Guernica Magazine

Five Writers on Climate Change and Popular Culture

Five contemporary writers and critics discuss how climate change is represented in novels, film, comic books, and even in the works of Plato.

Climate change continues to wreak devastating havoc on the planet. So, why aren’t more people talking about it? To paraphrase the author and environmentalist Bill McKibben (The End of Nature, Radio Free Vermont): Where are the books, plays, poems, and other works of art about climate change? And to the extent that they already exist, what are they saying about the issue?

To help answer these questions, I sat down with five writers last December at the New York Society Library to discuss their thoughts on how climate change is portrayed in narratives across popular culture. Joining the panel were the critics Jeremy Deaton (of Climate Nexus) and Michael Svoboda (of Yale Climate Connections), and the authors Omar El Akkad (American War), Roy Scranton (Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, War Porn), and Ashley Shelby (South Pole Station). Our discussion was wide-ranging, touching on how climate change is represented in novels, film, and comic books, and how race, gender, class, and other identities inform those narratives. We also discussed why climate change, in its immensity, continues to pose communication challenges to writers.

To celebrate Earth month, here’s a video of highlights from our conversation and the full transcript, which has been edited slightly for clarity and length. The event was co-sponsored by the New York Society Library.

Amy Brady: To get us started, I’d like to ask each of you to discuss what drew you to the issue of climate change and why you pursue it in your work.

Jeremy Deaton: In grad school I studied journalism and was initially interested in several subjects—immigration, poverty, climate change. But the more I studied the latter, the more I realized it encompassed and affected everything else. It’s such an enormous and important subject, and it has been very rewarding to write about it.

Michael Svoboda:  Years ago, I thought I was going to be a marine biologist, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I studied literature and ran a bookstore, where I noticed books about climate change slowly taking over the environmental section. When I got into teaching I began looking even deeper into the politics and psychology of the issue.

: I grew up in Egypt. In the 1980s there was no work to be had, so my father looked for work elsewhere. He found a job in Libya and another in Qatar, which no one had heard of at the time. It had yet to become the place it

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