What’s the climate story for 2022?
So, we made it to the end of 2021. That was definitely an achievement. But what will our 2022 story be?
I spoke with two brilliant authors about the new stories that are bubbling up on climate change in 2022. And how each of us has a choice to invest in a certain storyline, one that designs a shared future that is all about love, about care, about human agency.
Alice Bell’s “Our Biggest Experiment”, tells the incredible story of the history of climate change, and traces the journey of where we came from, while Alina Siegfried’s “A Future Untold”, digs into some of the shifting myths that could shape the way the 2020s unfold.
We talked about COP26, and which stories are likely to bubble up in its aftermath, things like “polluter elite”. Spoiler alert here – its not just the super rich, but its people like you and me.
On whether the 2020 window for disruptive change might be closing.
We find out that the term “tree hugger” comes from 18th century India and some courageous women who gave their lives to save their trees.
But above all, the message that shines through loud and clear is that change is coming, and we all have a choice to choose the story that we tell ourselves about how that change unfolds.
So wherever you are, however hard it was to get there in these final days of an epic year, let’s take a moment to make that choice and make it a beautiful one.
Alice Bell is co-director at the UK climate change charity Possible, working on a range of projects from community tree planting events to campaigns for clean home heating or research into solar powered railways. She was a lecturer in science communication at Imperial College, where she also completed a PhD, launched a college-wide interdisciplinary course on climate change and worked on the 2010 review of BBC science coverage. She’s also worked at Sussex’s Science Policy Research Unit, City Journalism School, the Science Museum and as a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of Can We Save the Planet?, a primer on 21st century environmental problems, and Our Biggest Experiment, a history of the climate crisis.
Alina Siegfried is a storyteller, narrative strategist, systems change advocate, TEDx speaker, and award-winning spoken word artist (AKA Ali Jacs, 2012 NZ Poetry Slam Champion) from Wellington, New Zealand. Alina’s journey in storytelling and communications has taken her through environmental advocacy, political issues campaigning, social enterprise, crowdfunding, arts, and community development. In her role as the founding Communications Lead of the Edmund Hillary Fellowship, she has helped bring together a global community of 500 world-leading entrepreneurs, investors, artists, and systems change leaders to develop transformative solutions to pressing global challenges.
Our stories, um, don’t, don’t so much even describe our reality as they create it. So, um, keeping in mind a more hopeful and beautiful narrative of the future is, is a big part of it.
There are multiple different futures on offer for us, which ones we choose. Uh, you know, as citizens of the twenties, 2020s, we have to choose those futures. It’s a really big responsibility, so we better get it right.
And let’s choose a beautiful one. You know what? Let’s choose one that’s full of support and help helping each other rather than the dystopias, because it doesn’t have to be that way. It really doesn’t not yet.
Denise: 2021 is almost done.
But what will next year bring? What’s our 2022 climate story?
To find out I turned to 2 brilliant authors who published books this year.
Alice Bell’s “Our Biggest Experiment”, tells the incredible and little known story of the history of climate change, while Alina Siegfried’s “A Future Untold”, digs into the shifting myths that could shape the way the 2020s unfold.
We talked about COP26, and which stories are bubbling up – things like the “polluter elite”, the methane moment, the arrival of new and diverse narrators of our climate story.
We find out that the term “tree hugger” comes from 18th century India and some courageous women who gave their lives to save their trees.
What jumps out from this conversation is that change is coming, and we all have a choice to choose the story that we tell ourselves about how that change unfolds.
So wherever you are, however hard it was to get there in these final days of this epic year, let’s take a moment to make that choice and make it a beautiful one.
Denise: So today we’re going to be talking about climate change and narrative and, um, some stuff in between. And, um, I’m thrilled to be speaking with two of my favorite narrative authors, uh, both of whom have written books this year.
Uh, and so I’m here with Alice Bell, who’s in London and Elena Siegfried. Who’s in New Zealand. Um, could I ask you to first introduce yourselves, uh, and, uh, tell us a little bit about your book and what the title means.
Alice: I’m Alice Bell and I’ve written a book called Our Biggest Experiment, a history of the climate crisis. Uh, the second bit is the bit that explains what it is. It’s a history of the climate crisis, kind of from the early origins of discovering that carbon dioxide was a thing, let alone that it had a heating impacts on the earth and that we could burn coal and use it to move things.
