Jeff VanderMeer talks climate crisis and activism with Brian Eno

In this interview on Port, acclaimed sci-fi author, Jeff VanderMeer (Annihilation, Borne, Hummingbird Salamander) talks with legendary "non-musician" Brian Eno about the climate crisis, environmental activism, and ClientEarth, the environmental law charity that he's involved with.

Why do you stress the importance of biodiversity and interconnectivity with regards to the climate crisis?

Through my teenage interest in cybernetics, from a young age I began thinking about how the processes of life are densely interwoven; it seemed apparent to me that things were embedded in systems, and their behaviour was a product of that system. I thought that was true of all sorts of things, not just the natural world but creativity too. When discussing art, people often talk about geniuses, but as soon as you start looking closely at how things come into being, you find that there are always contexts and systems informing that individual.


How did the environmental charity ClientEarth come to be your main form of activism? It seems to be a very systems-oriented organisation, which understands the level at which you need to fight things.

About 12 years ago, I became its first joint trustee. I'd previously been involved in a number of activist groups, and there were two things that troubled me: One was leverage and the other was follow through. I want to be putting my energy where it will make the most difference. I'd much rather be further back down the line, changing the direction of the train before it crashes. So often, friends of mine had put a lot of time and money into causes with high hopes and the best of intentions, but the maintenance had been bad; there hadn't been follow up. There's a feeling that if you get everybody out on the streets – big demos, some newspaper space – that that's an achievement. But it isn't really: That's the beginning. When I first heard about ClientEarth, I thought 'Lawyers! They're good at follow through – they love it!'


How do you view failure and compromise in this sphere?

I believe hypocrisy is unavoidable. You simply can't live in this world without sometimes crossing lines, like taking a plane. It's difficult to live a pure life in an impure situation. Try to avoid hypocrisy, but it's not the worst sin. Compromise is unavoidable, and in fact, should be encouraged. There's a lot of purism and hair-shirt wearing in the environmental movement that we have to forego. If we can't work with everybody and anybody, then we have failed.

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Image: How We Get To Next, CC by 3.0.