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Bellingham book club meets virtually to discuss cli-fi novel 'The Ministry for the Future'

Nonprofit Sustainable Connections' first meeting via zoom for the year is Thursday, Feb. 17 at 8 a.m.

A look at the cover of The Ministry of the Future; the first book of the year to be featured in Sustainable Connection's Virtual Climate Action Bookclub. // Photo by Madisun Tobisch

With the harsh weather Bellingham endured this winter, climate change and environmental sustainability are on the minds of many residents. 

Bellingham nonprofit, Sustainable Connections, offers a Virtual Climate Action Book Club for anyone looking to get involved in the local sustainability scene.

The book club meeting is a joint effort between another Bellingham nonprofit, Sustainable Connections and Fairhaven's Village Books and Paper Dreams. The upcoming discussion revolves around Kim Stanley Robinson's 2020 climate science-fiction novel "The Ministry for the Future."

Bellingham nonprofit partnership Community Energy Challenge will host the Feb. 17 meeting over Zoom from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m.

 Community Energy Challenge has helped Bellingham residents and businesses prioritize energy efficiency since 2009. Likewise, its parent organization, Sustainable Connections, prioritizes assisting the community in thriving through economic and environmental avenues.

Emily Larson Kubiak is Sustainable Connections' Energy and Green Building Program Manager and enjoys working with community businesses to reduce their energy and climate impacts. 

"One of the most important things I value from working with [the Community Energy Challenge] program is helping people shift their mindset from fearing that efficiency means deprivation to seeing it as a form of abundance and opportunity and a chance to solve problems with creativity," said Kubiak in an email.

Kubiak said climate change is becoming more of an unignorable reality for Bellingham residents with recent extreme weather events like the recent snow and flooding this winter. 

Between 2000 and 2010, Whatcom County experienced 31 days of reported storm events, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information's Storm Events Database

According to the same database, Whatcom County experienced 149 days of reported storm events,  between 2011 and 2021

Part of the Climate Action Book Club's purpose is to facilitate spaces where community members, businesses, and local experts can educate and motivate one another to make lifestyle changes to mitigate the changing climate.

Although Climate Action Book Club focuses on nonfiction titles for its triannual meetings, February's book takes a speculative look at a potential future for Earth on the path of adapting to live with climate change. 

In a broader scope, climate fiction, or cli-fi, is one of the most interesting and intense genres out there, said Western Washington University's Scholarly Communications Librarian Jenny Oleen. 

"These books will give you characters that you can connect with that you can relate to, and you can see yourself as a part of and draw you into a story, which then will help bring in this information," Oleen said.

The book club started in 2020, always in a virtual environment. Attendee and co-owner of Peak Sustainability Group, Allison Roberts, finds the organization both positive and constructive, no matter which book the group spotlights. 

The specific genre of cli-fi is daunting at times, which makes it all the more powerful of an independent read and group discussion, Roberts said.

"It is possible in a virtual world to do more of these [events] and to get the message out about the solutions because I think that's what we have to pay attention to," Roberts said. "My son always says, 'worry counts for nothing.' You can worry all you want, but it's not productive. So action is the antidote to worry."

One of the club's main objectives is to bring passionate community members together to learn and share. 

Roberts said the virtual aspect of the club's meetings allowed her to regain a sense of community with others in a time when gathering in a traditional book club setting was deemed unsafe due to COVID-19.

"It's hard to communicate with people that we might have seen regularly in person, but if we're not Facebook friends or meeting at a regularly appointed time, those things have kind of fallen away," Roberts said. 

In addition to staying connected with familiar people, book clubs offer the chance to experience new and differing perspectives.

"Some people will catch things that you might have missed or might have a different point of view about what they've read," Oleen said. "And so having that conversation can help bring in such a deeper understanding of the book and of the topics."

Those interested in the discussion taking place next month can pick up a copy of "The Ministry for the Future" at Village Books and Paper Dreams in Fairhaven or the Bellingham Public Library.

"One of the great things about book clubs, particularly in Whatcom County, is we've got so many different types of book clubs available,” Oleen said. 

The Bellingham Public Library offers book club events like the Whatcom Reads annual county book club and the Bellingham Reads discussion group

They also have the option to rent a book club kit which includes ten copies of the same book and a guide for the discussion portion.

If financial barriers stand in the way of participating for anyone interested, Sustainable Connections offers a limited number of copies. More information about the Feb. 17 meeting and other opportunities to get involved are available on their website.

Madisun Tobisch

Madisun Tobisch (she/her) is a third-year news/editorial major who has worked for The Front in some capacity since winter 2022. After all this time, her love of local news and celebrating the voices of her community keep her coming back for more. As returning managing editor this quarter, she hopes to further The Front's mission of keeping readers, both new and returning, informed and engaged. While not in the newsroom, Madisun can be found barista-ing, watching movies or trying to be creative.

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