Artists and Poets and Climate Change

 – a note from Dr. Faisal Moola, Director General of the David Suzuki Foundation, Ontario and Northern Canada.

Hello friends,

Recently the world’s  authority on the science of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released a major report that summarized our current state of knowledge on the impacts of global warming on the planet. The scientists reported that changes to our climate from the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions will mean higher food prices, will threaten our communities with more frequent and intense storms, and are already harming our forests, oceans and other wildlife habitat. The impacts of climate change overseas, especially in developing nations, are far more horrific.

We’ve heard these sorts of dire warnings from the science community before, and sadly, it is unlikely that the publication of these new findings by the IPCC will have much impact on the public, let alone our policy-makers.

Enter Zadie Smith.

The English novelist and essayist published an article in the New York Review of Books timed with the IPCC report. It  also addressed the impacts of climate change, but in a very different way. In her piece, titled “Elegy for a Country’s Seasons”, Smith writes of those intimate experiences that we are losing with climate change.

“What “used to be” is painful to remember. Forcing the spike of an unlit firework into the cold, dry ground. Admiring the frost on the holly berries, en route to school. Taking a long, restorative walk on Boxing Day in the winter glare. Whole football pitches crunching underfoot. A bit of sun on Pancake Day; a little more for the Grand National. Chilly April showers, Wimbledon warmth. July weddings that could trust in fine weather. The distinct possibility of a Glastonbury sunburn. At least, we say to each other, at least August is still reliably ablaze—in Cornwall if not at carnival. And it’s nice that the Scots can take a little more heat with them when they pack up and leave.”

The experiences that Smith describes in her piece (as well as those that are more relevant to Canadians – like the memory of picking berries with your mom, or playing hockey as a kid in a backyard rink), have been described by BC pollster and activist, Angus McAllister, as so-called “sense-prints”.

In focus group testing with the public, McAllister has discovered the immense power of “sense-prints” as an effective vehicle to motivate environmental action among Canadians:

“These “sense-prints” seem to consistently bring people back emotionally to what they love about [BC] nature. As people shared their stories on a sensory and feeling level, it was clear that others were listening deeply. Participants in all groups were highly engaged and enthralled while both describing and listening to these experiences. The smiling, nodding and exclamations by others, during the groups suggest that such sensory and emotional stories are very powerful ways of getting others to listen and for strangers to rapidly experience a sense of shared and common connection. ” – Angus McAllister.

For me, Zadie Smith’s essay is a reminder of the power of story-telling and the importance of artists and poets coming together with scientists to protect our precious wild lands and wildlife.

You can read the full essay here:

Warmest wishes

– Faisal

Dr. Faisal Moola, PhD
Director General
Ontario and Northern Canada
David Suzuki Foundation
179 John St, Suite 102
Toronto, ON, M5T 1X4
Phone: Mobile: 647.993.5788
Office: 416-348-9885

Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto
Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University