Yearly Archives: 2017

Climate Change’s Place in Literature

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Climate change does not feature prominently in the landscape that comprises literary fiction. When the subject does appear, it is far more likely to be in nonfiction work. Sadly, the writers who write science fiction, the genre to which climate change has been relegated, are not taken seriously by the literary world. They will for instance rarely be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Global literature has shown that mainstream writers regularly respond to war and national emergencies of all kinds, but somehow climate change has so far proved resistant to their interest.

In the modern novel, it seems that subjects like climate change move to the background, while as what we experience in our everyday lives and relationships moves to the foreground. As Amitav Ghosh explains in his book The Great Derangement, the techniques that are identified with the contemporary novel exclude climate change, because its science and effects are difficult to grasp, and not something which we deal with regularly.

Even if we look at the array of science fiction films and television series being produced today, we find they are weighted towards vampires, witches, extra-terrestrials, and secondary fantasy worlds. Very few of them address the subject of climate change directly. It’s an odd thing that just when we are destroying our biosphere, films and television shows remain focused on the human experience or on extra-terrestrial life.

Three years ago, I read the nonfiction climate change book This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. While Klein’s book was masterful, I suspected there would be many people who wouldn’t read it because of its dense content. To offer an alternative, I decided to write a fictional book on the subject. Thus began my adventures as a science fiction writer.

I had written three novels but never one in the science fiction genre. As I searched around for examples I might follow, I deliberately didn’t choose novelist Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy wrote the brilliant post-apocalyptic tale The Road, which follows the journey of a father and his young son over a period of several months, across a landscape blasted by an unspecified cataclysm that has destroyed most of civilization and almost all life on earth. Instead, like Andy Weir, author of The Martian, I focused on the science of climate change, and the practicalities of what it will take for human beings to survive it.

My book The Burning Years is a research-based, futuristic depiction of the struggle to survive on an earth that has been devastated by climate change. Alternative living environments are being created to sustain life until such time as the surface of the earth can heal itself and again become habitable.

This is the setting in which the story unfolds with its conflicts, challenges, and cast of characters exhibiting the best and worst of human nature. Beyond the story itself is a cautionary tale that urges us to take the stewardship of our earth more seriously.

If I had written a literary novel like McCarthy’s, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, I would have, like him, described the disaster not in scientific terms but through the thoughts and feelings of one or two characters. I would have shown these characters through the lens of the Anthropocene, and would have followed their interior dialogue and unfolding relationships as they experienced prolonged exposure to solar UV radiation. I would have described their pain as cancer rapidly spread to their lymph nodes and formed golf ball sized lumps throughout their bodies. I would also have described, either in the first or second person, their sight loss and slurred speech caused by lesions in their brains. I would have analyzed their humanness as they began to slowly and painfully waste way, losing everything and everyone they loved.

While this might have resembled the truth of what I imagine will happen, I couldn’t bring myself to write this story. Instead I chose to take a broader scientific and political perspective.  As part of this perspective, I focus on the neoliberals who are now in charge of our government. I analyze their motives as they heedlessly and cynically promote a high-consumption, carbon-intensive system, treating our atmosphere like a waste dump.

I wrote The Burning Years to inspire my readers to become involved in individual and collective actions that might increase the odds of our planet’s survival. As the great statesman and abolitionist Horace Mann once said: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

I hope my audience will come to realize at the end of the book that we are a society in love with the hyper-carbonized pursuit of short-term comfort, in the grips of worldwide political corruption, and plagued with wealth inequality and hoarding. I hope they will be moved to find practical ways to cut back on their own use of fossil fuels, and encourage their towns, cities, and state governments to do the same.

As I was writing The Burning Years, I knew in my heart that it would be well-nigh impossible for a society such as ours to change its economic system fast enough to prevent climate change. In the end, I had to acknowledge to myself that the book I have written is perhaps a prophetic warning of a mass extinction event, the proportions of which are beyond our capacity to grasp.


