Monday, December 25, 2017



A Change of Climate edited by Sam Illingworth and Dan Simpson
(Independently published, 2017)

 [Previously published in A Change of Climate]


Climate change is real. It is happening now. It effects all of us. And the only way that we can mitigate its effects in a meaningful fashion is to take collective action. Part of the challenge that we face in mobilising this collective action is in convincing people from currently less affected areas that climate change is right now, this very second, responsible for the destruction of thousands of ecosystems, insects, animals, plants, birds, and humans. What is needed is something that can transcend cultural barriers, and which can contextualise and localise a global problem. What is needed is poetry. 

In the summer of 2017, we initiated a global poetry competition. A challenge to find 20 poems that spoke about climate change in different voices, and which would help to make real this global, interdisciplinary problem. The only stipulations that we set were that the poems had to be about climate change (however the author might perceive this) and that they had to be 40 lines or less. We received 174 entries from 23 countries in five different languages, and after a rigorous selection process 20 poems were chosen, the result of which is this book: A Change of Climate. Some of the poems in this collection are sad, some of them are angry, some of them are even funny. But all of them are real. Real poems from real people about the very real topic of climate change.

As Helen Mort notes in her foreword to this book (see below): talking about climate change is difficult. Even experts find it challenging to establish a common language that communicates their research, statistics, and emotions effectively. Poetry presents an opportunity for people to express themselves in a different way, to find a fitting language that enables them to talk about climate change in a manner that is personable to them, one which can help them to make sense of this global problem in a very local context.

All of the profits from this book will go to the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), an organisation that works hard to protect both our people and our planet, by campaigning for human rights and the rights of the environment. EJF investigate and expose environmental and human rights abuses through film and photography and by purchasing this book, you are helping to support their Climate Campaign, which is centred on fighting for the rights of climate refugees. We hope that you enjoy reading the poems that are collected within this book, and that through reading them you are able to find your own voice in relation to climate change. A voice that you can then use to take the collective action that is needed to save our people and our planet. 

Dr Sam Illingworth & Mr Dan Simpson


Visions of Unwanted Futures

Climate change is the focus of my research, and as the co-chair for the Working Group 1 on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) I am coordinating a tremendous scientific endeavour. One in which hundreds of volunteer scientists from diverse backgrounds are collectively assessing the state of knowledge in climate and climate change sciences, and distilling their key findings for policy-makers.

Climate change is my scientific homeland, and I have long explored various options to share my fascination for climate sciences and their implications with children, with onlookers, and with those who are impervious to numbers, maps and graphs.

How can we share the history of climate science, the discoveries and challenges, the scientific facts, and the open questions?  How can we share the outcomes of climate science so that they can percolate into the general culture? How can we build bridges across knowledge approaches and systems, across visions of the world? How can we share our sense of urgency and catalyse transformations?

I usually refer to climate change as an impressionist painting: you need to look at it from a distance to be able to distinguish the overall picture from the juxtaposition of individual colour splashes. Unfortunately, our daily life facilitates a zoom on these individual colour splashes: we undergo local and short-term weather and cannot directly perceive global and long-term changes; the flow of information brings patchy news which do not facilitate understanding; alarmist approaches attract attention, but coping with anxiety fuels denial; and merchants of doubt deploy their skills to blur the bigger picture.

Scientists themselves are challenged in their abilities to communicate their findings. In our work life, scientific rigor and accuracy are crucial. But scientific jargon and the language of uncertainty are not always our most useful allies when we want to share our knowledge with a wider audience.  When presenting key findings of climate science assessments, I have often joked and said that scientists are not poets.

I was wrong.

Sam Illingworth, who is an atmospheric scientist, is exploring poetry as a vector to communicate scientific research in an engaging manner. I am very honoured that he asked me to write this foreword.

I have repeatedly been impressed by the complementarity of art and sciences. Science is about reason, about understanding our world, about objectively building and structuring knowledge in a verifiable manner. Art is about senses, emotions, representations and symbols, dialogue and beauty. I see beauty in science, when methodologies are elegant; and some see an art in methods of climate science and in scientific assessments…

The 20 winning poems assembled in this book provide stunning visions of A Change of Climate.

Your journey will start by thoughts of bees and their ‘giant furred white bear version’, polar bears, together with hopes for heritage and survival for ‘something old and more than human.’

It is followed by the awkward silence of an impossible conversation, which I understand to reflect the challenges to make climate change issues barge into the daily life.  Why aren’t we prepared to manage risks? People from the Leeward Islands were recently hit by a category 5 hurricane ironically named Irma, as a ‘clairvoyant.’ The tribute to these people dives into the disaster shock, and stresses our misperception of invulnerability when watching ravages ‘from a balcony believed to be strong.’

Solutions exist, and hope is expressed in ‘SLAG’, stressing that you can like different things, including what can be perceived as a nuisance. It describes the nostalgia for a past marked by a dark love of coal and the silence of canaries, time passing by, and new love for a different world, with bird songs and wind turbines ‘slicing clean paths to a future’.

A bitter fact is that we are sabotaging oceans of all types.  ‘We are no longer interested in the sea’ suggests that we should be more proactive, and ironically incites us to get rid of it, to fill completely the sea with our waste, to solidify it. Similarly, our plastic waste is agglomerating into oceans, entering into the food chain. ‘Swimming lesson’ stresses that much of this waste results from toys and hygiene and beauty products, concluding that we absurdly ‘want to die clean’.  Over North America, rare ‘Karner Blue’ butterflies named by Vladimir Nabokov once created ephemeral ‘landlocked seas’, which have since ‘dried up’.

