Are we living in an age of climate change or climate crisis? In her 2019 speech to the World Economic Forum, Greta Thunberg famously declared “Our house is on fire”: a statement underscored by the Australian bushfire crisis of 2020 and the mass devastation of more than one million acres of ‘gigafires’ in California the same year (worse even than previous seasons of ‘megafires’). But how did we get here? What stories could have been—or were—told about the gradual changes to our global climate over time?
This module returns us to a pivotal moment in the history of climate change: to the rise of a new geological age defined by human influence (the Anthropocene). It charts the course of increasing fossil-fuel consumption, changes to rural and urban economies and, ultimately, the rise of smoke-filled city skies. Over the course of the semester, we will explore how British fiction, non-fiction prose, plays, and poetry from the mid-to-late Victorian age (ca.1850-1900) place empire, economics, and ecology at the centre of an emerging planetary crisis. In learning from the writers of a newly-global, capitalist society on the cusp of massive geologic change, we will explore our own position as critical readers, writers, and thinkers in an era of ‘sustainability.’