The Weather War: UN Report Shows Toll of Climate Change

On 23 November, just a week before the opening of COP 21, the Climate Change Conference in Paris, the United Nations issued a fascinating (and scary) report showing the unexpected toll of climate change over the past 20 years (see here). The author of the report is the UN’s office for disaster risk reduction (UNISDR). Headquartered in Geneva with 5 regional offices, UNISDR is an organizational unit of the UN Secretariat, headed by Margareta Wahlström and tasked to support the implementation, follow-up and review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 that was adoped by UN Member States in Japan in March 2015.

Margareta Wahlstrom, presenting the report. She is Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Disaster Risk Reduction, appointed since 2008. A citizen of Sweden, she started her international career with the Red Cross (1995-2000).

The numbers are mind-boggling. Did you know that over the past twenty years, since the first Climate Change Conference (COP1) in 1995, over 600,000 people have lost their lives and over 4 billion have been injured  in weather-related events? Losses to property are of course commensurate and enormous: 87 million homes were damaged or destroyed over the period of the survey; the total cost of property losses – including from earthquakes and tsunamis – is between US$250 billion and US$300 billion annually (a UNISDR estimate, noting that loss data is systematically under-reported).

Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that weather-related events account for 90% of disasters. We always think of disasters in terms of war and other human-related causes (and of course, those are the worst, on ethical grounds because they could be avoided) and we tend to accept passively disasters caused by climate change.

But we shouldn’t. The pace of climate-related events is increasing: An average of 335 weather-related disasters were recorded per year between 2005 and 2014, an increase of 14% from 1995-2004, and almost twice the level recorded during 1985-1995. That is truly scary.

Yet, there is a silver lining in all this. In the upcoming Climate Change Conference, we have a chance to finally do something constructive. This report proves that, in purely economic terms, engaging in measures to control gas emissions and reduce global warming results directly in lives and property saved. And that translates into an automatic reduction in the costs of controlling climate change. So it’s not a straight exchange, one on one, between economic growth and climate change control. By choosing to curb emissions, even developing countries would find that they are enjoying a better quality economic growth.

And then there’s the moral question. Do we really have the choice of sacrificing lives to the God of Economic Growth and the Golden Calf of Profit?

Adoration of the Golden Calf by Poussin


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The Key for Peace: The Indispensable Role of the United Nations

Once again, one of my articles, just published on Impakter, with a remarkable introduction from the Editor (he is a millennial, a man deeply concerned about the issues of our time, value-driven like his whole generation, and this too is reason for hope in a better future). This is the beginning, to read the rest, go on Impakter, click here.


on 16 November, 2015 at 19:00

Note from the Editor: In these hours, following the tragic killing of innocents in Paris and Beirut,  our thoughts are with the people of France and Lebanon.

Impakter is a global publication. Our team comes from every corner of our beloved World. We represent the citizens of the World. Furthermore, our aim is to express that through this publication. Today we want this thought to reach higher than ever before. 

We believe that the current events taking place during the G20 could potentially be a significant milestone in our human history. A unprecedented event. The G20 could potentially regroup all the citizens of the World.  All united into delivering a safer and united future for all the generations to come.

The road is full of challenges, but  we will all walk through it under one flag, that of Peace. This is without a doubt a key turning point in our history. Like the Phoenix, we are to be reborn from the ashes of our World’s darkest hours.

Now, more then ever, we must move upwards and onwards. 

This is a first analysis of what might be happening next.


Once the United Nations Security Council is unblocked, we can hope to see an end to the Syria crisis. So far, because of Russia’s repeated use of its veto power at the Security Council, supported by China, its usual ally, the international community has not been able to move forward in a concerted fashion. Syria, after three years of a devastating civil war, is now pounded by Russian and American forces and their respective allies, but they haven’t agreed on common objectives: Russia supports Bashir al Assad, the United States targets Daesh, a.k.a ISIS or IS. But now things are changing.