Felicity Harley is a polished public speaker, published journalist, and writer. Her work has recently been published in an anthology called Gathered Light – On the Poetry of Joni Mitchell, alongside writers such as Wally Lamb, Kim Addonizio, Fred Wah, and others. In celebration of the 65th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and on behalf of Poets for Human Rights, Felicity was the winner of the Anita McAndrews Award. In 2015 Felicity’s book of short stories Portraits and Landscapes, was published. The Burning Years, published in February 2017, is the first of a quartet called “Until This Last.”

About Artists and Climate Change:

Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Tourism & Society Vs. Utopian Ideals

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

What makes people chase that utopian destination and what happens when they get there?

Since 2013 I have been interested in how humans interact with the natural world, and have found myself investigating islands – isolated islands, World Heritage islands.

The first island I visited was Lord Howe Island, 600 nautical miles off the east coast of Australia. I have been visiting this island since 2001. The large main island and several small outer islands form a National Park and World Heritage Site. In 1987, the local governing body decided to limit the number of tourist beds on the island to 400. Thankfully today, they have only 398 beds so aside from walking trails, the place remains relative untouched. It’s wonderful, except for the ocean pollution; a continuous stream of flotsam and jetsam washes up on the shores. In 2014, as part of an onsite residency, I collected the debris to see what was there. I was methodical; I selected three beaches, and went on three walks, picking up everything I saw. This resulted in my artwork Corpses of the Everyday (shown above), a continuous stream of text just like the continuous stream of debris that washes up on these beaches.

In 2014, I had the opportunity to travel to the Galapagos Islands, 600 nautical miles off the coast of Ecuador. Like Lord Howe Island, the Galapagos are designated as a World Heritage Site, but unlike Lord Howe, they appear to have no “real” restriction on the number of tourists who visit it. In my research, I was shocked to find out that in 1990, 40,000 people visited. Ten years later in 2000, 60,000 tourists stepped upon its shores. When I visited in 2014, a staggering 215,691 tourists from 159 countries clambered to see this “utopian” ideal of evolution. My two-week journey traveling on the Cachalote, which carried 14 tourists, was pretty standard. However, there are larger vessels that carry up to 100 tourists at a time. On any given day, 95 ships are circling the archipelago. This is not a small problem. Each ship has a water desalination plant on board so travelers like me can have fresh water, creating (in my analysis) a problem with the brine discharge. These ships are required to anchor in the same place at each island so the cumulative effect could be catastrophic to this fragile environment. It was possible to see the beginning of these effects already.

I was left feeling that I needed to bring light to this issue. The tourists are, with the government’s help, slowly destroying that which they covet. So, I created Towards Dystopia. This work is not just about the Galapagos but also about Lord Howe, about islands connected by water currents across the globe.  It takes the problem of desalination and uses a process of water purification as part of its core.

A petri dish sits on the floor. In it, a coral ceramic form resembles favia speciosa, unique to Lord Howe Island. The dish is filled with highly saline water and its content is pumped into an adjacent fish tank. Filled with the debris collected from Lord Howe, this tank works like a window to the unseen world.  Water flows to a tea urn, a metaphor for contemporary society in all its banality and inertia. The tank heats the water which then flows back to the dish, a closed water circuit flowing in the same way the South Pacific currents flow from the Galapagos to Lord Howe Island.  A projection of an air bubble floating to the surface from a reef travels across the screen, reinforcing the utopian holiday.

My discussion here is not just about the plastic that can be seen in the tank or its ominous shadow on the wall, but also about hidden elements. Each ceramic has the text from Corpses of the Everyday written on its surface. It is small, yet its presence is a reminder of the plastic we don’t see, the small pieces that remain hidden, the micro-plastics.

In January 2017, I decided to explore just how far our influence had gone and went with the not-for-profit group Ninth Wave to Antarctica. It was not an ordinary 19-day trip as we were beset by storms. However, we did manage to spend 2.5 days on Deception Island.