And eventually also cause damage. Um, and it’s called our biggest experiment. Uh, I’ve taken, uh, from a line, a much quoted and reused and in truly environmentally. approach recycled line from a scientist called Roger Revelle in the 1950s, did some really, really key research on climate science and concluded that humanity were conducting a giant, giant geophysical experiments on the earth. And I spent all this time researching really different experiments, whether they were building steam engines or steam trains or unraveling the mysteries of the atmosphere. And it felt appropriate title for the book.
Alina: Hello everybody. I’m Alina Siegfried in my book that I’ve written this year, it’s called a future untold the power of story to transform the world and ourselves. Um, and this book is a combination of around. 10 years of, of the lessons that I’ve learnt in storytelling for change, storytelling for impact and systemic change and the role of, of narrative and myths in how we frame our, um, our present and future.
And it’s very much a story of, of stories. Um, it’s lots of anecdote, interviews. There’s a few of my spoken word poems in there as well as I’m a spoken word artist who uses words to creatively get these messages across. And yeah, it’s, um, it’s very much a book of hope, I think, um, of, of where, where we could go in the future if we just, uh, tell a different story.
Denise: So, um, I wanted to bring the two of you together because I think it’s a nice fit. Um, Alice’s book is really about the past, but, you know, um, as you read the book, you, you can pick up a lot of actually seeds of. Some of the stories that we’re still telling about climate change today, um, and Alina, your book projects into the future in a really nice way.
You’ve got these 10, you know, um, old to new narratives, which, um, we can talk about a little bit later, but, um, I wanted to start by talking about, so we’re recording in December of 2021, which is, um, uh, the. Cop 26 happened in Glasgow last month. And, um, so Alice, I’d like to turn to you first and ask you, what’s your take on what is the right now narrative that we have on climate change and what are some things that might be bubbling up that people can start to look out for in 2022, which might have potential for transformative change?
Alice: I think that. A story that people now feel is quite an old story. I think that one of the things I noticed while researching my book was how new it must’ve felt for people, even in the 1980s when it had actually been scientifically around for a long time and politically discussed for a long time, but it sort of felt new.
And I remember that myself, it felt new. It felt new in the eighties and the nineties and the noughties. And I think a lot of us have been through that and go, oh no, this is old. Just the people, you know, youth strikers who are 19, but have been striking for three years. If you’re 19 three years, it’s very, very old.
I think there’s a danger that, uh, I think lots of us who’ve been working in the climate movement have known that it’s been creeping up the public agenda for a few years and we’ve sort of been thinking, when’s it going to fall? Cause it did this before, just before Copenhagen, it crept up and up and up and then it really sank.
And a lot of us have been thinking, is this going to happen again? And you can trace these sort of bubbles on climate change. It sort of can trace it back to like 1911 and sort of when you first see these news stories about coal causing climate change, bubbles up and then disappears and bubble up, when it is going to disappear?
I’ve been waiting for it to disappear for the last two years. And it hasn’t. And I feel, on the other side of COP, I actually feel maybe, maybe it’s here to stay, but it is one that people feel is sort of established maybe rather than old. And it’s going to go cause we’re bored and we want a new fashion.
I think maybe when are like, oh, it’s established, it’s something we agree on. That’s a few people who disagree with us, but basically need to get us. I think that’s the major thing I’d say about the story of climate change now.
Denise: So you mean the you’re referring to the it’s us it’s bad and we can do something.
Alice: The basic core is kind of that. But then I think what there is also is a lot more depth and complexity to it.
So. As with any of these things, there are billions of different versions of what climate change means for all the different people around the world. Um, but I think, you know, people who are interested in climate change and, uh, following it beyond just, yes, it’s us, it’s happening its bad as seeing and are able to have a lot of avenues to explore lots of different things, whether its different perspectives or climate impacts, different ideas about how we might take the future, whose version of the future, we’re going to play up to.
Yeah, it’s not just a carbon story anymore. Like, you know, from the fifties till, well, the seventies, it was definitely a carbon story, but I think even after people were quite clear that there is more than just one greenhouse gas, it’s still, you know, carbon has really dominated.
At COP they invited delegates to have a methane moment and think about methane, and I think that is starting to play into public discussions, to new stories, to things that campaigners talk about over cups of tea, and they’re plotting the next process. How that fits into not just the story of the oil industry versus the public, but also thinking about agriculture, thinking about all sorts of other forms of emissions and kind of climate policing actions.