On Sunday 15 November, at the G20 meeting in Turkey, a major political decision was reportedly taken, a page in the difficult relationship between Russia and the West appears to have been turned. It seems that Putin and Obama had an eye-to-eye talk that lasted half-an-hour and their meeting was caught on Turkish television.

Negotiations under the aegis of the United Nations between the Syrian opposition and the regime [meaning Bashir al Assad] and a cease-fire

A White House spokesman said afterwards…

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Climate Fiction Update: It’s Now Eco-fiction!

The thread discussing climate fiction on the top-rated SFF World website is still on-going! If you haven’t read it yet, click here to see it. It has now veered to discussing what makes for a good story based on  an eco-fiction premise. And here I thought the thread had been winding down! But it hasn’t, you’re still in time to join the discussion and post your comment.  I’d even posted this comment that I thought would be my last:

I do hope that one lasting result of this excellent debate on SFFWorld is that we can put to rest the discussion around cli-fi vs. climate fiction vs. eco-fiction!

I vote for eco-fiction, particularly since it has shown to have proven historical antecedents – wow, back to 1971, as Burt pointed out, and with a string of big names from Asimov to Vonnegut to Steinbeck…That’s impressive and yes, I would certainly also sign on to that pitch Burt quotes:

“Eco-Fiction is a provocative and poignant collection of short stories that issue a plea to each individual to recognize his inevitable place and vital responsibility for the future of man on earth.” ​

Indeed, our responsibility “for the future of man on earth” is vital. This is what Mary and Bert do so beautifully: fighting for a better world with “provocative and poignant” stories – they, and all the other authors mentioned in this thread…

By the way, let me close by saying that I am looking forward to Ecotones!

Yes, I do think the debate around what to call a book set in a post-climate change world (or in the midst of the worst of it) has been laid to rest. And I much prefer the discussion around what makes for a good story. I was introduced to a soon-to-be published anthology of eco-fiction, called Ecotones, and I’m looking forward to it.

Here it is on Kickstarter, seeking to gather funds by 1 December:

Hurry if you want to help them! I did, they’re half-way there. And you know how Kickstarter works, don’t you? If they don’t reach their stated goal (in this case £1,000) they don’t get the money, Kickstarter cancels the whole campaign and doesn’t take any money you have contributed. Here’s the message you get once you’ve paid in:

Nice, isn’t it? I hope they make it! These are both talented and dedicated writers, deeply engaged in our future – but then, aren’t we all? Aren’t we all worried about global warming, pollution, wars, the end of civilization as we know it? Don’t we all want to pass onto our children and grandchildren a beautiful and safe and just world?

Bless you all!

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Climate Change and the Price of Survival

BOOK REVIEW – BACK TO THE GARDEN, by Clara Hume, published by Moon Willow Press (2013) Available on Amazon, click here

BREAKING NEWS: On the forum SFFWorld, there’s an on-going debate on climate fiction where Clara Hume intervenes as Guest Host, using her real name, Mary Woodbury, along with two more Guest Hosts, Brian Burt, author of the Aquarius Rising  trilogy and myself under my pen name Claude Nougat. To see or join this stimulating debate, click here now!

Climate change usually inspires the direst of dystopian fiction: end-of-the-world situations, cities under water, people desperately seeking safety and fighting for survival while children and the elderly are the first to die…With Clara Hume’sBack to the Garden, you get that but you also get much more and something that is very different.

You get a breath of fresh air, a glimpse of hope even though in that book, as in all other climate fiction novels I’ve ever read, the world is overheated and overrun with lawless gangs as society as we know it has collapsed.

What this book tells us is: maybe mankind can survive after all…but at what price! Back to the Garden is like going back to square one, the start of civilization. All technological advances are lost, there is no electricity and little fuel left. This is a world of growing scarcities. But is that “garden”, the one in the book, a new, revised garden of Eden?

Maybe it is, and that is a comforting thought: what we have here is dystopia with a smile.

And that’s what makes Back to the Garden very different and really worth reading.

And pondering over.

