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Guest Post: Kyra Whitton- Not the Same As It Was

Guest Post: Kyra Whitton- Not the Same As It Was

I grew up in the Deep South, the epitome of heat and humidity, where the first bits of green can start peeking through as early as February, especially in recent years. Since moving back to Georgia two years ago, it seems like that heat doesn’t ever go away, keeping my A/C running every day without fail. As I write this, the high outside is 84 degrees Fahrenheit. And it’s February.

The more I think about it, the more I am sure this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. I may be older than I’d like, but a mid-thirty-something like me isn’t that old. Yet I remember the days of my childhood when September meant autumn (not Summer 2.0) and June evenings still had a crispness to the air that pebbled my skin into goosebumps. Every few years, when the U.S. Army asks my husband where he’d like move us next, my index finger moves higher and higher up the map, chasing temperatures I remember from twenty, fifteen, even ten years ago. But even after the years of hopping from one side of the globe to the other, of picking up and moving from Georgia to Washington to Virginia, Kansas and Kentucky, making stops in Scotland and China, Hong Kong, and a hundred different airports along the way, I’ve found I’m not alone as I grumble: it didn’t use to be this way. Four years ago, before I wrote the first lines of my upcoming novel, A Burden of Ice and Bone, it was May. I was living outside of Louisville Kentucky on Fort Knox, known for its bourbon trails, blue grass, and gold vault. It was the beginning of May, and yet it was hot enough my kids came home from school in the afternoon and begged to put on their bathing suits and set the slip’n’slide up on the slope of a small hill out back, an activity we wouldn’t have dreamed of doing until closer to the middle of June where I grew up three hundred miles south on the outskirts of Atlanta. This isn’t right, I’d tell myself as I helped them pump air into the inflatable sides. Why is the weather so weird this year?

While they were at school and the temperatures creeped up and up and up, I started combating the encroaching summer with documentaries about the north. Greenland. Iceland. Norway. The Tundras of Canada. The Explorers of the Northwest Passage. Arctic Wolves, Puffins. Polar Bears. I drank heavily from the cups of National Geographic and Smithsonian as I cranked up my A/C and bundled under a blanket with a hot tea balanced between my hands. And no matter the subject matter, one thing almost seemed to play itself on repeat: this isn’t how it used to be. It was there, piled under a fleece blanket in my living room, that I decided I was going to write a story about our world, but the way it used to be or maybe could be again. With distinct summers and winters, climates that were ever the same and unchanging. The way it used to be.

But that’s when it hit me. I’d had this question of global warming and climate change posed to me before.

The year was 2008. That might seem like a long time ago, but trust me, it may as well have been last week. For some, the part of Earth and Atmospheric Science classes were just an easy elective, but for a lowly History, Technology, and Society major at one of the top engineering schools in the world, it was doom. The thing you just had to survive to earn the diploma. The classes you saved for dead last because you just needed to pass by the skin of your teeth to graduate. And yet the second section was one of the most important classes I ever took over the course of my academic career (though, full disclosure, bell curves were definitely my friend). What I learned there stayed with me just as much as the ones that focused on my preferred areas of academic study. And that was about climate and weather, the carbon cycle, and (maybe you guessed it if you’ve read anything about A Burden of Ice and Bone), ice ages. My professor, a meteorologist whose office I visited at least twice a week in an effort to understand the course material, would project graphs as tall as the two-story lecture hall onto the blank white screen. Millions of years’ worth of data about the carbon cycle and how it affected the earth’s temperature, their waves trending upward as often as they trended down until the last thirty years where they only seemed to climb at steeper and steeper rates. He'd flip between them and maps of the cooling and warming Earth. It was ever-changing, sections of brown and green giving way to great swaths of white that stretched much further south than my Southern existence could comprehend. I won’t spoil where A Burden of Ice and Bone takes place because I not-so-secretly crave the day when one of my readers says “I KNOW WHERE THAT IS!” But as I was working out the particulars of a story I wanted to tell, I knew it had to include the overarching theme of that class: Earth isn’t a constant. It’s ever-changing, and it will survive. But the more terrifying one, the one that has strung through the back of my mind isn’t whether the Earth will survive the acceleration in global warming we’ve stoked. It’s will we? I wrote A Burden of Ice and Bone to tackle our rapidly changing world and the place of people within it as much as I wrote it to assuage my thirst for adventure, a little bit of magic, and a whole heaping of romance. And a fairy tale (or, in this case, a reimagining of a couple hailing from Norway featuring polar bears) is the perfect way to present a problem, a societal solution, and all those delicious tropes I cannot get enough of. Dira may not live in a world where she has to worry about whether she should wear a winter coat over her shorts and tank top because it’s freezing when she wakes up in the morning and sweltering by the time she’s coming home for dinner, but her worries are the same as anyone concerned with global warming and climate change: how can she change her world and make it better when it seems like no one else is listening?

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