So I think its getting to be an increasingly diverse story and with that a different set of narrators as well. That’s something I really want to see more happen in the 2020s is just continuing to diversify who are the narrators of the climate story. Cause it still is one that is allowed to be funneled through to some very specific actors.
And it’s been great to have the youth strikers and the way that they’ve not just been, um, a voice youth, but also work together so well to amplify each other’s voices to help internationalize the story. Um, and I think we need to see more and more of that and have more of a sense of the kind of global complexity and multiple voices around the world.
Um, it’s we don’t just think about, what’s not just what the story is, but who are the narrators.
Denise: Um, some other things that seem to be coming up, or also, uh, like we mentioned this earlier, when we spoke about the polluter elite, do you want to say a few words about that? Because it’s a relatively new term.
Alice: Well, I think it’s an example of one of the new phrases that we’ve been offered in the last few years.
Um, you know, going back even further, we’ve had things like climate emergency and climate crisis started to be talked about rather than just climate change, we’ve got a new sets of, uh, vocabularies to help us fashion these stories.
Polluter elite is one that has been deliberately crafted so as to be thinking not just about, oh, it’s just, it’s just China or it’s just rich countries – not just looking at one particular part of society or looking at a different particular part of society, which is not just the super rich, not just the Bill Gates, but the kind of people are sort of still though the very rich, so maybe the top 10% of, depending on how you look at how you choose to frame it, maybe the top 10% around the world, which would include most middle-class people in rich countries.
And they might not think of themselves as the the top anything, but actually when it comes to polluting now, or you might also just look at it at the top 10% of those, of those rich countries, uh, which is certainly just including a lot more than just the billionaires.
Um, and I think that that invites those of us who have normalized high carbon behavior to look at it, like actually having an SUV and frequent flying for short-haul has been allowed to become normal, as if it’s a middle-class activity, as opposed to something that is actually globally puts you in an elite and is polluting as well. Because these things have been normalized as if they aren’t polluting and we’ve been encouraged to, to ignore, to be blinkered to, to the polluting thing.
Denise: I mean, I do, like, I often wonder when I look at the Financial Times, how much longer they can reconcile the contradiction between having this thing that’s called How to Spend It and, you know, being very strong on climate change, the moral money newsletter.
Alice: I did a talk at an FT event. It was an event for subscribers of the magazine at Hampstead, in a nice park, very posh. Great speakers, you know, artists and intellectuals.
They had a group of us talk about climate change. Lots of people were clearly really interested in it. And one of the most interesting speakers was the fashion editor who really, really, she’s a very interesting woman. She’s vegan, will tell you all about vegan leather, says, since, you know, I’m a fashion editor, I love buying new things, but also I appreciate the problems with that.
And it’s interesting to see that the FT, you know, she’s a relatively new hire, uh, and they clearly see that as an important hire for them, THE FT takes a much more analytical approach to fashion than a lot of other magazines, and they want somebody who can analyse it in that kind of depth, and look at the economics and the sustainability and the, you know, the environmental footprint of fashion. Uh, but she’s there. She’s ready for it. Um, so yeah, I think maybe we might see a shift or maybe it will be quite a shift in what it means to be a kind of a rich intellectual, environmentalist with those sorts of groups.
Denise: Um, so Alina, uh, I wanted to ask you about these, some of these 10 old to new narratives that you, um, talk about in your book. Um, and I wanted to ask you if you could pick one of those and maybe talk us through it, um, you know, well, what it says and where do you think we’re going? You know, what would it take for the new one to actually replace the old one?
Alina: Yeah, I think Alice touched on a really key point there in terms of it has become normalized in our, in our middle-class Western wealthy countries, um, to be able to pollute. And we, um, we are sold this idea that, that, that resources are scarce and we need to put a fair price on them, which is, you know, we’ll tie it up.
Um, globally, globally economic systems, but the myth, the myth, or the reframe that I’d like to talk about, um, is reframing, um, a narrative that is rooted in scarcity to one that is more grounded in an idea of abundance. Um, and to use some examples. Around scarcity. We, we, uh, are told that that food is scarce around the world.
Um, but essentially what I, what I see, um, the real problem is is, is one of manufactured scarcity that is tied in with, uh, geo-political issues, with finance issues with, uh, even with cultural issues, you know, we go to the supermarket and we expect out of our projects to look a certain way, um, which of course results in the ugly fruits and vegetables, um, going to waste.
