Planet in Peril

A new metaphor is as useful in the climate fight as a new solar panel design. We need poets engaged in this battle, and this volume is proof that in fact they’re in the vanguard. Bill McKibben, leader

This anthology has the power that no amount of academic research or news coverage can bring. Dr Michele Cain, Oxford Martin School and Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford.

So pleased to contribute to this project a book of photographs and poems on the subject of climate change, with work from poets aged 8-80 and stunning pictures from Emily Gellard, a nature photographer based in the Brazilian Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland.

Collaborations like this are a good thing, making space to share feelings about the consequences of a changing climate, reminding governments that we are concerned (and watching them!) as well as raising funds (20% of all are profits will be donated to the Climate Coalition and WWF). All that, while bringing together poets, artists and scientists.

The two quotes above take me to the heart of the question I keep asking myself: what can I do, at a time of mass extinctions, to help make a change, however small? Is a new metaphor as useful as a new solar panel design? (Notice that Bill McKibben makes use of metaphor himself, taking on the battle theme, which historically seems to repeat in climate dialogues.) Does art bring something to the debate that research or news coverage can’t?

Recently, I pondered these issues with energy specialists at the University of Sussex Energy Group. These are scientists at the cutting edge of sustainable energy solutions. Razor-sharp, the cutting edge, and vulnerable to friction. Makes you think of cuts blackouts, maybe, and lost jobs, but first of all a wound.

In her foreword to Planet in Peril, Dr Cain notes in the 27 years since the Rio Earth summit in 1991, we have emitted the same amount of carbon dioxide globally as we had between 1751 and 1992 [that’s 241 years]. In 2018, we emitted more CO2 than in any other year.

Those numbers alone seem proof to me of the link between industrialisation and high levels of CO2 going into the atmosphere. Short step from there to the science linking this to the complex processes of a changing climate: extreme weather, ocean acidification, melting ice caps…

My poem in the anthology was inspired by Emily’s photographs of Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean.

from ‘Arctic’

Ice is summer meltwater, 
beluga calving, snow 

crab, willow tree,
dwarf birch.

Ice is dolerite cliff, 
dovekies and copepods.

Ice is coal field,
mine shaft,

24-hour night.

Reminding ourselves that even 24-hour night ends with the changing of the seasons, it’s good to reflect on the steps towards progress that are being made, as Dr Cain says, So far this year (2019), the UK’s National Grid has reported that more of our electricity has come from green sources than fossil sources. The UK’s Co2 emissions have returned to levels not seen since 1888, a reduction of 39% since 1990 and currently on a six-year downward trend. In the Paris Agreement, countries have agreed that they want to limit warming to well below 2C and if possible 1.5C… Recent research from the Global Carbon Project has shown that countries with a greater legislative commitment to climate policies have more success in reducing their carbon dioxide emissions.

And what inspires greater legislative commitment? Four million people taking to the streets globally to demand it, as happened on 20th September 2019. Taking to the streets with drums and flags and home-made banners block-printed with birds, reading poetry, dancing, chanting: what do we want? climate justice! when do we want it? now!

Read the whole of ‘Arctic’ in Planet in Peril: an anthology for our time.