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Mountainfilm, The New Normal, and 21 kids sue Federal Government over climate change

It was such a thrill being invited to Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride, Colorado. Now that I’ve recovered from jet lag — made worse by an all-night vigil watching the UK election results coming in — I’d like to tell you about the high points of Mountainfilm, which include meeting an eleven-year-old girl from Oregon who is taking on the US Federal Government.

What, you ask, was I even doing at the festival? Well, I went to Mountainfilm with my husband Garry to talk about climate change — specifically about how our community of Ashton Hayes has spent 11 years cutting our carbon emissions. Garry gave a well-received and positive talk at the festival’s Symposium and over the course of the week we spoke with local residents, non-profit organisations and media about Telluride’s own plans for achieving carbon neutrality. The two points about the Ashton Hayes project that struck everyone at Mountainfilm were these: One, we don’t ever invite politicians to address our meetings. Two, we don’t argue with anyone. Several New Yorkers were pretty aghast; they couldn’t imagine not arguing.

Attorney Julia Olson with her client Avery McRae at Mountainfilm Symposium.

So, the major highlight for me… was meeting eleven-year-old Avery McRae who is the second youngest of 21 plaintiffs (all under the age of 20) suing the federal government for ignoring early warnings over climate change and endangering their health by continuing to burn fossil fuels. Avery was accompanied by her dad, a climate scientist, and lead attorney in the case, Julia Olson.

Juliana et al v. United States et al is working its way through the courts, so watch out in the news media for this fascinating and potentially game-changing legal action.

I was immensely impressed by Avery’s clear thinking and hard talking. It made me wonder if every politician ought to have an eleven-year-old at their elbow, watching every piece of proposed legislation crossing their desk. I’m sure Avery would ask: “Are you sure that’s a good idea? Is that really fair to us kids?”

Three days after we left the festival, Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change. But that won’t stop Telluride (or other communities, or states!) pressing ahead with its own climate agenda. Garry and I came away feeling that Telluride could become a beacon in the US for renewable energy initiatives and more sustainable lifestyles. “The New Normal” was the catch-phrase of this year’s documentary film festival, setting out five New Normal actions: educate, reduce, offset, advocate and celebrate!


My Favourite Films: Well, it’s impossible to see everything at Mountainfilm! But of those I did see, here are my favourites:

“Adaptation Bangladesh; Sea Level Rise” directed by Justin DeShields, featuring Alizé Carèrre — a heart-warming story of adaptation in the shape of floating vegetable plots and floating schools.

“The Albatross” directed by Chris Jordan – beautiful cinematography by Jim Hurst, horrifically graphic. A real wake-up call over the plastic detritus in our oceans.

“Ten Meter Tower” directed by Maximilien Van Aertryck — hilarious, and very welcome for that! Swimmers of all ages pluck up courage to step off the top diving board at a swimming pool.

“Blood Road” directed by Nicholas Schrunk featuring champion bikers Rebecca Rusch and Huyen Nguyen, who cycle the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam to find the site where Rebecca’s father’s plane crashed in 1972 during the Vietnam War. Heart-wrenching to hear the stories from both sides of the war, with unforgettable aerial imagery of bomb-crater lakes along the trail.

I kept bumping into Rebecca Rusch at various events in Telluride, so I wasn’t surprised when we found ourselves sat at adjacent tables at Reading Frenzy – Rebecca signing copies of Rusch to Glory: Adventure, Risk & Triumph on the Path Less Traveled, and yours truly signing copies of Dreams Before the Start of Time. (Many thanks to David Holbrooke and the Mountainfilm team for this unexpected opportunity!) Rebecca is now writing a book to accompany the film “Blood Road.” I’ll definitely read it.

My biggest surprise of the signing session came when a visitor told me she’d already read Dreams Before (after all, it was released just a month earlier). Moreover, she is including my novel together with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in a literature module for students at a Minnesota university. Stunned by that!


So, I’m ready to start writing fiction after a few weeks’ break. Who knows, my trip to the USA may provide the springboard for a bunch of stories.

And it strikes me that in a short space of time—just two weeks, in fact — I met an eleven-year-old potentially making a huge difference to the debate around climate change in the US, while in the UK we’ve all witnessed how ‘the young vote’ — so many people voting for the first time — has made a difference too. More people deciding to vote is good thing and, all in all, I’m feeling more optimistic than I did before I set off for Telluride.


This coming Saturday, I’ll be interviewed by Gerard Earley at the BSFA/SFF mini convention – open to all – which wraps around the two organisations’ lunchtime AGMs for members.

Here’s a Q&A , Bringing Science and Fiction Together. Laurie Garrison founder of Women Writers School asks me about my role as “interviewer in residence” in the collaboration between The Arthur C. Clarke Award and The Ada Lovelace Day. I talk about The Ada Lovelace Conversations and the new Facebook group, The Plotters’ Club, that brings together women scientists and science fiction writers. Take a look — you may like to join!

And now I really must do some writing before I forget how!!!