Today I turned in the proposal for my dissertation, signed by my seemingly happy supervisor, two days before the due date. Off to a good start. I've included it below.
Title (very provisional): Life in a Sea of Change: Using narrative non-fiction to keep complexity in the story of anthropogenic climate change induced sea level rise
Outline of Proposed Dissertation
Robert Vare describes narrative non-fiction as “a hybrid form” that “bridges those connections between events that have taken place, and imbues them with meaning and emotion”. From deforestation to thawing permafrost, from vanishing sea ice to melting glaciers and rising seas, environmental change is occurring around the world and more changes are expected. To date, these events and predictions have been communicated as abstract facts or ideas and are most often absent of explanations as to the concrete implications for us humans. For example, news stories and scientific studies may quote that 1 meter of sea level rise would result in the displacement of 10 million people; but that is a figure that’s empty for most of us. I aim to populate such fact-based stories with a place and with characters that people are able to relate to, thereby bringing the message to readers in a way they can comprehend.
Through a work of narrative non-fiction, I will explore how people living in the Maldives, a low-lying island state in the Indian Ocean, understand the threat of rising and warming oceans which threaten to overtake their nation. My narrative will explore questions to do with current science of sea level rise, communicating climate science, the Maldives (past, present and future) and humanitarian issues. I intend to conduct interviews to discover local voices, ideas and attitudes about sea level rise and the future of the country. My guiding question for the work as a whole is, “Can narrative non-fiction be used to improve the way climate science is communicated and understood through reintroducing complexity and introducing characters to which readers can relate thereby creating a different reader response?”
My dissertation will be 75% creative and 25% commentary. The non-fiction narrative will be comprised of four chapters.
Ch. 1: Introduction
Why this topic?
What are the challenges of communicating climate science?
What does the latest climate science say?
What are the current predictions for sea level rise?
What are the processes for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports and who works on them?
What are the humanitarian implications of climate science?
Ch. 2: Place: The Maldives
What can be learned about the Maldives from the various disciplines of geography, anthropology, history, politics, sociology, marine biology and others?
Ch. 3: People
What are current attitudes towards climate change and sea level rise?
Have any changes been observed to date?
How do people think about their future and the future of their country?
What is government doing; how are they communicating internally and externally?
What are attitudes towards the terms ‘environmental’ or ‘climate’ refugee?
Ch. 4: Conclusion
What does this mean? A pulling together of main ideas from the previous chapters and a discussion of ‘environmental refugees’, and the future.
In this section, I will reflect upon my work and how it fits within the genre of narrative non-fiction, how narrative non-fiction can add to discussion and understanding of climate change, and commenting on the experience of writing and the product.
Reference: Robert Vare, “The State of Narrative Nonfiction Writing” (6 May 2000), WWW documents (5 June 2010).