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Background: science and political processesPART 1 If you have come to this page, it’s likely that you already know quite a bit about the dire situation our planet is - and future generations are - in. What I am trying to do here is offer a kind of ‘Climate Crisis 101’ for storytellers, give information that creators can use as background on which to build their scenarios. Because these scenarios, the stories I hope will help inspire action and help build resilience, should be grounded in realism. I can’t give detailed scientific explanations here, for lack of space, but you gotta start somewhere… Earth Science: Systems It is crucial to understand that ‘Planet Earth’ is a closed system. Meaning that energy and emissions remain within, basically, the realm bounded by our atmosphere. Heat is energy. If you add heat to the atmosphere, this stays in the system as increased amounts of energy and fuels more and more extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, torrential rain, floods, storms. We are seeing that all over the globe now: the crisis isn’t looming any longer. It is happening. Emissions: We all know about CO2 by now. But as a greenhouse gas, methane is much more potent. Having been locked away in the ground in permafrost regions for millennia, it is now being released into the atmosphere as the soil thaws. Melting ice has two massively dire consequences: if it is ice covering land - such as glaciers, or the ice sheets covering the Arctic, Antarctica and Greenland - it will eventually end up in the oceans and raise sea levels. A temperature rise of 3°C, which is what we are currently (late 2021) heading for by the end of the century, will put many coastal areas (think Bangladesh, Pacific atolls, Florida, Manhattan) under water. Not deep water, but still render the land uninhabitable. Across the globe, much low-lying land will get lost. And more elevated areas will face an influx of millions of coastal climate refugees. The other thing melting ice does is create a feedback loop: white ice reflects sunlight (and thus heat) back into space; that’s called the albedo effect. If there’s no ice, the ground or, worse, the much darker ocean absorbs the sunlight, then gives the excess heat back to the atmosphere, which heats up some more - and then more ice melts, producing more dark areas, more heat absorption. Et cetera. Another crucially important Earth systems factor here is that of currents, both in the air and in the oceans. Currents basically work on temperature gradients. If the temperature difference between two spots is steep, there’s movement, there’s exchange of water or air. If it’s shallow - for example because the oceans are heating up even deep down - the movement slows down. In the case of the big oceans currents (Gulf Stream & Co.), that spells huge trouble: if those slow down or even cease, there’d be catastrophic consequences. Think The Day After Tomorrow, not quite as fast as it happens in that film, but yes. Likewise, atmospheric currents slow down when the temperature gradient becomes flatter, and then we end up with ‘stuck’ weather systems: they simply don’t move on. Which is why increased heat, bizarrely, creates long cold spells such as recent years’ Arctic vortexes. As I said, this is just a very brief and simplified overview. On to… Political Processes Okay, here’s where it becomes basically impossible to give a ‘101’, but I’ll try to make a start - and then hopefully you smart writers will create new processes that will point the way to a liveable future. Heard of COP 26 in Glasgow coming up in November ’21? That’s the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC (yeah, I’d change my name to an acronym as well). Basically a club where most of this planet’s countries send delegates to discuss how to stop climate change - or, by now, how to avoid the very worst and prepare for mitigation and adaptation. The only really promising agreement this club ever produced was the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, a commitment to keep global temperature rise to 2°C, ideally 1.5°C. (Watch the documentary Guardians of the Earth to see how that accord actually did not fail.) At COP 26, countries are due to report on the progress made with their NDCs, the ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ to keeping temperature rise down. Report, mark you, not set goals, which is what much of media reporting makes it sound like. Don’t kid yourselves, COP 26 will not solve issues. We are heading straight for 3°C warming. The four years under the Orange Menace ramped up this process, but even without him and his fossil fool cronies we are a far, far cry from where we need to be on this. Do we still need to make lots of noise about this? Hell yes! There are examples for multinational agreements that have actually made a difference, most notably the 1987 Montreal Protocol that reduced FCC emissions (the stuff in hairspray and fridge coolants) and saved the ozone layer (and, literally, our skins, from skin cancer). So don’t give up hope quite yet. Then there was the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ was formulated, in my eyes one of the most important principles in this whole debate: the rich countries have built their wealth on the back of the poor ones, triggering the whole climate crisis. It is every country’s responsibility to fight the crisis as best they can, but because of their huge historical responsibility, the rich countries must shoulder far more of the burden and help the poor ones they exploited for so long. Yes, this is a binding, agreed-upon principle of international law. But the rich countries tend to forget that. Obviously, in a world that is interlinked on so many different levels, politically and in trade, you have to get everyone to agree on measures, which is basically impossible. But we must try - and we must tell stories where this happens. Read Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future; he himself calls it a ‘Utopia’, even if it a fairly grim one, and one that requires decades of not giving up, but in the end his protagonists do manage to preserve a habitable planet. Renewables, E-Vehicles, Carbon Pricing, Geo-Engineering, Net Zero… … there is lots more that is being discussed in various attempts to stop the climate catastrophe. Yes, there are plenty of solutions - and there’s plenty of greenwashing and empty promises. Stuff for future posts. And for our climate stories. Watch this space.
