An environmentalist myself, I like to read about other environmentalists. Folks who care about nature and who are prepared to adapt their lifestyle so as to deal with it more carefully are almost automatically likeable to me. Which is why I really enjoy them as heroes or heroines in my romance reading. Considering how big a topic the environment is in real life, it is quite astonishing, however, that environmental protection does not play a particularly large role in the world of romance. Now one might argue it is not sexy – after all, what’s sexy about getting double glazing or riding a bike? – but protecting the environment is caring, is looking beyond one’s own pleasure, and that to me is one of the core themes of romance.
Where has green thinking found its way to romance? The most obvious example is that in contemporaries, sometimes the better-off characters drive a hybrid car. Supporting a particular environmentalist cause or working in an environmental field is quite rare, though. Possibly the authors worry including such topics might place them too much in a particular corner, but from what I experience here in Germany, and have read about regarding the USA, by now green ideas are not limited to one part of the political spectrum, instead they are shared by people from quite different backgrounds and opinions.
Beyond hybrid cars, I can envisage environmentalism in romance in a number of ways:
-Biologists and park rangers as main characters. This is kind of obvious, since these people, due to their training, know enough about how endangered nature is to be prepared to fight for it.
-Scientists, inventors and engineers. To save energy, which is vital, new machines and procedures are needed. Why not have the hero or heroine be one of them?
-Early conservationists. In historicals, and among these particularly western romances, characters who live on the frontier see the wholesale destruction that the railway and the settlements bring, and try to oppose this. They might be Native American characters, trappers, or visionaries. Yellowstone Park was established as early as 1872, which means that the movement to protect such natural resources must have begun much earlier.
-Business. Cars are the most obvious example, but in many fields green ideas are developed into new business models, and in many areas in the real world new businesses are founded and existing ones overhauled, reacting to the consumers’ changed demands, so why not in the romance world?
- Courts of law. Preventing the destruction of a nature reserve or enforcing new regulations for waste often requires legal proceedings. John Grisham has used this background for some of his protagonists, so can romance authors.
– Politics. Real-life politicians fight of green causes, and lobbyists provide them with the background information they need for that and/or put pressure on them to get them on their side. In fact, the first green romance heroine I have ever seen in a movie was Annette Bening in The American President.
– Billionaires. After all, they could refuse to own a private jet and do not have their huge hunting lodge fully heated all winter in case the whim takes them there. Well, I can dream, can’t I? Seriously, whenever I read about the super-rich in a contemporary romance and see them acting irresponsibly as regards the environment, my reaction is not delight in the fantasy of infinite riches, but irritation at the characters’ thoughtlessness.
-Characters who act to protect the environment in small ways. For many of us, small ways is the only thing we can do, so reading about such folks just warms my heart.
I am sure that there are many more ways in which green thinking has found (or is finding) its way to books, but these are a few that I have come up with, and that I’d like to see more often.
Considering how much I like green romance, it’s a bit discouraging how few titles of this sort I have actually come across. Here are some I like particularly:
Set the Dark on Fire by Jill Sorenson. The heroine, Shay Phillips, works as a researcher for the Department of Fish and Game at a state reserve in Southern California and gets involved in one of the sheriff’s cases when a woman is killed by a mountain lion. Working and moving around in the state reserve is described with great vividness, and the heart-rending dilemma between raising and caring for the mountain lions on one hand and having to kill one when a human has been attacked tore at my heart-strings, too.
Stranded with her Ex by Jill Sorenson. This time both hero and heroine are marine biologists who work under extreme conditions on a tiny piece of rock in the Pacific Ocean. The privations of the scientists’ daily lives are shown, as are the dangers involved at observing sharks at close range. What also impressed me in this novel is the dilemma the protagonists find themselves in: As strange things happen on the island, it becomes apparent that one of the people who they share their living space with, and who in spite of differences they thought they had an overall goal in common – observing and protecting animals –, must be a villain.
Shipwrecked with Mr. Wrong by Nikki Logan. Another island, and another marine biologist heroine. Honor Brier lives in complete isolation for months at a time on a tiny tropical island off the Australian coast when a boat is stranded on the reef surrounding it, and she must extend hospitality to the skipper, a spoiled playboy. The contrast in lifestyles and attitudes is hilarious at times, and the setting is rendered just beautifully. But the author also present Honor’s work with great sensitivity, and with Rob’s eye the reader learns more about it.
The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot. This is young adult literature, and the series features the most unabashedly environmentalist heroine I have ever come across. From the first volume onwards, Mia is a firm supporter of Greenpeace and other environmentalist causes. Although the individual projects that her enthusiasm causes her to engage in are sometimes regarded with gentle irony, her overall commitment to the green cause is dealt with with respect and understanding.
Friends have told me that quite a number of shapeshifter romances contain green ideas, but I have read few of these and am not yet familiar enough to list any titles. To start a new Special Titles Listing, we’re going to need more titles than the few above. That’s where you, our readers, come in. Can you very kindly name those romances that you have read that feature protection of the environment? It does not matter which subgenre, they are more than welcome. I am keen on discovering new titles first of all to read them myself, but I would also like to make a list of Green Romances available to all AAR readers. Please bring ‘em on!
- Rike Horstmann