Most of us are all only too aware that we live in an era of climate change, declining biodiversity and pollution. This is depressing stuff! But as literary scholars, rather than feeling helpless, we might ask: how can literature help us to better understand our changing world and our place within it? Science and journalism can tell us how the ecology of our planet is changing and why, but it does not address important cultural, emotional and aesthetic aspects of these changes. Literary works offer alternative ways of seeing and feeling.

In this module we examine how literature has engaged with nature and ecological issues from the 1960s to the present, in the context of changing attitudes toward the environment. We explore how this writing draws on traditional modes of nature writing, and adapts them in a changing world to form new genres such as the ‘anti-pastoral’ and ‘cli-fi’. We investigate the place of beauty, celebration and even humour in literatures of environmental crisis, as well as critique, lament and apocalypse.

We read an exciting range of American, British and postcolonial writing, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Some examples include:

  • Rachel Carson, Silent Spring. This classic work of environmentalist non-fiction from the 1960s combines science and art to document the damaging effects of pesticides; and it actually helped bring about a change in government policy. 
  • Jeanette Winterson, The Stone Gods. Winterson's story of human destructiveness and redemptive love traces repeated cycles of environmental degradation, from the eighteenth century to far into the future.
  • Indra Sinha, Animal’s People. This darkly funny fiction based on the Bhopal disaster in India in 1984 explores issues of environmental impacts on the poor, as well as raising questions about the boundaries between the animal and the human.
  • Juliana Spahr, Well Then There Now. In a series of poems Spahr tests the limits and the possibilities of a new 'nature poetry' for our times.

Climate change