A SAINT Andrew’s Day event is to look at the light literature can shed on the current climate crisis.

Writers in Scotland who are helping to change the climate narrative will be the focus of the talk by Edinburgh based author and activist Jessica Gaitan Johannesson and David Farrier, chair in literature and the environment at the University of Edinburgh.

“Particularly now with COP27 and so many doubts about whether the target of 1.5C is still achievable, I think it is so important that we have conversations like this,” Professor Farrier told the Sunday National.

“The temptation now is to say what is the point, but literature could help us in the messy, difficult work of finding and sustaining hope. We have to cultivate the mindset that says we can change, we can have hope and having conversations about stories and poems and songs and so on can help with that.”

While it is unrealistic to expect writers and poets to provide answers, the conversations they can stimulate can lead to positive action, Farrier, pictured below left, believes.

“Literature is not creating policy and it is not going to change anyone’s life but it does give that imaginative space to get to the policy and real world decisions a bit quicker,” he said.

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The three strands of the talk will look at how literature can connect the climate crisis to ideas of community and personal relationships, how it can address the colonial roots of the climate crisis and how literature can connect humans with all the other lifeforms equally affected by climate change.

“Literature can create opportunities for conversations about how we want to live, what we value and the decisions we are going to have to make about how we use energy, land and resources and the different rights and claims of people in different parts of the world,” said Professor Farrier, author of Footprints: In Search of Future Fossils. Johannesson said there should be more connection between literature and activism.

“Let’s not just read the books – let’s read the books and then do something,” she said.

“And we need to look at all kinds of storytelling, not just those that are given space in the publishing industry. Some of the authors we’ll be talking about during the event are fantastic examples, as they expand storytelling boundaries, inspiring new visions. With Scotland being at the heart of the oil industry, and new fossil fuel projects going forward in the North Sea, it’s particularly important to ask how our writing is engaging with all aspects of this history.”

A member of Climate Camp Scotland who was part of the camp in Aberdeen this summer, Johannesson became involved in climate activism following the 2018 IPCC report that warned about the catastrophic effect on the world if global warming is not limited to 1.5C.

At the start of her activism she was more focussed on emissions, then realised quickly that any meaningful action needs to centre on justice, or the exploitation will continue with a “green” label on it.

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Johannesson said it wasn’t surprising that more people were getting involved in radical direct action like the controversial Just Stop Oil protests.

“I think we are in a desperate situation and it’s not surprising at all that people are getting more desperate but the disruption that people are causing through Just Stop Oil is absolutely nothing compared with a huge swathe of Pakistan being underwater,” she said.

Likewise the reaction to the recent direct action when soup was thrown on a Van Gogh painting was “ridiculous”, according to Johannesson, author of The Nerves and Their Endings: Essays on Crisis and Response.

“Of course I love pieces of art but the wider picture needs to be there,” she said. “For one thing the painting is covered in glass and the point is that people see soup being thrown on a piece of art as violent because that piece of art carries an acknowledged value in this part of the world, yet the floods in Pakistan are not seen as an act of violence because the perpetrators, the CEOs of fossil fuel companies, are not visible and that connection is not made.”

Like many other activists, she did not have any illusions that the COP27 global climate conference in Egypt, which has just ended, would achieve much.

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“I had no hopes at all for COP,” said Johannesson. “It was a bit of a joke when it was in Glasgow and even more of a joke in a state that has thousands of political prisoners – clearly the Egyptian state was greenwashing, as it is a very unpopular regime. That was so clear, particularly with the example of Alaa Abd El-Fattah, a British-Egyptian who has just come out of a hunger strike he started in April.

There was no proof of life for days during COP and although people around the world were calling on the UK Government to do more, all the UK did was raise a question about him – what kind of message does that give?”

Johannesson may have no hope in the global powers but she does believe civil society and grassroots organisations have the will to create positive change.

“I think there is huge power in that – we just need to organise more and get more people on board,” she said.

The books that will be discussed at the event in Edinburgh’s Storytelling Centre are:

How literature can connect the climate crisis to ideas of community and relationships: Harry Josephine Giles, Deep Wheel Orcadia; Daisy Lafarge, Life Without Air.

How literature can address the colonial / extractive roots of the climate crisis:Mara Menzies, Blood and Gold; Tabitha Lasley, Sea State.

How literature can connects humans and non-humans: Alice Tarbuck, A Spell in the Wild; Anthony Vahni Capildeo, Venus as a Bear