By Shian-Li Kelly-Williams
How would you deal with a climate denier? Every year, the Global Sustainable Development department’s essay competitions aims to engage prospective students within the sustainability debate. This year, one of the potential questions the competition essayists were able to talk about was how we face the indomitable issue of climate denial. This story was written by our competition’s winner, Shian-Li Kelly-Williams; her fictional take on an unfortunately very real issue.
‘Climate change is not real.’
‘Why should I care?’
‘It’s a myth!’
‘Who’s gonna worry?’
‘This is a problem for later generations, not us.’
‘Do not waste efforts on hypothetical situations.’
>Do you want to see these mythical, hypothetical situations?
>Here are a few.
>A Collection of Myths:
The Daughter of a Fairy Tale
>Read ‘The Daughter of a Fairy Tale’?
>Are you sure?
Screaming, that’s what woke her parents up. Dazed, panicked, utterly terrified, they raced to their daughter’s room, awake in an instant. Penelope was also dazed, panicked, and utterly terrified, clutching her Mulan blankets and crying feverishly in the corner of her bed. It turned out that Penelope had thought a monster was staring at her from her wardrobe, peering through the slit with dark red eyes, but her parents, using what must have been magic, made it promise to not scare her any longer and disappear, much like how the witch in Brave was gone in a poof! Penelope made this connection rapidly and in awe of how her parents must be magical, her eyes and cheeks drying slowly as she replayed in her mind Merida’s story for the umpteenth time since she had watched it for the first time earlier that day. Yawning but now excited for another magical tale, Penelope pleaded her mother to read her a story, specifically the one about the teensy tiny fairy. It was only after she had calmed her breathing and used her inhaler that her parents allowed her to be read yet another fairy tale before she went to sleep, her head swirling with dreams of being a small creature in an ever so big world.
The next morning, after her usual routine of breakfast, dressing, and letting her mother fuss over her breathing, Penelope pretended she was Dumbo – she not only could fly but she could too speak with mice! The small, gray one that scuttled and squeaked in the garden was not exactly the best friend she remembered from the film, but it was exceptionally cute, at least Penelope thought so.
“Mr. Mouse, do.. do… do you know where I can f-fi..find a black f-fea…feather?” She asked, holding its small face to hers gently, “This garden is huge! Way too big f-f-for me!”
The mouse’s black eyes stared back at her.
Penelope huffed, “F-Fine! I won’t be D-D-Dum-Dumbo tod-d.. Now!”
She let the mouse down, pouting all the while, and even more so once the mouse ran quickly away. Understandably upset, Penelope plopped onto the grass, crossing her arms and imitating a lion’s growl for her own display of anger. Mice aren’t nice to play with, lions would be much more happier to play with her, she decided. But, there weren’t any lions where she lived, apart from the zoo she visited once. She had liked that lion very much, even though it didn’t seem to appreciate her Lion King tutu.
It was as she was thinking about Simba and Nala that she choked. She was gasping, choking, spluttering for air, clutching her chest. The tightness she was overtly aware of, and she didn’t understand why it was happening again. Memories flooded into her mind of hospitals, nurses, tubes, and crying, the wet, hot tears that tasted purely of salt were as familar to her as her now triggered asthma. Penelope struggled silently, breathing hoarsely and desperate for any air as she felt in her dungaree pockets for her inhaler. Her mother was outside in the next moment, her hands instantly reaching for the inhaler and pushing it against her daughter’s mouth. Inhale, press, hold, remove, exhale. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Penelope’s cries were heard once more as the thick clouds weighed heavily over their house. The roar of an engine could be heard, in fact, many could be heard. They sounded like lions to Penelope so she did not mind them. Her mothers, however, did, for they released nothing but smoke. Smoke that filled the air, smoke that forced the clouds down, smoke that suffocated their daughter. And, it wasn’t just smoke. It was the erratic seasons that triggered her asthma, the cold air hitting her when she least expected it, and the ruined migratory patterns of birds that had exposed her to cuckoos and blackbirds and warblers – their feathers that flutter down when they’re walking down their usual countryside routes and trigger her asthma, causing Penelope to double over and stain her lips blue. How were they supposed to explain to their doe-eyed Disney fanatic that the reason she had suffered once more was because of birds, the animals she adored? How?
