In 2001 I went to a remote part of northwest Greenland to research a novel. The novel was a fictional biography of the life of Alfred Wegener, the man who developed the theory of continental drift. He had died on the ice sheet in 1930, but in the summer of that year he took a picture of the Kamarujuk glacier. By chance, I took a picture of the same glacier from the same spot. The difference was striking. Where, in 1930 there had been ice, there was now a beach of pebbles. If I needed something to convince me that global warming was taking place, this was it.
Kamarujuk glacier summer 2001 (above), and in 1930 (below).
As a scientist I felt I knew quite a bit about the causes and effects of global warming, but to have it presented to me like this brought it terrifyingly in focus. With this came the depressing corollary that there was little I could do about it. So when Gregory Norminton invited me, and a group of other writers, to see a carbon neutral village I was eager to see it.
Carbon neutral plumbing in roof space of Guildtown Village Hall.
My story was inspired by this visit to Guildtown and Wolfhill and in Scotland. Guildtown has devoted itself to conservation and developing renewable technology. There was a wind turbine powering a light of a school playground, photovoltaic cells on the roof of houses and community hall, and even a scheme to harbour the energy accumulating under the school playing field.
Photovoltaic Cells on roof of Guildtown Village Hall.
When I came back from the visit I read more: I read about how the UK is likely to change and, frighteningly, since then, with the droughts and the floods, this has all come to pass. As the world warms, I read, travel and transport will become too ecologically expensive and so we may be forced to live in self-contained, self-sufficient communities this carbon neutral village in Perthshire. But going to such a place made me realise this is likely to bring advantages too. We will go back to living in human-sized communities relying on each other. We will, each of us, have to be practically useful, and no one will be unemployed or feel superfluous.
I based my story in a world that is changing just a few years on from now. The storms and droughts are worse, wild life is dying and the available arable land is shrinking. In consequence there are climate migrants - from rural areas of the world that have become desert, and from the cities which can no longer be supported. They all aim to live in small self-sufficient communities. Everyone in this new world has to be able to contribute practically and I wanted to explore what happens to people like me: the people who spend their days manipulating words or images. How will we survive and who will take us? Can what we love to do have any use at all?
I wanted the story to have an optimistic ending to reflect the hope I felt in my visit to Perthshire. Global warming has been caused by the way billions of us live, but there is a way billions of us can change. Each of us have incrementally changed the world for the worse and caused the Kamarujuk glacier to retreat, but we can also make it creep forward again if each of us 'does our bit'.