People and podcasts: who to followI am giving Twitter handles here, but many of these accounts have the same or similar handles on Facebook or Instagram. This is a personal selection; I am happy to say there are many, many more out there. Just don’t go down too many rabbit holes - produce your own climate content! Social Media - Climate, social justice and solutions journalism: @Bill McKibben, @GeorgeMonbiot, @insideclimate, @grist, @EndClimtSilence, @GlobalOptimism, @soljourno, @ensiamedia - Arts & entertainment: @GreenEyesFilms, @CultureDeclares, @libraryofchange - Climate activism: @350 (and numerous national sub-sections), @honortheearth (very active on Instagram), @stopthemoneypipeline, @GlblCtzn and, of course, numerous Extinction Rebellion groups and @GretaThunberg - And last, but definitely not least, my personal climate hero: @CFigueres, one of the architects of the Paris Climate Accord (see also the ‘Outrage and Optimism’ podcast). Websites & Facebook Groups: This is a list of organisations, programmes and initiatives that specifically target ‘green filmmaking’. If you know of others in the arts & entertainment sector, send them my way! NRDC’s Rewrite the Future initiative boldly claims that they ‘Help Hollywood Take on the Climate Crisis’. Check out their link to a panel from the 2021 Sundance Festival about how storytelling can help bring about change - and let’s help them deliver! The Black List recently partnered with them and The Redford Center in a Climate Writing Fellowship; applications are closed for this year but hopefully this scheme will run in future years as well. Climate Crisis Hub. I still need to check this site out properly, but if it does what it says on the tin, I’m in: ‘An all-in-one hub for climate content with powerful films, tangible actions, real interactivity, and the most exciting directory of climate projects out there!’ There are funds and programmes for ‘green’ filmmaking, and initiatives and tools that help keep the lid on your production’s carbon footprint, for example the carbon calculator developed by EurecaFilm and the EU’s GreenScreen initiative. You can make choices that keep your own emissions in a production low, or offset them by planting trees, such as my fellow screenwriter Matt Croft’s Next Scene Films does or work with initiatives like GreenEyes Production outfit. Over in my blog, I propose that we make ‘green behaviour’, creative climate activism, part of our storytelling DNA. The outfits linked here show how it can also become part of our filmmaking DNA. The GreenFilm.pro group on Facebook is German but has a lot of English-language content. Also on FB: Filmmakers for Future and the Green Production Guide. And, of course, The_Ecotopian is on FB as well - that’s the group I hope we will shape together - see also the ‘Join the Exchange’ page, one level up! Podcasts and TED Talks: There’s plenty out there, but I want to start with these three. If you have a favourite climate-related podcast, or an episode of a film/book-related pod that addresses issues of climate fiction, greenwriting, creatives’ activism etc … let me know! Outrage and Optimism My absolute # 1. Great for political, financial and scientific information about the climate crisis and how to fight it - and also great entertainment value. Whenever I feel depressed about the state of this planet, I start an ep and am guaranteed, within a few minutes, to be chuckling and finding new inspiration not to give up. Takes a truly global view. Drilled Foundational listening. Tells you what you need to know about Big Oil and Climate Denial, and then some. US-centric; but then that’s the source of much of today’s climate crisis - and of so much potential to turn things around! The Economist: To a Lesser Degree If even the business-oriented, fairly conservative Economist tells us we must pull out of fossil fuel finance, you know the shit is about to hit the fan. A good source of economic arguments and well-presented information. But… it’s the Economist, so you won’t find a call to radical activism there. The Jane Goodall Hopecast A truly great environmentalist talks about the beauty of nature and the hope she holds for mankind. Balm for the soul.
