Dystopian visions of our ecological future have become extremely popular—and profitable. 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, especially by corporate interests and their ultra-conservative counterparts. Despairing and depressed about what’s in store for us—or focused on how to be “tough guys” in a bleak 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 “thriving 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 what lies ahead, I feel historical fiction has a unique and important role to play in imagining a flourishing future.
Hilary Scharper is a Canadian novelist and a professor at the University of Toronto where she teaches courses on animals, culture and nature.