Toby Litt has published novels, short story collections and comics. His most recent book is Patience, a novel. He runs the Creative Writing MFA at Birkbeck College, and blogs at www.tobylitt.com. He is a member of English Pen. When he is not writing, he likes sitting doing nothing.
Dear Terence Mordaunt,
all your working life, you’ve been a man of the sea. As co-founder of the Bristol Port Company, it’s the key element of your immensely successful business. But even before that, you were – as I understand it – a navigating apprentice in the Merchant Navy.
I’m sure you must have found that an extremely demanding, practical training in the day-to-day work of shipboard life, and yet there must have been moments when you were able to stop and look out at the wide ocean.
Even a calm blue sea, with nothing else in sight from horizon to horizon, is one of the most awesome visions any of us can have. You can’t help but feel uplifted by its scope and power. It seems so far beyond human concern, beyond human influence – and yet it’s not.
As the years have passed since you became a master mariner, you must have noticed many changes to this same sea. You must have seen how, far from being a pristine wilderness, it is now – even far away from human cities – a place of floating plastic and oil slicks. Perhaps you’ve flown over, or even visited, the Great Barrier Reef. For me, this bleached, dead underwater desert that used to be a technicolour wonder of fish and coral is one of the saddest sights. If anything breaks my heart, that does. But perhaps you were lucky enough to see it before it became so bleakly diminished?
I know, from your involvement with the Global Warming Policy Foundation, that you take a robust attitude toward talk of climate change. In the recent past, you’ve said you believe there’s still room for doubt – the science may be misreading the facts. The year-on-year rises in sea-temperate may not, after all, be caused by human activity. The melting of the glaciers at the poles could possibly be a natural, cyclical phenomenon – or something we don’t yet understand.
The kind of utopian suggestions made by environmental protestors must seem to you ridiculous, and yet still worth your time and energy in opposing. That must be why you’ve remained a Trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. You want to protect the possibility of corporate and individual enterprise. How could we “Just Stop Oil”, when it fuels the engine of our economy? What are the ships that cruise in and out of the Avonbury and Royal Portbury docks – the ships that bring employment to the local people, and food and goods to our shops – what are they going to run on?
But let’s look again at the sea – that immense inhuman power. It seems to be rising. As the glaciers at the poles melt, it will rise more. Yes, this will destroy communities on small islands far away, but it will also threaten the sustainability of the low-lying parts of the United Kingdom – including the Port of Bristol. If the Thames Barrier is broached, the waters may flood not only the Houses of Parliament but Tufton Street – where the Global Warming Policy Foundation has its offices.
My hope would be that, with concerted human action, with our inventiveness but also with our restraint, we could avoid – or mitigate – this and many other disasters. But in order for that to happen, lots of people who have staked their reputation on this or that established value will need to change. They will need to step back from the moral and institutional positions they have occupied – because they are no longer a conceivable power for good. Because they have become a clear and active cause of harm.
For these reasons, I’m writing to ask you to think back to your first experiences of the sea, to consider the painful-to-behold changes of its recent history, and to imagine the terrifying possibilities of its future. And then, in sober response to this, I am asking you to step down from being a Trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation – an organisation whose time has definitively passed, and which I don’t believe represents your deepest values.
I am intending to publish this letter on the Writers Rebel website, and also to share it more widely. However, I have sent it beforehand in hopes of hearing back from you.
I look forward to receiving your response.
All best wishes,
Toby Litt has published novels, short story collections and poems. His most recent project, A Writer’s Diary, has appeared every day this year on Substack, and will be published on January 1st by Galley Beggar Press. He teaches Creative Writing at Birkbeck College and is the editor of the Writers Rebel website.
CALL TO ACTION
We consider the GWPF to be the climate denial arm of the dark money and fossil fuel lobby network based in London’s infamous Tufton Street, whose close connections to the government make it a significant obstacle to progress in addressing the climate emergency. If you feel the same, let the GWPF know by emailing email@example.com (FAO Terence Mordaunt), and cc’ing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.