L. S. Gardiner creates educational experiences about our planet for websites, museums, and classrooms at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and UCAR Center for Science Education. In addition to writing creative nonfiction, she tells stories through comics and illustrations. Gardiner holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing and a Ph.D. in geology. Her book “Tales from an Uncertain World” won a Grand Prize in the Science/Nature/Environment category in the 2019 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
The following is an interview with L.S. Gardiner.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit
What inspired you to write this book?
Several years ago I was at a science conference to learn about the latest climate research. After seeing countless slides of data describing how the climate catastrophe was more dire than ever, I left the conference and noticed a line outside the Apple store (the new iPhone had dropped). A bunch of people dressed as Santa were spilling out of a bar. Really huge things were happening to our planet, and people were just going about their lives with smartphones and tipsy Santas. It seemed like climate change was distant — too distant — to what people experience day to day, so it’s hard to recognize as a disaster. But we have dealt with smaller disasters, and I wondered whether there was a parallel to our current situation with climate change.
I wanted to write this book because I wanted to know how people handle other sorts of environmental change. In some ways, climate change is unique, but, when it comes to coping with environmental change, we have some experience. We have strengths, blind spots, and emotions that guide our decisions. I wanted to learn from these other disasters to understand why we are slow to act on climate change.
Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?
I chose an excerpt that describes a type of uncertainty. Uncertainty is the thread that connects all the stories in this book. And the word has multiple definitions. We often used the word uncertain to mean someone is indecisive about what to do. But nature itself is uncertain because of chaos and our understanding of nature is uncertain because we don’t know everything, even if there is quite a lot that we do know. In all types of science, including climate science, there will always be some uncertainty. We will never know everything, but we need to make decisions and take action despite the uncertainty that will lead to a more resilient world.
What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?
I got to learn how science, psychology, history, geography, and culture intersect as I explored the question of how we react when our environment changes. That was fascinating. But I suppose what was even more rewarding was that I found hope that humanity can work together to solve problems, that we do, on average, want to help more than we want to destroy, that we try to solve problems even if we don’t always succeed. Around the time that my final manuscript was due to the publisher, a climate denier was entering the White House, yet I was witnessing millions of people trying to solve climate change and finding ways to make a difference. I honestly didn’t think there would be much hope to find, but there was. And now that my eyes are calibrated for it, I see hopeful actions everywhere.
What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?
Chapter 7, We Are Not Waterproof, about the Colorado floods of 2013 was a challenge. All the other examples of disasters in the book were geographically distant or happened long ago. This one affected me, my neighbors, my city, my region. It was personal. It was hard to have perspective as it happened. While the writing came easily, I needed time to process and I went through many drafts before I was happy with it.
What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?
Looking into other disasters helped me understand why we aren’t all reacting to climate change in the same way. We never get on the same page about anything, which is one of the amazing things about humans. That in no way excuses people for making bad decisions when it comes to climate change, but it is an explanation of why it’s so hard for us to decide what to do and take action with confidence. Yet we can still slow climate change and keep Earth livable even if we don’t all agree. It’s possible.
What project are you working on next?
I’m exploring eastern Colorado, writing about one place and then another, depending on where I roam. It’s like being a tumbleweed rolling around – a tumbleweed with a laptop and the drive to describe places. Some people would call this unfocused but it seems appropriate for the landscape, so I’ll keep tumbling and the stories I find in these places will add up to something larger eventually.
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