And when we consider that one, third of all food is, uh, that has produced globally goes to waste and feeds absolutely nobody,, then we can start to rethink what scarcity actually means and what are the drivers of that scarcity.
Um, and I think we’ve also seen that in, um, with COVID 19 and the hoarding of vaccines, um, by wealthier countries, you know, we, we need this for our population.
We need to be safe, um, without really considering. The interconnected system within which we all live. And, um, and the fact that it’s going to be better for everybody. If, um, if those in, in the less wealthy countries are also able to, uh, to access those medicines as well.
Denise: The relationship between, um, the climate narratives and the pandemic narratives is an interesting one.
Um, I can’t help thinking that we’re in, we just sort of fell into a collective amnesia and all the energy and the reflection of 2020 has just somehow, um, evaporated. Uh, and I wonder if either of you had any thoughts on that from your respective countries where you are.
Alina: Yeah, it’s really interesting. I mean, in the very early days of the pandemic in New Zealand, there was an incredible level of solidarity between people. And I think we saw that around the world as well. Um, you know, with people playing music on their balconies and banging pots to celebrate healthcare workers. But we had a frame in New Zealand of “A Team of 5 Million”.
And that was, um, you know, that was put out there by our prime minister and repeated often. And it’s, it has become somewhat of a cultural meme, but this year in stark contrast with last year, we’ve turned that around entirely and we’re seeing an unprecedented levels of polarization in New Zealand around the vaccines as, as are many countries.
Um, But yes, it’s, it’s, it’s interesting that sense of amnesia it’s it’s like there was this new narrative possible, and I know myself and a lot of other narrative practitioners and researchers around the world were really excited about this opportunity to develop a new narrative of, of what it means to be living in this moment in time and living on this earth.
And by and large, that, that has been, um, a little bit thrown to the wayside. As people have abandoned that collectivism in favor of a more insular or individualistic approach.
Alice: Yeah. I think one of the things that really could have been quite aware of since the pandemic started is how much people seem to forget the, the pandemic that followed through World War One.
And that, that hasn’t been remembered historically in the same way. Uh, and that’s true of lots of forgetting historically was one real one that struck me actually from a seminar when I was researching my book from a similar period of time was, um, around, around then there used to be quite often memorials to people who died in car accidents.
Um, and you’d have the kind of monuments to the death that the road deaths there will be alongside monuments to people who died in the fields in World War One. And we’ve kept the World War One ones, but we’ve got rid of the car accident ones and celebrated the car and allow the car to dominate our streets.
And maybe, you know, there’s all sorts of these kind of historical forgettings, but it’s really striking that, that pandemic was not entirely forgotten, but kind of just sort of shoved away and worrying that maybe we would do the same thing. Cause it’s just so traumatic. We just don’t want to think about that.
Denise: I mean, I remember last year there was this sort of hope, I mean from especially user like a, a climate campaigner, right. There was a hope that, um, the heightened social awareness, the, all of these things, the solidarity, um, The the, the public spending, all of these things would create a context in which people who worked on change.
And specifically on climate change change could leverage that for some type of system change or, you know, some shifts. And, um, I mean, has there been any evidence for that hope this year, despite all of the tiredness
Alice: Awareness of the importance of green space and I mean, this is very different, different countries in different.
People who live in urban areas. I think there’s a very true in a lot of European countries, probably more so. And, and, uh, or the other European countries in the UK, people live in urban areas, had no access to green space and actually they close the parks because people were congregating in them. And you just think about how, how pooped up everyone felt.
And there was a real sense in the UK of garden privilege. If anyone had any bit of green space that they could access us. When we were initially locked down, you couldn’t really go out much. And people like me are just like I want to have half an hour in the park; if I run around it, the police won’t arrest me. If I sit still, they might come and bother me.
And this was, and this became, people started to appreciate green space, I think with a lot of that. And I hope that that’s have a long-term impact. A bit, the sentence before that people were thinking, oh, this is change is going to happen. This is a big shake up economically, if nothing else. And so for those change makers, how do we seize that change?
Always been aware that there’s all sorts of other people circling, ready to tell, you know, we’ve all read Naomi Klein and disaster capitalism. We know there are people, plenty of people who are much more well-resourced than us, ready to take advantage of the shifts and. I’m also worried that there’ll be an even more extreme appetite to go back to kind of what was seen as normal before.
