Time to Change the Road We’re On

Hey there literature lovers, it’s been awhile. Let’s just say the obvious: it’s my fault, not yours. I haven’t kept up with you as a good friend should, and all I can offer you are my few feeble excuses. I blame my blogging truancy on the combined forces of post-finals burnout and a holiday-treat-induced torpor, if those count for anything. Regardless, I’m back, and this time I’m here to stay.

First things first, an important update: this semester I signed up for a journalism class that focuses on “telling the story of climate change.” The primary goal of our writings will be to “explore environmental crisis and innovative breakthrough.

The first day was of class was a humiliation. Nalgene bottles lined the tables, their plastic rainbow bodies plastered with bumper stickers from PETA, 350.org, Clean Water Movement. Then there was me, with my brown cowboy boots and single-serve non-recyclable Dasani. I stuck out like a very sore, non-Green thumb.

Next it came time to introduce ourselves. All around me were leaders of Vanderbilt’s Green Movement. Students who had protested our campus’ coal factory, students who had become vegetarians for both ethical and environmental reasons, students who had led initiative in their high school to ban single-serve water bottles.

Now I really felt guilty about that Dasani. I started blushing and the girl next to me piped up. “That water bottle was made from polar bear tears.”

What did I say when it was my turn to speak? “So I’m from Texas, so…I don’t really know much about climate change, per say…”

There was no ugly silence. I was not banned from the room. But I did feel like an idiot, and rightly so.

Then again, there was context for my ignorance. Texas is not the most environmentally progressive state. The majority of our citizens are in some way connected to the fossil fuels industry, and they feel a deep loyalty to their bread-and-butter providers. They’re oilfield workers and Exxon employees. They frack shale and drill oil and proclaim, in their twangiest of twangs, “Global warming? That’s blue state bullshit.”

But I joined this class for a reason. I wanted to learn about climate change, and I did.

Our first assignment, Bill McKibben’s article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” really did terrify me. Turns out, this “blue state bullshit”—this climate change hoopla—is a very real and present danger, one that threatens not just our country (or my lovely Texas) but the entire planet.

So what now?

ImageI admit I have a long way to go. I need to educate myself not just as a human, but as a writer, too.

After all, have I not spouted on about the duty of writers to understand the human condition? What could be more relevant to the human condition than the condition of our planet, on which all seven billion humans reside?

Whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not, climate change will affect, or already is affecting, millions of human beings across the globe. To ignore climate change in fiction, them, is to write fantasy rather than literature. To ignore climate change in our day-to-day lives, however, is to submerge ourselves in a far more dangerous escapism, one that leads down a path of destruction not just to nature and our furry polar bear friends, but to human life as we know it.

I used to count myself a good citizen because I turned off the lights when I left the room, because I took quick showers (as long as I wasn’t washing my hair), and because I recycled my newspapers on campus. Damn.

So what now?

As a good citizen—and more specifically, as a good writer—I wish to move forward by learning as much as I can about climate change, to explore how authors have understood the environmental crisis in literature, and to add my voice to the chorus that sings the necessity of not just belief, but action, too.

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