Penelope slept that night sweetly, having watched her favourite films all day and being promised that soon she would finally meet her heroes- Mulan, Merida, Tiana, all of them! She could meet them and maybe even get a gift! Penelope had always secretely wished for a goldfish so she could share her wonderful stories with someone, and maybe she could even play with it! The goldfish would definitely like Finding Nemo, but maybe it would be a good idea to leave Brother Bear alone just in case the goldfish thought its salmon brothers were being hurt for real.
These were her thoughts that swept her off to sleep and carried her in her dreams. It was a good thing too, reader, because Penelope didn’t know that a monster was in her room that night. A more real monster that would cause her harm unlike the one hidden in her wardrobe that shrunk in fear itself. It clambered in through her open window, it slinked across her floors, and it filled the room completely, expanding itself until the entire room was shrouded. It was hot, reader, unbearably hot, which was why the mothers left her window open. Penelope hugged her toy snake tighter to her chest, dreaming, as a child should. There was no screaming this night, and we can be thankful that she was not afraid of the monster that swallowed her whole. Penelope did not scream, she could not. She coughed, yes. She gasped and choked. But, she did not scream.
It was quiet that night. The air was still. The room was dark but the Disney posters were well framed on the walls in the moonlight. If you listened, though, you could still hear the pride of cars roaring without restraint.
This short story is, unfortunately, not fiction. I wrote it, yes, but only after observing the effects of climate change and how every day someone suffers because of it, which is why you cannot deny its presence. I myself suffer from asthma and it has worsened over the years due to an increase of particles that add to air pollution, which, in turn, affects not only me but also the climate. If the climate changes too quickly, my asthma is triggered in suit. This affects anyone who is asthmatic, anyone who has a weaker respiratory system, and it is largely because of vehicle and factory emissions, because of a lack of concern from major businesses and companies that view people as having lower monetary value than their buildings or income. We are not worthy of being saved if they can make money at our expense. This is why I want it to be known that this cannot continue because there are a plethora of ways that climate change can affect people that don’t include affecting our health as my story here indicates. ‘Teenage Years’ would follow a teenage boy who merely wants to be concerned about dating and fixing bikes for his neighbours, but must go back to Bolivia to help his extended family on their farms once he had graduated from university because climate change had affected their crop production and they cannot afford outside help. Teenagers and children should not have to worry about their futures and dreams being ruined by a process that can be controlled and should not even have occurred yet on such a global scale. ‘Grey’ would follow a blind man who does try to minimise the impacts of climate change, to help out as much as he can, by carpooling and sharing a house with roommates, but on a walk through the park his guide dog notices the dying animals falling all around them until the story ends with a dying badger that still has the faint imprints of her cubs on her fur, but she will not make it back to them. I have seen these ‘stories’ in my own life, so climate change cannot be called fake or a hoax. Climate change is real and if we do not change our own ways then we will be removed. These deniers ignore the reality of climate change and continue to add to its growth for no other reason than simple ignorance. This ignorance is dangerous and will eventually lead to irreparable consequences because it fuels their opinions, their politics, and their influence over the world. They fear being helpless like we fear to be helpless to climate change, but this must stop. This is not a story, this is our world. Endings always come but not all of them allow a happily ever after, so, climate change deniers, will you finally help and let us all write a new ending, or should the book go up in flames? The pen is yours.
A very original way of talking about climate change, I do not read enough fiction, but it is clear we need to find different ways to open up a discussion and further the discussion with individuals, groups and society more widely about the climate crisis. This is all the mroe important as Covid, lockdown, social isolation, mistrust of authority and social media have all facilitated the rise of conspiracy theories. Additionally, am sure you will now have a lot to say about how some lives are reckoned to be not worth being saved, given the Conservative government’s inital strategy of herd immunity.
In part your article reminded me of this recent one about Covid as it played on the metaphor of Monsters. You can find it here: https://newleftreview.org/issues/II122/articles/mike-davis-in-a-plague-year
It is a riveting read and is by a fascinating US based researcher and activist who wrote a path-breaking book about pandemics about 15 years ago.
I look forward to seeing you in GSD.
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