and published in haste (two and a half months is very quick for 90,000 words) but the writing is fluent and, perhaps because of the haste, refreshingly uninhibited by second thoughts: this is what Anna saw, this is what happened, and this is what she thought about it.

The book follows the sequence of the show, from first meeting Nick Minchin near Moree and introducing him to her uncle, to their final chat on the beach of Heron Island.

It soon became clear to Anna that the producer was trying primarily to ‘make good TV’, i.e. that he would put drama and entertainment ahead of accuracy or fairness, and that Nick was not going to change his mind about climate but was going to use his political skills against her attempts to get her message across. She, of course, was primarily motivated by the desire to inform the audience about climate change.

To the extent that each of them pursued those aims they worked at cross purposes, something which vaguely unsettled the show but is much more clearly articulated in the book. Madlands, however, allows Anna to say what she wanted to say on TV, and each chapter tends to comprise a journey, an interview and her reflections on what wasn’t said but, she thinks, should have been. The latter often includes significant chunks of climate science, presented simply enough for the average reader to grasp easily.

The book is unavoidably episodic, since a dozen journeys and as many interviews (with some rather interesting and eccentric people, admittedly) don’t make for a cohesive story line and there is no real character development to tie it all together. Anna just does her best to stay on top of events, while Nick is determinedly impervious to any argument she might present. She does understand him better by the end of the journey than at the beginning but neither of them have changed their minds.

In spite of minor faults, Madlands is an easy, pleasant read. But who should, or will, read it?

It contains a lot of the basic science of climate change but it is not a great climate-science primer (Picturing the Science is far better) because its focus is elsewhere. It also has a lot of interesting and useful insights into activism and the politics of climate change, but the same applies: it isn’t focused on the topic, so there are better books on the subject. In the end, it is inextricably bound to the show which spawned it, in that most of its readers will be drawn to it by the show and the readers who get most out of it will be those who have seen the show.

In her talk at Mary Who? Bookshop, Anna quickly sketched her strategy for shifting public opinion. It grades the population according to a sequence from ‘actively opposed’ to doing anything about climate change, through ‘passively opposed’, ‘neutral’ and ‘passively supporting’ to ‘actively supporting’ action on the issue. And her approach is to forget the active denialists (because they are a tiny group and won’t change anyway) and try to move everyone else one step to the right in her chart  – ‘passively opposed’ to ‘neutral’, ‘neutral’ to ‘passively supporting’, or ‘passively supporting’ to ‘actively supporting’. Hopefully many of her readers will learn more about the science and politics through Madlands and make just such a shift.

There are some really nice tee-shirts on the AYCC site and you can buy the book there too if you’re not close enough to Mary Who? Bookshop.

Tasmania’s Wilderness Battles

Buckman - Tasmania's Wilderness BattlesGreg Buckman

Tasmania’s Wilderness Battles

Jacana, June 2008, $29.95

Wilderness has been a bigger community issue in Tasmania than in any other Australian state, so a history of the fight to preserve it has a lot of ground to cover. Buckman organises it chronologically within four strands – hydro-electric power, forestry, mining and national parks – and traces them from the 1850s to the beginning of this year.

‘The Hydro’ created the biggest issues: Lake Pedder and the Franklin River made national headlines and political history from the 1960s to the 1980s. The conservationists’ focus then shifted to forestry, confronting the rise of woodchipping and the (stalled, as of October 2008) Tamar Valley pulp mill. Continue reading “Tasmania’s Wilderness Battles”