What can publishing do about climate breakdown?

Kelvin Smith

Many of us are taking steps to reduce our individual impact on the environment – but how is the publishing industry as a whole responding to the challenge of climate change? Kelvin Smith issues a powerful call to arms, to remind us that inaction is not an option.

“What can I do about climate breakdown?”

If publishers are not asking this question, then they need to start now. Doing nothing is not an option.

Of course, because of public and media interest, there is now more publishing of climate related titles, but please let’s make this more than just a new publishing category.  Climate is not just this year’s whole food or wellness, and it’s also a lot more than wild swimming, permaculture, re-wilding, or slow travel. Of course every little helps, and other people’s eco-adventures are fun to read about, but they are not going to change the world. Let’s be serious about this.

Climate is a question of survival, and survival is going to require rapid changes in the ways we live. It’s a matter of urgency: a climate emergency. Publishing, like every other industry and cultural activity, will have to change and it needs to do it now.

Change your own habits

You can start with your own behaviour:  eat less meat, drive less, don’t fly, limit your consumption and reduce waste. Don’t let anyone tell you that one person’s actions are unimportant. You’ll feel better, and feel better about yourself. It’s a contribution to a lower carbon world.

Start talking to everyone about climate change (and remember to listen), discuss how you all feel about it. Create innovative ways of communicating through words, images and actions. Act like the publishers you are and use your skills to increase the outreach and power of your climate messages.

Tell the truth, and be prepared to experience emotion and to share it. Look after yourself, and develop personal meditative and restorative practices – but remember that wearing polluting Lycra doesn’t make you healthier or wiser!

Collaborators and suppliers

Engage with your collaborators and suppliers.  Talk to agents, authors, illustrators, designers, digital and print suppliers, sales and promotion agencies, warehouse and freight services. Ask them if they incorporate climate thinking in their activities. Do they audit their climate effect? Get your organisation to be a leader in demanding climate action from its suppliers, and remember that data processing and storage – even in the cloud – can have significant carbon effects.

Work with management to change your organisation

Within your organisation, you can talk to your colleagues and to management about the things that matter to everyone who is involved with the organisation, their families and friends. They all want the world to survive, so push to overcome the inertia of your organisation when it comes to acting on climate change.

It’s time to change policies like those on personal motor vehicles (replace them with public transport, pedal power or electric pool vehicles), encourage cycling and public transport, install insulation to reduce energy loss, use solar and wind power generation, change power suppliers to renewable electricity, have catering and entertainment policies that reduce consumption of environmentally harmful food products. Turn off the air-conditioning. Dig up car parks and make play parks. Plant trees.

Climate change affects your community, where publishers live, work and play

Publishing people can engage with community groups and local government to encourage and even demand better public transport and resist new road building, stop killing wild flowers, establish car-free zones. Use local suppliers, engage with local climate charities, and take part in creative climate campaigns, using your publishing skills to support action at local, national and international level. Working together works.

Publishing industry paradigms

You can write for the industry press to raise awareness and encourage climate action. I’ve been in and around this industry for the best part of fifty years, which is why I’m writing this. You can too.

Let’s see more local meetings of authors, publishers, printers, and others in the broader book world, so that all parts of the family of book professionals see what they can do together to combat climate change.

At a national and international level, publishers can reduce the carbon effect of events like book fairs by cutting out flying, using trains or just not going at all. These environmentally destructive bean feasts will have to stop soon, so let’s start the process now.  Let’s build a positive future where book folk can work together in a new cleaner spirit of cooperation, sharing knowledge and working together without producing more greenhouse gasses.

Climate breakdown requires an explosion of creativity, so let’s place publishing in the avant-garde of the battle for survival in this changed world. Let’s immediately start exploring new paradigms of collaboration and de-growth, questioning if more is always better, eschewing the decades-long belief in ever more titles and constantly increasing turnover.

Let’s harness new technologies for their cultural possibilities rather than just their contribution to profit. Let’s explore how publishing de-growth can create a positive future for the climate, culture and creativity.

Publishing must support those who are taking risks to protect the habitable earth. There can be no more business as usual, so let’s get to work, use our publishing networks and our unique skills.

We are in for a rocky ride, and reducing carbon use is the priority for the future.  So, as Peter Kalmus (@ClimateHuman), author of Being the Change, recently advised:

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

Kelvin Smith (@pointofpublish) spent many years working in publishing, book development and publishing education. He now lives above the waterline in East Anglia, where he thinks and writes at www.pointofpublishing.com.

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