Feeling gloomy about the climate? Check out a fiction project that paints positive futures

Plus, an expert shares self-care tips for climate professionals.
By Mike Munsell

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Canary Media’s Friday Social column explores the intersection of energy, climate and social media. Canary thanks Silverline Communications for its support of the column.

I have a hypothesis but don’t yet have the data to back it up. Here it is: Individuals working in climatetech and renewables are more likely to be dealing with climate anxiety than those outside of the industry.

We’re inundated with emissions charts. Our Twitter feeds are full of climate catastrophe stories and political stagnation. For us, the climate news cycle is a constant in our day-to-day life.

Tegan Campia, founder and CEO of Carbon Culture, an emotional-resilience consultancy that supports climate-aligned industries, agrees with this hypothesis and has built a business around it.

The decision to give your life, your career, to this one thing is typically born out of a deep love of the earth, of life on this planet,” says Campia. The climate anxiety we feel is a fear of losing that.”

I asked her what tools are available for professionals dealing with climate anxiety.

First and most foundational is having a compassion practice,” explains Campia. It’s a similar idea to mindfulness. She recommends finding a sit spot” and giving yourself at least five minutes there each day to observe. Whatever feelings come up, observe them and give them compassion.”

Campia says it’s important to give compassion to others as well. One of the most powerful things you can do is be with someone else in their suffering. The hard part of climate anxiety is that it’s not fully accepted yet in our society or culture, so you feel pretty alone in terms of that experience,” she says.

Another tried and true way of coping with anxiety or grief is through creative expression. I recently came across a new group doing just that.

Enter Flourish Fiction

Flourish Fiction is a new project with a website and newsletter that are home to positive and hopeful fiction writing about climate.

The About page states:

If climate change means that we need to change a lot about our society in order to adapt and thrive, then we need imagination to envision new ways of doing things. But while climate fiction has emerged as a new genre, the stories within it lean dystopian.

We need more hopeful stories to awaken imagination and help inspire the next generation of climate solutions.

Flourish Fiction emerged out of the On Deck climate fellowship. Founders Anya Lamb, Blake Atkerson and Ben Soltoff met through the fellowship and were later inspired by a storytelling workshop led by Roope Mokka of Untitled.

The workshop reminded us that storytelling is critical for imagining and inspiring social transformation, and that’s exactly what we need to address climate change,” said Lamb.

I caught up with the co-founders to chat via email about the new project.

Munsell: Can you expand a bit more on the inception of Flourish beyond what’s on the About page?

Lamb: We considered a one-off publication, but eventually we settled on doing a longer-term project in order to create more opportunities for writers and to build a lasting community. Drawing inspiration from the Grist Imagine 2200 contest, we decided to seek hopeful narratives, showcasing the role of solutions and new technology, but also emphasizing diversity, justice and the wonder of nature. Once we had the idea for creating a climate fiction project,” as we then called it, we started getting the word out to the rest of the fellows to see who might be interested in starting it with us or contributing. We started out with larger group meetings where we pitched the project, honed the vision and worked out the basics of how the collective would function. Since then, we’ve organized meetings and teams around marketing, editing and workshops. Although Blake, Ben and I have been the most consistent contributors, Flourish is truly a collective in the sense that it is entirely volunteer-driven.

Soltoff: Working on climatetech has uniquely shaped our approach to fiction. Everyone is going to deal with climate change, so every voice has a place in climate fiction, but those of us who work day in and day out on climate change have unique insight into the genre. We know what the potential solutions are and how they work. We also have a unique need for emotional release. It can be exhausting and disheartening to think about climate change for a living. Imagining a brighter future can be a major morale boost.

Munsell: Without intending to, I’m finding myself on the climate-positive” beat, covering Pique Action, The Garbage Queen and the podcast How to Save a Planet. Flourish clearly fits in that bucket. Do you see a broader trend happening right now around dispelling climate doom and instead encouraging belief in a hopeful future?