So like I do a lot of work on aviation and all of our ideas that we were planning and early 2019 and 2018, about what we were going to do to change the narrative when aviation had to be completely thrown out because the narrative has changed on aviation. But part of that is people are like desperate to have the flights that they haven’t been able to have.
Well, how can we, you know, not ignore the reasons why they want to go and see the family they haven’t seen, you know, whilst also helping people to think about the environmental impacts of those flights. It’s creating new opportunities and also new challenges.
So I never felt like it was a simple hope. Like this was some kind of great refresh. It was always just a change.
Denise: Um, if we go briefly back to cop 26, just to revisit the, um, the degree stuff. You know, the, like the 1.8 is within reach or two degrees is within reach and all of that. Um, how are you feeling about that right now? And is it even relevant anymore?
Alice: It’s always been an odd way of talking about it. I mean, it’s one of the things that
caused us a lot of problems as people talking about two degrees and that being allowed to be misunderstood as like people said, beyond two degrees is just terrifying. We don’t want to go, they don’t go without punishment. Oh, right. Does that mean we can go up to two degrees and it’s okay if we’re late on our homework and we can know, but that was allowed to fester.
To the extent you had time activists walking around going, let’s save two degrees. Like that’s something to save and we should have been pushing back so much previously.
I mean now we’re in a position where we know that it’s very, very hard to keep two degrees, but, uh, you know, if we’d had a bit more opportunity earlier, I mean, there’s, um, a colleague of mine at Sussex actually wrote a whole PhD on, he wrote, uh, about, um, about how we create how that narrative of two degrees kind of was created and allowed to become politically salient.
Um, and it’s a problem of, I think politicians understand that they’re wanting targets and wanting numbers and this feeling convenient. Um, but it. It’s now, it’s now hard to chuck because 1.5 has become iconic. Um, and it, it has its uses. It certainly was helping people with. British politicians to be on the more ambitious end of it, because they were publicly saying, we need to keep 1.5 alive.
And that allowed us to keep, you know, keep prodding them. Well are actually going to do that, but I’ve kind of wished we stopped talking about him.
Alina: Yeah, I think, I mean, for those that are involved in the climate movement, um, the, the, those numbers and those frames are really important. But I think in a lot of the minds of the general public, these, this targets two degrees, 1.5 are a reasonably abstract things.
Um, whereas. You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about what a new narrative of climate change and the need for climate action looks like. And one that isn’t based in, um, you know, the numbers and the facts and the figures and fear and obligation and international, um, commitments and so on. But one that is rather reframes it to acting out of a place of, of care.
And of awe and wonder at the world in which we live and dare I say it acting from a place of love. Um, and if we were to focus a bit more on, you know, our intrinsic values and why it is that we, that we want to address climate change, um, and localize things, you know, climate changes, there’s this massive global issue, but everybody lives in a local place.
So, so what, what are, what are the local places that they could look after, or the local patch of land that they could look after, or, you know the coastline or the seas. And to really reframe it from, from one of fear, um, uh, you know, a case of fear to a case of what could, what could a beautiful future look like?
What does the vision of the future look like and encourage people to act from a place of hope and courage and care.
Denise: So I, I did, I wanted to ask you both about, how you work on yourselves to not get entrenched in pessimism. And how do you counteract, you know, this kind of overabundance of negative narratives.
Um, but I just wanted to say that one of the personal lessons I took away from the pandemic thus far is, um, being really deeply grateful for small things that denied us during the lockdown. Like, you know, being able to sit in the cafe with, you know, two people suddenly it just seems like a massive luxury and something I’m deeply grateful for.
Alina: Yeah. I do have a bit of a gratitude practice as well that I try to, um, try to keep, um, forefront of my mind. And I practice that with my children too. Um, as well at bedtime, we ask what they’re grateful for. And there are those small things. Um, but for me, um, overwhelmingly it’s captured in the title of my book, A Future Untold and that, and that’s alludes to the, um, the vision of the future that we, we haven’t yet heard about, or we haven’t been sold.
And that is one based in optimism and hope and, um, yeah, a different, a different story of the future than the one that we have been told seems to be almost a forgone forgone conclusion and by, um, working backwards and, you know, using the practice of narrative foresight, I think there’s a lot around that and the psychology of actually believing in the narrative of the future. Um, and we create it. Um, and so, you know, our, our stories, um, don’t, don’t so much even describe our reality as they create it. So, um, keeping in mind a more hopeful and beautiful narrative of the future is, is a big part of it.