Are we acting as lice on Gaia’s head, ‘millennium after millennium, drilling in (her) cranium’? She does not see any option than to ask her hairdresser, Chaos, to shave her head…

The survival of our civilization is intrinsically linked to the preservation of other forms of life on Earth. The requiem for our civilization will be played in an annual extinction concert on a piano, the keys of which will have been assembled from the bones of extinct species by visionary students. Let us image the future, if we cannot stabilize climate change. How will today’s children judge our inaction? ‘21__’ explores mermaids of the future, swimming into submerged remains of Manhattan buildings, while murmuring ‘We know this for a hundred years, yet nobody did anything’.

The drama of irreversible damage is illustrated in ‘The Dead Zone arranged by us’, where modern Capulets and Montagues destroy fragile trees, leaving a silent and grey landscape of devastation. Exposing the illusions of a technological development leaving only rubble, ‘Wandering the Anthropocene’ targets greed as the root cause of multiplied damage, and calls for a radical transformation building on ‘organic motivation’. We are travelling, capturing snapshots of landscapes, but ‘The Earth’s Plea’ is lucid, we are not aware of the deep destruction at play, we are not aware of the close interplay between thriving ecosystems and thriving human beings. ‘Only you hold the power to save us.’ This tragic disconnection between the damage at play and the inertia of our society is sharply expressed in ‘Hurtling’ written after hurricane Harvey, when the US Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency said in an interview that “the time to talk about climate change is not now”. 
I want to mention here the first scientific study published by Isaac Held (MIT) last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA[1] assessing how torrential hurricane rains similar to those of Harvey would evolve in Texas in a warmer world. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, the likelihood of such rains would increase from once in 100 years now to once in 5.5 years by the end of this century.

How can we redesign and reboot our system? Inspired by David Attenborough, ‘Planet Earth II’ offers a list of inclusive options for a 2.0 version of our life on our planet, most of which are unfortunately ‘currently out of stock.’

The disbelief between science and society is illustrated by ‘Needlework’, a tale possibly inspired by the ozone hole, and which I imagine taking place in Latin America. If there is a hole in the sky, why could skilled ladies not simply stitch it up? Why is it perceived to be a trick from a ‘gringo’? Ironically, action to mitigate ozone destruction has been a remarkable success, with recovery now expected to take place in the coming decades, following the phase-out of industrial ozone-destructive substances.

How can we destroy our home? ‘Zest’ provides a recipe to peel the Earth from its superficial but vital shells, one by one, ending with a dire warning. The unintended consequences of our way of life are sharply exposed by ‘Crab’, and its reflections from a hermit crab living in Henderson Island, in the South Pacific, one of the most remote places in the world.

What is the geography of a changing climate? What is knowledge, and how to describe and share it? How can we explain to school children that ‘the greatest losses start in smaller’? How can we share the deep interconnections between economy, climate change, and people? The need for introspection is brightly explored in ‘Geography Lessons’.

Finally, ‘Eschaton’ explores an apocalyptic return of Christ in ‘a murdered Earth’, destroyed by climate change, ‘with no-one left to save except the jellyfish’, describing hell as ‘a muddy, wet place’.  In 2017 alone, more than 41 million people were affected by floods in South Asia.

Science is clear. Our sources of energy and food, by releasing heat-trapping gases, are causing global warming, rising seas, and already more extreme events such as heat waves and heavy rainfall, threatening habitats and living conditions for us and for many other species. There are multiple options to act now and build a development which is more inclusive and resilient to climate change, while decreasing emissions of greenhouse gases; but this needs to happen as quickly as possible to reduce further losses and damage. Visions of futures that we do not want can help accelerate this action.

I hope that you will enjoy reading these 20 poems as much as I did.

I hope that you may also want to read some of our scientific assessments, with all your indulgence for our jargon and style[2].

Valérie Masson-Delmotte


Sam Illingworth is a Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at Manchester Metropolitan University, where his research involves developing dialogue between scientists and non-scientists. He mainly does this through the use of poetry and games. As a spoken word artist, he has performed all over the world, including the Edinburgh Fringe, the Green Man music festival, and with the Royal Shakespeare Company. You can find out more about his research, and read some of his poems by visiting his website:

Dan Simpson is a poet, performer, and producer making highly engaging and contemporary work on subjects including science and technology; history and place; geek culture and videogames; people and poetry. Dan has appeared at popular science events and talks, as well as Glastonbury, Roundhouse, and on the BBC. A former Canterbury Laureate, his first collection is Applied Mathematics from Burning Eye Books. He can be found online at

Valérie Masson-Delmotte is a climate scientist based in Paris Saclay, France, and currently co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the working group on the physical science basis of climate change. Her own research activity is linked to climate imprints in natural archives such as ice cores. She is learning from past climate response to perturbations and past climate variability to understand how the climate system operates, to test our ability to model these responses, and therefore to inform on confidence in projections of future climate change. She has also written books for children and for the general public, as part of her diverse outreach activities. Her research and engagement for outreach have been acknowledged by several prizes in France and abroad. 

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