Books, films, articles and more"Books You’ll notice I am giving ISBNs rather than link to the Big A… I’m hoping you will get these from your local bookshop. Also, do send me your suggestions for further reading! The Future We Choose, Christiana Figueres, Paul Dickinson and Tom Rivett-Carnac ISBN: 978-1786580375 Falter, Bill McKibben ISBN: 978-1472266514 The Ministry For the Future, Kim Stanley Robinson ISBN: 978-0356508863 Blowout, Rachel Maddow ISBN: 978-1529113204 This is just a selection of recently published books. Further reading, explaining how this planet’s systems work: ‘The Sixth Extinction’ by Elizabeth Kolbert. ‘Six Degrees’ by Mark Lynas (trigger warning: this is tough but realistic reading). ‘When a Billion Chinese Jump’ by Jonathan Watts. ‘We Are the Weathermakers’ by Tim Flannery. ‘Storms of My Grandchildren’ by James Hansen. ‘When the Rivers Run Dry’ by Fred Pearce. ‘Prosperity Without Growth’ by Tim Jackson (a new approach to economics). Films & TV Can you find inspiration for your own climate stories from these examples? What can we learn from these films about how to move people and make them care about climate matters? As always, I’m happy to receive tips for further films and shows (please include a short summary with your link). Documentaries Guardians of the Earth (2018) tells the story of the 2015 COP that resulted in the Paris Climate Accord. A thrilling and moving account of how this supremely important treaty almost failed but for the tenacity of people like Christiana Figueres and John Kelly. Breaking Boundaries (Netflix, 2021). Johan Rockström and David Attenborough examine Earth’s biodiversity collapse and how this crisis can still be averted. (Also check out Johan Rockström’s TED article on planetary boundaries where he summarises the scientific concept.) Seaspiracy (Netflix, 2021): I put this up here with a small caveat. I haven’t seen it yet but have heard quite a bit of criticism about sloppy research and misleading presentation. Judge for yourselves. The Devil We Know (Netflix, 2018): exposing how DuPont did not act on their knowledge that they were basically poisoning their employees and neighbours with their star product: Teflon. IMHO better and more moving than the Ruffalo film (see below). Virunga (Netflix, 2014). Oscar-nominated true story of the rangers risking their lives to protect Africa’s most precious national park and its endangered gorillas. Fiction Just a few recent releases, and some of my favourites that show how satisfying and entertaining it can be to fight for a clean environment… Dark Waters (2019): Corporate defence attorney Mark Ruffalo takes on a chemical company (in real life: DuPont) in a law suit that exposes a long history of pollution. Based on a true story - see also the documentary The Devil We Know. Michael Clayton (2007): ‘Fixer’ George Clooney must decide whether or not to fix the situation after a colleague’s breakdown threatens to expose his law firm’s client, a chemical company faced with a multibillion-dollar class action suit. Erin Brockovich (2000): An unemployed single mother (Julia Roberts) becomes a legal assistant and almost single-handedly brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city's water supply. Based on a true story. … and last but definitely not least: send me a link to YOUR film about the future you want! Articles & TED Talks This is where you can fill in the blanks! Send me links to any inspiring articles you come across (ideally with a two-sentence summary), either via the site’s contact form or on one of The_Ecotopian social media accounts or groups, and I will put them up here. This is not a section for disaster doom and gloom, but for news about climate writing and for featuring solutions and people who make things work in the face of climate challenges. https://grist.org/fix/october-2021-climate-fiction-issue/
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