Lamb: Yes, I absolutely see a broader trend happening around dispelling climate doom and telling more hopeful and solution-oriented stories. I also believe it’s coordinated, intentional and based on the understanding that despair leads to paralysis while hope is vital for galvanizing action. When we despair, we fail, because we fail to act. But when we have hope — when we believe we are capable — we make ourselves more likely to succeed, because we are more willing to take the actions necessary for success. If I were to theorize about where this shift came from, I would imagine it’s been driven in part by self-reflection within journalism about what went wrong with early climate storytelling (too much doom and gloom), in part by an effort within climate-activist circles not to repeat the mistakes of the Occupy movement (namely, focusing too much on problems instead of solutions), and in part by the many companies out there working on or investing in climate solutions who want to get good PR for their brands.

Atkerson: People are tired of the same warnings of planetary catastrophe. We need to be aware of these risks, but more people are looking for a way to avoid the worst-case scenario. The problem is that there are few outlets that promote opportunities to make a difference. I think that is starting to change.

Soltoff: I don’t think there’s ever been a challenge in human history that’s been hampered by too much hope and positivity. Obviously, those things need to be grounded in honestly understanding problems and taking real action to address them, but I think a sense of optimism is essential when we talk about climate change. If we’re totally screwed, then why even bother? Along those same lines, it’s also important to bring joy and fun into climate action. The work is hard, and it’s draining. No one is going to do it if it comes with a constant feeling of panic and anxiety. Like with many other encouraging developments in climate action, I give a lot of credit to youth-led activist movements for this recent injection of positivity. The kids know how to fight fiercely for their future while also having a good time.

Munsell: Do you have a favorite fiction author or a piece of fiction that you’ve recently read?

Lamb: The best works of fiction that I read in 2021 were The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin and Persuasion by Jane Austen. (If I’m honest, I have to admit that Jane Austen is my all-time favorite fiction author.) I love a good redemption arc, and these works all had them.

Soltoff: This year, I’ve read a few works of climate fiction that have gotten some recent attention: Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler and The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. All three books imagine a not-too-distant future addled by climate change and related social unrest, told through hyper-realistic first-person narratives. Butler was a visionary and truly ahead of her time in so many ways. But I always warn people that her books are not particularly uplifting. The greatest hope that they present is the prospect of leaving Earth entirely. Robinson’s book has a more earthbound idea of hope through bold action and systems change. I’d recommend all three for folks looking to get a primer on cli-fi.

Munsell: I saw that you’re taking submissions of fiction and looking for volunteers. What message do you have for Canary readers who might be interested in participating?

Soltoff: Don’t be afraid to submit your work! Even if you’ve never published anything before. Especially if you’ve never published anything before. We’re an open and welcoming community, and most of our members are amateur writers. If you’re not ready to write something, you can become a community reader who reviews other people’s work and provides feedback. You can also attend our online workshops to build new skills. And of course, it’s totally OK for you to treat climate fiction as a spectator sport. Subscribe to Flourish Fiction on Substack to get stories and poems directly in your inbox, or follow us on social media (we’re on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook).

Munsell: Is there anything else you want to add?

Atkerson: We are a volunteer group and are always looking for more volunteers to be community readers. We are also seeking sponsorships in 2022 so we can continue to grow and spread hope in the climate space.

That’s it for Friday Social this year! If you have suggestions for new stories, email [email protected] or get in touch with me on LinkedIn or Twitter. And speaking of Twitter, be sure to follow Canary Media and help us get to 10,000 followers by the end of 2021! It’ll make Canary’s Stephanie Primavera very happy.

Silverline Communications, the supporter of this column, is a climatetech and ESG communications firm with deep experience in all facets of the clean economy. Learn more about how Silverline connects clients with stakeholders on social channels and beyond.

Mike Munsell is director of growth at Canary Media.