Ketan Joshi is a prolific writer, analyst and science communicator focusing on clean energy and climate change. He previously worked in climate and energy for private companies and government agencies, and now writes journalism and commentary from the frontlines of climate and energy battles around the world.
How are you looking after yourself during this time?
Very much learning when to step away from coronavirus data and charts. Initially, I used data about the spread of the virus as a way of managing my own terror, and that quickly lost its power and became self-destructive. More than any of that, getting on with doing work in my own tiny little square metre of climate action and science communication as best as possible, because that’s a problem that isn’t going away. It is weirdly reassuring to work on an apocalypse I’m familiar with rather than one that is new and weird.
Can you speak a little about your creative process while writing?
First run is just sitting down and churning it out. And then beating it into shape takes an incredibly long time. The book, of course, had to be as perfect as possible. I feel like every pass gets you half as much improvement as the previous pass – meaning it asymptotically tends towards a destination of perfection you’ll never reach. So when the effort starts outweighing the improvement in the writing, that’s when you step away. After that I simply squirm in terror that the gargantuan piece of work I sculpted over years isn’t what I’d create if I started now – but of course that’s a silly fear, because the next book will incorporate everything I’ve learned creating this one.
Has the pandemic changed the way you approach your art/writing? Are you creating or absorbing, or both?
I thought climate stuff would get quieter – hah. It’s gotten louder, more intense, more cacophonous. Fossil fuel companies are scrambling to use the pandemic to their advantage, not sneakily but right out in the open. They’re obvious about it, with no qualms. I tend to absorb through creation – I have to write about something to really learn about it – so it’s a lot of both, and I can barely keep up. It’s a big year for climate change. We’ll only realise how pivotal 2020 is in terms of climate and carbon when we’re far from it, I worry.
I can’t think of a better time to be releasing this book. Everything I describe about climate delay over the past decade in Australia will play out at 100x times the speed and intensity, and I hope Australians are better guarded and inoculated against the mythology and the narratives used by political and media players to create a false sense of difficulty around climate action.
What are the most important literary and non-literary forces that shape your writing?
I have been obsessed with the rise of the climate justice movement in the US, so writing on that is fascinating to me. Kate Aronoff, Eric Holthaus, Leah Stokes, Naomi Klein, et al. Australia and Europe both don’t have the focus on justice, equity and fairness that America’s climate movement does. Look at the Sunrise Movement, and compare it to Extinction Rebellion. We have some way to go. A non-literary force – easily, Twitter. It’s a social media site where most of the brains I respect and love who write on this live. It’s a chat room filled with everything I’m obsessed with. It’s massive.
Which artists are you most intrigued by at this current point in time?
I’m currently watching I May Destroy You, which is by Michaela Coel. It’s really compelling and I think Coel is really, really talented – I’m so eager to follow her future work. The team that put together HBO’s Watchmen is amazing; what a compelling work on modern American racial tensions.
And, lastly, on a lighter note, what’s your favourite book-to-TV / book-to-film adaptation? Or is there a book you’d like to see adapted into a TV show / film?
I hate that there aren’t modern movies about climate action and climate policy. These are incredible, dramatic fights, but the closest we get are proxies (like the excellent Dark Waters) or documentaries (which are too often vehicles for celebrities). There are so many fiction and non-fiction books that could be adapted – e.g. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy. I think climate change genuinely hasn’t really broken into film and TV yet; at least not as it should.
I’m about to watch Occupied, a Norwegian TV series based on a novel, in which Norway decides to stop drilling for oil after a climate disaster and is consequently invaded by the Russians … at least it explicitly references climate change! More of this stuff is vital.