The burning question

The burning question

During a 2021 summer of extreme weather events across the globe, from cyclones in Indonesia and Fiji and severe floods in China, to record temperatures in Moscow and wildfires in the Pacific US, Sir David King, former UK chief scientific adviser and co-founder of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, emphasised that a planetary rubicon had been crossed. “Nowhere is safe,” he declared. “The risks have been understood and known for so long and we have not acted, now we have a very narrow timeline for us to manage the problem.” 

In other words, the climate emergency isn’t a terrifying future trajectory to be found in manifestos from tech magnates or the pages of cli-fi novels. It’s right here, right now, and it’s already having a catastrophic impact. As international delegates flock to Glasgow for the COP26 summit, the challenge for the publishing industry is clear: what on Earth do we do? Given that businesses across the trade are still struggling to deal with the fallout from the pandemic, not to mention Brexit, tackling such a huge issue can feel daunting—financially and logistically but emotionally, too. It can be easy to slide into despair or inaction as the dystopias pile up. 

But publishing is rallying, and momentum is building. The PA’s new Publishing Declares initiative brings the industry together to share best practice and resources, offering its efforts to public scrutiny. The IPG’s Journey of the Book project offers six research-backed ideas for what a closed-loop supply chain might look like. Every day seems to bring a press release declaring a publisher’s net-zero deadline, or even, in the case of Quarto’s Ivy Books imprint, an assurance that it has already hit the 100% sustainable goal.

Then there’s the fact that publishing people have a role to play in this crisis beyond logistical clean-ups. Our product offers us a unique opportunity to galvanise action, from picture books that prompt activism, to adult fiction that propels us out of the present to imagine what might lie ahead. Our extensive, multifaceted preview of forthcoming climate-themed titles reflects an industry thrumming with that most powerful of planetary resources—stories—while our features and author interviews explore some of the ways writers, editors, marketers and booksellers are trying to bring us the knowledge, the will and the imagination to affect change.

And yet, amid all this progress nags that underlying anxiety: what if we’re kidding ourselves? What if these are all ultimately useless gestures? What if it isn’t enough?

Well, it probably isn’t. But that doesn’t mean we should give up. As Professor Timothy Morton writes for us in their powerful opening piece, “the ecological future can and must be about being creative.” So no, we may not have all the answers yet. We may abound with greed and blind spots, hypocrisy and sticking points. We’re human, after all. 

But creativity? Radical, visionary creativity? We’re pretty sure there are a few humans in this industry with a talent for that.