The Role of Climate Function: A Need for Future Discussions

Nicolas Tobon, Contributor

The Climate agenda needs to be prioritized.  Recently, VandyWrites led a discussion on, “Climate Fiction,” featuring Dr. Teresa Goddu: a Professor of English and American Studies at Vanderbilt, currently writing on contemporary climate fiction.

           The discussion centered on the importance of climate fiction in confronting climate change. Dr. Goddu began discussing the 1970s environmental awaking that emphasized recycling and led to the implantation of solar panels on the white house roof. She points to the subsequent downturn in the progress of the environmental movement during the 1980s as evidence of the need for cultural change to address climate change, not simply promote technological advancement.

           To create this cultural change, Dr. Goddu points to the role of climate fiction writers. She expands on their mission and calls them to convert public understanding of the climate crisis as not an issue but an era. She emphasizes how climate fiction doesn’t need to offer a technical solution to climate change. Instead, it can act as a lamp of how the public imagination struggles to feel about extinction. Climate Fiction also depicts the future of our society in how it is currently incapable of dealing with climate change and the possibility of radical change. A personal favorite role of climate fiction for Dr. Goddu is as a map arguing that climate fiction gives us tools to confront the arduous journey ahead. By helping readers work through the grief of a dying planet and the guilt associated with causing that death the readers gain tools that allow them to accept this era and imagine a societal change that shifts their relationship with nature.

           Dr. Goddu argued the genre of climate fiction is much larger than didactic novels and movies dealing directly with climate change. Instead, she argues that climate fiction appears in almost all contemporary literature as climate change. Although climate change impacts the public imagination around all aspects of life it isn’t explicitly stated that a subconscious understanding of climate change can be teased out through climate fiction. Dr. Goddu brought up novels such as 10:04 by Ben Lerner as examples of Climate Fiction that, while not read as climate fiction by many readers, is intimately affected by climate change taking place between Hurricane Sandy and Irene.

           Dr. Goddu also acknowledged issues with the genre regarding diversity. When Dr. Goddu began teaching a course on Literature and the Environment a decade ago, she struggled to find novels that fell out of the white male canon. She described this issue as partly due to readers not reading certain diverse works as climate fiction. One example is in Dr. Goddu’s forthcoming work, “The (Neo-) Slave Narrative and the Plantationocene”, which argues the neo-slave narrative connection to climate change through the environmental impact of the plantation. As well as white and male works being more likely to receive literary praise. However, she points to premier authors in the genre, such as Jesmyn Ward, a two-time national book award winner, as examples of how climate fiction is diversifying and addressing the important intersection between race and Climate Change.

           Dr. Goddu finalized the discussion by acknowledging the difficulty of writing about climate change in the current moment. She acknowledged that the novel likely wouldn’t be the catalyst for a cultural change as novels have seen a decreased readership compared to the change caused at the height of the novel by Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the abolition of slavery. However, as screenwriters for television shows, movies, and video games, writers can create mass change. Making writers the heroes necessary to change the world.