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  • Writer's pictureMike Gould

Do words matter in the climate debate?

Can writing about climate change make a difference or are we just scribbling lines in the water?

The power of the writer

If there has been something I have grappled with most over recent years, it is that feeling of 'writing impotence', for want of a better term. So, what do I mean by this? Well, my profession and my particular skill-set sits between writing and education. I have written over 250 books (counting many short readers alongside the more substantial coursebooks) some of which have sold very well. So, there's an audience out there - whether it is primary age children reading my latest book on wildfires or insect food, or older, international students studying 'global perspectives.' But - and it's a big 'BUT' - does any of it make any difference?

How do we know if anyone is listening?

Of course, there are sometimes glimpses which suggest an influence. A review or letter from a student, 5 stars on Amazon for a revision workbook, anecdotal feedback from other writers, colleagues etc. Yet, when it comes to the issue which increasingly absorbs my thinking - the darkening shadow of climate change and the concomitant lack of government action and corporate responsibility - the pen fails.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Does writing about it change much? More eloquent advocates than me, such as George Monbiot or Isabella Tree, have been pushing for change for years, whether that is in holding oil producers to account or proposing schemes to increase bio-diversity. But even their forceful words - and in Isabella Tree's Knepp rewilding experiment - actions, could be seen to have had limited effect. We have a government at the time of writing whose commitment to renewables is predicated on private investment rather than public subsidy. A government who prefer to pursue an untested and risky carbon-capture policy in order to allow continued investment in oil and gas.

So, the question remains. Can my words - anyone's written words - sway the policy makers? Because, in the end, they are the people we need to persuade. The people who may have second jobs or directorships with fossil fuel firms or are linked by friend, family or business to investment funds dependent on the continuation of the status quo. Can words still matter? Or are the Stop the Oil protestors in court for climbing the Dartford bridge, the Martin Luther Kings of the new age? Can we afford to wait for the collective drip-drip of writers citing climate warnings to penetrate the shell of government and vested interests?

We can't escape words

I suppose that in the end, there will always be words. Whether it is a banner held up on a beach telling Southern Water to 'Cut the crap' and stop polluting the south coast, or even the 'XR' name - pithy in its message to rebel against our future extinction - words do and must matter. Laws are written in words, policies framed in them, investments described by them. The trick is to get those who hold the pen in these situations, or who sit at their laptops at their office or kitchen-table, to write a new story.

None of us who care about the climate and the environment should give up or stop writing about it. But we need to know that our words are not enough. Ultimately, the most compelling mark on paper we may ever make might be at the ballot box. Let's write the deniers and the vested interests out of existence.

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