Festival of Books panelists find hope in writing about climate change


Olivia Clare Friedman found her way to writing about climate change while walking past a cemetery.

“I had this question: what if the effects of climate change mean that we lose our physical war memorials and what happens to our rituals of mourning and grief?”

Friedman’s most recent novel, “Here Lies”, is set in the near future where environmental changes make it impossible to bury our dead.

Braided themes of grief and hope enlivened a spirited and ultimately hopeful panel on climate fiction at the LA Times Festival of Books on Sunday. Matt Bell, Maria Amparo Escandón and Ash Davidson joined moderator Edan Lepucki. One of Lepucki’s first questions – “How do you tell the story of climate change in a way that galvanizes readers out of despair or fatalism?” – introduced the theme of balancing the terror of global environmental catastrophe with a reader’s desire for some form of relief.

For Bell, writing “Appleseed” was research.

“Spending four years researching climate change was like going to the doctor after being sick for a long time,” he said. “Getting the diagnosis is better than just being scared. Understanding it helps me a lot with my own climate anxiety. I face what makes me feel good and learn that there are solutions. My three protagonists are people trying to make the world a better place.

Escandón focused his novel, “LA Weather” on the daily effect of the weather on a family.

“The staff is universal,” she said.

While one of her characters is obsessed with the weather channel, Escandón wanted her to experience the weather. The novel follows the actual changes in the weather in LA in 2016 and how those changes affected the characters.

Her book examines how individuals in a family come together to bring about change.

“This climate anxiety that you feel comes from not knowing how to proceed. I believe that kind of an antidote to climate anxiety is to have agency, to have the awareness to determine what kinds of habits I can change.

For Ash Davidson, writing “Damnation Spring” took her back to her birthplace, the California-Oregon border and the 1977 struggle against attempts to conserve the remaining redwood reservations. Writing about a time when herbicide runoff poisoned those who lived there, Davidson was introduced to a different form of climatic grief. Rather than sticking to the divide between ecologists and lumberjacks, she makes one of her protagonists a lumberjack and then writes from his point of view. She built on her characterization by interviewing those who worked in the timber industry.

“Grieving is not just about place,” she said. “It’s also about work, a kind of grief that could translate to many industries and small towns across the country. There are real questions about what happens to these workers, and I was interested in the particular grief of losing a profession that defines you and defines your identity.

Davidson found inspiration in recognizing that giant sequoias have always found ways to adapt. Despite the loss of moisture from the fog, “the research reminds me of the magic and intelligence of the natural.”

“I think some cultures recognize more than others,” she said. “Since the 1970s, redwoods have gained more mass because they have more carbon dioxide available to them. Redwoods are naturally hardy, and redwood has bark that helps resist insect infestation, and an old growth redwood can have bark up to a foot thick, which will protect it from low to medium fires. intensity.

Panelists agreed that research on climate change made them feel better about the future. Being able to name the problem gave them power over it.

“I don’t normally tend to be hopeful, but I was thinking so much about rituals and what was happening to our public rituals of mourning and grief, which we were all going through differently during the pandemic,” Friedman said. “And it also inspired me to write towards hope.

“What happened while writing my book is that these friendships were made between these women, I was also very interested in the grand scale of love. Friendship and love happen at the in the middle of it all. They’re helpless to do anything, but these bonds are forming.


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