This is the story of a trip across a devastated, post-apocalyptic America told from multiple points of view, one for each traveler, and each one is an engaging character. We soon find ourselves liking them, feeling their pains, their hopes, their loves. This is a very human tale, some die and we cry, others live on in spite of dreadful obstacles, and they all finally get “back to the garden” – but I stop here, I don’t want to give away the story and ruin the suspense, I will not tell you about this garden, pick up the book and find out!

One commentator on Amazon (see here), made the interesting comparison with Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, noting that while Steinbeck depicted a cross-country trek of people driven from home by the Great Depression, Clara Hume’s characters are driven by Climate Change. The comparison is apt, although the story is in fact very different (as are the characters). But we are indeed at a literary level, this is a beautifully written novel.

The author (Clara Hume is a pen name) is a young woman deeply committed to fighting climate change and preserving our environment for future generations. She maintains a vibrant website Eco-Fiction  that acts as a hub for a community of people eager to debate environmental themes, including climate change, in both literature and the arts.

Here’s the landing page, and you can glimpse a series of interviews of climate fiction authors:

The site is an outreach project run by Moon Willow Press, an independent small press in Canada (British Columbia) with a mission to “help sustain forests while celebrating the written word”. On the site, we learn that “MWP has planted over 1,000 non-invasive trees in ecologically and economically rough areas since 2011. The press prints only on recycled, hemp, and forest-certified fiber.”

Here’s their opening page (screenshot, there are three images that keep changing, I caught this one about the “Blue Dot Run Team”):

Well done, MWP, this is a social-minded business, it is currently open to submissions for both fiction and non-fiction books. And of course, MWP is the publisher of Back to the Garden and numerous other climate fiction novels – reads that anyone with an environmental conscience and a concern about man’s survival on this planet should not miss…

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What Turns a Police Thriller into a Bestseller? Lessons from Faceless Killers

Discovering Henning Mankell (here)

Let me start with a confession: I’m not a habitual reader of police thrillers and murder stories. Like everyone, I’ve read Agatha Christie when I was young, I’ve gone through all the classics from Arthur Conan Doyle to Ngaio Marsh but I’m not a fan, call me a dispassionate reader.
Why? Because too often, I can see through the plot and it all looks depressingly formulaic.

When Henning Mankell died this month (see this excellent article in the Atlantic Monthly, here),  I was reminded of his stature in Scandinavian literature – the Atlantic Monthly calls him the “dean of Nordic Noir“, with 30 million copies of his Kurt Wallander series sold since the first one came out, 25 years ago, in 1990.

Of course, I’m familiar with the character of Kurt Wallander, an ordinary, middle-aged policeman working in a small town in Southern Sweden, having seen several episodes of a series featuring him on ARTE TV. But now I wanted to find out more, I thought I would try and uncover the roots of his success by reading that first book in the Wallander series, the one that “made it”, with the arresting title Faceless Killers.

Here’s what I found – the main “lessons learned” to ensure that your next thriller is going to rise above the genre and make it as a global bestseller.

As you will see, there are only two rules to follow.

First, let me say it’s a great read, the pace never slackens. When it does slow down – as inevitably it must if you’re following a police investigation step-by-step, an indispensable aspect of making this novel realistic – then Kurt Wallander’s personal life butts in. He has problem with his senile, grumpy and lonely father, a landscape artist endlessly painting the same landscape, his cool wife Mona who has just left him, causing him to dream of making love to a black woman (inexplicably black but then dreams are not always explainable) and his complicated daughter Linda, an independent young woman who lives with her boyfriend from Kenya and can’t make up her mind about attending college. You get the sense that Kurt Wallander, ordinary as he is, has in fact a complex life and you, the reader, feel for him.

This observation leads directly to:

Rule #1: establish empathy with your main character – even if this is a police procedural and the implications are that police procedures and the thrill of the chase should trump characterization.

To transcend the genre and establish credentials as a genuine, world-class work of literature, follow Mankell’s example: develop your main character. Kurt Wallander soon becomes someone you feel you know, someone who goes through the same (often depressing) experiences so many of us go through our lives as a marriage grows stale, as a child turns into a rebellious teenager, as a parent slowly sinks into old age.

