Melting Ice and Rising Seas

by Kate Kelly, plus League founder Lauren James talks about her new Middle Grade release The Deep-Sea Duke

All my life I have lived near the sea. I’ve spent my days watching the pulse of the tides

and smelling the salt on the air. The sea is my life, my passion, my career (I’m an oceanographer). For that reason it was inevitable, when I turned my hand to writing fiction that the sea would feature as a recurrent theme.

Most of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, and yet the ocean depths are one of the least explored regions of our planet. Life began in the oceans, and their circulation patterns have a major effect on our weather and climate. For example, it is the warm waters of the North Atlantic Drift that give the UK its mild weather, when it’s at the same latitude as Labrador!

Ever since climate change was first recognised by science, authors have been exploring various scenarios through their fiction. As a result Climate Fiction covers a wide variety of possible futures for our planet and our civilisation and the ocean plays a vital part in many of these. Let me share with you a few examples.

One of the first effects of a warming world is that the ice caps start to melt. Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has been showing some of its lowest summer extents in recent years. As more of the underlying ocean is exposed so more sunlight is absorbed, warming the waters and increasing the melting.

The loss of the Arctic sea ice is a tragedy for the creatures who live in these regions as year by year their habitat disappears. This loss of habitat is poignantly explored by Hannah Gold in The Last Bear.

Of course all this melting ice introduces a huge influx of fresh water into our oceans. If this should disrupt the circulation in the North Atlantic then Europe’s climate could become more like Labrador, an ironic twist for a warming world, and of course, a scenario that several authors have explored. Angela Kecojevik imagines just such a frozen world in her forthcoming novel, Train.

Then there is sea level rise. It is estimated that if the Greenland Ice cap were to melt global sea levels would rise by about 7 metres. Should all the ice caps melt sea levels could rise by 70 metres or more. With most of the world’s largest cities being in low lying or coastal regions we have a potentially catastrophic scenario building.

Many authors have incorporated global sea level rise into their stories when addressing climate change. It doesn’t take a great deal of sea level rise in order to have a dramatic effect on our world. Many places are below or barely above sea level. A rise of only a few metres could obliterate Bangladesh, Northern Germany or the Netherlands.

In both my own novel Red Rock and Marcus Sedgewick’s Floodlands there has been a relatively small sea level rise. Floodlands is set in the Fenlands of East Anglia which will be one of the first parts of the UK to be inundated. This will happen with a sea level rise of no more than a few metres. In Red Rock a twelve metre sea level rise has resulted in Cambridge becoming a wasteland of tidal mudflats and abandoned buildings.

In Always North, Vicki Jarret has gone with the more extreme sea level rise of 50-60 metres, as has Emmi Itӓranta with Memory of Water. Cities and entire countries and underwater and whole populations have been displaced.

But sea level rise isn’t the only effect that the warming oceans will have. Warmer oceans mean more energy being introduced into the atmosphere and this feeds into more dynamic weather systems. In other words, fiercer and stronger storms. We are already seeing these extreme weather conditions across the world. Hurricanes that are larger than normal, and more of them.

Julie Bertagna takes all this into consideration in her novel Exodus. As well as flooding caused by the rising seas, the lower lying cities have been subjected to repeated storm surges which has made them unviable. The world as we know it has fallen apart.

All these novels emphasise the fragility of the civilisation we have built. It’s frightening to think how fast everything could unravel and that any of these scenarios could be our future. These books may be fiction but the underlying science surrounding climate change is solid. Human activity is having a profound effect on our planet and hopefully our stories will help to draw attention to the catastrophic results climate change could have if left unchecked.

Let’s hope our fiction doesn’t become reality.

You can learn more about Red Rock here.

Kate Kelly is a marine scientist by day and a writer by night, with short stories published in a number of SF magazines and anthologies, often inspired by her fascination with the sea. Her first novel, Red Rock, a Cli-Fi adventure for young adults, was published in 2013 by Curious Fox. Kate and her family live in Dorset UK and when she is not writing she takes to the sea on her paddleboard, or can be found wandering the remoter stretches of the South West Coast Path.

New Release

The Climate Fiction Writers League was created and run by Lauren James. This week her new novella The Deep-Sea Duke is published by Barrington Stoke.

Tell us about your new book.

The Deep-Sea Duke is a sci-fi novella set on an alien planet. It’s aimed at struggling readers (age 8+). The story follows a pompous amphibian Duke Dorian as he takes his best friends – a living volcano and a servant-class android – to meet his parents.

How does climate change play into the plot?

Dorian’s parents happen to be the monarchs of a water planet (think: space mermaids!), which is currently struggling to find housing for an influx of climate refugees. A race of butterflies have made their planet uninhabitable by burning fossil fuels, so they had to leave the hot planet. Dorian’s parents have to find habitats for them.

What kind of research did you do when writing it?

