Award-winning novelist Kate Grenville was recently speaking to an acquaintance she describes as “climate change hesitant” when she saw an opportunity to perhaps influence her views.
“She drives twice a day past a big yellow sign that says ‘Zero Emissions, Zero Jobs,'” Grenville said. “If you read a statement like that often enough, a little bit seeps out.”
But when the woman began to speak lyrically about Helen Garner’s work, how insightful and compassionate she was, Grenville had a thought: If this person knew Garner was in favor of strong action on climate change, it might balance this billboard. So she set out to rally a group of Australian writers to urge voters to put climate first when they go to the polls.
Until now more than 60 registered on the group’s website, including many beloved big names, and more are joining every day. They are not advocating for any particular party or individual, but rather advising people to research who seems to offer the best climate policy and vote for them.
They are very diverse, from John (JM) Coetzee to John Birmingham, from Mem Fox to Matthew Reilly, from David Marr to Di Morrissey. And yes, Helen Garner too.
“A lot of us feel very helpless,” says Grenville, author of The secret river and A room full of leaves. “We’re bombarded with messages about other issues – the cost of living, defence, corruption – but without a reliable climate, all of these things will get infinitely worse. I can sort through my recycling and turn down the heating, but what’s going to do my little voice? Writers can collectively say, “We have a voice.”
“The most powerful thing that changes our minds is the influence of people we know. Even if we only meet writers on the page, there’s still that feeling that we know them.
One of the signatories, novelist Tony Birch, has spent the past five years as a climate change researcher. He found “a real cry in the community, a lot of frustration that politicians are doing nothing. The climate needs voices and support. People feel helpless and I want to empower them.
What influence can writers have? “My tendency is always to say that our influence is much more limited than we think. But when I have my reading hat on, I know writers can make an impact.