Personal feelings about climate change aired in handwritten letters

By Mabel Kwong

Is This How You Feel? | Melbourne Writers Festival

How do we really feel about climate change? Who is responsible for the consequences of climate change today? These two questions are explored in Is This How You Feel?, an exhibition currently on display at fortyfivedownstairs in Melbourne.

Presented in conjunction with the 2015 Melbourne Writers Festival, the exhibit showcases a collection of letters handwritten by Australia’s leading climate scientists, documenting their personal feelings and opinions towards climate change. Compiled by prominent environmental lobbyist Joe Duggan, the display aims to engage the everyday person with climate change and encourage them to make their voices heard on this global issue.

The exhibit is interactive, encouraging visitors to get involved in the fight against climate change as soon as possible. In one corner of the display, visitors are invited to share their feelings about climate change via social media, and as well as on blank pieces of paper supplied.

A range of sentiments is expressed through the words penned within the letters. For instance, Professor Corey Bradshaw, Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change at the University of Adelaide, writes how he is “anger[ed]” and “furious” with leaders profiteering from the fossil fuel industry that results in extensive destruction of the “environmental life-support system that keeps us all alive”. Dr Ailie Gallant, climate scientist from Monash University, describes feeling “helpless” at the lack of action shown by higher levels of society in the fight against this phenomenon.

“Visitors have the opportunity to engage in climate change from an emotional angle, as opposed to being overwhelmed with comprehensive scientific facts about our environment.”

Evidently, these letters read akin to diary and journal entries. No doubt, the exhibit seeks to reach out to the everyday person through colloquial language and heartfelt emotion that they can relate to, bringing a human dimension to climate change. Although devoid of scientific vernacular, the handwritten messages from researchers emphatically highlight how climate change is a pressing issue today; an issue happening at this very second as a direct result of human action.

Although the handwritten letters in Is This How You Feel? make notable mentions of the consequences of climate change – such as droughts, bushfires and extreme El Nino events – they only briefly expand on the causes of the global phenomenon. This begets the thought: if we are informed about the causes of climate change, wouldn’t we be in a better position to address this problem?

In reality, there are numerous causes of climate change, some of which might be difficult to grasp. Thus the lack of such information within the exhibit might be tactical. Visitors have the opportunity to engage in climate change from an emotional angle, as opposed to being overwhelmed with comprehensive scientific facts about our environment.

On the subject of reducing the impact of climate change, researchers are cautiously hopeful. Dr Gallant feels “optimism tickles” and Professor David Griggs, director of the Monash Sustainability Institute, feels “occasionally optimistic” upon hearing advancements in renewable practices – often small advancements over the years. While there is progress within the fields of environmental research, it seems that more needs to be done to ensure a sustainable future.

Modern technology is painted as a double-edged sword in the fight against climate change. On one hand, it plays a vital role in creating a sustainable planet, but on the other it is also responsible for turning attention away from ongoing climate issues. As Dr Will Hobbs from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies writes in his letter, “we live in a noisy world…bombarded by information” 24/7 from online sites. That is, information available online in relation to climate change and non-climate change are constantly competing for our eyeballs.

As such, perhaps a good number of us are disconnected from the implications of climate change. A survey conducted by the CSIRO in 2014 revealed that Australians rank climate change well down on the list of environmental issues they are concerned about, even though most are aware that temperatures will rise in the future. Arguably, Australians possess a sense of “climate complacency” living in a first-world developed country – most of us are still able to carry on with our lives as per usual despite the havoc climate change is wreaking on developing countries around us.

Ultimately, climate change is happening right now, and it makes sense that we act now in order to preserve environmental diversity for generations ahead of us. Although we are, in large part, to blame for climate change, we can always start creating a sustainable future today no matter where we are in the world.

Is This How You Feel is showing as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival until 29 August.

Mabel Kwong is a freelance writer and blogger interested in the questions of multiculturalism, diasporas and what it means to be an Asian person living in Australia. She blogs at