The other striking aspect of Faceless Killers is its social dimension. 

This is a book that has deep roots in Swedish society, and by extension, in the society of any advanced country that calls itself (like Sweden) a democracy, that believes it has humanitarian traditions. And it’s a book that does not shy from raising deep, uncomfortable questions. In fact, Mankell himself had lived in Africa and brought his own views to his books and the character Kurt Wallander. As he explained on his website,

“Racism for me is a crime, and therefore it seemed natural that I wrote a crime novel. It was after that the idea of a policeman was born.”

The book is peppered with Mankell’s personal opinions about racism and how refugees are viewed and ill-treated in refugee camps in Sweden. One, a Somali, father of nine children, while walking alone down a country lane near his camp, gets his head blown off  by a ruthless killer with an accomplice in a near-by car ready to whisk him away from the crime scene.

But the book does not merely “show”, Mankell is not afraid of “telling”, here are some examples:

  • [One character says:] “We have a refugee policy in this country that must be followed.” [The other answers:] “Wrong. It’s precisely the lack of  refugee policy that creates chaos.”
  • [Then this character amplifies his thinking]: “Right now we’re living in a country where anyone with any motive at all can come in anywhere in this country at any and in any manner. Control of the borders has been eliminated. The customs service is paralyzed. There are plenty of unguarded strips where the dope and the illegal immigrants are unloaded every night.”

Sounds familiar? Yes, it’s amazingly relevant to our own times and the current migrant crisis in Europe. Germany expects to have to take in one million refugees this year, Sweden less of course, but it is still a favorite destination of the millions of migrants pouring into Europe through Greece, the Balkans and Italy – most of them from war-ridden countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Sudan (Darfur, remember it?)

I wonder if any of those migrants has read Faceless Killers?

The book gives you the whole range of feelings – pro and against – caused by waves of migrants, here are a few more samples:

  • “For brief moments [Wallander] could also detect contradictory sympathies in himself for some of the anti-immigrant arguments that came up in discussions and the press while the trial was in progress [trial about the murder of the Somali man]. Did the government and the Immigration Service have any real control over which individuals sought to enter Sweden? Who was a refugee and who was an opportunist? Was it possible to differentiate them all?”

And then comes the conclusion, one that is haunting all of us these days in Europe as we watch waves upon waves of migrants entering the continent:

  • “How long would the principle of the generous refugee policy be able to hold without leading to chaos? Was there any upper limit?

Indeed, that is precisely what we wonder about now. And we are all like Kurt Wallander, who, as Mankell writes:

  •  “He realized that he harbored the same vague apprehension that so many other people did. Anxiety about the unknown, about the future.”

This is what makes this book so extraordinary, and enables it to rise above the “genre” of mysteries, leaving behind the usual tropes and reaching out to the level of “real” literature – not pure thrills, not entertainment for the sake of entertainment but applying a lens to reality that makes you understand reality better, and perhaps in a way you have never understood it before. In short, great literature.

And this brings us to:

Rule #2: Root your story in reality – address real life issues.

In this case, migrants, what to do with them, how to integrate them in our society. In a globalized world shaken by war and injustice, this is the kind of issue that will stay with us a long time. Think of it, Faceless Killers was written 25 years ago, yet the issues it raises are incredibly relevant to our situation today.

From BBC article: “What can Europe Achieve?” (see here)

You may wonder whether those two rules actually apply beyond thrillers and mysteries.

Of course they do!

In my view, applying those two rules to any genre novel will lift it to the level of
(a) a bestseller; and
(b) literature with a capital “L”.

You may make a lot of money with strictly genre books, selling by the millions like 50 Shades of Grey did, but you won’t reach the top. To achieve that, as Menkell shows, you need to go beyond mere thrills and open the doors of the real world for your readers, you need to make them think.

And you may ask, what is the benefit for you, the writer? Not much beyond some splendid obituaries like the one Henning Mankell got in the Atlantic Monthly or the New York Times and of course, why should you care?

But if you’re an activist who would like to see the world become a better place, then you do care. I know I do. How about you?

