As a climate activist and sustainability academic, a key concern is that most communications are preaching to the converted. There are many ‘cli-fi’ stories that present dystopian visions of what will happen if we don’t act. These can be unexpectedly problematic, as such stories may lead to denial or fear-driven ‘prepping’ responses (buying up all the toilet rolls!) rather than to positive climate action.
There are also numerous eco-fiction stories that persuade us to love nature and plant trees but get us no nearer to understanding what the really effective solutions are and, even more importantly, how we might get there from where we are. This is a gap that few books cover.
In 2018 I set up the Green Stories project. The goal is to use fiction to engage those who might never choose to watch a climate change documentary. We’ve run 16 free writing competitions encouraging writers to check out the key climate solutions on our website and embed them in stories aimed at the mainstream.
Inspired by a rom-com
Last year we teamed experienced writers with climate experts to compile an anthology of 24 stories: No More Fairy Tales: Stories to Save Our Planet. Readers can see how to help make change happen by following links to the accompanying website, which shows what they can do to progress each idea.
This anthology fills an important gap. It uses fiction as a safe space to explore the more radical transformative ideas necessary for a truly sustainable society – ideas that are hard for politicians to talk about for fear of being misunderstood, as they can’t easily fit into a soundbite.
Stories range from technical solutions relating to carbon dioxide removal projects to switching to a sharing economy.
Whodunnit: who is the assassin?
One story was also published as a standalone novella. The Assassin is a fun whodunnit set in a citizens’ assembly, where eight participants, one of whom is an assassin, meet to deliberate on climate solutions.
We’re adapting The Assassin as an interactive play, which we hope will help to raise awareness of the potential of citizens’ assemblies as perhaps the most important climate solution of all.
We’ve had the climate solutions in place for decades but, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reminded us, governments have failed to act. And we currently remain on course for disaster.
Citizens’ assemblies: the solution?
Citizens’ assemblies can range from 50 to hundreds of citizens, randomly selected to reflect the make-up of society in terms of gender, class, ethnicity, location and so on. They have worked exceedingly well in Northern Ireland, where citizens’ assemblies broke the deadlock on controversial issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion.
Extinction Rebellion protesters in Melbourne demand politicians give citizens power to tackle the climate crisis. Photo credit: Matt Hrkac
They have also flourished in US and Europe. For example, In France, citizens’ assemblies have directly influenced legislation such as enforcement of the ban on planned obsolescence and introducing the crime of ‘ecocide’. In Gdańsk, Poland, an assembly of 60 citizens changed city policy on issues such as flood risk and air pollution.
A key benefit this participative approach has over our current representative democracy is that citizens’ assemblies aren’t constrained by the four- to five-year electoral cycle, which is a barrier to long-term decision-making. Research indicates they make more sustainable decisions and enable access to decision-making by diverse representative groups of people who are informed by experts rather than lobbied by vested interests.
Their only drawback is that, in most cases, governments have no obligation to act on their recommendations.
I agree with the growing number of organisations (such as Involve, FDSD, XR) who believe that granting legislative power to citizens’ assemblies could be the magic bullet that will help us to adopt the climate-friendly policies that can save us. This is why the Sortition Foundation, among others, is proposing a House of Citizens to replace the House of Lords.
It is important to raise awareness of the kinds of transformative solutions that will help to avert the worst of the climate crisis. Citizens’ assemblies could be one very important step in this process.
Want to get involved?
Check out books published from the Green Stories project here. If you like them, please leave a review; it really helps. Share details of our upcoming free green stories competition with any aspiring writers.
Join the next big Extinction Rebellion protest in London on 21 April.