Alice: As a historian, I will say cliche is that I occasionally hide in the past. And that has been one of the ways I responded to the pandemic was to finish my book. I delayed being able to start that because we had things like an election that got called at the last minute in 2019, and I had to work on and then I got ill, and the pandemic happened and the library shut, which was very annoying, but also everything else that, so I could just lose myself in the 17th century.
But now I’ve written that book. I haven’t got that luxury, um, and I’m quite sick of the 17th century. So I’d say that most of the time I am quite miserable about climate change. I think that’s something that a lot of climate people don’t admit to. Lots of people say “oh you’re so optimistic” and I’m like, that’s my job.
But the two things that kind of lift me when I’m feeling really low – one is just getting out and being able to work with others. And that was really, really hard during lockdown. You know, my office is very much my collaborative environment. We had just a group of 20 of us worked in office together and we bounce ideas off each other.
We’d find strength from each other. We’d take it in turns to be the one that was miserable or the one that was happy. And we’d hold each other when we were, you know, uh, lift each other spirits and taking action, you know, doing something positive together. That is really a great way of pulling you out of. A feeling of despair.
And the other thing is when I don’t have that luxury, or, I mean, we found other ways of doing it through lockdown, you know, virtually and we’ve built new, new ways of, of interacting in sort of hybrid ways, which I think we’ll keep taking with us. And it is probably for the good, um, when I’m thinking about just on my own and other things.
Sometimes it gives me the appropriate slap around the face when I’m feeling very, very low is. A lot of us don’t have the luxury of feeling depressed and doom-ist. You can sit there and go, everything’s going to be awful. But if you think that, then it will happen. My predecessor at my current job used to love to quote Gramsci, the pessimism of the intellect but optimism of the soul.
To the extent that when he left, they made a load of stickers saying that Gramsci quote and gave it to him because he wouldn’t shut up about it. And I found one at the back of a cupboard or whatever, it’s on my laptop. And whenever I go to meetings, people are like, oh God, I bet I know which Gramsci quote that is.
But yeah. And I remember that and that’s the power of optimism for creating those futures, you know, there are still so many things on offer. There are multiple different futures on offer for us, which ones we choose. Uh, you know, as citizens of the twenties, 2020s, we have to choose those futures. It’s a really big responsibility, so we better get it right.
And let’s choose a beautiful one. You know what? Let’s choose one that’s full of support and help helping each other rather than the dystopias, because it doesn’t have to be that way. It really doesn’t not yet.
Denise: Um, so I have one last question for both of you I’m sure we have, you know, aspiring book authors who are interested in change tuning in, and I wanted to ask you to maybe share some insights that you’ve had since you published your book about the book as a tool for change.
Alina: Yeah, I mean its reasonably fresh for me. Um, I, I published my book at the end of October and that we’re now in early December. So I’m starting to get a little bit of a glimpse of, of how it is changing, people’s thinking. And, um, I mean, one thing about my book is that it’s, um, It’s written and it’s a very accessible read.
It’s it’s written as, as, uh, almost, you know, pop culture style, um, take on story and narrative and the role that it plays. And so in that regard, I’ve had some, you know, some quite lovely reviews from people that I didn’t think it would resonate with, but it has because, um, because it’s been written in such a way that is, um, is very much invites people into the conversation who are concerned about big global issues, such as climate change and inequality and deforestation and systemic racism but don’t necessarily, um recognize the role that they, and the stories that they tell about themselves and others in the world play in actually being able to shift the cultural mindset to address these, these problems.
So that’s been very interesting it’s early days yet.
Alice: Yeah, it’s, it’s a bit of a slow burn, I think change for most books, some books.
Well, I think books that have an instant impact that often people are very much ready. Oh, this is how change often happens. People are ready for that change. You know, they spark something that was already there. For most books, the changes that create that happen are slowly though it takes a while for people to read it, to recommend it to their friends, for other people, to read it.
And it takes a while for things to sink in and then to see the meaning in your own life and then to apply it. Um, but I’d say that. I didn’t write a book for a long time to, because I didn’t see it actually as a great agent for change. You know, I went into, I left academia, um, and tried journalism for a bit as a way of feeling, quite frustrated about sort of the speed that we needed to act for climate change and nothing was really happening fast enough for me at the time.
