Getting the voice heard when no one likes what you have to say
Writers have long found that not everyone wants to hear what they have to say. Putting things on paper doesn’t always get them read. Just look back over the ages.
Frederick Nietzsche wasn’t always such a household name. Selling less than two hundred of each title from Human, All Too Human in 1878 to Beyond Good and Evil in 1887, his books went pretty much unread. Throughout the twentieth century his books were never out of print.
Henry David Thoreau was entirely unappreciated in his time. His work of social activism and praising the natural world was not well received, and his was unable to find a publisher, forced to take money out of his own pocket to publish. Today he is one of the most influential thinkers we’ve known.
Francis Kafka’s story is similarly bleak. Passionate about writing, he gave up his role as an insurance broker to pen some of the century’s most seminal works. Metamorphosis was published in literary journal Die Weißen Blätter but to little praise, and sadly he died of turbuclusosis bought on by starvation before he was able gain much recognition. Thankfully his friend Max Brod ignored his desire to have the remaining manuscripts destroyed and Metamorphosis is one of the century’s seminal philosophical works.
It would be nice to think that thinkers and writers today don’t have this trouble, but that would be naïve. Jeremy Leggett has been writing for a number of years on the carbon wars and environmental destruction that comes from our fuel practices, but whether it’s through public antipathy, publishers reluctance to get behind a message, or deliberate blocking of ideas, he’s found that trying to disseminate his views through the traditional publishing route just does not work.
There are lots of people who make lots of money by propping up the fossil fuel industry’s ideas, or in his words ‘defending the indefensible’ — and this makes any voice challenging the practices that are destroying our planet one to be silenced. Despite receiving strong praise for his previous four books, (The Carbon War, Half Gone, The Solar Century and The Energy of Nations) Leggett did not manage to get his books widely out in the hands of the public and policy makers — something he attributes to a failure of marketing on the part of the publishers, due to either antipathy or active concern over being associated with a controversial message.
Leggett knows why the industry is scared. ‘They’re making an awful lot of money doing this’ as he began his career in a different guise, and his challenges feel close to home for those he worked alongside when he was a geologist in the oil industry. The more he learned about global warming the more he ‘vowed something had to be done’ and broke away to join Greenpeace, before setting up his own solar power company Solarcentury in 1997. The complacency of the industry has led to climate change, burning more fossil fuel than we need, whilst ignoring the promise of solar power. The inflation of the value of oil and gas industries means that any edging away from it risks financial devastation, not something any energy companies, institutions or banks want to risk. For years everyone has been burying their heads about the issue.
And so this is one reason that he has chosen to publish his latest book The Winning of the Carbon War as an ongoing diary of the debates, battles and controversy that have been taking place over the last few years, one free chapter a month, to culminate after The Paris Summit and published in January 2016. Piece by piece he has been able to drip the facts and thoughts out into the mainstream, get it in the hands of policy makers, and shake up activists.
It’s a novel process in which his experiences and notes have evolved and grown as the conversation has, and throughout the book we hear Leggett’s voice, frustrations and opinions in response to the situation he faces. Reading through each chapter it’s clear that this is a man passionate about his cause, and willing to say some pretty powerful things, although he’s keen to stress that ‘all I do is present the facts; there’s nothing libellous in there!’
Someone has to stand up and take a risk if anything is to change. Like those before him, Leggett might be facing an uphill battle, but as long as he keeps writing, someone has to listen.
Jeremy Leggett is a social entrepreneur and writer, and is chairman of Solarcentury, SolarAid and Carbon Tracker. His latest book is The Winning of the Carbon War is available chapter by chapter to download and for pre order here.