UBC law student hopes to use fandoms for climate justice with upcoming YA novel

Can you recall a single fictional story that you’ve read or watched that discusses the climate crisis without using it as a backdrop for the end of the world?

In popular media and fiction, climate fiction — narratives about climate change — seems to have become a subgenre of post-apocalyptic fiction. Grace Nosek, PhD student at the Allard School of Law and founder of the UBC Climate Hub, is trying to change that. In her upcoming novel, Rootbound, Nosek attempts to shape a conversation about the climate crisis that is grounded in collective joy and action while also holding space for young people to process their fears and anxieties about the climate crisis.

“After the last 10 years of studying fossil fuel industry misinformation … I've just seen how profoundly and invisibly the fossil fuel industry has shaped how we think about climate change and our present and our future,” said Nosek. “I wanted to push back against them. And I know that you can't do that just through research. I wanted to do that through story as well.”

Engaging with youth on their own terms

The novel centres a girl whose sister goes missing at a climate protest. In her quest to find her sister, she discovers an ancient order of evil bent on destroying youth environmental justice resistance — and an arsenal of magical and realistic tools to organize against it.

Nosek's team is marketing Rootbound as a young adult fantasy romance story rooted in community-based climate resistance. The choice to market it as a YA novel was a response to what Nosek described as the fossil fuel industry’s deliberate choice to target fossil fuel misinformation at young people.

Equally as important, the target audience is also a way of acknowledging the pivotal role of young people in climate action movements.

“I wanted to celebrate these youth protesters and these frontline defenders and really show that they are the heroes of our time,” said Nosek.

By adding fantasy elements into the Rootbound universe, Nosek seeks to nurture the sense of possibility that people often associate with magic. By nurturing that sense of possibility, Nosek wants to challenge the sense of apocalyptic apathy that many people bring to conversations about the climate crisis.

The theory of change that Nosek wants to promote in Rootbound is grounded in collective joy. According to Nosek, the fossil fuel industry has almost succeeded in framing climate action as sacrifice — of jobs, of economic progress, of the Canadian way of life. But through Rootbound, Nosek wants to demonstrate the opposite.

“We can actually create an even more joyful, just future if we really confront climate change,” said Nosek.

Fighting fire with fandom

To Nosek, one of the most exciting aspects of her plans for the Rootbound universe is its emphasis on collective storytelling through building a fandom around the project.

“I'm trying to seed fanfiction and create the infrastructure for that world to build out,” said Nosek. “I'm trying to create that structure so that thousands, potentially hundreds of thousands, of people could come together and co-create a world that would challenge fossil fuel hegemony and give young people a sense of agency.”

As Nosek pointed out, fandoms are not only a powerful space for community-building, they are also potential platforms for social justice-based organizing. Nosek noticed that people invest significant amounts of energy into fandoms based on films, games, music and other pop culture, but this kind of positive energy is rarely directed towards climate change-related media.

“So many young people want to bring their skills to climate [organizing] and haven’t had an entryway to do that,” she said. “Now what we're saying is ‘If you're a poet, if you're a musician, if you do makeup, if you're an actor, or an actress or a podcaster or you make memes, we need you."

It will be published serially on Wattpad starting in September, with the first chapter already available. Nosek is aiming to post updates weekly and have the majority of the book published by the end of 2022. She also plans on independently publishing an eBook and hard copy version of Rootbound in the spring 2023.

There will also be a Rootbound launch in partnership with the UBC Climate Hub in the fall along with other dedicated events where UBC students can get involved with the Rootbound universe.

Nosek is hoping to link fanart, TikToks and other storytelling platforms to the Wattpad novel as the story is being published. She is also interested in hosting writer’s workshops and collaborating with teachers and instructors so that they can create stories in the Rootbound universe for academic credit.

The Rootbound novel is only one component of the larger, interactive Rootbound universe Nosek is working to create with her team. In fact, a graphic novel spin-off based on one of the Rootbound characters created by one of Nosek’s colleagues will be published before Rootbound, the novel. The key youth artists Nosek worked with include Jennie Zhou, Uma Le Daca, Nina Rossing and Jazz Groden-Gilchris.

Rootbound is so much larger than the book,” said Nosek. “In the end, my book is only going to be a small piece of the universe.”