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Amazon Has Done It Again for Self-Publishing!

The wonderful case of Swedish self-published author Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin is there to prove it! Thanks to Amazon, this author, a psychologist who has founded a psychological coaching company and published several “help” books in various genres since 2006, has hit the jackpot.

News came out in this summer that something strange was happening on Amazon’s printed books best selling list: big best-sellers from established authors (like Harper Lee‘s Go Set a Watchman) were being displaced from their top position by a book for children from an unknown Swedish author with the weird title The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep – a book specially designed to lull restless children to sleep.

The news were repeated in the press both in America and in the UK (for example, here and here, both pieces dated August 15) and now the New York Times has just learned that in September Mr. Forssen Ehrlin had landed a juicy deal for multiple books, including re-issuing his first book unchanged (but on better quality paper), with one of the Big Five: Penguin Random House no less.

The interview he gave to NYT is an eye-opener. Curious? You can read it here.

So what is the secret of Forssen Ehrlin’s success?

To begin with, a huge number of readers’ reviews – now already over 900 on Amazon.

Next, a well-orchestrated presentation. The NYT felt the illustrations looked a little “amateurish” – perhaps they do, but Penguin Random House is (wisely) maintaining them and (I personally think) they have a lot of charm, and obviously a lot of readers have felt the same way. As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Also, an attractive, professional author website. Take a look here and see for yourself. The site is as much about the author as it is about his books, well balanced, convincing.

Last but not least, an unique sales pitch. The author presents himself as a trained psychologist and life coach, someone “in the know”, who can help parents in the delicate task of relaxing their children at bedtime. His book meets a broadly perceived problem, et voilà, you have a best-seller on your hands, with desperate parents loading up on the book!

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of this story is the fact that this is NOT A KINDLE SUCCESS STORY. It’s a Create Space success, Amazon’s service for self-publishing printed books. 

We’ve been used to read about Amanda Hocking, Bella Andre and Hugh Howey –  they all made it first by hitting the Kindle’s best selling lists.

Carl-Johan has done it differently, with a printed book.

And, not content to break new ground format-wise, he’s done it genre-wise too. This is not a romance, this is not a thriller or science-fiction, it’s a children’s book.

Congrats Carl-Johan, well done!

 Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin’s website (Screenshot)

PS. This story can also be construed as another confirmation that the digital format is not particularly adapted to children’s books. Mr. Forssen Ehrlin was wise to choose a printed book format, that is what parents want to do with their children, sitting on their bed after dinner, thumbing a book…

Your views?

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Boomer Lit Three Years Later: What Next?

Lear and Cordelia 1849-54 Ford Madox Brown 1821-1893 Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund and subscribers 1916

Lear and Cordelia 1849-54 Ford Madox Brown 1821-1893 P

In a way, Boomer Lit has been around for ever. Any book dealing with the challenges of “mature life” (meaning over 50) could be said to be “Boomer Lit”.

And now that some 78 million baby boomers in the US have reached 50 or are older – and that’s a big segment of the American population – the term Boomer Lit given to the kind of books they want to read has truly come into its own.

Why do I claim “Boomer Lit” was founded three years ago? Some people may say they’d heard the term before, that it was “floating in the air” and they could well be right.

But something specific happened three years ago that made it literally come out of its chrysalis and be born as a new genre –  a genre, I’m convinced, destined to become a great marketing success, given the sheer number of baby boomers. Not just in the US but around the world. And these are people who are rapidly reaching retirement age or are already retired…which means they’ve got plenty of time on their hands to read!

The Love Story stars, reunited today, see here

So what exactly happened three years ago to launch Boomer Lit? By chance, at this time of year (actually September 2012) I had just published a novel about a man facing a new phase in his life after retirement and the choices he makes threaten his marriage.

My problem was I didn’t know in which genre to place it. Romance since it dealt with a marriage relationship gone awry? Yes, but the man is over 60, and he has a love adventure with a woman in her 50s.