My reason for traveling there was the need to bring our everyday world and contemporary lives to this place of isolation, and confront our impact. The video/sound installation Deception uses videos I collected from street corners of various cities around the globe. Projected onto a melting glacier/ice floe, these images of our contemporary worlds – street scenes showing the everyday movement of our lives – open up a dialogue around the role of contemporary society in global warming, and how remote places are being affected.

These works with their interdisciplinary, eco-critical vision, transcend the traditional boundaries between sciences and the humanities.

Deception is about deception. It is not just the name of the place where the work was recorded, but it is the way we, as a society, deceive ourselves so as to not see what we know to be true. The deception of our governments is in not taking strong and immediate action. The deception of the oil industry is in working to hide the impact of its practices.

Given Australia’s history and ongoing presence in Antarctica, Deception is just one part of a greater dialogue intended to increase awareness of our actions, which have a ‘butterfly effect’ on such a remote, utopian destination – a place one would expect to be unaffected by our society. This work and the resulting exhibition show how we are effecting and affecting Deception Island. Because of its isolation and surrounding waters, it and its wildlife, remain virtually invisible to our world.

(Top image: Corpses of the Everyday, 2015. Catalogue of collected debris from Lord Howe Island, hand-stenciled on clear builder’s plastic 3600 x 5000 mm.)

Lea Kannar-Lichtenberger, MA, MFA, (Sydney College of the Arts) is an artist exploring the connections between science and art. Lea’s art works were recently shown at the Jane Goodall Foundation Symposium Brussels, Stunning Edge Exhibition Taiwan, the New York Hall of Science, Harbour Sculpture (Sydney), Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize and in her recent Solo Exhibition Deception at Accelerator Gallery Ultimo. Since 2014 Lea has been delivering papers that relate to her research and resulting artworks, at conferences including Affective Habitat ANU in Canberra; 2015; AESS at UCSD San Diego CA; ISEAHK2016, Hong Kong; Arts in Society at UCLA Los Angeles CA and lectured at Spektrum (in association with Art Laboratory) Berlin.

About Artists and Climate Change:

Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Opportunity: Deep Adaptation Call Out

This post comes from Creative Carbon Scotland

Opportunity: Deep Adaptation Call Out

The NewBridge Project is looking to hear from artists, activists and collectives interested in collaborative projects that engage with ideas and themes connected to the Deep Adaptation agenda.

In the last forty years, the global economy has grown by 380%. During the same period, the number of people in poverty has increased by 1.1 billion. This widely accepted culture of ‘consumption’ directly impacts the climate, causes huge household debts and a breakdown in social care networks, facilitates time poor lifestyles and zero hour working contracts, creates a reliance on food banks and allows a rise in domestic violence and homophobic attacks: is this kind of ‘growth’ really something we value?

In response to this context the deep adaptation agenda involves resilience, relinquishment and restoration:

Resilience involves people and communities better coping with disruptions. What are the tools we need to do this?

Relinquishment involves people and communities letting go of certain assets, behaviors and beliefs where retaining them could make matters worse. How do we let go?

Restoration involves people and communities rediscovering attitudes and approaches to life and organization that require less management, or increased community-level productivity and support. How do we re-build?


The NewBridge Project is interested in hearing from artists, activists, researchers and collectives interested in producing new commissions and projects that engage with ideas of resilience, relinquishment and restoration and the Deep Adaptation agenda.

The project will be supporting 5 new commissions of up to £5000 each, and are asking for an expression of interest outlining your initial ideas.

Deadline for expression of interest: 27 June, 5pm

Click here for full details of the call out and how to apply.

The NewBridge Project is a triple award winning artist-led community supporting the development of artists and curators through the provision of space for creative practice, curatorial opportunities and an ambitious artist-led programme of exhibitions, commissions and events. The project aims to deliver an outstanding programme of exhibitions, performances, screenings, educational talks and workshops in consultation with artist members, creating a programme responsive to the socio, political and civic environment within which it exists and seeks to be a genuine community resource. Read more here.

Image Credit: The NewBridge Project.

The post Opportunity: Deep Adaptation Call Out appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.

About Creative Carbon Scotland:

Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

Go to Creative Carbon Scotland