I just couldn’t sit still in a library. Um, I needed to go and make change. And I very much felt when I started the role I currently have, which is about six and a half years ago. I just really needed to help make change as fast as I could and books weren’t going to do that.
One reason I did write the book is that I saw other people’s books helping give a platform for people to be able to talk about stuff. And I felt that this was a version of the climate story that wasn’t out there and it was worth it being out there, and me or somebody else being able to talk about it. I didn’t write it as, because I think it’s going to change the world. I do other work that I hope changes the world.
Um, I wrote it in my spare time because I think it’s a useful and interesting and fun story. I mean, people, books should be fun. I hope that people, when people read the book, they enjoy it. Um, and that maybe it’s a bit of respite from change-making.
Denise: I mean, your book is jam packed with, um, surprising, unexpected, you know, uh, counter-intuitive detail. And one of the things I really, um, like just the origins of the term tree hugger, I thought that was absolutely fascinating. Maybe you can like quickly tell us where that word come from, because I think most people would assume it’s quite recent.
Alice: Several hundred years ago. Um, this is the origin story of tree huggers several hundred years ago, a king in Northern India wanted to cut down a lot of trees. And there was a community of people who were very connected to those trees because lots of communities around the world, we are connected to trees, trees give us food. They give us shelter. They’re our friends, they give us support.
Um, that particular culture had very, very strong, very explicit relationships with trace. So when the prince came in a sort of expansionist way, you know, I own this land that I’m going to chop down the trees, the local people protested, and a group of particularly brave women decided to put their bodies between them and the trees.
And they held onto them, which looks a bit like hugging and they, they were murdered. The woodmen took their axes that they were there to take them to the trees and they killed the women in order to get to the trees. This caused huge outrage to the extent that the king had to apologize.
The history of these women is still celebrated today several hundred years on, and their memory was particularly used in the second half of the 20th century by some groups, uh, doing environmental protest in India. Um, the memory of them was, was used as a nice, iconic, incredible story.
Um, and I think that folded into also people just wanting to find, uh, an insulting word and it, but it for environmentalism as a whole in the 1970s, I mean, It is easy to see it as something that it’s what rich white people in America do because they love trees more than humans. And it’s often used as way of thinking about environmentalists as people who care more about plants and humans, but that’s not true at all.
Actually the origins of it were people who did care about plants because they appreciated the importance of the interaction between humans and plants. Um, and I would also just recommend hugging a tree, because its a really great thing. As someone who wasn’t able to interact with trees for a long time at the beginning of lockdown, cause I don’t live near enough any.
So I’d say that. Let yourself go and hug a tree.
Denise: That’s lovely. Um, so one last word. I think the Oxford dictionary and some other dictionaries, you know, declared that the word of 2021, was vaccine. So in an ideal world, what would you like the word of 2022 to be?
Alina: I think the word of 2021 is exhaustion, to be honest. That’s my word of 2021, but 2022.
Alice: I feel like it should be something like rebirth, but I also worry about what we will birth. I am. I am apprehensive about what will be birthed in 2022. But I think that the mid 2020s are going to be a period of quite a lot of change. Change is coming, whether we build it or not, because it’s going to come from the skies, it’s going to come from the soils and it’s going to come from the seas, because of climate change.
But I think they’ll be a lot of social and economic change, partly because of COVID but also because of how we react to climate change.
Alina: I’d like to see the word of 2022 being kindness. Um, because there’s a lot of people that are, you know, dealing with, um, a fair amount of stresses on their lives and, um, anxiety and existential grief about what is happening.
Um, and I think if we’re not careful, that’s. That comes out and, and, um, in terms of blame of other people and the easy targets. So, um, kindness is I think something we need to keep forefront of mind,
Denise: Kindness and Rebirth and on. Thank you on that note. Thank you very much Alice and Alina. Go by the books, put them in your end of year stockings, Our Biggest Experiment by Alice Bell, and a Future Untold by Alina Siegfriend. Thank you so much. It was a pleasure talking to you both.
Alice: Thanks Denise.
Denise: That’s it for this episode, thanks for listening to New Climate Capitalism. If you enjoyed our conversation, please go to the show notes at climatenarratives.co for information on Alice and Alina’s books, their work as well as the full transcript. And please follow them on Twitter @alicebell @AliJacs.
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Thanks to Victoria Yates and Valentine Scherer for their help producing this episode, and to Lucas Laufen for the theme music.