Interview with Brian Adams, Love in the Time of Climate Change
Meet Casey, a community college professor with OCD (Obsessive Climate Disorder). While navigating the zaniness of teaching, he leads a rag-tag bunch of climate activists, lusts after one of his students, and smokes a little too much pot. Quirky, socially awkward and adolescent-acting, our climate change obsessed hero muddles his way through saving the world while desperately searching for true love. Teaching isn’t easy with an incredibly hot woman in class, students either texting or comatose, condoms strewn everywhere, attack geese on field trips, and a dean who shows up at exactly the wrong moments. What’s a guy to do? Kidnap the neighbor’s inflatable Halloween ghost? Confront evangelicals and lesbian activists? Channel Santa Claus’s rage at the melting polar ice caps? Shoplift at Walmart? How about all of the above! Who would have thought climate change could be so funny! Actually, it really isn’t, but Love in the Time of Climate Change, a romantic comedy about global warming, is guaranteed to keep you laughing. Laughing and thinking. Welcome to a new climate change novel: Brian Adams’ Love in the Time of Climate Change.
Mary: You are a professor of Environmental Science at Greenfield Community College in western Massachusetts, you are active in the climate change movement, and now you have written a romantic comedy about a something similar involving a climate change activist teacher. How did your real life experiences inspire your novel? Any funny anecdotes to share?
Brian: As a professor, I have struggled for years with how to present the issue of climate change to students without them resorting to substance abuse, slipping into profound depression, sending me poisoned chocolates, or, worst-case scenario, doing absolutely nothing. The teacher in my novel undergoes the same sorts of struggles, many of which are based on my real-life teaching experiences. The process of guiding students to the abyss and then gently pulling them back, giving them hope, and motivating them to get off their asses and do something, is incredibly challenging. If anyone has figured out how to do this, please contact me!
Funny anecdotes…hmmm…being the awkward fool that I am, I have so many I could share! One of the scenes in the novel takes place during a field trip to a solar home, and the love interest (Samantha) is attacked by geese and falls into a farm pond. Her teacher (Casey—our hero) lends her dry clothes, which makes for an awkward moment when the dean shows up. This is based on an incident I had when teaching and I had my students in the Green River doing aquatic insect sampling. One of my students fell in, I loaned her dry clothes, which led to, wait for it, awkward moments. I have a great deal of awkward embarrassing teaching experiences that I embellished (or not!) and used in my novel.
Mary: Can you tell us more about your background in climate change action and environmental science teaching?
Brian: I have been an activist all of my life around energy-related issues and a teacher most of my professional life. This is my 20th year at the community college where I teach. I’ve found activism to be an effective and productive way to deal with climate change angst. There is great joy to be found in the struggle and to be surrounded by active young folk who want to change the world is incredibly inspirational. On campus, I am active with our Green Campus Committee as we work to reduce our carbon footprint on campus. Off campus, I am increasing my activism with Climate Action Now, a local western Massachusetts node of 350.org.
Mary: Love in the Time of Climate Change is about a serious subject-—climate change—yet you use humor to address it. I think comedy is a great way to tackle dire subjects because laughing is good for the soul and helps us put this overwhelming climate crisis into an identifiable and human perspective, which might be more motivating than the scary facts. Yet it takes a special skill to treat subjects like this with humor—without making light of the facts—and you seem to have succeeded. How did you accomplish this?
Brian: I’ve attempted something that I think is rather unique in that I’ve tackled potential world catastrophe in a fictionalized form through humor, drugs, social awkwardness, and sex while being uncompromising about the science of climate change. This novel may in fact be perhaps the first activist rom-com climate-change fiction! I have found that many people avoid climate change nonfiction given how depressing and absolutely paralyzing it can be. I mean, seriously, how many people read climate change nonfiction? It can be an incredible downer! Extreme weather, food insecurity, drought, famine, melting glaciers, drowning polar bears, out of control wildfires, rising sea levels: AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
My thought is that humor, silliness, and love present an ideal opening, not just to climate activists but to a larger audience as well. I love awkward romance and relationship angst, so it was a lot of fun to write.
