With a turn of phrase, a detail—a dog on a prairie—Alana Mitchell can make you 'see'. You feel you are with her, learning the names of plants with her dad as she walks alongside him in her childhood, or in the work she's come to Edinburgh to discuss, snorkelling down in the ocean, watching a coral sex show.
Her way into climate change also has the kind of angle we expect from a journalist. It opens up the vast waters on our planet, a whole inner space we overlook. And by taking her case from the ocean she manages to avoid the usual uncertainty within all science that has framed climate change towards debate and denial. The ocean is getting warmer and, with literal acidity, is ripping apart more life within it than we understand – and which we depend on.
Mitchell doesn’t need to be a scientist to explain climate change. She asks the right questions of the people whose world she inhabits. Her storytelling is exquisite. You could take the script from Sea Sick and put it straight into the New Yorker in its prime. For journalists, it is inspiring.
Where Sea Sick is less successful is in its mawkish ending. The forgiveness Mitchell talks about is a powerful and underrated human act. But she doesn't quite explain how it works other than it being an idea she keeps coming back to. That aside, it is one of the more enlightening shows in this year's programme.