Reflection On Interesting Times

What sort of narrative does Climate Change have?

In the time of the Renaissance, the great artists were often also the great scientists: like Leonardo Da Vinci, like Michelangelo. In the East, the great emperors in many cases were poets and artists. But in the last century, when capitalism came to dominance and swallowed other social forms, science and art began to separate from each other.

This phenomenon was more significant in Europe and the USA than it was in other parts of the world, and the competition in the industrialised system has now cornered our artists and scientists into narrow definitions of their profession. Thus writers and artists have become more and more self-indulgent, and scientists more and more dry and incomprehensible.

But now there seems to be a turning point. The subject of climate change is now beginning to bring science and art back together. ‘Weatherfronts’, the two-day conference organised by Tipping Point and held this June at London’s Free Word Centre brought together a hundred writers, poets, scientists and politicians in an intense discussion about culture and politics. A writer myself, I have never seen such a mingling of the literary and scientific worlds at any event.

Elsewhere in the UK, the Dark Mountain movement, based just outside of Oxford, has been making waves in intellectual communities. The group wrote a beautiful manifesto addressing the relationship between our inward-looking world of literature and the future of humanity in the context of our self-destructive consumer society. They quoted the words of 19th century American thinker, Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization’, which echoes strongly the problem in our age – the age of the Anthropocene*.


According to a current study, the next generation of the UK’s population will live shorter lives than their parents, because of the combined effects of our food industry and the severe contamination of our food chains. The worst thing is that our current economic system presents itself as the solution to all our problems, and the politicians sell us the same idea, while the scientists have insisted that there is great uncertainty about our future – let alone the future beyond the human world. The echelons of power, wielding the ever-widening net of capitalism, aren’t interested in the scientific message. But our only future lies beyond the corporate world.

However, not everything is a reason for gloom. My recent trip to Australia, and especially to the Great Barrier Reef, is far more than a grey memory. When looking at the bleached and dying coral in the water in front of us, we writers all felt mournful, until a group of Sydney and Melbourne-based scientists told us that in ten years time the coral will have moved south. At some point, Sydney and Melbourne will have lots of coral growing along their shores. The scientists said: ‘Nature has a way of adjusting its eco systems in the course of history, and there are always many factors that can lead to utterly unpredictable outcomes.’ Well, I don’t take these words as a comfort, but rather, as a mysterious hint that forces us to open ourselves up: to think about the wide blue yonder beyond our trivial reality.

Here and now, I look around at our limited urban reality. Although surrounded by fast cars and traffic lights, there are still many tree lovers in these cities and towns, and I am one of them. I love the nature worshippers of the Amazon forests. I love the stories of Australian Aboriginals who sang their song lines and knew all the waterways of their lands. And I love a certain feminist who bought a patch of rainforest land in the South Hemisphere and planted hundreds of thousands of trees. If we can all love nature in a truthful way, or to use another phrase – love it intensely, I cannot see why our world will always be as messed up as it is now.

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