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The Death of Literature


Imagine our world without literature.

Whenever I can cobble moments together, I write. It’s my first, best thing. I have a middle reader under development that will be a pretty good book once I commit the final chapter to paper. It’s what I do with every stolen minute as we struggle through bankruptcy.

I write because I love to read. From my earliest days and on through a caroming adolescence, I found solace in books. Through illness and 14 years of daily migraines — more than 5,000 in all — I found hope and enrichment in our stories. And in the turning of those many pages, I discovered the strength to keep stumbling through what seemed a grey, uncaring world.

Somehow, I survived, and now feel a great debt. So how can I keep from blanching when I cast an eye to our future, and see only misery for my dearly beloved?

The planet is warming.

Thirty-five years ago, I spent three solid months each winter playing hockey on frozen lakes. Today, Nova Scotia players hone their peewee hockey skills in rinks, their parents stamping for warmth in the frozen stands. As a writer, I keenly observe my surroundings, noticing that the trees bud earlier in spring, that robins now live year-round in a place where that once meant certain death.

These subtle changes have been wrought with less than 1°C of warmth. Yet even that shift is profound. The scorching summers of Harry Potter’s Britain would flabbergast Oliver Twist. So what should we expect when 5°C (9°F) of warming befalls our children, and their children, as scientists now predict will come this century?

We have a good idea, and I can easily hit the low points. For every degree average temperatures rise, rice yields will fall by 15 percent, leaving huge swathes of population hungry. The U.S. Midwest’s famed bread basket will become a dust bowl, and Mediterranean crop yields will fall by 30 percent or more.

As the glaciers melt away, more than one billion Asians and South Americans will be left without adequate water. The Amazon rainforests will all but disappear, as that teeming mass of flora and fauna cannot adapt to dramatic temperature swings. More than 50 percent of the world’s wildlife diversity will be snuffed, so rhinos, lions, and giraffes might only live on in legend.

Massive hurricanes will be rife, and sea levels will rise by as much as six feet, so humanity will gradually abandon coastal cities like Los Angeles, Shanghai, and Mumbai. Considerable parts of Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Florida, will become uninhabitable swamp. Dozens of Darfurs will erupt, and our planet will swarm with brown, yellow, black and white climate refugees.

Many reputable scientists think that Earth will support fewer than one billion people by 2100, so this isn’t a fantasy conjured by a melancholy fatalist.

This is our path.

We can quibble at the edges, but the science supporting this dystopia is as irrefutable as the research proving that smoking causes cancer, or that natural selection creates new species. If you have heard otherwise, it’s because fossil fuel companies and ideologues have muddied waters with slick campaigns that have fooled journalists and economic pundits.

Lord Nicholas Stern, former World Bank Chief Economist, suggests that one-third of global GDP will be spent mitigating climate change if we don’t act soon. Humanity will be so stressed by the endless struggle and suffering that our very best things will be stricken from memory. I know from personal experience that physical pain strips the words from writers. But then again, who will have time for Isabel Allende when harvest after harvest fails? Could some new Picasso inspire anyone as Amsterdam is returned to the sea? Could Mozart’s Requiem move future generations to tears as they huddle through their sixth Katrina in as many years?

Our scientists have done a great service in defining the treacherous path that awaits. Now artists and artisans must heed that call, and bring their talent and creativity to bear. We need to breathe life into this message, so that our brothers and sisters, our politicians, our teachers, our manufacturers and regulators will hear the cry, and create justice for those who follow. Artists must get informed, and act boldly. We need our writers, poets, designers, sculptors, inventors, and musicians to use their creativity to bring action to a world that sorely needs it.

North America’s First Nations have a wonderful expression: We do not inherit this world from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.

We must rise to the greatness of our myths and legends, or we shall diminish, and those few who follow will hate us for as long as they draw breath, long after we have shuffled off this mortal coil.

4 Responses to “The Death of Literature”

  1. Nancy Bond says:

    Shades of Nostradamus. Well said, Richard, as always.

  2. Tom Cross/ Linda L. says:

    A fitting reminder on Earth Day for the generation brought up in a culture of excess.

  3. Don’t worry Richard, I’m not going to let your worst fears come true. For not only am I writing more and better stuff than I ever have before in response to our generation’s call to lead, but I’m also DOING more –

    Learning to install solar so I’m able to do volunteer solar panel installations on Habitat for Humanity houses like the one I did last week with GRID Alternatives. I’m tabling at events every week for the South Bay Environmental Services Center and the Environmental Priorities Network teaching people the truth about climate change and the carbon collaborators while I also give out CFL bulbs and useful info on saving energy, plug-in cars and going solar.

    I’m doing the research, creating the PowerPoint and making presentations to city councils, state senators and any other groups that will listen about my state of California’s AB 811 solar loan programs and how they can participate.

    I’m building free websites for green non profits, I’m doing pro bono work for my environmentally friendly state senator, and I’m producing free flyers and fact sheets for the Teaching Green group. I’m doing every damn thing I can and I’m making a difference every day.

    And I’m not the only one. Every day I work with other people who dedicating their talents to being the change.

    So I say don’t get sad, and don’t get weepy, get up, get out and get going! If not you, then who? If not now, then when?

    Once your perspective puts you in the place of “We’re in a monumental crisis of worldwide proportions” then it’s not exactly a giant leap to realizing that doing something about it is your #1 priority.

    If you’re really going to draw the line in sand, then mean it and start acting like the tipping point has already arrived. You’ll motivate a hell of a lot more people by DOING then you will with any words you write concerning your thoughts on the subject.

    We cannot make the changes we are tasked with by merely typing on a keyboard. We must be in the streets, with the people, hands-on, on their roofs, in their homes, at their schools, where they work, walking the walk and not just talking the talk.

    My philosophy as a writer for the past 30 years is – it’s always better to write about something you’ve actually accomplished and experienced then something just imagined and dreamed of.

  4. Richard says:

    Thanks for the comments, Nancy and Linda.

    Joe, I appreciate the thoughts, but now I’m thinking that I didn’t do a very good job at explaining. I’m just starting to get in gear!

    This is a call to artists and artisans, not me giving up the ghost. I was hoping to inspire a few of them to start working to change the world.

    And I’m doing exactly as you are doing. We’re leaving our small, backward town and moving to the city, where we’ll be renovating a small house to make it green, and where I can get more fully engaged in the climate change movement. I have about three or four projects planned for One Blue Marble that I hope will turn up the heat on politicians, and I’m putting out feelers to other groups.

    And I’ve started working harder on my middle reader; I figure I’ll have more clout as a published writer ad that I can talk about things that are important to me.

    So I appreciate the pep talk, and I can’t wait to get busy!