Mary: Quite a few novels are being written today about climate change. How do you think fiction can address this subject in ways that other literature cannot?
Brian: Fiction can clearly go where non-fiction can’t and draw readers deeply into stories, drama, and relationships where the reader gets hooked while getting educated. My novel is very didactic and quite preachy, and I make no apologies about it. But if it wasn’t for the awkward romance and silly adolescent antics, I’m not sure people would stick it out. I love stories where you’re laughing while saving the world!
Mary: Do you have any inspirational authors that you grew up with that inspired you to tackle environmental issues through fiction? And, I have to ask, are you a big fan of Gabriel García Márquez?
Brian: I love Edward Abbey (all of his writing), particularly his The Monkey Wrench Gang. That was a great revelation to me. Activism can be fun! And that’s the take-a-way here: How do we bring humor into the most serious of topics without trivializing the gravity of the situation? How do we make climate change an issue people want to take on and have a good time doing it? How do we foster the sentiment of the great anarchist activist Emma Goldman who supposedly said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” How can we dance while saving the world?<
And yes—Gabriel Garcia Marquez rocks!
Mary: Back to your book, the teacher in your novel suffers from OCD, or Obsessive Climate Disorder. Can you describe this?
Brian: There is a scene in the novel where the hero is in the midst of “fooling around” with a very attractive woman who is clearly interested in him, and he is simply unable to free his tortured self from the energy no-nos in her apartment: inefficient light bulbs that are all turned on, the windows open and the heat cranked, recyclables in the trash can, etc. I can’t tell you what happens (read the book!) but, when climate change rears its ugly head in the midst of foreplay, that is clearly and unmistakably obsessive climate disorder!
Mary: Well, I just got your book in the mail and can’t wait for this scene! Your book audience is probably all ages to an extent, but your main characters consist of a youngish teacher and his college-age adult students. YA fiction is growing by leaps and bounds, even in climate novels. Why is this audience so important?
Brian: Youth will save the world. My goal was to promote activism among younger folks and get them psyched and motivated to get out there and make change. For anything good to happen, the younger generation must be active. I’m working on a novel now that features a 15-year-old protagonist battling mountain-top removal in West Virginia, sort of a coming-of-age activism novel. Another environmental rom-com (hey. it’s all I’ve got!) I find this whole issue of how young people become activists fascinating.
Mary: Bill McKibben, of 350.org, said that you are “funnier than most of us environmental types” and that it was a pleasure to meet you. How did that feel to be acknowledged by such a well-known activist and author?
Brian: I was so flattered to be blurbed by him! I believe, however, he meant that it was a pleasure to meet the main character in my novel, not me. If I met Bill McKibben I’d probably do something really awkward and make a complete fool of myself. Bill is a hero to so many of us in the climate change movement, but his dig at those “environmental types” is quite revealing. While there is absolutely nothing funny about climate change, we do need activists to take joy in the struggle and have fun in their activism. My goal was to bring humor and hope into a genre that is noted for dystopian despair.
Mary: I want to note something about your publisher, Green Writers Press: There aren’t too many publishing companies these day who are willing to publish novels about climate change, so kudos to them. How did you find this press? Do you plan to have the book out on Kindle?
Brian: Hooray for our small independent presses! Where would be without them? I was lucky to get in early to Green Writers Press and be their first climate novel published. They are a marvelous activist press with a mission to spread the word about climate change in a positive way. And readers: support your independent bookstores and buy/shop local! The book should be out on Kindle any second now.
Mary: Any other news or thoughts to share?
Brian: Climate Action Now! Your web site is fabulous! I’d love to hear from readers: they can contact me at email@example.com.
Mary: Thank you, Brian! Can’t wait to get home and dig in this book (which just came in the mail). It’s an honor to hear from you.