II have been what you might call a passive climate change activist for many years. I got the bumper stickers, I made the donations, I participated in the marches (my last handmade sign said “Renewables=Jobs” – true, but not exactly catchy).
And of course, I wondered if I could write a novel about climate change that would inspire people to take action. I struggled with a few ideas, but how could you dramatize it? Honey, he whispered in her ear. Did you know that coal is the best carbon capture technology ever invented? Oh, she whispered, does that mean we shouldn’t burn it?
I see that’s not going to do the trick, but what does? How do people make up their minds about climate change and how could you change their thinking?
Psychologists know that we are powerfully influenced by the people around us. If the people we know think a certain way, we are likely to be drawn in that direction as well. As all those social media influencers know, forming an opinion on a subject often comes down to thinking like the people you respect or admire.
I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance – let’s call her Anne – who is what you might call a climate action hesitant. She is smart, thoughtful and works generously for her community. She is not a climate change denier. She can see that something weird and unfriendly is going on there. But like all of us, his thinking is influenced by the people around him, and in his safe Coalition headquarters, action on climate change is not seen as a priority. Twice a day she walks past a yellow billboard telling her that “no emissions means no jobs”. Something repeated often enough seeps into your mind like a stain.
But Anne is a voracious reader, and when our conversation turned to books, her eyes lit up and her voice grew fervent in admiration for Helen Garner. His understanding of what motivates people. His humor. The way she can put your finger on something you’ve always thought about and never been able to express. His compassion and lack of judgment. When she learned that I considered Helen a friend, I could see that her respect for me skyrocketed. I bathed in reflected glory, and it made me think.
Anne doesn’t know Helen Garner the way she knows her friends and neighbors, but she knows her through her books. She respects and admires the person she met on the page. If she knew that Helen was driving the climate change action, it could turn her from a wavering stance on climate action to positive climate action. It would be a counter-influence to all those yellow signs.
That’s when I decided to start a group called Writers for Climate Action. Basically, it’s a list of writers — including Helen Garner, of course — who agree that climate change is a threat to the future of our world. The hope is that readers will see that their favorite writer thinks action on climate change is a priority for this election, and will be swayed to agree.
The list has an incredible range and variety of writers and genres. Among many others it has John Coetzee and John Birmingham, Mem Fox and Matthew Reilly, Anita Heiss and Anna Funder, Sofie Laguna and Sunil Badami, Bryan Brown and Benjamin Law, David Marr and Di Morrissey. If you’re a reader, you’ll find a familiar Australian name on this list. There are over 60, and every day more are begging to be added.
The group does not push any particular party or candidate. What we hope the list will do is influence the Annes of this world to decide which of their local candidates is most likely to bring about real action on climate change, and vote accordingly. Different voters in different electorates will make different decisions. What matters is that they prioritize climate action.
As we stand in the little cardboard booth on election day, our heads are a riot of issues vying for our attention: the cost of living, defense, indigenous justice, national security, the education, employment. They are all important and they will all shape our future. But without a reliable climate, all of these other problems will continue to grow.
The writers are not experts in climate science. But you don’t have to be to accept that humans are having an adverse effect on the planet. In this election campaign, other issues are pushing climate change out of the picture. A climate vote will put it where it should be, and where polls say many people put it: at the center of every life.