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Dragon Interview: The Thriller Writer Who is a Climate Change Ambassador

Published on: 26 Apr, 2024
Updated on: 26 Apr, 2024

Paul Hardisty

By David Reading

Most of us learn about the devastating effects of climate change through news reports. Canadian scientist Paul Hardisty has chosen to bring home the message through a series of fictional thrillers, where climate change provides the backdrop to the story. He believes the message reaches many more people than his academic work ever did.

Paul will be visiting Ash Library on Wednesday, May 8, to talk about his most recent novels, The Forcing and The Descent.

Paul’s background is an adventure story in itself. According to his biography, he has spent 35 years working all over the world as an environmental scientist, engineer, and freelance journalist.

He has worked on oil rigs in Texas, explored for gold in the Arctic, mapped geology in Eastern Turkey and rehabilitated water wells in the wilds of Africa. He was in Ethiopia in 1991 as the Mengistu regime fell and survived a bomb blast in a café in Yemen in 1993. In 2022, he criss-crossed Ukraine writing about the Russian invasion. For six years, he was CEO of the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

We asked Paul a series of questions in advance of his visit to Ash.

Would you give our readers a summary of your novels, The Forcing and The Descent?

The Forcing and The Descent, as a pair, describe a near future affected by climate change. The Forcing tells the story of David Ashworth, known to his friends as Teacher, one of the millions of older people held responsible for the calamity and shipped away by a government of youth gone awry. The Descent tells the story of how the world got to a point where such drastic measures were deemed necessary, and the fate of Teacher’s descendants, who have inherited a world totally changed.

Is there a message for the world in your novels and, if so, what would it be?

I have written these books first as thrillers, full of twists and turns and interesting characters faced with impossible circumstances. But yes, there is a message. The dangers of runaway climate change are real, are already being felt now in 2024 (when The Descent begins) and are only going to get worse. We need to act now to prevent such an imagined future from becoming a reality.

You have chosen to present the subject of climate emergency in the context of fictional thrillers. To what extent is this an effective method of getting your message across to people?

I have worked my whole career as a scientist trying to describe the consequences of environmental negligence. I have written peer reviewed journal papers and textbooks about these issues. But I have found that it is through fiction that I can best tell the truth about what is happening, in a way people can relate to. Stories have been the most powerful communication medium throughout human history and remain so today. My fiction is reaching many more people than my professional and academic work ever did.

 I have heard your work described as “visionary”. What do you understand by this?

Yes, people have called The Forcing and The Descent “visionary”. However, all I have done is translate the scientific predictions of the current business-as-usual emission trajectory and its consequences, describe the effects, place a bunch of characters within that world, and let the story run. Not so visionary if you think about it. But again, I have been so close to the climate science for so long that to me it seems self-evident.

Is there still time to avoid a climate catastrophe?

I am an optimist. If we find the courage we need to face the facts and get on with making the big changes we need, and the sacrifices which will be required, we can prevent the worst effects of climate change that are described in my novels.

In your world travels, what effects of climate change have you witnessed?

 I have seen the effects of climate change unfolding across Australia, where I live. We had the worst bushfires in history in 2020 and the driest and hottest six months ever recorded in Perth, where I live, where whole forests are dying. On the Great Barrier Reef the latest mass bleaching event is killing vast areas of coral. My new non-fiction book In Hot Water: Inside the Battle to Save the Great Barrier Reef, tells the story of the reef’s last 100 years and in particular the last seven, when I was CEO of the nation’s marine science agency.

Global social injustice has also been a motivating factor in your work and in your writing. In your world travels, what have you witnessed that has aroused your passion on this subject?

All of my writing strikes at social and environmental  injustice one way or another. I am fascinated by the notion of legal crime – and so if my writing is sometimes classified as “crime” it should be in this way. I have worked in some of the poorest and most conflict-riven parts of the world, and everywhere I go I have found that corruption and conflict stem from and breed environmental destruction and injustice.

There are still people who deny the role that human activities play in climate change. What would your answer be to that?

My response is, look around you. Have the courage to see beyond the honeyed and reassuring messages of the professional climate denier lobby. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t wish they were right. But they are completely and hopelessly wrong. And there is an Everest of data now to prove it unequivocally. So my message is: find some courage, face facts, and let’s fix this thing together.

Tickets to Paul’s talk at Ash Library cost £6 each. To book, go to:

Disclosure: David Reading is a member of the Green Party.




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