A Groundhog’s Climate Promise

Originally posted in the Climate Fiction Writer’s League Newsletter

What if the world’s most famous weather-predicting groundhog took on the greatest weather-related challenge of our time: climate change?

When Rob and I began writing The Great Weather Diviner: the Untold Origin of Punxsutawney Phil, we didn’t know exactly who our characters would become, how the plot would progress, or where the adventure took place. But we did know that this was a story about climate change.

As millennials, we witnessed worsening major weather events, sweltering summers that seemed to stretch endlessly, and the haunting whispers of melting glaciers. We grew up amid growing concern about the climate crisis, but also during the most dangerous era of climate denial. As children, we learned about goals for a green future. As adults, we became involved in politics (Rob as an elected leader and me as an advisor), and we saw firsthand how political divisions enveloped the issue and prevented non-partisan action to protect the planet.

It’s frustrating to understand the dire need for action to protect the planet and be told that environmentalism is just another issue on a long list of problems that will never be fixed. This isn’t just another issue. It’s THE issue. And as we penned down the adventures of Punxsutawney Phil, our own frustrations and hopes bled onto the pages. This sentiment became the lifeblood of our narrative. If we don’t protect the planet, every other problem becomes worse, and we refuse to sit back as the lives and livelihood of future generations are threatened by inaction.

That’s the core sentiment of our book. We wanted to put that frustration onto paper in a way that validates the feelings of our readers and, hopefully, inspires action.

The challenge was to write a fiction novel that involved lessons of environmentalism without sounding like a textbook. We crafted a world where the vast, looming shadows of environmental issues met the enchanting forests of the Chronicles of Narnia, the epic adventures of the Lord of the Rings, and the brave heartbeats of Redwall, presenting the very real threats of climate change as an action-packed adventure that middle grade children would enjoy.

Groundhog Day predictions are an example of how we’ve taken for granted stable, predictable weather. Our society would rather uplift supernatural beliefs about the climate than trust in the science and admit that our actions have consequences. 

As the untold origin of Punxsutawney Phil, our groundhog main character is associated with the weather by default. Everyone understands the connection between Groundhog Day and predicting the start of winter, and we wanted to use that association as a red herring.

At the beginning of the story, Junior dreams of stepping into the shoes of his weather-predicting father. He’s spent his whole life thinking about the weather and dreaming about how he’ll use his powers like a superhero. Just as climate change is not only about the weather, neither is our story.

Instead, we focus on three central environmental issues with direct implications on our plot: worsening natural disaster, the destruction of animal environments, and the need for a clean energy future.

Without spoiling too much, the catalyst for our whole adventure is an unseasonable flood that strikes the small mining town of Punxsutawney. Since his father had predicted a dry Spring, Junior the groundhog assumes that nature has turned against his people. He decides to leave Punxsutawney to find answers.

Eventually, he arrives in Halidome, a legendary place known as a safe haven for animals whose homes have been destroyed. The animals here live in harmony, but they’re all climate refugees, forced from their homes because of fires, floods, deforestation, and other real threats. Every animal featured, from the Adéie Penguins to European Hedgehogs to Golden Toads and Polar Bears, is a real-life endangered species threatened in some way by climate change. We included a section at the end of the book relating the characters to their real-world counterparts so that curious readers might learn more about these species.

Halidome is presented as a utopia for what our world could be if we embraced nature instead of diminishing it. They rely on clean energy, build environmentally friendly homes, prioritize the protection of natural resources, and more as examples of the world we should pursue.

Readers will notice the sharp contrasts to our world and will think about the ways that we can seek the same solarpunk beauty of our story. Solarpunk is a way to depict the possibilities of using technology to accentuate nature’s beauty rather than diminish it. Examples in pop culture are far too sparse, and we hoped to depict these themes in ways readers would appreciate and envy.

In Halidome, Junior learns just how dangerous the changing environment is to his new friends, and he wants to return home to tell his coal-mining town that their actions have consequences. Our generation’s frustration with a lack of action to address environmental issues is captured in Junior’s journey.

Upon his return to the mining town, Junior realizes that the villain’s goal of increasing coal production has threatened the water supply and clean air for the entire region. Our villain, Callidus, is a giant white raven with a greedy agenda who has prioritized his own power over the environmental threats he’s knowingly created. Just like any blockbuster, a big battle decides the future of Erda, but the underlying question is to follow a climate-conscious path or stay the course.

While the highlights of climate issues are noticeably present, we were careful to craft them around a story that would be interesting to children. We didn’t want to be too heavy handed or boring, so the message is woven into an exciting plot that involves mystery, action, and personal growth. The Great Weather Diviner is a coming-of-age story encouraging readers to take responsibility for their actions and think more about our shared responsibility to the planet.

While The Great Weather Diviner entertains with its exciting plot, at its heart, it’s a call to every young reader. A call to understand, to empathize, and to take action. Because just as Junior embarks on a journey to save his world, we too have the power and responsibility to make a difference in ours.