Dystopian visions of our ecological future seem to dominate both popular-culture and popular-consciousness. Many of these foster fear, despondency and hopelessness about the fate of our planet. Apocalyptic environmental scenarios often encourage “survival” modes, promoting violence and laissez-faire individualism along the way. I think this makes us very susceptible to manipulation. Despairing and depressed about what’s in store for us—or focused on how to be “tough guys” in an anarchic future—how can we reasonably take on the climate politics of the present?
Climate change involves facing the ‘facts’ and taking responsibility where we can. But I think it also entails imagining a thriving future and taking steps toward it. What kinds of narratives, then, might feed this kind of imagining? What kinds of music? Art? Poetry? Films? Stories? As one reviewer of my work put it: how do we think through what it might look like to translate our eco-activism into imaginative art forms?
My current work weaves together historical fiction and a new literary genre called the “ecogothic.” Given that our conceptions of the past profoundly shape how we envision the future, I feel historical fiction has a unique and important role to play. For me, the environmental crisis is an invitation to create new imaginings of the past and its possible futures.
Hilary Scharper is a Canadian novelist and a professor of at the University of Toronto where she teaches courses on animals, culture and nature.