Contemplating the End with Annie Proulx and Bruce Pascoe

In his final appearance at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival in Montreal – after twenty years of hosting on-stage interviews and panel discussions that were later broadcast on IDEAS – Paul Kennedy talks with American novelist Annie Proulx (The Shipping News, Brokeback Mountain, Barkskins) and Indigenous Australian writer Bruce Pascoe (Fox a Dog, Mrs. Whitlam, Dark Emu) about the fate of our planet. Their conversation begins with the environmental devastation that threatens life itself, and moves towards what we should do, both now and in the future.
Forest fire devastation in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Writers Annie Proulx and Bruce Pascoe discuss the the fate of our planet in a panel hosted by Paul Kennedy. (SYLVAIN BASCARON/CBC)
Listen to the full episode53:59

We need to return to Mother Earth. We need to respect her for who she is and respect what she has done and what she wants to do. Thus the Earth wants to repair. We've seen it when people have gone out of their way to do the right thing by Mother Earth, the earth will repair herself. But if we continue disliking her to such a degree that we think she should do what we want then we will kill her. We will kill our mother. – Bruce Pascoe

The story of climate change is an old one, even if we've only recently started talking about it. 

American marine biologist and conservationist, Rachel Carson, pointed to the slow march of the Anthropocene more than five decades ago, writing about the quiet poisoning of the earth from the use of synthetic pesticides. 

Those early warnings seem almost quaint now as we encounter near-daily examples of the impending crisis of our own creation.

American novelist, Annie Proulx, and Australian Indigenous writer, Bruce Pascoe, spoke with Paul Kennedy at this year's Blue Metropolis Literary Festival in Montreal about the need for writers to confront the climate crisis head-on, and to come up with new structures of storytelling that could sidestep the old man-versus-nature trope. 

For both writers, their first personal encounters with climate change had a serious impact on the kind of stories they wanted to tell. 

Writers Bruce Pascoe and Annie Proulx with IDEAS host Paul Kennedy at the 2019 Blue Metropolis Literary Festival in Montreal (Dionne Codrington/CBC)

Annie Proulx noted that it was the trees that signalled something was wrong: "I used to walk and hike a lot in the Rockies and the trees in the Rockies are almost all lodgepole pine. I noticed that in the forests, they were dying. They were turning red and brown and then grey." 

Proulx says when she mentioned this to forestry people, they insisted it was merely a local phenomenon. But as she travelled further and further out to other states, she saw the dying all around: "They had no reserves of strength left. They were weakened by the warmth."

Annie Proulx and Bruce Pascoe were guests at the 2019 Blue Metropolis Literary Festival in Montreal. 2:50

Bruce Pascoe's first encounter with climate change was in Australia with white-headed pigeons: "We've never had white-headed pigeons, and suddenly they arrived because the fruit that they depended on had grown (locally) as a result of climate change. People look on that as a benign intervention but, really, it's a signal for horror."

Pascoe believes that instead of feeling that all is lost, it's possible to see the climate crisis as an opportunity to change how we think about our spiritual needs, that instead of chasing what sustains us without thinking about its effect on the planet, we can and should think about how our own spiritual growth is tied to the sustainability of the planet.

**This episode was produced by Naheed Mustafa.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.