As we all know, “classic” romance is like Segal’s Love Story, all about young people. Also my book drilled in depth with how it feels like when you stop working and the rug is pulled out under your feet. Not the usual stuff of romance!

How to market such an odd book that didn’t fit anywhere?

That’s when I turned to a Kindle Forum thread for listing new books under specific genres and asked the moderator to allow the addition of a new genre aimed at Baby Boomers (I figured they were my audience). My request was granted and that boosted my confidence. I felt I was on the right road.

Happily armed with this new Amazon avenue that had opened up for marketing my book, I turned to Goodreads, looking for a group to discuss Baby Boomer novels and possibly get a chance to talk about my book and list it and reach out to more people.

Tough luck. I found no such group anywhere on Goodreads (and there are thousands of groups dealing with thousands of different themes!).

Determined to launch my book, I wasn’t discouraged. I’d been already fairly active on Goodreads for years and achieved the status of “librarian”, so it was a no-brainer to found a group to discuss Baby Boomer novels – or BB novels as I called them, I liked the humorous, facetious aspect of this term. If YA was for Young Adults, surely BB was for Baby Boomers?

I started the group in October 2012 with an explanatory pitch around this BB novel concept and put up a photo-shopped picture of my husband reading his Kindle ( washed over in blue color letting his hair show white – he actually has dark hair!).

By December 2012, the group had attracted over 50 extremely enthusiastic and active members and I started to write about in several online publications  and the Baby Boomer ball got rolling (for details on how it went, click my Boomer Lit tab above)…

In fact, today, three years later, the group has grown to nearly 600 – most of them, if not all, Boomer Lit authors.

That’s a lot of writers who claim to be writing Boomer Lit!  Writers who belong to the Group know that they also have at their disposal a Facebook page to announce their books or special events and a Twitter account (@boomerlit. To support Boomer Lit events, there is a dedicated hashtag: #boomerlit

To go to page, click here

In the spring of 2013, the Goodreads member of our BB novel group discussed the title of the group and there was a unanimous agreement that it should be called “Boomer Lit” because it didn’t cover just novels but also memoirs, poetry etc.

And there was a pointed discussion about the very nature of Boomer Lit: did it cover just challenges facing the “third age” or did it  also evoke the past, what it was like growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s? I’ve always felt that the former was truly Boomer Lit while the latter was not. In my opinion, nostalgia pieces – whether a poem, a novel or a short story –  that deal with, say, a first love that happened some 40 years ago should still be classified as YA romance and not Boomer Lit. Why? Because it features, yes, a “young adult” (or maybe not so young, perhaps someone in their twenties) – but surely not anyone over 50!

At least that was my view and I fought for it, but not always winning that battle. Many Group members felt nostalgia was definitely part of Boomer Lit even if it dealt with a first love.

I believe this is the kind of intellectual “battle” only a Big Publisher could win.

That’s why Boomer Lit, to get truly established and go mainstream, needs to have a traditional publisher, preferably one of the Big Five, set up a Boomer Lit imprint. With a clear definition of what the term Boomer Lit covers and a clear outreach strategy to Baby Boomers.

I’m convinced such an imprint, correctly launched, would automatically access a huge market. Some authors have already made a splash with books that are clearly “Boomer Lit”, notably “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” that’s been turned into two films, and there’s no reason that many more Boomer Lit authors of quality cannot be found.

Source: click here

For a partial list of Boomer Lit books, check the Wikipedia entry, here. A publisher could also ask its editors to look among the members of the Goodreads Boomer Lit group. The group discussed a number of books and those discussions were very fruitful in helping to define what was and what was not quality Boomer Lit. And all those discussion threads are online, easy to access.

Furthermore, I’m pleased to report that the Goodreads Boomer Lit Group has started a particularly interesting thread about Boomer Lit, its challenges and potential as a major genre, to read it click here.

Yes, Boomer Lit has a future and in America, its future is 78 million strong! The first publisher who wakes up to this opportunity and establishes a Boomer Lit imprint is likely to be richly rewarded.

Your views? What do you think you can do to help put Boomer Lit on the map?

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