Year 11, 12 and 13 Literature students took part in a webinar on English Literature and Climate Change run by Aberystwyth University.
Their belief is that climate change “isn’t just a challenge for scientists” so they have developed a wide range of Climate Change-related degrees across diverse subject areas, spanning the Arts/Humanities and the Sciences. It was billed as ‘a great event’ and it did not disappoint.
Dr Neal Alexander took them through discussion exercises and Q&A, exploring how writers imagine climate change, the language and politics of climate change and also literature and the Anthropocene. Debates initially stemmed from Indian writer Amitav Ghosh’s text, ‘The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable’ and the quotation, “Let us make no mistake: the climate crisis is also a crisis of culture, and thus of the imagination.” Your preferences have prevented this content from being loaded. If you have recently changed your preferences, please try reloading the pageYour preferences have prevented this content from being loaded. If you have recently changed your preferences, please try reloading the page
Students were asked to consider difficult questions such as ‘What can the literature of the past tell us about our present conditions?’ and ‘Is only contemporary literature concerned with climate change?’ They were treated to extracts from some extremely moving literature: Sarah Hall’s ‘The Carhullan Army’, Ben Okri’s ‘What the Tapster Saw’ and Jesmyn Ward’s ‘Salvage the Bones’ in order stimulate their arguments. However, it was Stephen Collis’s ‘Reading Wordsworth in the Tar Sands’ which had the most powerful reaction from the students and you can see why:
‘Reading Wordsworth in the Tar Sands’
Up north where woods
Are wet and moosey
Except not here not
A single green thing
In sight the site like
An abandoned beehive
Broken open its grey
Papery layers scattered
Around on the ground
Matthew Jupp of Year 11 (a prospective English Literature A Level student for next year) said that he “found it interesting to hear the perspectives of students and the lecturer alike. I made a note of several of the authors the lecturer mentioned and I look forward to doing a bit of research into them”.
Previous Deputy Head Boy, Elliott Odom, who is going to study Geography next year at Bristol University stated that “The debate on whether writers who speculate about the effects of climate change do more harm than good due to the generosity of artistic license was also interesting. In my experience, I think that speculative fiction does have a key role to play in asking questions as to our personal and political decisions. Even though they concern different issues from climate change, books like Noughts & Crosses and 1984 have made me more self-aware of my personal behaviour and ideological position.”
Though the webinar was only an hour long, it was packed full of intellect and certainly gave all who took part a taste of their futures as university students. If you missed out this time, don’t worry. More webinars run by a range of universities are on their way!