I read a lot of books about climate change as research for this novella and my upcoming climate thriller, Green Rising. I also subscribed to email newsletters like Heated, Lights Out , and Green Light by The Guardian to make sure I was getting up-to-the-minute climate news.

What approach did you take to talking about complicated topics, either political or scientific, for younger readers?

It’s all about character – as long as readers can see the effects of a difficult topic on someone they care about (whether that’s a human, animal, alien or robot!) then they’ll understand the importance. Empathy is a really powerful force in creating change.

So many of the climate fiction books I read focus on the effect that individuals can have on the planet, with the message that we all need to be more responsible, greener consumers. I wanted to look at how industry and businesses are causing pollution, to make it clear to my young, scared readers that it’s not their responsibility to fix climate change. No amount of careful consumption can fix an industry-wide problem.

What are some of your favourite books about climate change? (fictional or non-fiction!)

The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis by Christiana Figueres & Tom Rivett-Carnac

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climateby Naomi Klein

Can you remember when your journey with environmental activism started?

I studied Chemistry and Physics at university, so I’ve been studying the science of climate change for many years. It’s incredibly frustrating that I was taught the science of the greenhouse effect and the proposed solutions over a decade ago, and yet we’re still no further along in fixing it.

Why is it so important for you personally to see the environment discussed in fiction?

I’m most interested in seeing the politics of climate change discussed. Everyone is aware of the science, but I’m not sure that everyone understands the details of oil companies’ campaign of science denial, or the other political events which have slowed down the efforts to counteract climate change.

Can you share a quote from the book that you hope will resonate with readers?

“Climate change, I’m afraid. They’ve been using those motorised penny farthing bicycles for centuries now. It burnt up all the fossil fuels they dug up from the ground. It released chemicals into the air that changed the atmosphere of their planet. It has been raising the temperature for decades, but they just ignored the problem. This summer, the planet got so hot that wild fires started breaking out everywhere. Global warming has turned it into a desert wasteland.”

Dorian winced. “Oh dear. They’ve had to evacuate?”

What message do you want readers to take away from The Deep-Sea Duke?

The carbon emissions responsible for climate change are largely caused by industry, and can only be reduced through government action. However, if you’d like to make lifestyle changes to help limit your individual emissions, here are the most effective changes you can make. Some of these will take many decades to achieve, but long-term societal changes are the only way we can tackle this problem.

  • Vote in all political elections you are able to, and make sure your representatives are aware that your vote is based on their climate policy views

  • Replace garden lawns with wildflower meadows

  • Switch to LED lightbulbs

  • Don’t fly – and pay for carbon offsetting for any flights you are required to take

  • Make sure your savings and pensions schemes are not invested in companies contributing to climate change. Ask your company to divest from their harmful default options

  • Avoid eating beef, and transition to dairy alternatives

  • Buy in-season food, grown locally (avoiding hot-house produce grown out of season)

  • Change to a renewable energy utility supplier

  • Buy electric cars – but only once your current car is absolutely unable to be fixed. Keep current cars on the road for as long as possible, to keep manufacturing emissions low

  • Install solar panels or solar roof tiles

  • Air dry clothing instead of tumble drying

  • Avoid disposable, cheap fashion and invest in long-term, quality pieces that can be worn for many years

And, of course, plant trees wherever you can. They truly are the lungs of our planet. Depleted forests, savannahs, peatlands, mangroves and wetlands have the ability to grow back quickly, but we need to give them the opportunity to do that. 

Lauren James (founder) is the twice Carnegie-nominated British author of many Young Adult novels, including The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe and The Quiet at the End of the World, among others.

Her books have sold over a hundred thousand copies worldwide, been translated into five languages and shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and STEAM Children’s Book Award.

Climate News

Dizzying pace of Biden's climate action sounds death knell for era of denialism [The Guardian]

Picture Books That Highlight Climate Change by league member Chitra Soundar

Aviva will use its ‘ultimate sanction’ to force action on global warming [Financial Times]

The North Sea oil giants fueling climate change with millions of tonnes in preventable emissions [Unearthed Greenpeace]

Other new member releases:

Kat Wolfe on Thin Ice (Wolfe and Lamb Mysteries #3) by Lauren St. John [Middle Grade Adventure]

Wench by Maxine Kaplan [Young Adult Fantasy]

P.S. What's up with the climate? by Bijal Vachharajani [Picture Book]

Hope Jones Will Not Eat Meat by Josh Lacey [Middle Grade activism]

While this newsletter will always remain free to read, I’ve set up the option of contributing to the administration costs of running the site. Essays and interviews are scheduled every two weeks for the next year, which is a lot of work to organise and upload. I’d like to receive enough donations to allow the league to hire a book publicist to process new applicants and schedule the newsletters, so that it’s sustainable long term. All donations are appreciated!